Next week, I will be presenting a draft of the City’s Strategic Plan to the City Council for their consideration. The Plan represents the values, services, and projects we hope to sustain or complete in the years ahead. I asked directors to carefully evaluate each department’s section of the Plan to insure that it doesn’t become a wish list that proposes results we are not likely to achieve. Albany city government continues to face financial challenges similar to those facing most local governments in the U.S., and we need to align our aspirations with fiscal reality.
I continue to support the four themes of our Plan and believe they represent what most communities need to thrive now and in the future. We stress the need for a safe community, great neighborhoods, a healthy economy, and an effective government, recognizing we won’t achieve perfection in any of these areas during the coming five-year planning period. We can and should, however, continue to invest and act in ways that serve these themes.
The goals and objectives we communicate in the Plan are encouraging to me because I believe we have greatly improved the specificity and measurability of what we propose to do to make Albany a better place. We also challenge ourselves to make the most of our resources in a time where we will not have enough money to provide services in the same way we have in the past. We propose to move to electronic development plan submission, for example, as a means of improving service to customers and reducing the administrative burden on building and planning staff.
Many city councils do not use a strategic plan to guide their actions and prefer instead to publish a list of annual goals. The advantage of this approach is the ability to communicate clear goals that can be easily understood by the public. If a council wants to build a new building or solve a pressing problem, setting a goal and ordering staff to complete it is a straightforward approach. The limitation of this model, in my opinion, is that it says nothing about what is expected for the broad range of services the city provides and that it does not force consideration of priorities.
I know of one community that set a goal of building a new library, but while it was under construction had to lay off more than a third of the city’s workforce. The library is now complete and other city services have been severely compromised. I believe strategic planning that is also a part of the budget process helps policy makers take a longer view and weigh the value of competing priorities.
Albany’s Strategic Plan acknowledges that it will always be a work in progress and was never intended to serve as a blueprint. It is, rather, a tool we use to communicate intentions, allocate resources, and demonstrate results to the citizens we serve.