City Council discusses foundation for three-year strategy

Saturday, June 9, 2012 | 4:48 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In the last day of their annual retreat, the City Council and department heads made progress on a strategic plan that will focus the council's goals over the next three years. 

The council's retreat is traditionally used as a forum for the council and department staff to discuss specific issues, such as the budget or road conditions. This year, however, the retreat was used to form the foundation for the council's strategic plan.

City Manager Mike Matthes said the council could not continue forward without first defining where it wanted to go and that this strategic plan is not somethingthe city would disregard.

"My commitment to the council is that this is going to happen," Matthes said in his closing remarks. "We will spend the time and energy to meet these goals, and we will be careful not to overextend."

After spending most of Friday determining seven priorities for the plan, Saturday's portion of the retreat was centered on defining specific objectives for each priority that the departments and council could work on in the future.

The seven priorities the retreat focused on were: growth management, fiscal health, infrastructure, health and safety, economic development, customer-focused government, and the city's workforce.

The council members and department heads split up to discuss what priorities the city needs to focus on in the next three years.

Columbia Fire Chief Charles Witt said that talking directly to other departments was a great use of time.

"It's nice to get down on that level and have a frank conversation without violating protocol," he said.

The strategic plan was not finalized during the retreat. The council and department staff will continue to meet in subgroups to polish the plan, Matthes said. 

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony said these group meetings would be a good time for the council to stay involved in establishing an agenda instead of waiting for information to be presented.

"This is certainly a place for us to get down into the weeds," Anthony said.

Anthony's group was in charge of forming objectives for growth management. They suggested exploring the cost of growth and the availability of resources.

The group tasked with discussing fiscal health said stabilizing the cost of the city's pension fund and creating a balanced budget should be among the council's goals.

"You're talking about going down to the bare bones. ... We aren't there yet," Third Ward Councilman and group member Gary Kespohl said. "The pension is killing us, just killing us."

In his State of the City address, Matthes said the city's pension obligations exceed assets by more than $100 million.

"Left unaddressed, the exploding cost of pensions would eliminate any possibility of an employee pay raise in fiscal year 2013," Matthes wrote in the report.

Other parts of Saturday's discussion revolved around how to fix communication problems in city government, a weakness pointed out in an evaluation of the city.

Groups also debated how the council would be able to measure future goals and projects, both in terms of success and funding.

Mayor Bob McDavid told his group, which focused on infrastructure, that the city government had to define how to handle specific problems, such as stormwater control, before allotting funds.

The retreat was facilitated by consultants from Momentum Public Strategies and New Chapter Coaching who led city officials in a discussion of the government's mission and vision for Columbia.

Once the internal work has been done, the finalized plan will be presented in a public forum and put before the council for a vote, Matthes said.

Matthes said there was not yet an established schedule for the individual group meetings but that the timeline for bringing the plan before the council will run parallel with the presentation of the city budget.

The city budget for FY 2013 is due to the council in August and is expected to receive final approval in October, according to previous Missourian reports.

"If it's not at the same time as the budget, it will be right after it," Matthes said. "You'll see hundreds of items on the council's agenda to implement these objectives."

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