At last weeks City Council Meeting a motion by Councilor Murphy was passed by the Council
21. C. Murphy – Req. Mgr. report on progress toward strategic goals and objectives and schedule, with Council, an annual performance review pursuant to the City Manager’s contract.
So I thought I would ask the readers to be a Councilor and based on the published Goals and Objectives let’s see how YOU would grade the Manager.
Be fair and try to set aside any bias one way or another.
I have included the Goals and Objectives published by the Manager on his BLOG in January of this year ( they may have been tweaked a little but these are the posted ones) along with his Introduction. Read them both and then submit grades for each and then an overall grade.
Grades should be ona scale from A-F. So an A means the Administration achieved these goals to an F which means they failed completely. The one other provision I ask is that you explain the reason for the grade you give. Why he did or did not achieve the goal in your view.
This is your chance to tell us how you grade him. I will wait and give my grade on Wednesday, so that I can’t be accused of swaying the grading.
Here is his Introduction to these goals:
City government often requires deft actions to handle short-term, tactical problems that plague a community. One only has to look at some of the more recent items in the local newspaper to see that Lowell is no exception. Those issues brought up in local media outlets and the subject of talk around the water cooler are worthy of discussion and quick action because they have very tangible and acute effects on city residents.
There comes a point, however, when the sheer volume of these crisis moments puts a strangle-hold on any forward motion of the city. It is at this point that city government is so busy putting out the small fires that it cannot take stock of the current state of the city and address issues that may keep those fires from breaking out in the first place. It can be a dangerous position. Several Massachusetts cities such as Chelsea and most recently Lawrence have stood on the precipice of insolvency due in part to their inability or unwillingness to move away from the reactionary mindset to a proactive one.
Obviously we are not in such dire straits as the two prior examples. But Lowell has certainly been faced with its fair share of obstacles, especially in the recent past. And all indications are that the immediate future may be no different. The economic crisis we find ourselves emerging from has severely impacted our already limited revenue stream, while fixed costs such as health insurance skyrocket. This situation goes beyond simple dollars and cents; it filters down and affects our ability to provide quality public services that Lowell residents feel they can afford. This means less cops on the street and a possible increase in crime, fewer teachers in the school which can correlate to poor student performance and high dropout rates, and longer lines while waiting to accomplish simple transactions in City Hall.
In spite of this negative climate, we have been able to move the city forward in a positive direction in a number of ways. Even though our free cash balance fell to negative territory last year, we were able to resume the positive trend of prior years with a recently certified free cash balance of $1.3 million. Furthermore, we have been able to accomplish this while still keeping an excess levy capacity balance of almost $5 million. We have made several organizational changes within city government, most recently in Planning and Development with the formation of the new Development Services Division. The Hamilton Canal project continues to make progress when many large-scale developments in other cities have been halted. It can be quite tempting to look at these accomplishments and rest on our laurels. However, that is the point when a community starts looking backwards and stops looking forward and eventually that community ends up in the reactionary state described above.
That is why we need to take time to assess our current status and reflect on the direction we want to take the city. In order to facilitate this process, I have developed a set of strategic goals that can be used to set idealistic destinations and several objectives that provide a roadmap to get there. It represents a significant shift in the way the city approaches and handles critical decisions in both emergency and non-emergency situations alike. To the best of my knowledge, the City of Lowell has never developed a set of strategic goals that pertain to government operations on this scale. Lowell created a comprehensive master plan, but that is primarily a land-use and planning document, written to set a structure for the City’s physical growth and development well into the future.
We hear that government should be run more “like a business”. This document is more in keeping with a strategic plan for a business. While the differences between public and private entities prevent one from identically mirroring the other, there are certainly some aspects of business that can be emulated. This is certainly one of those cases.
As you examine this document, it is important to keep a few things in mind. We must try to accomplish these goals and objectives within the context of continuing to provide existing city services. While the vast majority of these objectives are forward-thinking and will result in better service, we will continue to need time to perform day-to-day operations. Streets must be plowed, calls need to be responded to, and counters need to be manned.
Second, even though a majority of the objectives detailed here are low- or no-cost activities, some may require extra resources including both time and money. Now, this does not necessarily equate to an increase in taxes or the addition of new personnel. However, if a project or an upgrade helps us achieve our defined goals, it must be explored. Ideally those activities undertaken would help us achieve even greater efficiencies and possibly savings.
Finally, I hope the City Council can think of and treat this as a work plan for the next year to eighteen months. This means a significant level of forethought needs to be put into this document. Regularly throughout the year, motions are brought forth asking the City Administration to provide services that go above and beyond what is budgeted prior to the beginning of the fiscal year. This puts a significant amount of pressure on our already strained resources. While we can all appreciate that unexpected issues come up from time to time that need to be addressed, I also hope that we can be more cognizant of this situation moving forward.
In fact, as mentioned previously these strategic goals should serve as a way to reduce the number of unexpected issues. If done correctly, strategic planning and goal setting can anticipate and prevent minor problems from becoming major problems requiring immediate intervention.
The Strategic Goals document is broken down into several parts. There are eight broad strategic goals listed for the city, including goals that pertain to city services, city finances, public safety, community development, economic development, education, sustainability, and infrastructure. These are broad statements that do not necessarily have tangible results associated with them.
Next, each goal has up to six strategic objectives listed underneath. Strategic objectives typically, though not always have multi-year timeframes for their achievement and are multi-functional, i.e. they require concerted efforts by people from many different parts of the organization developing the goals.
Finally, for several strategic objectives there is a list of department-specific action steps and performance indicators. The completion of these action steps and performance indicators will help us determine how we are doing at certain points in time. Some of these are date-specific, while some use other criteria. You will see that some are marked “TBD”. This is because we currently do not have accurate data that pertains to these objectives and indicators. Once we are able to collect that information we will be able to set proper benchmarks and targets.
The department or departments mainly responsible for the achievement of department-specific objectives and performance indicators is listed to the side of each. While we recognize that many of these will need the cooperation of other departments not listed, we decided to list that department which should have primary responsibility.
This process began by first developing a set of long-term goals for the city. These goals attempt to encompass practically everything that involves city government. After several iterations were developed, a version of these long-term goals was delivered to the Personnel Subcommittee of the City Council at their last meeting in 2010. This meeting was important in that valuable feedback from the Council was received relative to what was missing and should be included.
This feedback was incorporated into the process and the result is the eight long-term goals you see now.
At this point a copy was presented to department heads, and they were then asked to provide goals pertaining to their own departments, as well as possible performance indicators for each. In order to tie everything then, they were asked to tie each of their goals into one of the long-term goals previously described.
The process as described takes elements from both a top-down approach as well as a bottom-up approach. This hybrid model is designed to have as many steps as possible happen concurrently. The final step is to develop a set of objectives that glued these two pieces together. Although the format is pretty much set, we are still in the stage where we are soliciting feedback and refining portions of the goals.