As many of you know, I am an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, but that doesn’t stop me from referring to the legendary New York Yankee, Yogi Berra. He was not only a great baseball player; he has some of the best one-liners around. And it is with Yogi’s quote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you will end up somewhere else,” that I begin this month’s column.
When it comes to about any serious form of human endeavor, either as an individual or organization, Yogi was right. If we don’t have a plan for what we want to accomplish, we may very well accomplish little. In April, the city council recognized that it was an opportune time to take stock of our strategic planning—or the lack thereof—and chart a course of action that could be used to measure success and accomplish great things for a great city. The timing couldn’t have been better, with the installation of new council members, the hiring of a top-notch city manager, and the need to adjust our organizational and budgetary frameworks to the reality of insufficient revenue growth.
City Manager Patrick Urich had notable success in strategic planning while at Peoria County, under the guidance of the seasoned public entity management consultant, Lyle Sumek. I am pleased to note that as of this writing, the city has made significant strides in creating a robust strategic plan based on an ambitious vision and goals, as well as expected outcomes. Just to be clear, strategic planning is simply stating the overall purpose and desired results of an organization, and how those results will be reached. Later in August, I expect that we will officially adopt the plan, which is being developed with Dr. Sumek and is based on similar work with hundreds of public bodies.
The city council has been hard at work developing a vision, goals and action plan. We have conducted three sessions with Dr. Sumek, consuming more than 12 hours of serious discussions in May, June and July. In addition, prior to the group meetings, Dr. Sumek held extensive phone interviews with every council member, as well as three separate meetings with our professional staff.
As might be imagined, a plan is only as good as its foundation, and the understanding of our successes and challenges. Some of the successes we are seeing include a 15-percent reduction in serious crime, balanced budgets in very difficult times, state and federal assistance with critical capital needs, and an outstanding response to the February blizzard. Of course, our challenges are huge, with capital needs 10 times as great as our resources, personnel-related costs like pensions outstripping revenue projections, and moderate-at-best population growth.
Based on these successes and challenges, our strategic plan needs to set the agenda for the city council, give direction to the city manager, and clearly set forth our expectations as to measurable results. From an overall timeframe, the goal is three-fold: set the vision for the community 15 years out (2026); establish a set of short-term, five-year goals; and create a transparent action plan to meet those goals.
The vision is still taking shape, but as of mid-July, we have consensus that at least six factors make Peoria unique: our safety and attractiveness, a lively downtown and warehouse district, desirable neighborhoods, population growth, a culture of achievement, and a commitment to collaboration for community excellence.
This challenging, but doable, vision is built on goals such as population growth, financially sound city government, sustainable business growth, responsive and efficient city services, and a dynamic and attractive downtown. Some may say there is nothing new about any of this. Population growth, robust revenues, good services and urban attractiveness are the reasons we exist in the first place. The reality, however, is that none of this will happen unless the governing and administrative dimensions of Peoria are clearly on the same page, with established measures of success, open communication and acceptance among the citizenry.
Every day, members of the city council are engaged by the citizens in many ways. We are held accountable for our actions as elected officials, and we are blamed (or praised) for events or things beyond our jurisdiction or control. With a commonly understood and shared vision, goals and expectations, we will be better equipped to provide the leadership essential to truly make us unique and attractive as an urban community. Yogi was right! iBi