The purpose of the meeting was for Chris to talk about the strategic plan and how it supports the city's vision to be, amongst other things, The Best Place to Raise a Child in Canada.
Chris described a very thorough and thoughtful process whereby the strategic plan was validated and sought input from his Senior Management Team through to the Manager/Supervisor level. Chris described the importance of consultation and invitation to contribute to the plan, rather than the imposition of one. The effort was described as well received and productive.
Chris explained that there are three thrusts to the strategic plan. The first centers on Prosperity and Healthy Neighbourhoods and he specifically referenced challenges in neighbourhoods in the lower city. He cited Paul Johnson's role as coordinating all the various programs and services and to work with neighbourhoods and the work he is doing with some of these neighbourhoods.
Chris provided context in terms of facing an aging population over the next decade that may not have access to pensions or well paying pensions. He mentioned the issue of poverty and also low income. He cautioned that we must make deliberate attempts to swing the ratio of the residential vs. non residential tax base. The idea being, to take a significant amount of the burden away from residential tax payers. Chris said that in Hamilton, 6% of household income was assigned to property taxes. He cited this as high, although he was clear that this does not mean that we have the highest taxes- only that as a percentage of income, the amount assigned to taxes is high. Bringing jobs and commercial interests to Hamilton will thus be a priority.
The second area Chris mentioned is Service Delivery. This involves being clear on the services the city provides and the notion of value for money. Who's accountable for them? How much are we spending on these services and are we getting value for money, as compared to other municipalities?
The third area Chris highlighted was leadership. Chris spoke of paying attention to the image issue, in terms of how we conduct business and provide services. Also, how we interact with council and other levels of government. He also mentioned a focus on management of overall workforce and succession planning.
Chris also mentioned that council did not feel a need to change the vision statement, as it should stand the test of time.
I made the following "counter-balance" points for Chris's consideration:
The need to balance the attention on driving up the non residential tax base, against the need to have our residential streets safe and free from expressway-like conditions, based on the volume and nature of traffic. I stressed the need for evidence-based thinking and that the evidence is clear that traffic on residential streets, and the volume and nature of that traffic, has a causal and inverse relationship to the health and well being of people; and that people, are the ultimate enablers of success. How that balance would be achieved was a point of query.
I raised the question of how the city would be dealing with the present conditions that served as a disconnect between what the vision aspires to, and the real conditions on the ground vis a vis expressway like traffic on residential and city roads.
Chris described a process whereby the Chief Medical Officer of Health would not only be called upon to ensure programs and services related to public health were properly executed, but that she would be used as a strategic adviser to ensure that the balance between healthy neighbourhoods and commercial growth, was respected and to help shape future efforts.
I suggested that the city needs to reach out to all community associations and to citizens across the city, so as to recognize that there are issues that need addressing beyond a selected area (lower city/downtown core).
I identified the need for public reporting on measurables , beyond a yearly report to council and the need to keep citizen informed regularly of progress and initiatives.
I will have more information to share with you from this meeting. For the moment, I thought I would provide a synopsis of this meeting.
It seems that the city has undertaken a very thoughtful process. The proof will be whether it will be translated into measurable and evident progress that will inspire greater confidence and belief in our vision and its attainment.
Publisher, The Hamiltonian