Burlington is creating a Strategic Plan that will set out just what kind of a city it wants to be. Magi and Dwyer lead the process.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 6, 2011 – So, said the guy in the sales lot – you’re looking for a Strategic Plan – what kind of a budget do you have ?

Not all that much money and I need something that will last me at least four years.

How heavy duty will your driving be?

Not sure exactly, some of my travel will be very heavy duty will all kinds of passengers and many of them will have a lot of baggage – and then there will be those short runs to the LCBO. It will be a pretty solid mix.

Colour matter? Four door? Automatic transition? Sound system?

Probably blue – we’re a blue town. Four doors for sure and a hatch back – we are going to have people crawling in and out of the thing. Automatic would be nice – don’t need sound, there will be all kinds of talking going on.

If Burlington was buying a strategic plan from a sales lot that is how the conversation might go – but we are not going to buy a strategic plan we are going to build our plan with a level of community involvement that includes over 80 community groups and almost anyone else who has something to say.

The process is headed up by Allan Magi, Executive Director, Corporate Strategic Initiatives and Michelle Dwyer, coordinator of Corporate Strategic Initiatives. From now through to September they will be directing the effort that will have city hall staff, your Council and you the public figuring out and thinking through what the strategic plan for the city should be for the next four years.

With a Strategic Plan in place ( and we won’t have that until sometime in September) City Council can then begin to develop a budget for the remaining years of its term and move forward on each of the objectives set out in the Strategic Plan.

Council and senior staff members have been working through just how they want to create the Plan while Magi has been working on the relationship with the consultants and keeping in touch with Council members while Dwyer has been gathering data and getting input from staff. This, apparently is the first time staff have been as directly involved at input into a plan, said Dwyer and many appreciated being asked what they thought and felt the city should be doing in terms of the direction it will grow in. Dwyer pointed out that many staff members live in the city and they want to be able to comment both as citizens and employees who have an insight into what can and can’t get done. For Dwyer that realization was a pleasant surprise.


Much of the research and data gathering was done by Dwyer who came across an idea used in Edmonton that she thought could be used in Burlington equally well and that was a Work Book that people would download form the web site and complete.

Dwyer has been with the city for some time. She worked in Parks, the in Clerks and now with Community Strategic Initiatives. She was also the United Way associate for the city. Dwyer studied at Mohawk College.

Dwyer will tell you that this assignment is one of the most exciting she has worked on. She is getting an up close look at what the different departments see as the future of the city and at the same time working with stakeholder groups who have their own vision. Out of all these groups will come a Mission, Vision and Values statement and that, Dwyer will tell you, is a big deal.

Mayor Goldring mentioned the workbook at a Q&A held by the Chamber of Commerce and suggested that citizens gather with their neighbours in small groups and go through the Workbook. The idea didn’t exactly float but didn’t fall to the ground like a lead balloon either. It was a different approach, sort of like homework for the community, an idea that Dwyer came across in her research and convinced the Mayor to give it a try in Burlington – and it worked.. People downloaded the workbook, went through the document and sent them back to city hall. A number of people also did the one line survey that was put up.

The creation of the Strategic Plan is running on several levels. While Magi and Dwyer gather material, work with staff and then organize the more than 80 stakeholder groups in the city and arrange for presentations to Council, a group of Consultants hired by the city to take senior staff and council through the finer points of crafting a Strategic Plan. Just how do you create a Strategic plan anyway ? The plan that was in place for 2006 to 2010 had very little impact on the how the city grew and wasn’t much more than a collection of statements and a lot of nice pictures.

This Council didn’t want to make that mistake again but who knew just how to do this. The city didn’t have that level of expertise in house. The standard citizen Quality of Service survey was revised with input from both staff and Council – results of that work are in the review and analysis stage

Another phase is the community input, which is where community groups make presentations to city councillors. The first took place at the Burlington Arts Centre where seven groups presented. The second input session had 13 community groups telling Council what they think should be in the Strategic Plan. The community stakeholders resulted from a list sent to council for input – groups were added or deleted from the list.  Forty four key stakeholder groups  were asked to provide for council consideration three priorities they would like to see in the Strategic Plan. Some came forward with the “same old” but there were some interesting insights.

Allan Magi came to Burlington 20 years ago and expected to return to the consulting work he was doing – but hasn’t managed to do that. He explains that the Strategic Plan process he is leading will be the eighth Burlington has produced and that Burlington was one of the first municipalities to get into the process of creating a Strategic Plan.

Past plans have been less than inspiring and this Council wanted to do it differently and Magi was given the job of leading the process. “We first wanted to ensure that Council had ownership of this Plan” he explained. “We wanted the Plan to be more operational and to tie the first part of a 20 year plan to the term of office for the Council” In other words Magi was charged with coming up with a plan that was based on a 20 year vision

with clear objectives as to what would get done ion the next four years..

“There are huge intangibles in a Strategic Plan explained Magi. It is a Council’s vision that they drew from the citizens. We wanted ground level input and we wanted to cast our net as wide as possible. In the past the community input was somewhat limited and this Council didn’t want to make that mistake.

Magi was involved in the city portion of the Shape Burlington report that was the first document to put the city on a different path and has worked very closely with the Shaping Burlington people, who were the successor organization to the Shape group, that were commission by then Mayor Jackson to ask some fundamental questions as to just how the city worked and where the problems lay. Former Mayor Walter Mulkewich and the late John Boich co-chaired the Shape group and delivered a very significant document.

Magi came out of that process with a much different view of what the city wanted and is using much of what he learned to produce a Strategic Plan process that will build on what Shape Burlington taught us.

Magi learned that the city had to move much earlier on getting public input – “much, much earlier than it has in the past.” “We knew we needed more interaction but we weren’t completely sure how we would do that. We knew that we had to test ideas and try to anticipate the direction the process was going in to be sure we were on the right track.

A Strategic Plan can become a wish list and remain just that but this Council wanted a document that would have ideas and direction and be something that citizens saw as reflecting what they saw for their city. At the same time the objectives set out in the Plan had to deal with fiscal reality. Burlington is at the beginning of a shift into a different form of development. Gone are the days when there was “greenfield” development after “greenfield” that produced significant revenue from the development charges.

The city had to think in terms of making better use of what it has and that has meant quite a bit of infill development – and if the reaction to the rather small development in the Queensway community and the upcoming plans for a large apartment building at Brock and Ontario are any example – the infill process is going to be noisy and awkward.

There are challenges on several fronts. The city has frozen suburban development at the 407 and now faces the possibility of a new highway around Lowville and the Mt Nemo plateau which would have the all but immediate effect of moving the suburban development to that new road. Many feel this will be the end of the rural north for Burlington. Big, big community fight at that level – which saw one of the larger community demonstrations in front of a downtown hotel against any Niagara-GTA highway.

The city has to decide what it wants to do with its languishing western Beach and also what to do with the downtown core that isn’t living up to expectations. Understanding how we are going to manage the city for a growing seniors population and the challenge of bring high quality, high paying jobs, to a city that doesn’t have any Class A office space.

All these issues will, ideally, be reflected in the Strategic Plan that Allan Magi and Michelle Dwyer are stick handling through a very delicate process. Hovering over everything Magi and Dwyer di is the fiscal reality. Burlington managed to come in with a very small tax increase for 2011 – due to a very significant surplus from the previous year. The city may not be quite that fortunate next year and will have to teach its ratepayers how much what they want is going to cost.

Magi, who came to the city with an MBA tucked under his arm and a bit of consulting experience on his resume is now managing two consultants from a firm that has an international consulting practice who are helping Burlington put together a Strategic Plan that Magi would like to see, when it is completed, as one of the best any municipality in the country has produced. One wonders if Magi saw any of this coming the day he walked into a Human Resources office in Burlington for his first interview.

Magi has learned that there has to be more process and that while process takes time it does result in a more cohesive community. While this isn’t new territory for Magi it is stretching him and he seems to be having the time of his life on this assignment.

He came to the city to work in the engineering department, the moved over to water resources and on to Recreation and Parks and now he heads up the Corporate Strategic Initiatives and works closely with the KPMG consultants who were brought in to help staff and Council put in place the management tools and processes that will allow for the creation of a Strategic Plan.




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