City councillors held the third strategic planning meeting of their term earlier this month, but inexplicably are refusing to speak even broadly to what their priorities might be, ostensibly because the meeting was held behind closed doors.
Eventually, the strategic plan will be made public. That usually happens every March, where council priorities and administration's corporate plan are officially unveiled. However, that leaves weeks of council work that will be guided by priorities the general public may not be aware of. There appears to be no great reason for secrecy, either, but all we know is the titles of general categories that were on the meeting's agenda: long-term financial sustainability, intergovernmental affairs, council priorities, council self-evaluation tool, civic committees and council dialogue.
Strategic planning is one of the most important discussions councillors have every year. Different councils have done their strategic planning in different ways in the past, to varying degrees of openness – some have gone in and out of camera depending on the item being discussed. Currently the entire session is in camera regardless of the item being discussed. That's to help facilitate open dialogue, which has its merits.
Council's willingness in previous years to speak to the broad strokes of their priorities following their strategic planning sessions helped inform residents about the direction the city would be going in.
In January 2016, council delayed discussions about Project 9 and decided they wanted more information about options to fund that key infrastructure project. They also discussed rousing regional support to expand Ray Gibbon Drive.
In 2017, they agreed to maintain focus on major issues like capital investments and traffic over the following three years. That was discussed in camera at the time, but then-mayor Nolan Crouse gave broad strokes as to what the discussion involved.
In 2018, Mayor Cathy Heron told the Gazette councillors decided on six priorities, including housing, a focus on the environment and transportation. The strategic planning session for that year resulted in a motion to have conceptual design options drawn up for improvements to roadways that impact Ray Gibbon Drive.
Last January, Heron described the 2019 strategic planning session (also held in camera) as more of an update meeting on the plan's six main priorities (developing a growth framework, economic development, building a transportation network, infrastructure investment, enhancing housing and a focus on environmental stewardship) and specified a change to the corporate business plan that would put more attention on social not-for-profits.
Yet this year, not only is council keeping its cards close to its chest, but the city reversed a plan to send out a news release “summarizing key outcomes" of the session.
It is difficult to imagine how releasing the broad strokes of the discussion this year would hurt the city or our council. What purpose does it serve to keep council priorities an absolute secret until the strategic planning document is officially unveiled six weeks from now? These are priorities that will inform council discussions over the coming weeks, as they will guide decisions made throughout the rest of the year, and the public has a right to know what direction its elected leaders are moving in.