Friday, February 2, 2024

The State of the City: It's an Outlier

Source: h/t DALL-E

The City of Richardson held its annual State of the City Address on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, highlighting the City's achievements in 2023. I'm here to give my instant feedback.

Regular readers here know that positive feedback about City government is not in The Wheel's wheelhouse, so to speak. In this case, though, my overall grade is A-. The format, where the Mayor and each Councilmember introduced a short video of highlights in different areas, moved quickly and was informative. The content made me feel lucky to have ended up in Richardson, Texas, and proud to have stayed here for more years than I can count. Richardson has a lot going for it. Read about the address, or watch it yourself.

Still, give me enough time, and I'll find room for improvement. I don't view the theme, that Richardson is an "Outlier," as necessarily a positive. Outliers are exceptional, sure, but outliers can be exceptionally bad instead of exceptionally good. What if your child's report card said they were an "outlier." It would definitely lead to seeking an explanation from their teacher. But that's a nit.

A more substantive criticism was Mayor Bob Dubey's talk about the City Council's Goals and Strategies. He read the four goals. He then showed a slide listing the thirteen strategies the Council adopted to achieve their goals, but he didn't read them or even talk about them. He instead used the slide for a laugh line: "Don't worry, I'm not going to read them all to you." I'm reminded of a car salesman who says, "Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to read the contract's fine print. Just sign here."

Regular readers are familiar with my criticism of how the City Council sets its goals every year. They aren't even goals, per se. They are more like visions. Dubey admits as much when he said the goals don't change (much) year to year. A goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. You should be able to work on it, achieve it, and replace it with a new goal next year. A vision, on the other hand, is something dreamed of, some imagined far future state, some mystical hope. Consider these famous cases from history:

John F. Kennedy: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

That is a goal. It's specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Ronald Reagan: "I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still."

That is a vision. Reagan never asked Congress for the money to build that city. It was an aspiration, a hope, a dream to strive for without ever expecting to fully achieve. That's OK. That's what visions are. We need visions. But we also need specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound goals and strategies. And they should never be laugh lines.

I understand this State of the City Address was more a promotion of the good things Richardson has going for it. I just would have liked to have seen the specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound goals that Richardson's City Council, City Manager, and staff are working on and are going to deliver for us in the coming year. In short, at least as much Kennedy as Reagan. Is that too much to ask? It's what the State of the City Address needs to improve its grade from A- to A+.

"The Wheel's instant take:
Format swift, informative,
City an outlier."

—h/t ChatGPT

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