Have a vision, not a hallucination

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Sir: Municipal council is at risk of going into another annual budget session with no intelligible vision for the municipality, no strategy to guide administration’s development of work plans, and so no rational basis for the budget.

Pentagon planners have a saying: “A vision without resources is a hallucination.” Our municipal vision will once again be a hallucination if something different isn’t done this time around.

The flaws in the Vision Statement were discussed in another open letter to council a month ago, so won’t be repeated here. Suffice to say that in its present form it can’t be the guide to action that a vision statement needs to be, because nobody can be sure what it means from what it says.

The current status of council’s planning for the 2015/16 fiscal year was reported at the Dec. 15 meeting. The new council apparently endorsed the directions established by the previous council and accepted definitions for them as follows:

  • Jobs: Everyone in Chatham-Kent who wants to work is able to work in meaningful employment.
  • People: Chatham-Kent is a welcoming community where people choose to live, learn, work, and play.
  • Health: Chatham-Kent is a healthy, active, safe, accessible community within a healthy natural and built environment.

These are all nice hopes, but as Pentagon planners would say: “Hope is not a strategy.”
A generally accepted definition of strategy is: “A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). The senior leadership of an organization is generally tasked with determining strategy.” 
Goals need to be concrete and measureable, challenging but achievable. If they aren’t concrete and measurable, administration can’t know what it is being asked to achieve. (If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.)

If the goals aren’t challenging but achievable, they won’t be motivating. 
The “means” referred to are the staff time and capabilities and the budget.

To set realistic strategies, the strategizers need to have at least a rough idea of how much time, talent, and money it will take to accomplish the goals. That’s likely to require consultation with senior administration officials, particularly the CAO. 
The last sentence in the above definition of “strategy” is very important for this council and so is worth repeating: “The senior leadership of an organization is generally tasked with determining strategy.”

Experts on municipal governance would omit the word “generally.”

Council, you are tasked with determining strategy. If you don’t do that, you can’t claim to be in charge and you won’t be fulfilling your governance responsibilities. And if there aren’t traceable lines from the vision to the goals to the strategies to the budget, the whole thing is a hallucination.

A draft budget is scheduled to be presented to council on Jan. 20, followed by public meetings before council starts the budget deliberations in earnest. In that span of several weeks, there is time to fulfill council’s responsibility to clarify the vision, set the goals, and outline the strategies to meet those goals. It’s not rocket science and there is nothing more important you will do in this term of council.

John Sigurjonsson

Chatham

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