Huron East Council moves ahead with strategic planning process
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron East Council is moving ahead with the development of a strategic plan, including an economic development strategic plan, which is one of the “deliverables” outlined when the municipality hired new Chief Administrative Officer Brad McRoberts.
McRoberts spoke to the process at council’s Oct. 5 meeting, which was held virtually via Zoom. He said the development of a strategic plan for the municipality was the fourth of five deliverables identified when he was hired, following a communications plan and other initiatives that are already underway.
“It is critical for council and staff to be engaged and supportive of a strategic planning process for it to achieve success,” McRoberts said in his report. “It will require a strong process sponsor (council), an effective process champion (chief administrative officer), a dedicated strategic planning team (staff and a consultant), a commitment to engagement and consultation (listening), an expectation of disruption and delays (change), and a willingness to be flexible on outcomes of the process (adaptability).”
He said that strategic plans for municipal organizations can consist of two key elements, a corporate strategic plan and a community strategic plan.
In his report, McRoberts added that it’s important that a plan doesn’t become too action-specific or directive. “Action-detailed plans can limit the ability of the organization to adapt to a changing landscape or to be innovative and creative in finding solutions to achieve the desired goals or outcomes,” he said in his report.
A strategic plan, McRoberts said in his report, can consolidate the direction of the community, assist council in focusing its efforts towards the strategic goals, provide the outline of the plan of action that the chief administrative officer will need to undertake for the duration of the strategic plan and guide staff in terms of where their commitments should be focused.
“There are different approaches to strategic planning. One is to enter the process recognizing that there may be other strategic processes that will be identified, which will require further consultation and study, such as an economic development strategy, master plans for recreation, asset management planning, communications planning, service delivery review, etc. (Iterative Approach),” McRoberts said in his report.
“The other is to complete some of the area-specific planning efforts in advance of the corporate and community strategic planning processes in order to have them lay the foundation of the large overarching strategy (Foundation Approach). Either approach is valid and can lead to the same outcomes. The difference being the former process becomes a bit more iterative and can lead to revisiting corporate and community strategic planning process multiple times to incorporate outcomes and recommendation of the subsequent area-specific strategy documents, while the latter provides for a more gradual incremental approach.”
Timing of the new strategy will be crucial, McRoberts said, with the next municipal election slated for the fall of 2022. He said that, using the iterative approach, council and staff should be able to complete a plan within that timeframe, but an “aggressive schedule” will be necessary to do so between the election schedule and a potential “lame duck” period.
He suggested that council may want to defer the final strategic planning process until after next year’s election, leaving it for the next council to tackle.
McRoberts suggested hiring an outside consultant for the project, which would be the first step, taking between three and four weeks. The consultation step would then take between four and six weeks, followed by the identification of mission and vision statements (one to two weeks), report preparation (four to six weeks), review and commenting (three to four weeks), finalization (three to four weeks) and approval (one week), followed by an annual review and revisions and updates as necessary.
If approved, McRoberts said the process would begin within two weeks and take between four and six months to complete. He said there wouldn’t be any impacts on the budget, as council had already allocated the remainder of the municipality’s modernization funding from the provincial government to the strategic planning process.
McRoberts also noted that he felt that creating an economic development strategic plan before hiring a new economic development officer was an important sequence of events for the municipality to follow.
Councillors were impressed with McRoberts’ report and several said they had been wanting the municipality to move forward with a strategic plan for a long time. However, not all were sold on hiring an outside consultant.
Deputy-Mayor Bob Fisher suggested contacting Vicki Lass from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, who had assisted area municipalities with strategic planning processes before, or even local scholar and rural planning expert Wayne Caldwell. McRoberts said he could definitely get in touch with those people if council wished, but that he felt there is benefit to bringing an “outsider” in on an initiative like this.
Other councillors agreed, saying that council should trust McRoberts to carry out the process as he sees fit.
Council passed a motion, moving ahead with McRoberts’ recommendation.