Monday, November 8, 2021

Richardson City Council Goals 2021-2023

The City Council of Richardson held three secret meetings to set their Council Goals for the 2021-2023 term. I say secret because there were no videos. There were no minutes. The only way for you to know what was said, and by whom, was if one of the three members of the public who managed to find their way upstairs to the chamber of secrets told you what happened. Your faithful correspondent was one of them. You can read about that part of the story using the links at the bottom of this post.

Last week, the City Council learned what their 2021-2023 Goals and Strategies will be. I say "learned" because they didn't finish their work in their meetings. City staff finished the editing for them and presented it to them at the Council meeting on November 1. The Council will vote to adopt this Vision, Goals and Strategies at their November 8 meeting. I won't spend any time on the Vision. It's boilerplate stuff, indistinguishable from what could be written for cities all across America. Let's look at the Goals.

2021-2023 Goals:

  • Our well-trained, engaged, and innovative employees deliver an exceptional customer experience while working in a safe, inclusive, and equitable environment
  • To have clear, understandable, and consistently applied processes and policies that make it easy for residents, employees, and other stakeholders to interact with the City
  • To have residents and other stakeholders choose Richardson as the best place to locate, contribute, and engage
  • To effectively and efficiently manage city resources while maintaining and enhancing city services

Also boilerplate, I know. Missing are explicit mentions of the goals I suggested:

  • Update the 2009 Comprehensive Plan
  • Update City zoning ordinances
  • Reform City's use of tax incentives
  • Reform policing (eliminate ticket quotas, eliminate pretext stops)
  • Strengthen the Code of Ethics
  • Commit to video record *all* City Council meetings

I have a fundamental objection to these exercises. The Council seems to be trying to craft a set of goals that will work for all Councils, for all time. To me they read more like a vision of a utopia, not a practical set of goals to work to achieve over the next two years. I see it as avoiding the tough job of creating such a set of goals that this Council can be measured against at the end of this term. Maybe that's just me. Let's look at what we have.

The Council thought that two of its 2019-2021 Goals were duplicates, so it dropped one and inserted a goal focused on city employees (the new first goal). Fair enough. If employees ever feel they don't have a "safe, inclusive, and equitable environment," they'll know their bosses aren't reading the Council Goals. That word "equitable" required way more deliberation than it should have, given that its common definition is "fair and impartial." Who could quibble with using that word anywhere and everywhere. Well, some did. And that's all I'll say about the Goals.

Maybe we'll get closer to what I want in the Strategies. Let's examine those.

2021-2023 Strategies:

  1. Attract, develop, and retain high-quality, innovative employees
  2. Document and continuously improve business processes
  3. Improve access, usability, and user experience with policies, processes, and procedures
  4. Promote an innovative approach to business processes
  5. Ensure systems are safe and secure
  6. Continue to explore unique incentives/initiatives to attract and retain residents and other stakeholders
  7. Promote avenues for public engagement and input
  8. Work to maintain a balance between responsible neighborhood integrity and the regulatory environment
  9. Leverage our regional leadership position to positively impact County, State and Federal issues
  10. Maintain strong fund balance and bond rating
  11. Value, protect, and create a positive return on City, resident, and other stakeholder investments in the City
  12. Leverage county, state, and federal opportunities

These Strategies suffer from the same failing as the Goals. In fact, these Strategies read like another twelve Goals. They suffer from the same lack of S.M.A.R.T details. Paul Voelker bears responsibility for this. When Ken Hutchenrider and Jennifer Justice pushed to spend time developing tactics to support the goals and strategies, the Mayor pushed back, arguing, "Our job is not to tell at a tactical level Dan and his organization what to do, when to do it, and why to do it." When the Mayor says no, he tends to get his way. And so we ended up with un-S.M.A.R.T goals and strategies. What's another word for un-S.M.A.R.T?

The Strategies have been reordered from the 2019-2021 Strategies. I don't know if there's any significance to the new order.

Three of the old Strategies seem to be missing. No more enhancing the quality of life. No more leveraging media. No more pursuing public/private partnerships. Really? In October, the City announced the construction of something called the "Innovation District Hub," with space shared by UT-Dallas and the City's Office of Strategic Initiatives. My guess is that the City will be open to the right public/private partnership in the IQ District. Maybe I shouldn't read too much into Strategies added and Strategies removed. The City is going to do what the City is going to do regardless.

Some of the new Strategies appear to be duplicates, more or less (#2 and #4). I don't know if that's the fault of the Council or the city staff who did the final editing. Maybe it'll get cleaned up before final passage.

There appears to be a lot of wordsmithing of some of the old Strategies in the new list. Some of it is baffling. The old #9 (attract targeted businesses) seems to have morphed into the new #6 (explore incentives to attract residents and other stakeholders). Maybe that's an explicit admission that we'll be giving money to businesses ("other stakeholders") to move to Richardson. It can't mean we'll be giving money to families ("residents") to move to Richardson, can it?

There appear to be two brand new Strategies (#5, #8). Someone on the Council is rightly scared that our IT systems are probably vulnerable to hacking. Not probably; if you have a computer, it's vulnerable. No one ever devotes as many resources to computer security as is needed. I think Ken Hutchenrider deserves credit here. Perhaps him being responsible for Methodist Hospital is paying dividends for the City.

And someone finally thought of "neighborhoods" in our Goals and Strategies. Hooray! The word didn't appear anywhere at all in the 2019-2021 Goals and Strategies. But its use this year is baffling. "Work to maintain a balance between responsible neighborhood integrity and the regulatory environment." Does that mean they are going to crack down on code enforcement, or relax code enforcement? Or something else entirely. Beats me.

That's it. Nothing awful here, but nothing to get excited about either. Safe. Non-controversial. Nothing memorable. Mostly same old, same old. I will be looking for candidates in the next election who are more willing to commit to specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based goals.

Dispatches from the Council's secret goal-setting meetings.


Mark Steger said...

A reader referred me to a Harvard Business Review article on strategy execution that contained this bit of wisdom: "A real strategy involves a clear set of choices that define what the firm is going to do and what it’s not going to do." Richardson's Strategies violate this maxim, almost willfully so. There's no hint in any of them of the *choice* being made, of what the City is *not* going to do. Instead, the strategies seemed stuffed full of everything the Council members could think of in three night's of meetings. Trying to be everything to everyone isn't a Strategy. It's a recipe for failure.

Louis Burns said...

This doesn't appear to commit the city to anything. It's worse than worthless as it lets them say they have goals when they don't. And in conflict with at least one stated goal - did they ask the residents what they think the city's goals should be? I didn't hear about it if they did.

Mark Steger said...

On November 8, 2021, the City Council adopted these Goals and Strategies unanimously, with no discussion.