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Editor's Note: Strategizing the Strategic Plan
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WHILE MUCH of the attention on this past week’s City Council meeting focused on Council’s capitulation to inevitability in granting the The Stage On Bay its liquor license to avoid a threatened $6 million lawsuit, something else important happened quietly near the end:

Council unanimously voted to award a contract to a Colorado-based consultant to come up with a strategic plan for Savannah.

It seemed like too big a deal to just let go that easily, so I looked into it a bit more.

The bureaucratese in the meeting agenda put it like this:

“The City Manager’s Office will use the services to develop a City-wide comprehensive strategic plan, and will provide the opportunity for the Mayor, Council, and City administration to set priorities for strategic, operational, resource, and policy decisions. The strategic plan will set a course of action for the short and long term by identifying a vision, mission, and clear and specific priorities.”

I say it passed quietly, but it wasn’t something they were trying to hide. In fact, Alderman Julian Miller made sure to highlight the measure publicly before the vote.

“Besides crime, the main thing we were elected on was coming up with a strategic vision for this city,” Miller said about the consultant hire. And of course he is right.

The consultant chosen according to standard City bidding protocol was Managing Results, based in Gunnison, Colorado. City Manager Rob Hernandez has high praise for the firm.

Their client list is pretty impressive, including the City of Austin, Nashville/Davidson County, and the U.S. Marine Corps, to name a few.

(The firm was the second highest bidder out of four, if you’re interested.)

There was a little bit of hubbub over the announcement, however, for a couple of reasons.

One, the cost: Nearly $104,000. (The actual amount is $103,858. Everyone wants to know: What’s the extra eight bucks for?)

To be clear, a really good strategic plan, executed well, can theoretically be worth ten times that much or more.

One could easily argue that a hundred grand is chump change compared to the amount of wasted money and bad PR — water/utility billing software fiasco, cough-cough – that comes from an overall lack of a sane and cohesive strategy.

But we already have an elected City Council, a very highly paid City Manager, and a second, lame-duck City Manager still on payroll through the year.

One might be excused for wondering why we need someone from the other side of the country to come up with a strategic plan for a Southeastern city which has one of the most identifiably unique sets of characteristics in the U.S.

One might even be excused for thinking that if we can’t come up with a strategic plan on our own here, with all the gifts and advantages we have and have known about for quite some time, we might as well throw in the towel.

Another catch: Savannah and Chatham County have already adopted and funded a strategic plan.

The Comprehensive Plan, authored by the Metropolitan Planning Commission, is loosely based on the Tricentennial Plan, revealed over a decade ago.

It is updated every five years, and the newest version was just adopted officially by the City in January, and by Chatham County last month.

And it’s a good plan. I encourage you to see it here:

It has some conspicuous holes in it, tourism management to name but one. And some of the information reads more like PR material than anything objective.

But in all it’s an impressive body of work. So there does seem to be some method to the madness.

City of Savannah Deputy City Manager Bret Bell indicates that the newly awarded strategic plan to the Colorado company will be used “to help develop the City organization’s work program, drive organizational change, set outcomes and measure results.”

Bell continues:

“We will utilize the Chatham-Savannah Comprehensive Plan as a starting point, and to guide direction, but the strategic plan will be much more specific to developing a road map for City operations to meet short-, medium- and long-term priorities.”

In other words, the new contract will deal with more granular decisions, rather than the “30,000 foot view” that Bell says the City/County/MPC Comprehensive Plan is intended to address.

Since you’re paying for it all, I leave it up to you to decide if two City Managers and their staff aren’t already enough to come up with such a granular methodology.

Maybe, as many have said, it takes an outsider – or two, or three — to come into Savannah and clean up our mess.

Indeed, City Manager Hernandez specifically brought in a former colleague from Florida, Liz Taschereau, to assist in streamlining the way the City functions.

Taschereau is set specifically to work with the new strategic plan and “monitor goals and developments,” according to Bell.

But snarky comments aside, if all this does somehow pay off — the appointment of a new City Manager with a new team, and adopting a new set of strategic plans as a blueprint — it will be worth every penny in the long run.

The devil will be in the details, as usual, and it’s incumbent on the taxpayers to make sure their money is being wisely spent.