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Mayor says city needs to form strategic plan

Burke believes it will help community move beyond Crundwell

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – Rita Crundwell, or not, Mayor Jim Burke says forming a strategic plan is something every community should be doing, and something that is overdue in Dixon.

Earlier this month, the City Council approved a $31,400 agreement with Sikich consultants of Naperville to help develop a strategic plan and offer leadership training.

The genesis of the strategic plan came indirectly from the former comptroller’s theft of nearly $54 million from city funds, but it is more about moving beyond the incident, Burke said.

The idea was suggested by interim finance directors Stan Helgerson and Dave Richardson, who handled Crundwell’s job until current finance director Paula Meyer was hired.

“Most large successful corporations go through processes like this,” Burke said. “ ... What I’d like to see come out of this is a full strategic planning report to the public that lays down the results of what we’re going to go through, what are going to be our recommendations, what are our priorities, and have it be something that can be used as a marketing tool for the city.”

City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen, the city’s point man in organizing the strategic plan, said the city will end up with a map of goals for city officials and residents to follow. The final document and updates will be posted on the city’s website. Also, meetings will be open to the public.

With Dixon’s commission form of government, Helgerson said a unified vision may have been overlooked as commissioners focused on their specific duties.

“In the commission form, there’s a tendency to focus on certain tasks within an area,” Helgerson said. Commissioners in Dixon are assigned to handle finance, public property, public health and safety, and streets.

“A strategic plan will bring them together to look forward as a group.” he said. “Once a plan is in place and priorities are set, the council can build its future budgets around those plans.”

In Streator, a city of about 14,000 in LaSalle County, City Manager Paul Nicholson said a strategic plan through Sikich allowed city officials to create a vision and make plans to achieve it, such as improving its parks and sewer system.

“I can remember a time when we didn’t have a definitive strategic plan and objectives,” Nicholson said. “When you are confronted with that reality, as a manager, it is often difficult to objectively ascertain what are the priorities, where should we be focusing our energy. As a net result, we wind up trying to sort through those things.

“It makes for very difficult decision-making.” 

The planning process will begin with the City Council taking a 2-day retreat for leadership training in May, possibly at Starved Rock State Park.

Sikich says leadership training is essential to build a strategic plan.

“Policy leadership and management-team effectiveness are essential to success, because it is through key leaders that the organization determines where it wants to go and how it will get there,” Sikich says in the plan.

During the retreat, commissioners will be taught leadership lessons on understanding public service, communication and setting agendas, as well as defining and applying ethics.

This session will come at a cost of $7,950.

After leadership training, the Sikich team will conduct one-on-one interviews with “any person, group, or organization that can place a claim on an organization’s (or other entity’s) attention, resources, or output that is affected by that output.”

“We will develop a more complete picture of the city that extends beyond data and financial information,” Sikich says.

During that time, surveys will be made available to residents either online or with their water bills to garner their input on goals, Ortgiesen said. The City Council also may use citizen focus groups to get more input.

The city department heads also will meet with Sikich’s team to get a review of current conditions and coaching on identifying strategic issues.

Once all those procedural steps are taken, the City Council and department heads will conduct 8 to 10 hours of workshops open to the public to review the information gathered and establish short- and long-term goals for the city.

Once an agreed-upon set of goals is developed, Sikich will guide the establishment of action plans, scheduling and assignments. Sikich will create a document for these plans, designed to produce awareness and accountability.

The goal is to have a plan in place before next year’s budget talks in April.

“I think this is a logical plan,” Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said. “We need guidance on how to come back fiscally responsible and responsive to our citizens, but I don’t want to see a plan that looks great at the time put on the shelf.”

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