Monday, June 30, 2014

Hold the vanilla

Citizens attending the Wednesday, June 25 feedback session on the proposed Goochland strategic plan were troubled by many components of the plan.

Board of Supervisors’ Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, opened the meeting by explaining that the board was there to listen to the citizens, and understand how they see the draft strategic plan (DSP.)

In general, the DSP, which is available on the county website, was characterized as: too vanilla or generic; touchy feely; lacking important elements such as assumptions, estimated costs and revenue sources; and just too broad.
Facilitator Lori Strumpf broke the attendees into groups tasked to respond to the query “if you were contemplating moving your family or business to Goochland, how would this document ‘speak to you?’”

In GOMM’s group, one astute gentleman contended that the DSP is “for motherhood, against sin” and vegan as it contains “no meat.”

The DSP proclaims Goochland County goals including: supporting good schools; promoting excellent public safety; and providing efficient, transparent, fiscally responsible government. As one citizen asked “Who would be against those things?” (See for motherhood and against sin above.)

Perhaps the DSP would have been better received if its primary objective was stated as rebuilding the reputation of a county generally perceived by its citizens and the outside world as tolerating substandard schools, and good ol’ boy government.
Given that the former county treasurer is currently serving a prison sentence for embezzling public funds and, just a few years ago, auditors found dozens of glaring irregularities in county finances, the emphasis on integrity, fiscal accountability, stewardship, and transparency is warranted.

Even to those not familiar with the process, the term “strategic plan” conjures up a document with specific objectives; methods to achieve those; and cost and revenue estimates that lead to a defined target.

Several citizens contended that the DSP is aimed at businesses because it never mentions families, neighbors, or quality of life. One commented that, from a “branding” perspective, the DSP lacks a compelling narrative that explains what makes Goochland unique.

The DSP, several citizens contended, seemed structured to guide county staff in performance of its duties. (In an earlier post on the subject, GOMM suggested that the DSP was shaping up to be an attitudinal manifesto for staff.) Again, with Goochland’s history, this is not a bad thing, but does it meet criteria for a strategic plan?

When the groups reconvened, additional points were raised. How exactly will the county do a better job of communicating with citizens who have poor internet access? A more comprehensive county website does them little good with no easy access.
The DSP never explained why it was needed in the first place.

At least two of the men at the Wednesday meeting have significant high level expertise and experience in crafting and executing strategic plans. They live here and have a vested interest in success. As Goochland is blessed with a gracious plenty of accomplished residents, they should be sought out for initiatives like this. The local task force method worked well on the broadband and rural economic development projects.

Some comments regarding the DSP’s lack of information on where growth is expected to occur are better suited to the county’s comprehensive land use plan, whose next review will begin with a Planning Commission workshop on July 10.

When the strategic plan process began, the “deliverable” was expected to be a matrix to coordinate master plans for utilities and fire-rescue, currently in development. Right now, it’s a little hard to see how all of these plans will align--as they must—to ensure unified, efficient, and effective outcomes.

Citizen feedback was clear. The DSP needs more specifics and fewer targets. The comments will be digested and applied to revisions. Stay tuned!

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