Crestwood aldermen consider retaining cost of strategic planning in ’07

By BURKE WASSON

After Crestwood’s Ways and Means Committee recommended that the cost of strategic planning be removed from the city’s proposed 2007 budget, some aldermen are trying to retain it.

Aldermen during a recent work session indicated they would like to include a $9,000 expense to return strategic-planning consultant Lyle Sumek to Crestwood next year for more sessions.

City Administrator Frank Myers previously approved paying Sumek $8,000 to $9,000 for a strategic-planning session conducted from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19. Those sessions resulted in 25 one-year priorities — which aldermen approved Oct. 10 as a resolution — five-year goals and a 15-year vision for Crestwood. The city has also formed multi-departmental teams for each of the 25 one-year goals, and those task forces continue to meet.

But some residents were concerned that the cost for the September workshop was neither budgeted nor approved by the Board of Aldermen. That cost was approved by Myers as an administrative decision. The city administrator also previously employed Sumek’s planning services when Myers was the city manager of Trotwood, Ohio.

Other residents have said the sessions were unnecessary and believe that they produced little more than the city’s Crestwood 2000 Commission, which was established in 1997.

In October, Mayor Roy Robinson and board President Jerry Miguel of Ward 3 recommended as members of the city’s Ways and Means Committee to not include the anticipated $9,000 cost for more planning sessions in 2007. Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding, who is also a member of the Ways and Means Committee, was absent from the meeting.

But during the Nov. 29 work session designed to discuss the city’s proposed 2007 budget, the majority of aldermen present indicated they would prefer to include that cost next year.

Robinson, who previously voted on the Ways and Means Committee to cut the expense from next year’s budget, told aldermen at the work session that if a majority of the board votes in favor of keeping the expense, he would be receptive.

“I will have nothing to say if five aldermen say they want it in,” Robinson said to aldermen at the work session. “If we have five, that means the majority thinks it’s well worth it and I’m not going to think about it. We recommended to you, to the board, from Ways and Means that we should take it out. But this is where the process comes in. If you all decide you want it in, it’s your decision.”

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland said he believes because much of the priorities included in the narrative of the proposed 2007 budget come directly from goals reached during strategic planning, aldermen should maintain that level of continuity and keep the sessions intact next year.

When Miguel questioned Myers why the city wasn’t meeting an objective stated in the proposed budget to fund a cash reserve of 25 percent of the general-fund balance, the city administrator responded that the goal is not immediate, but rather a five-year goal that came from aldermen during strategic planning.

“What I did was during our strategic-planning process, these were the objectives the board established — the mayor and the Board of Aldermen,” Myers said to Miguel.

“I’ve just replicated those to the budget. These aren’t my objectives. These are your objectives. And these are your five-year plans.”

With that thought in mind, Bland said he believes it would be unfair to residents to laud one aspect of strategic planning and then prevent any further sessions with outside consultants.

“A lot of this that’s in this budget is tied to this strategic plan,” Bland said. “And I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some department heads about the strategic plan. I think it has real worth in terms of identifying things. I think from a staff level, I think it’s a lot of work because it’s tying the departments together. We’ve got departments communicating with each other that never communicated before. We’ve got department heads that are going to use this as performance objectives for employees. I think if we’re going to tie this budget to this and we’re going to identify five-year plans, I think that’s a big mistake to take that out of the budget. I think you’re sending a mixed message that this is so important, we’re going to put this in this budget, we’re going to identify what it is, we’re going to look at the goals that we identified in valuable sessions and we think so much of it that we’re not going to fund it.

“I think we need to keep that in the budget. I think we can be very judicious about how we spend that. Just because it’s in there doesn’t mean we need to spend it. But I think we’re doing a disservice to our staff and doing a disservice to our citizens if in one breath we’re going to say it’s valuable and in the next breath we say we don’t want to put it in the budget.”

Miguel said while he is in favor of cutting the $9,000 expense for a strategic-planning consultant from next year’s budget, he would support continuing the work of the multi-departmental teams and performing further sessions on an in-house basis with no cost.

If aldermen in the future would like to bring in a consultant, Miguel proposed that the board hire a consultant every two or three years instead of annually.

“My feeling on the $9,000 is if we want to go there, then the board can discuss it,” Miguel said. “In the meantime, I don’t feel that we need to have a professional come in on an annual basis. I think it could be on a two- or three-year cycle. In between the three-year cycles, we could do that one day and we can do it in-house. What it really comes down to is from the task groups. I think we can build on what we currently have for a period of time and not move forward on that expense on an annual basis.”

Robinson defended his decision on the Ways and Means Committee to recommend against the spending by reminding aldermen that residents were not happy once they learned of the expense.

“I think with Ways and Means, we were under the impression that people were upset that we spent money,” Robinson said. “Everybody asked about the plans. They wanted to see us do a professional job. And when we as a group tried to do that, well, we got criticized for it.”

“I agree,” Bland responded. “But I disagree with some of the comments that were made about we should have done it in-house. We couldn’t have done that in-house.”

“No,” Robinson said.

“There was too much of a fracture in this city to allow that to happen,” Bland said. “And what that forced us to do was put aside differences and we were all able to say: ‘Hey, goal number one is being fiscally responsible. But let’s get beyond that.’ And we came together, and I think we came up with some fantastic ideas.”

“I do, too,” Robinson said.

Among the overall 25 goals for the city, the top five priorities for next year on the city’s policy agenda, which is to be carried out by Robinson and aldermen, are a balanced budget, resolution of the city’s line of credit, correction and funding of the city’s streetscape program, formation of a policy on how to use economic development tools and a strategy for the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood.

The top six priorities for the next year on Crestwood’s management agenda, which is to be implemented by Myers and city staff members, are the development of a five-year financial plan, continuation of quarterly financial reports, development of a cash-flow policy, a best-practices analysis and refinement of code-enforcement program, a five-year facility maintenance plan and the Pardee Road bridge project.

Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby said that with plans such as these being formulated because of strategic planning, he believes the initial $8,000-to-$9,000 cost that the city spent for Sumek’s services was a wise investment.

“I think that if you really looked into it, you would find that the strategic-planning process has actually saved the city more than $8,000,” Roby said.

“Oh, I would agree with you a hundred percent,” Robinson said.

“So, sometimes you have to spend money to save money,” Roby said.

Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel also showed his support for strategic planning by comparing the management of city affairs and services to running a business.

“People do have to accept that a city is really nothing more than a business,” Pickel said. “And you won’t find any business anywhere, or a successful business, that doesn’t have a plan and doesn’t annually review their progress.”

Other than forming plans for the city’s future, Bland said he believes strategic planning also made aldermen more familiar with each other and more respectful of their opinions.

He cited the board’s Nov. 28 decision to reconsider an action putting a stop to the proposed redevelopment of Crestwood Square through a community-improvement district.

“I don’t think what happened last night would have happened the way it happened if it weren’t for that strategic plan,” Bland said Nov. 29. “We’re not siding up anymore like: ‘I like you, I like you, I don’t like you, I’ll vote your way, I won’t vote your way.’

“We supported each other and we held firm to our convictions, and I think those are the kind of things you’re not going to attach a dollar amount to. But I think if you’ve got the city’s best interest, I think that $8,000 is very cheap.”