Strategic planning sounds like something military people do when they are preparing to launch an invasion or defend their country from attack. Strategy is supposed to be the big picture view of what needs to be accomplished while tactics describe how the strategy is to be implemented and achieved.
Albany has had a formal strategic plan for about ten years that should not be confused with the City’s Comprehensive Plan or its Capital Improvement Program. The Albany Strategic Plan attempts to spell out the City’s mission, vision, values, and a series of goals and objectives the City is trying to achieve.
I usually write about the Plan at least once a year, both to remind people that it exists and to explain that it is an important tool in determining what happens with city resources. This week, the City Council discussed the Plan in preparation for the annual budget process to make sure that the resources we allocate are being used for the things that are most important to people in the community.
The message I have consistently heard from city councils since my arrival in Albany is that public safety is the highest community priority and both the Strategic Plan and our annual budget reflect that commitment. By a very large margin, most of the money the City receives comes from taxpayers and ratepayers to pay for police, fire, ambulance, court, clean drinking water, and safe disposal of sewage. City streets could also be added to the list as an essential part of maintaining a safe city.
Albany’s elected leaders have understood for a long time that the community needs to be safe if it is to prosper in the future. Our vision for the past decade has been: “A vital and diverse community that promotes a high quality of life, great neighborhoods, balanced economic growth, and quality public services.” I translate this rather long phrase into the easier to remember, “Making Albany a nice place to live and work.” Our job as city employees is to serve this vision by “providing quality public services for a better Albany community” (our mission statement). Again, this translates into providing great service to our citizens.
Albany, if we follow our Strategic Plan, is not likely to become a large city in the decades ahead. We are striving for enough growth to maintain prosperity and service levels, along with the amenities that make life more enjoyable. Programs like River Rhythms or facilities like our swimming pools and parks can only exist if there is enough business and financial support from residents to make them possible. I worked in smaller towns before coming to Albany; and, while they were great places to live, they had many fewer opportunities for residents.
Our Strategic Plan is not a blueprint for an invasion or a strict rulebook for the future. It is, rather, a guide to where we expect to be in the years ahead. Perhaps as Albany grows and changes, a new generation of leaders will want to set different goals and expectations; but past and present community members have done a good job in making the town the enjoyable place it is today. The Strategic Plan is a good tool to help keep it that way.