Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fear of Commitment in 27 Pages

The City of Richardson's Statement of Goals has always been a grab bag. Part vision and mission statement, part job description for city government, part wish list, part laundry list, it's a jumble of goals, priorities and action items. Its length is indicative of its problems. This year, after several multiple hour sessions, the City Council managed to whittle it down from 28 pages to, let's count 'em, 1, 2, 3, ..., 27 pages.

After the jump, some random examples of what's wrong with the current draft of the City of Richardson's Statement of Goals.

Seven of the first eight action items say, "Evaluate ..." The first exception to this says, "Review and evaluate ..." The full Statement of Goals is like that for 27 pages, full of calls to "Consider" and "Review" and "Identify" and "Look for." Imagine if the Dallas Cowboys said their goals for the year were not "Beat Philadelphia" and "Make the play-offs" and "Win the Super Bowl" but instead "Evaluate if we should try to score more touchdowns." This City Council seems very reluctant to commit to actually accomplishing anything. The results are predictable. Aim small, miss small.

Monday night, after hours of discussion, the City Council was down to reviewing the third last action item on the very last page of the 27 page document: "Promote Richardson access points for the HOV lanes on Central Expressway." Amir Omar sensibly suggested that this is not worded appropriately for a City Council action item. He said, "Is this something that we could actually stick on the council agenda for a work session next Monday? If we can't, then it may not need to be on the short-term action items." Steve Mitchell objected, saying, "I think it's important that we as a city continue to show our support for access to the HOV lanes."

Important? Is it, really? A telling sign of how confused this whole document is lies in the fact that of the fourteen goals in the "Transportation and Mobility" section, none of them deals with that HOV lane. None. Those fourteen transportation goals are themselves full of calls to "Support" and "Pursue" and "Promote" and "Encourage" that didn't make it over into the short-term action items, but somehow the HOV lane, which isn't in any of the fourteen goals, did make the short-term action items. I guess just sticking it in the document like a Post-it note wherever it once happened to come up in conversation shows how important it is.

The document is confusing because the City Council itself is confused about the priorities of its goals and what specifically it's going to do to achieve those goals. That's how we end up with page after page of action items to "Promote" and "Encourage" and "Support" something or other and so few action items that call for actually accomplishing anything. One action item, carried over from the last council's short-term action item list, only commits the council to "Evaluate the development of a dog park." Even that minimal commitment, an evaluation, wasn't important enough last term to, you know, do. So it's back. Come on, already. Commit to doing something or reject the idea. Quit with the action items to continue to think it over. Here's an idea. Add an action item to "Block off those HOV lanes to make a dog run." You would get everyone's attention. But maybe getting the public's attention is not the purpose of these exercises.

Perhaps the futility of this biennial effort was highlighted best by a city staffer's comment near the very end of the City Council's discussion. After two hours on the topic of goals and action items, she still wasn't clear on the concept. "What's the difference between a goal and an action item?" she asked. No one in the room answered.

My earlier rant on this subject can be read here.

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