Mallory Herrmann

The city council agreed this week to move forward with a new strategic planning process. At their Sept. 13 work session, the council had a lengthy discussion about the city’s history with such plans and what a new planning process will look like. City staff recommended a partnership with the Novak Consulting Group, who would work with council as a steering committee to lead the initiative.

This is a different strategy than in years past, when the city created citizen advisory groups as acting steering committees. The city’s first strategic plan was approved in 1993 and amended in 1999 and focused largely on capital improvements to address rapid growth through the 1980s and 1990s. A second strategic plan was created in 2009, when the city agreed to repeat the process every ten years. The Lee’s Summit 360 Charting Tomorrow plan was much more focused on quality of life, with 19 key goals and 100 action items. Steve Arbo, city manager, says that over 90 of those action items have been completed today. Noting that in the past the city council has received quarterly progress updates on the implementation of the plan, he credited the process with allowing city leaders to keep an eye on big-picture growth and development beyond the incremental changes discussed at most regular council meetings.

Councilmember Bob Johnson expressed concern that the council wasn’t really sure what it wanted yet in regard to strategic planning, and therefore wasn’t ready to vote on whether to proceed with an agreement with Novak. Mayor Bill Baird asked him to “stop beating around the bush” and to express his specific concerns so that the council could move forward. Johnson said that he would prefer that the council decide on some parameters before moving forward with a big expense. Arbo hinted at frustration, explaining that staff had specifically chosen to present the consulting recommendation as broadly as possible to avoid criticism that the council was being directed too strongly. Arbo said that the consultants will work directly with the council to “learn about their expectations for this process and to gain a clear picture of what the City hopes to accomplish from the strategic planning process,” as stated in Novak’s approach outline.

The consulting costs are not to exceed $84,000 and will include Novak’s guidance on a six-step process, starting with one-on-one meetings with the mayor and each councilmember. They will collect input from residents through both in-person sessions and electronic feedback tools, as well as data about the community through city employee surveys, financial trends, and demographic data. The information will be compiled and used to prepare a mission and vision statement that will be finalized with specific action items from city departmental staff.

The city has worked with Novak in the past on other projects and City Manager Steve Arbo said staff was very impressed with their work.

The council voted in favor of recommending staff to draft an ordinance approving the expenditure and a contract with Novak, with Johnson voting against. The council plans to vote on the ordinance in October. At Councilmember Fred DeMoro’s request, Arbo will try to arrange a representative from the consulting company to appear for the agenda time to offer any additional presentation about their services or to answer questions. If approved, the process is expected to begin in January and to last four months. The plan would be prepared for finalization and adoption sometime next summer.

Councilmember Craig Faith was absent.