From as granular as the difference between the words “prosperity” and “welfare” all the way to the existentialism of what precisely constitutes “strategic,” the mayor and Board of Aldermen had plenty to say about the city of Frederick’s proposed 2030 strategic plan.
It was the first time the board reviewed the completed document, and the blueprint itself would be historic if the board passes it. After nearly 275 years, such a plan has never been implemented in the city, which is something Mayor Michael O’Connor points out on one of the first pages of the initiative.
“It is my vision that, moving forward, the decision-making process of city government and the initiatives our community undertakes will be informed by this document,” O’Connor wrote. “The strength of Frederick today has been achieved in part because leaders in the past have ensured individual projects and programs achieved success and the sum of these parts is strong.”
The conversation Wednesday utilized the sum of the Board of Aldermen’s parts as each member weighed in on what amounts to a massive undertaking, leaning heavily on a vision for the city that was established, in part, by listening to what Frederick residents had to say during a recent listening tour. As a result, the plan outlines six strategic goals: sustainable planning, social well-being, safe and vibrant community, competitive employment, enhanced mobility and civic engagement.
Early on, as Marc DeOcampo, executive assistant to the mayor, began outlining the plan to the board in a presentation, Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak began questioning the role the board has in the implementation of the initiative. The questioning of DeOcampo began when he explained the plan implementation portion of the initiative, which includes the way by which various issues around town will be addressed and how much of a priority they are within the plan. For instance, an A1 grade level translates to an issue earning 100 points and being mandatory for the city to address. A2, meanwhile, means an issue would garner 90 to 100 points and would be labeled as a high priority.
“Who did the scoring?” Kuzemchak asked DeOcampo. After it was established that city staff would formulate the grades, Kuzemchak repeated the word, adding, “as in not the publicly elected body that has been elected to make decisions?”
From there, a sprawling conversation ensued as some aldermen attempted to tackle verbiage in the plan while others, such as Alderman Ben MacShane, advocated for a more basic approach on which the board could vote.
“Those are very strong and compelling things for the city to be aspiring towards,” MacShane said after listing the plan’s strategic goals. “I don’t know that, in terms of an approved, adopted plan, we need to get much lower than that level. I worry that the board and city could spend — I don’t even know how much more time — tweaking through all of these different objective-level items that holistically constitute an impossible task, even over 10 years, to complete in their entirety.”
Currently, in addition to the six strategic goals, the draft of the plan also includes 26 objectives, 77 suggested action items and 88 initiatives that include everything from “promote the reduction of single occupancy automobile usage” to “increase the number of moderately priced dwelling units.”
O’Connor, meanwhile, referenced a 2001 initiative called Aspire Frederick, toward which he said he invested a lot as a citizen before elected officials at the time dropped the ball on moving forward with the project.
“A lot of my work over the last 20 years has been about finishing the job of getting us to the point where all of the conversations we have ... all tie back to because we have a vision,” O’Connor said of the proposed plan. “There are a lot of different ways to do it. This is one. At the director level, we did not get unanimity on how granular this plan could be or should be. I think for some, we’re too far and for others, we haven’t gone far enough.”
As for what’s next, DeOcampo suggested the board take two weeks to review the plan and make notes on changes it would like to see. After that, he estimated a week for the mayor’s office to review the adjustments before bringing it back to a workshop in about four weeks. O’Connor then indicated that he would be happy if the board adopted the plan by the end of November or the first week of December.
“For me, this has been enormously gratifying to be involved in,” O’Connor said. “The conversations we’ve had with the community ... that’s not going to be lost. Whether or not this gets adopted, I do believe it’s tremendous framework for me personally and what my vision for this job is.”