City Commission tables approval of 2021-23 Strategic Plan

MARQUETTE — While the agenda of the Marquette City Commission’s July 26 meeting wasn’t necessarily a busy one, it was still very much an important one with the commission hoping to approve the city’s next strategic plan for Fiscal Years 2021-23.

Hope was as far as it went. After an elaborate, thorough and at times heated discussion among commissioners, no vote was made and the item was tabled until a future meeting.

Five primary goals were identified in the strategic plan’s vision statement: economic development, climate change, housing and transportation, focus on essential services, and city facilities and infrastructure. A general consensus of these goals could not be reached by the commission, which is why a vote of approval was kicked down the road.

While Mayor Jenna Smith and Commissioner Sally Davis felt ready to approve the plan, other commissioners didn’t share the same sentiment.

“I think we have a list of projects that need to be organized,” Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Hill said. “In fact, we have 27 bullet points, and departments and commissions have been identified as saying each one of these is a priority, but as Commissioner (Evan) Bonsall said, I think our job is to organize them into a set of higher and lower priorities, which is hard to do when we’re just presented with a list. I think we could put them in different categories, say economic development, operations, several relating to parks and rec, some have to do with services, so I really think this is a draft to me and it’s not all that it should be that I’m comfortable voting on. That’s sort of the big picture of … I would really like to ask staff to come back to us with something that has better shape and better sense so that we can vote on things looking at them where like is next to like, time frames, things like that are clearly articulated.”

Within the climate adaptation section is tourism planning that gives “specific recommendations that as based upon concerns for tourism based upon the impact that temperature changes could have on tourism activities, which could force lifestyle changes upon the community.” In year one, the strategic plan directs the city to develop a tourism task force and/or Ad-Hoc Committee, hire a consultant to draft a tourism plan, and direct the city manager to ensure coordination of effort between this initiative and any economic development planning initiatives. The estimated cost of this project is $60,000 with the goal of implementing and evaluating the plan in year two of the strategic plan.

Hill stated she believes the issue of tourism is in the wrong place within the strategic plan, and that taking care of city residents should be a higher priority.

“I also have grave concerns about climate being couched entirely in tourism for two reasons,” she said. “One, climate is much beyond the tourism category. It has to do with infrastructure, it has to do with operations, it has to do with our water departments … I’m very concerned about spending city resources on a tourism plan when I think what we need is a plan for the services for our residents. Tourism is an economic development question in my mind, and a question perhaps for parks and rec in terms of managing facilities. That’s a parks and rec question, that is not a climate question.”

Commissioner Jessica Hanley agreed.

“The tourism one is a big one for me,” she said. “I see that we want to spend $60,000 on a tourism study when I believe that could pay for the economic (consultant) we were talking about in another portion of it that I think is more important. We need higher paying jobs and not to worry about what tourists are doing in this area. We need to be able to get money for the people that are here is what we need to be focusing on. I think that should be shifted, honestly, so that we are helping the people that live here at this point versus the tourists that are coming and taxing our community.

“The tourism, it’s been increasing, it’s going to continue to increase, we’re seeing that. But at the same point, I worry that if we don’t make jobs for the people that live here and find ways to help them, we’re going to have a bigger problem with people not being able to do it.”

Davis contended that if the strategic plan didn’t get approved at the meeting, it may take up to half a year to re-evaluate.

“If we choose to not accept this plan (tonight), I would suspect that it will take another six months to put together another one,” she said. “And then where will we be? It’s easy to be super critical of different parts of this plan, but as a basic strategic plan for two years, I don’t love every single part of it, but I like it in it’s entirety and I actually will support this plan as it is.”

Smith agreed, also sharing her concern that if not approved, city budgeting would be thrown off course.

“Generally, I support this plan,” she said. “I understand that there may be some things that we could change or modify within it. I think we are far more engaged than we have ever been on the strategic planning process and it shows. We really have ownership over this document, we want to feel confident in what happens over the next couple of years, but at the end of the day, it’s a plan that the city manager and city staff take and do what they can with. We may have certain opportunities in certain areas and not in others. I support it as is, I think it’s far and above what I saw three years ago, because we’ve had so much more input into the process.

“I am very concerned that if we don’t approve this (tonight), that it’s going to impact our entire budget process. How does our staff plan their budget without a strategic plan? If we say ‘No, back to the drawing board,’ then I guess we would have to reschedule our budget meetings, I’m very concerned about the ramifications because some of the things in our budget really have nothing to do with the strategic plan. They’re our everyday bread and butter, police, fire and those things. I just want to make sure that we’re cognizant of timelines here as well.”

Hill argued that there’s no reason an updated strategic plan wouldn’t be able to be worked out by the next commission meeting in two weeks, or another meeting in the near future.

“There’s no reason that it would take six months,” she said. “I think this can be done and ready for us in the next meeting. It’s a question, as Commissioner Hanley said, of identifying what comes first, and that the commission is setting priorities, that’s our job. The questions of which things happen first has been raised by several people. That is not a question of nitpicking, that is a question of setting priorities at this time of post-COVID, thinking about climate change and thinking about the opportunities that we are aware of with the important input like the (Ad-Hoc) Housing Committee report which people spent a lot of time and thought on. I think that we could ask the (city) staff to take what is here, I’m not saying throw this out … I’m saying take what is here, take what we have said (today) about what we think is important, and just put this into something (such as) what’s more important, what’s not, how the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee report will be included, and my only real concern as I said is the tourism. Yes, there’s a small impact on climate for tourism, but I really think we need to look more widely at economic development overall, as has been raised by several commissioners, and then LDFA (Local Development Finance Authority) is included in that, tourism is included in that, the question of job diversity, what’s our employment base is included in that, and then I would feel like we have something I’m comfortable voting on at the very next meeting.

“I don’t feel like we as a commission … this is our first opportunity to have this level of discussion on what is contained here. We had two work sessions where we threw up ideas, but now we need to organize them into something where we can see what’s going to happen over time.”

Davis motioned to approve the strategic plan and to adopt the plan’s resolution as presented, but no other commissioner seconded the motion.

Commissioner Cody Mayer felt some revisions are needed and the plan is a still a work in progress. Mayer also commented on the issue of residents or tourism being a higher priority.

“I’m not talking about throwing this plan out, I don’t think any of us were,” he said. “It was moreso there are some specifics or some changes to it that we need before it gets there. As far as approaching the budget deadline, I still think we could make those changes and go into our next meeting prior to our first work session for the budget and have this ready to go for our budget process. I’m sure (city) staff has been working on their budgets for quite some time if I had to guess.

“Part of me is frustrated with this a little bit. I recall from the work sessions, several of us mentioned that we wanted to focus on residents before we started getting too heavy into the tourism aspect. There’s a few pages in here where it seems like it’s just talking about tourism throughout the document. Then it’s like … we’re not talking about the employment base, we’re kind of talking about housing but it’s not as affirmative language as other bullet points might be throughout the document, and it just kind of makes me uncomfortable looking at this about what are we really moving forward with our priorities, what are those actually? I think just clearing some of those up would make me personally feel a lot better, and based off of what I’m hearing, I think several of us are kind of in that boat.”

Davis said the commission should consider adopting a new strategic planning process to prevent these issues from occurring in the future.

“What I noticed is that in 2013, that this commission put together a subcommittee to decide what kind of process to use for a strategic plan,” she said. “That process was adopted by the commission, and that’s the process that the city staff followed, and I feel like I need to respect that. I’ve had a fair amount of experience with strategic planning and I’ve facilitated strategic planning for organizations. This is not the process I’m used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong process. It may be the process all cities do, but I do know it’s the process that this commission has decided should be the process.

“Maybe what I’m hearing from Pro Tem Hill and some others is that it’s not formulated or set up as they might like to see it, and that might be a chance for us as a commission to re-look at the process as a commission that we want to have. Maybe it’s time to put together another little committee and say ‘Let’s re-look at this,’ because strategic planning changes over the years in different organizations and different industries, and it might be a really good time to take a look at what the MML (Michigan Municipal League) does or recommends for a strategic planning process or how to facilitate this in a different way that might be more palatable for the next year and a half.”

The strategic plan was formulated based on goals and/or objectives the commission, city boards and committees, and city staff would like to see accomplished over the next two years. Examples of some major issues that have been of public interest in the plan include parking management, housing affordability and implementation of the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee’s final report, an all-inclusive playground at Mattson Lower Harbor Park, a year-round dog park and economic development.

The full proposed strategic plan can be viewed under the July 26 commission agenda item online at www.bit.ly/371rJcr.

In other business at the meeting, the commission unanimously approved a motion to authorize City Manager Karen Kovacs to direct a grant application for a Port Infrastructure Development Grant which, if approved, would provide dredging work near the Cleveland-Cliffs/Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad ore dock to prevent sedimentation to the ore dock slip, stabilize the piers for the coal unloading structure that are currently eroding and more. The city previously applied for the same grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation Marine Administration, but it was denied.

The city also appointed five people and reappointed three more to various city boards and committees.


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