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This may be an unpopular argument, but I’m going to make it anyway. This week has taught me that local governments can’t escape from strategic planning. They are doing it without even knowing it. Now, I understand that this coupling of words has a very specific academic meaning.


Slide32_MPA709_111But what I am talking about is less holistic and more specific. If you’re a municipality, you have probably seen something that looks similar to this. You may even have your own. This is the School of Government’s strategic model, and it focuses on three main questions: What should we do? How do we do it? How are we doing? In the course of this brief blog post, my argument is that municipalities have been doing this for years. They just might not be following a well-labeled model. And I think that recognizing that this is happening will help municipalities be even more strategic, more effective, and more efficient.

In Zebulon this week, we held our final BOC budget meeting before gathering public input. During this final meeting, the board was presented with a FLEET management/rotation plan and a plan on downtown revitalization. In each of these, the main questions from above were referenced. Let me break this down.

In the FLEET plan, the need is vehicles for the police department, parks and recreation, planning, fire, and public works. What should we do about it? Get vehicles. How should we do it? It was determined that some of the vehicles could be transferred from one department to another. While the police department may have exhausted useful life from a truck, the parks and recreation department could use it to haul mowing equipment. A much less strenuous task than that required by the daily grind of law enforcement. And of course, some vehicles would just have to be purchased. But the old cars and trucks could be sold to other municipalities to recoup some of the initial investment.

The downtown plan followed a similar pattern. Zebulon’s downtown business district is dying. The buildings are old, and they look their age. But with some tender love and care, the area could flourish. What should we do about it? Fix it. How should we do it? Create grant programs to promote an influx of businesses. With these programs, business owners can afford to house local restaurants and shops in historic buildings that need to be brought up to code. Without the grant programs, it could be cheaper to build from the ground up instead of restoring a characterful piece of Zebulon’s history.

In each of these plans, the Town is looking several years ahead. And the How are we doing? is yet to come. This makes sense. You can’t evaluate the success of a project until the project is commenced. We all know the adage: You never know ’till you try. And it is my hope that the public and the board will approve at least some of these initiatives so that this final question can be answered.

Zebulon is not a Charlotte, Raleigh, or Greensboro, but it is a municipality that is engaging in strategic planning without recognition. It doesn’t have a formal model to promote, but the municipal government is visionary. And I think that when the Town’s administration is enabled to act on its strategic initiatives, more strategic opportunities will come. With this, the Town can become more effective, more efficient, and better serve its population.

It is my educated opinion that strategic planning doesn’t always have to be big picture. Sometimes it is small, exclusive, or project-based.

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