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Seven type A talkers, 7 administrators and not a bean counter amongst them, + four woman taking notes.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON June 28, 2011 – Fourteen people in the room; half of them type A talkers, the other half bright people who will have to implement what the group is talking about. This is how the Strategic Plan for Burlington is being put together and it is an amazing process that we will write about at much greater length later in the week.

Each of the three group facilitators used flip charts to capture the thoughts of the fourteen participants at the seventh half day session to create the Burlington Strategic Plan.

Each of the three group facilitators used flip charts to capture the thoughts of the fourteen participants at the seventh half day session to create the Burlington Strategic Plan.

Last night, that would be Monday evening, four woman toiled into the wee hours to pull some order out of more than 25 sheets of flip chart pages that were generated by three groups talking about part of the Strategic Plan. Led by Michelle Dwyer, who works under the Direction of Alan Magi, Helen Walihura, Donna Woods and Amanda Gubbels took away the pages and started sorting out the comments that the three facilitators had written up.

Watching a group of people craft a long term think plan for the city is quite something. This was their seventh half day meeting. (I can hear someone saying ‘seven half days – I could have done that in a couple of hours’) during which they struggled with just what it meant to have a Strategic Plan and how do you craft the document so that it has meaning and relevance to the taxpayers and the staff that have to make it happen.

Georgina Black of KPMG consulting with a colleague during one of the Burlington Strategic Planning sessions.  The Strategic Plan team is ably led by Ms Black – one of the best in the business.

Georgina Black of KPMG consulting with a colleague during one of the Burlington Strategic Planning sessions. The Strategic Plan team is ably led by Ms Black – one of the best in the business.

The Strategic Planning Team has been working under the very able guidance of Georgina Black, brought in from KPMG, an international consulting firm, to help them understand just what a Strategic Plan was and how it had to be developed and then linked to the city’s budget process.

Each of the politicians had their vision, wish, dream for the city they represented at Council and each of the senior staff members had departments that had to carry out and implement what was decided upon and keep it all within a budget the taxpayers would live with.

Michelle Dwyer staff liaison team leader for the Strategic Planning group watches during a session while Helen Walihura listens intently to catch the thinking of the group she was working with.

Michelle Dwyer staff liaison team leader for the Strategic Planning group watches during a session while Helen Walihura listens intently to catch the thinking of the group she was working with.

Burlington had entered a new phase as a city. The Shape Burlington Report changed the way thinking people reacted. The report told both the politicians and the administration that people wanted a change. They wanted more access, they wanted to be involved and they wanted to be listened to, and while they were prepared to spend a little money they didn’t want to see taxes going sky high. The city had just dumped a Mayor and one Council member and elected three new people to Council and made it very clear they wanted things to be done differently. There had been significant tax increases that most felt were to high which made both politicians and the administration keenly aware that they were being watched.

The city had a new Mayor who was experiencing a sometimes jolting on the job training experience and struggling with a pier that was a contractual nightmare that he knew he had to deal with.

Donna Woods focuses on her flip chart as she uses colours to show different levels of comment.  Woods, along with three other woman, then take the 25 plus flip chart pages and make sense out of the notes for review the next day.

Donna Woods focuses on her flip chart as she uses colours to show different levels of comment. Woods, along with three other woman, then take the 25 plus flip chart pages and make sense out of the notes for review the next day.

All this shortly after the city realized it had a significant surplus that came to the surface near the end of the year and surprised many on Council who have made it clear that they don’t like surprises.

This Council is much different from the previous one. They work well together for the most part. There are differences of opinion and some nerves get rubbed raw a bit at times but they are certainly a different team that the 2005-2010 Council.

Which explains a large part of why the Mayor is determined to get a Strategic Plan in place an dm make it meaningful, relevant and something the taxpayers will buy into. Your city council and the staff you pay with your tax dollars are doing a significantly different job.

Amanda Gubbels, a part of the support team that captured all the thoughts and ideas that will result in a long term Strategic Plan that will go out for public review and comment late in the summer.  Gubbels listens as Steve Zorbas makes a point

Amanda Gubbels, a part of the support team that captured all the thoughts and ideas that will result in a long term Strategic Plan that will go out for public review and comment late in the summer. Gubbels listens as Steve Zorbas makes a point

What the focus on in this piece though is the four woman who handle all the paper work and produce the working documents that guide the Council members and senior staff members through the half day sessions.

Staff met last Friday and produced thoughts and ideas and suggestions for directions. The team of four woman worked through the weekend and had the documents on the table for the Monday morning session and then at noon they trudged back to city hall to pull together the next level of reporting.

Members of Council and senior staff gathered for more than seven half days sessions to work though a Strategic Plan. that looks 20 years + into the future and ties what they think can be done in the next three and a half years into the budget. In this picture, Councillor Mead Ward and city Manger Roman Martiuk talk while Michelle Dwyer listens and takes notes.

Members of Council and senior staff gathered for more than seven half days sessions to work though a Strategic Plan. that looks 20 years + into the future and ties what they think can be done in the next three and a half years into the budget. In this picture, Councillor Mead Ward and city Manger Roman Martiuk talk while Michelle Dwyer listens and takes notes.

Taking down data from the flip chart sheets they collected, collated and produced the document needed by noon of the next day when it got passed along to the KPMG facilitator who reviews it, discusses it with Alan Magi and Council members and gives it her wink and nod and – with the inevitable corrections and re-formatting the Team of woman make the last minute changes and have documents in front of everyone for 9 am Wednesday.

That folks is your tax dollars at work – and on this one – you are getting full value for your money.

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