Ocean City Strategic Plan Process Begins

OCEAN CITY — With early work starting this week on the city’s new strategic plan initiative, City Manager David Recor made it clear it will not be another endeavor that ends up on a shelf alongside other costly studies and reports.

In an interview in May, after officially accepting the job as the resort’s new city manager, Recor said his immediate goal will be to build consensus on the divided council and maintained it could occur during the drafting of a strategic plan that would serve as the city’s “foundation on which I believe we will begin to build consensus and develop some unity in the organization and the council.”

The strategic planning effort, budgeted at $20,000 and approved by the City Council this summer, began in earnest Tuesday with Lyle Sumek, president of Lyle Sumek Associates, Inc., spending two days in Ocean City meeting with Recor, department heads and Mayor and Council members.

The process involves data gathering on several levels, individual interviews, touring the city and its infrastructure, outlining past and present successes, discussing current challenges, examining upcoming projects, establishing a priority list for 2013 as well as 15 years into the future, incorporating community input and involving stakeholders from the private business sector.

With the election looming, Sumek said if new members are elected he would meet with them and incorporate individual feedback into the process. From his private meetings with elected officials on Monday, Sumek and Recor both said the council members do not differ that much on how they envision Ocean City.

“Right now, there’s much more similarity of vision, they just haven’t talked about it,” Sumek said. “There are just differences on how to get there. They need to move beyond just the personal and talk about what do we really want to do for the community. Politics is getting elected and governing is the responsibility of creating that city’s future by every decision they make. They’re going to have some choices and they’re going to have to put their hands up and decide what’s most important. Then there’s an accountability to the citizens because it’s here in writing that this is where we want to go and it’s what has been agreed upon. After this process, we can have a heck of an argument about something but it’s about more substantive things, not on personalities. You can have a split vote on an action item but then everybody walks out of the room with a fair shot but not the votes. Now it’s the city’s policy, let’s move on. It brings stability where the private sector is more willing to invest and the community is more willing to partner if there’s a sense of continuity in terms of direction.”

Recor will sit in on every meeting Sumek has with city appointed and elected personnel.

“What we heard today is there appears to be general agreement that they want Ocean City to return to more family-oriented activities,” he said.

Sumek said establishing Ocean City’s identity was a common theme.

“One of things I heard today is we need to have one community identity here. That means what steps are what we going to take to build a community,” he said. “The difference between a city and a county is a city has a sense of community identity and pride. Some of the discussion is going to be about that.”

Additionally, Recor said council members seemed unified in expressing an interest in trying to identify new sources of revenue.

“One of the things is parking meter revenue, adding more meters. It’s not a new thing I understand, and there has never been a fourth vote to get it ahead. But we are going to talk about it as part of the budget process,” Recor said. “That will be part of a general discussion about new revenue for FY14.”

Recor acknowledged government often funds studies and reports, which ultimately do not end up being acted upon. He said that will “absolutely not” be the case with the strategic plan initiative.

“I will schedule quarterly updates of where we are on the policy agenda on the management agenda on their council meetings,” he said. “The action outlines is part of the credibility of this process. They are going to be realistic and reasonable action outlines and we are going to report on them and where we are in the process. They are going to be delegated out to the departments and they are going to be held accountable for their progress. We are going to report to the council on where we are.”

Once the extensive document is completed, Sumek said keeping the initiatives and goals defined before the council in a high-profile manner will keep the council on track.

“In many cities I work with, these goals are laminated right on the council dais in front of the council members to remind them of what they are doing and shooting for,” Sumek said. “So when an official proposes something that’s not included as a goal, they have to think, “maybe I have to think about what I’m trying to do here if it’s not helping us try to achieve our vision and isn’t goal.’ It starts to connect down into the organization. There needs to be an ability to work around common goals. It’s not just what a council does, it’s how it operates that will determine if they are successful. Business folks don’t want to be caught in between a conflicting council. A council is a representative of this institution.”

Recor worked with Sumek while he was the city manager of Fort Pierce, Fla., a diverse coastal community that also had a divided elected body. He said it helped keep the council focused on government, rather than the political or personal differences they had.

“In Fort Pierce, everything that was on their agenda I linked to one of the six goals in their strategic plan and how the decision would affect the goal in the strategic plan. Here, once this is completed, the council will see how every decision specifically affects their goals,” Recor said. “We report on it quarterly and adjust as we need to.”

According to Recor, future meetings on the initiative include a staff workshop to be held on Dec. 4 at the convention center followed by a council workshop and then a citizens summit. Recor estimated the completed document should be ready by spring.

“The council is the ultimate decision makers and they can add and refine and then it will be tested with a citizens group,” Sumek said.

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