Crestwood residents question cost of consultant for strategic planning

Robinson says ‘every citizen’ was informed of the sessions

By BURKE WASSON

What Crestwood officials call strategic planning is seen by some residents as an unnecessary expenditure.

Before approving a resolution of 25 one-year priorities for the city at last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting, aldermen heard concerns that the $8,000-to-$9,000 cost for the three-day session that resulted in those priorities is too much.

The city is paying strategic-planning consultant Lyle Sumek of Sumek Industries for organizing the session that took place from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19 at the Government Center, according to City Administrator Frank Myers. Sumek served as a strategic-planning consultant in Trotwood, Ohio, when Myers was city manager there.

Along with the 25 priorities for the next year, aldermen and city staff members also formulated five-year goals and a 15-year vision for Crestwood.

Instead of having aldermen and staff de-velop these ideas, resident Karen Trueblood said she would have liked to see the board first approve the cost for the strategic planning.

“I read with interest in the paper that $8,000 was spent for a strategic-planning consultant of some sort,” she said. “I was just wondering. I didn’t hear anything about that in the budget. I don’t know where that money was appropriated in the budget.”

“The funds were not appropriated in the budget,” Myers said. “What we did is we have been going through a process of actually downsizing our operating costs. And we allocated some of those savings to pay for this plan.”

“So it’s not an item that was ever ap-proved by the board?” Trueblood said. “It was an administrative decision?”

“Yes, it was,” Myers said. “Although, the board was fully aware of it.”

Trueblood also said she was bothered that the goals that were derived from the sessions came without the citizen input that was previously used for the Crestwood 2000 Commission — a city-appointed panel of residents that met in the late 1990s and formed goals for the year 2000 and beyond.

“I just wanted to take this opportunity to express my dismay that, first of all, you would pay someone $8,000 for strategic planning that, based on at least what I read in the paper, produced no new ideas from the Crestwood 2000 Commission’s report,” she said. “And secondly, I just want to let you know that your failure to include the citizens in any planning discussions rather to dictate from staff and the officials to us what the priorities of the city are sends a very, very clear message to all the citizens.”

Myers defended his administrative decision to employ Sumek to begin the city’s strategic-planning process and said that the cost is a one-time payment that he sees as an investment in the city’s future. He also said that a three-day session would took place each year among aldermen and staff members and that 25 multi-departmental teams have been formed for each one-year priority to ensure that they are carried out.

“I guess of all the things I feel, it would be a tragedy for the citizens to leave here thinking this city wasted $8,000,” Myers said. “I believe that $8,000 is the most important investment this community could make given its history and given where it needs to go. I mean, the community has been struggling, looking in a rearview mirror at the past. This process enabled this board, this mayor and the staff to begin to look forward …”

Robinson said last week that even though he might not like the $8,000 cost, he believes the sessions have value to the city and were worth the time.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Robinson said. “I wasn’t too hepped up on the strategic planning also. And I know that some people have stated that we had the 2000 Commission … a lot of things have changed in this city since 2000. And what we had to do was try to get the new board members and the other remaining board members involved. This was not the mayor’s strategic planning. This was a more inclusive type of planning meetings. I wasn’t sure we were going to accomplish anything, but I recognize that this board came together.

“They understood, everyone had the opportunity to have input. And I think it was valuable to the city. Although, I don’t like to spend $8,000 either. I didn’t even know it was going to cost $8,000 until after the fact. But that’s OK. I talked to the other board members, and they said they thought it was worth it. So it’s a matter of judgment and it’s a matter of bringing this board together where we’re all maybe not on the same … we all have our differences. But we also want to understand where the others are coming from. And I think this provided that vehicle to be able to do that. I think I have a better understanding of some of the new aldermen, of what their priorities are and I think it was well worth it. You’ll get criticism from people no matter what you do. So what you’ve got to do is, once again, we’re trying to do what’s best for Crestwood.”

When asked by Trueblood about the level of citizen input that was gathered for the strategic planning, Robinson said “every citizen” was informed of the sessions. The session schedule, which began Sept. 17, was posted on the city’s Web site at 1 p.m. on Sept. 15, but was not published in the Crestwood Connections newsletter nor advertised in local media.

“Every citizen knew, was informed,” Robinson said to Trueblood. “I think we posted that we were having these meetings. We did have a few citizens here. We did allow them to ask questions. And we allowed those people who wanted to say something to say something. But most of the people that were there were there to listen to see what we were doing, I think. If you had attended the three days of meetings, which the Call visited most of those, we were busy the whole time. We worked hard and we accomplished something. I think we have a good understanding what people want. They want this city turned around and changed so that we’re viable again. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Sept. 18 and Sept. 19 sessions combined produced a total of three Crestwood residents — Roger Anderson, Catherine Barrett and Don Clark.

Resident and Civil Service Board member Martha Duchild also raised the concern that the $8,000 cost for the strategic planning might have been best used in the future instead of at a time when the city is closely watching its finances.

“As a taxpayer, I have to agree with Mrs. Trueblood,” Duchild said to the board. “I don’t believe it was a wise use of $8,000. And simply because you said to the city that you would be watching what came in and what was spent and also that you’re asking staff to cut down and see where they can save money. But mostly because you’ve used this process before. And I would imagine you probably had saved some materials or at least you were familiar with the steps that maybe you could have done this informally this time around and then waited until the city was back on its feet before bringing in a paid consultant.”