The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 8, 2014

Clinton's 2014 strategic plan still a murky picture

By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — The first order of business for the new Clinton City Council wasn't to implement a new city ordinance; it wasn't to approve a resolution; nor was it to channel a public hearing.

During Tuesday's 2014 Strategic Planning Session, the council's first experience working together wasn't even strategic planning. Instead, under direction by Human Resources rep Paul Greufe, the first time councilmembers coordinated anything as a whole was through a collective effort to piece something together: A 30-page children's book.

"This is intended to be frustrating," Greufe said after the council took 45 minutes to complete the team-building exercise. He added he's worked with other councils that "simply give up."

Three hours, a lunch break and a small group session later (the latter included department heads), Clinton's city leaders were given another challenge: Piece together a city plan.

The ensuing discussion hardly resembled child's play. Few directives were hammered out.

Above all, councilmembers old and new seemed to agree the city's finances need a steadier hand.

"I don’t care what direction we go in," Ward 3 Councilman Ed O'Neill said. "But we need to do business differently than what we’ve been doing the last six years because what we’re doing isn’t working."

When asked for ideas to maintain and improve the city’s financial position, councilmembers listed 13 strategies, including developing a five-year plan and implementing a “$1 million cash reserve.” This prompted a lengthy discussion about where city leaders stand on the situation, with pointed questions as to why Clinton operates as it currently does.

This was the basis for why Ward 4 Councilman John Rowland proposed the city hire an agency to study why it’s continually at risk.

“There are businesses out there that have helped other companies restructure, and that’s essentially what I think we need to have somebody look at,” Rowland said. “Otherwise you’re going to continue to fund all those programs, which gets right back to the problem. … I think you need to get some outside expertise to develop a plan to deal with some of this.”

Greufe explained the session wasn't intended to set any priorities in stone, stating in the agenda itself "We (do) not have the time to resolve any one issue today." Tuesday served more to get the ball rolling toward drafting a strategic plan that will come before the Committee of the Whole later this month.

The council outlined goals that fell into four criteria the city's financial position, communication, health of the city and organization/services. Finances dominated the discussion.

Tom Determann, at-large councilman, and O'Neill said it was too difficult to outline an overall plan without a clear picture of where the city stands fiscally.

"We need a financial statement on every single thing we’re doing every single month," O'Neill said.

"This is priority number one – seeing the year-to-dates," said Determann.

The finance conversation routinely steered itself back to City Administrator Jessica Kinser and Finance Director Anita Dalton - both in their first strategic plan session with the city. They were asked why reports from several months ago aren’t available yet. Kinser explained those financial statements need to be audited before they appear before the council. She added, “… we're months ahead of where we’ve been in the past.”

Greufe, Kinser and Dalton encouraged that the city give a directive on what specific reports the council wants to see regarding its finances.

Topics continued, ranging from improving the IT department to doing away with the current committee process. The discussion also touched on recent “black eyes” for the city such as Clinton’s failed lawsuit against attorney Michael Walker.

But aside from the council requesting more information on the city’s finances, members said it was hard to determine their next course of action.

“I’ve never been on a board or worked in a company that didn’t have a financial statement to see where they’re at every single meeting to see where they’re at before making decisions,” O’Neill said.

For now, it’s up to Kinser to organize the talking points into a more formalized looking plan.

“The biggest thing I was looking for was agreement upon what we’re looking for over the next two years,” she said. “This was really mostly to bring us together. I didn’t expect that we’d completely get through everything today.”

Since the meeting was a work session, no formal action was taken by the council. A draft of the 2014 strategic plan is slated to appear before the council for more discussion during either its Jan. 14 or Jan. 28 Committee of the Whole meeting.

Kinser said the council hopefully will have something ready to adopt in February. She added there will be a lot of refinement between the current state of the plan and the finished product.