Sue Giller (left) of Reliance Communications leads the Calexico City Council and city staff, including City Manager Miguel Figueroa (right), through a draft strategic plan Reliance and the city developed over several months during a special meeting on July 28. Figueroa on Wednesday, Aug. 4 has given a deadline of Aug. 31 for residents to make additional comments before the council will be presented with a final plan to adopt, likely in September. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
CALEXICO — City Hall will give community members until the end of the month to provide feedback on the recent draft strategic plan presented to the City Council last week before the document is developed into an actionable roadmap for Calexico.
Council members were still buzzing from the largely favorable marks the city received and the overwhelming public engagement to the survey that went into building the draft plan when it was presented during a special meeting on July 28, yet Calexico City Manager Miguel Figueroa said on Wednesday night, Aug. 4, that it would be at least a month before the council is presented with an adoptable final document.
“From their responses I received, not only from my staff members but from members of the community that have reached out, they were satisfied, they were pleased with the outcomes of that presentation,” Figueroa said during Wednesday’s city manager’s report.
The city manager did not immediately respond to questions about what mechanism would be used to gather additional comment from the citizens, but Figueroa said on Wednesday that those comments would be collected and “packaged” at the end of 30 days into a final document the City Council can approve at an upcoming meeting.
There is a call for feedback on the city’s website in which residents are encouraged to email comments to City Clerk Gabriela Garcia through Aug. 31. In addition to providing a link to the 26-frame presentation from the July 28 meeting, the city’s website says there are hard copies of the 44-plan draft strategic plan at the Camarena Memorial Library and inside City Hall at Figueroa’s office.
The city manager told the council on Aug. 4 that residents’ comments would be folded into a final document for the council to vote on at a future meeting, likely in September.
“That is going to allow us to hit the ground running in implementation, but always acknowledging that it’s a document that, as time elapses, will have to and will be updated because the dynamics of our economy … some of the priorities are going to shift,” he added. “At a minimum, I want to make sure that this council has an adopted plan that we, as staff, can implement and we can move forward.”
The draft was presented to the council during single-issue special meeting in which the facilitators of strategic plan, Sue Giller and Bill Gay of Reliance Public Relations of El Centro, went through the larger points of the plan that included a set of five all-encompassing goals focusing on short-, midterm, and long-term strategies, ranging from image to infrastructure, from professionalism to process.
The city has gone through prior stabs at strategic planning before, but Figueroa said during the July 28 special meeting that, for one reason or another, the prior attempts never moved beyond draft phases and the attempts predated his arrival in the city several years ago.
Recently installed Calexico Mayor Pro Tem Camilo Garcia has shown himself to be the most excited of the five-member council about the plan since the draft was presented last week, much of that excitement centering around how deeply Calexico residents engaged in the process to develop to plan.
“It was a very healthy conversation. Very enlightening also (with the) feedback from the community, you know, just to hear from 400 individuals. I think some of us are the ones that are engaging in getting feedback from the public. I think that was great, even though our population is a little over 40,000, I think getting a response of 400 was great,” Garcia said.
To piggyback on that engagement, Garcia asked that some of the feedback, from the initial survey and from the 30-day period, be used to refine the plan moving forward, to which Figueroa agreed. That was ultimately his point with opening the document to the public until the end of the month.
Strategic Plan in a Snapshot
The draft goals of the strategic plan are the driver of the document, as they help chart a course for the city in five key areas — professionalism (goal one), fiscal responsibility and sustainability (goal two), economic development (goal three), image and identity (goal four), and more long-range infrastructure needs (fifth goal).
But the heart and soul of the plan appears to, one, lay in the community survey that went into its development and its potential for success, two, in the executable framework Reliance put together to make the goals reality.
Figueroa acknowledged past attempts at a strategic plan but told the council what Reliance produced, “I don’t even think it got close to this.”
With the pandemic presenting a challenge for Reliance in gauging the topics of most importance to the community, a survey was prepared and sent out through the residents’ water bills, along with offers of being entered into a drawing for two $250 shopping sprees to spur involvement.
What was not expected was some 400 residents returning the survey, and many of them providing thoughtful commentary that Reliance was able to cobble together into areas of importance vs. areas of satisfaction.
“We’ve done surveys before and getting that many responses from any size group is enormous, but to have it here was really gratifying, and you should feel very complimented for that your citizens are that caring,” said Reliance’s Giller, who did the lion’s share of the July 28 presentation, with her partner, Gay, on hand for color commentary, as it were.
“We felt that the most important thing for the strategic plan was really what aggregate groups of residents felt,” Gay said in assessing the survey results.
The survey itself polled residents on areas of importance to them and areas of satisfaction and provided a ranking of those results. The two did not always align, Gay said.
Two prime examples of this were the Fire Department and the Camarena Memorial Library. The Fire Department, which also functions as the city’s “hospital on wheels” due to its ambulance service and lack of an acute care facility, was ranked No. 1 in both importance and satisfaction. The library, on the other hand, ranked No. 2 in satisfaction but No. 16 of 23 in areas of importance.
The latter told Reliance and the council that while the library was not an essential function of the city, the residents appreciated it immensely.
“When you think of what the library was doing during the pandemic, when people didn’t have any outlets, it was such a big part of their lives,” Giller said, referring to the closed department’s switch to a Zoom-based format and development of curbside pickup options.
Areas of highest importance to residents were fire and police, medical services, the condition of city streets, and jobs, to name a few, whereas areas that mattered least (or that were near the bottom) were City Council civility, the Calexico Chamber of Commerce, and tourism.
Areas where residents were most satisfied included, again, police and fire, the library, shopping convenience and the state of parks, and by contrast, areas where citizens were most dissatisfied included the downtown area, employment, the city’s image, and the rancor that has developed among the City Council.
In offering commentary unsolicited — Giller and Gay said there were no added incentives for to expanded beyond rankings — residents offered hundreds of comments, from single words to deep dives on issues.
“Need to offer greater job opportunities especially to young people” and “jobs for senior citizens,” were some of the statements under the “importance” category for jobs.
On traffic under “satisfaction,” one resident wrote: “Traffic is terrible, taxis are reckless drivers … need more police to direct traffic — taxi drivers are reckless do not obey rules, always in a rush.”
On image for “satisfaction,” another stated, “The city should do more to enforce the cleanliness of Calexico, both homes and businesses. That doesn’t cost money and would greatly improve the city’s image. In fact, the city should find a way to generate income from penalties charges to those who don’t maintain their properties.”
The level of engagement was impressive to members of the council, who listened with rapt attention to Giller and Gay’s presentation.
“The great thing that comes out of this is the engagement, communication, just finding out some of those things are new and others are some things that we’ve known for known for many years. … It’s just a confirmation,” Mayor Pro Tem Garcia said on July 28. “I’m looking forward to continue to dig. … I’m excited to see what the next steps might be.”
More on Goals and Getting There
Giller and Gay went through all five goals during their presentation but lingered on some, stating that Goal No. 1 (professionalism) would set the tone moving forward.
“The reason I was suggesting that we go a little bit deeper with goal one is it is foundational to everything else you do, and it was something that we heard from every department,” Giller said. “And many of the council members, too, are frustrated by the appearance that we have problems in the city. And so, the goal is to simply develop a truly supportive environment.”
Setting a standard for professionalism and getting there, according to Reliance, will improve the public’s trust and perception of its government, as well as instill a code of ethics. It’s also intended to improve communication among departments and departments heads, improvement worker morale, and develop a constantly improving culture of customer service.
An example of taking from those broad statements to actionable outcomes is further developed through an “action tracker” matrix each larger goal into smaller subgoals, objectives, steps for implementation, who is responsible for that implementation, and, finally, measurable results.
“We’ve got a goal that’s very broad, but the implementation has to be very specific. It has to be measurable. It has to be aligned to your mission,” Giller told the council. “It has to be both realistic, but also a reach; you’re going to go beyond just being at work on time, you’re doing something that’s going to improve things.”
Also, she said, “it has to be time sensitive; it has to have deadlines.”
Focusing on the professionalism goal, an example on the action tracker is an objective of requiring and developing a standard of professionalism, implemented on one level by convening a task force to review the city’s 2015 code of the ethics through the city manager and evaluating that code and bringing back a report to the council for action.
Professionalism has some 18 line items to track through measurable and executable actions.
Some of the goals and even the spirit behind them seems like things the council and staff have tried before or know that they should already be doing, yet it’s the framework being developed through this process that those involved hope will lead to change, if not improvement.
“I think of this as a way of creating a course correction to stay true to your mission statement; this is your north star in everything that we’ve done,” Giller said at the start of the presentation.
Toward the end of the presentation, City Manager Figueroa tried express to the council what makes this strategic planning effort different than those that came before.
“You have in your hands the opportunity moving forward, like how we want to handle things present and future, is adopting something that can really be the roadmap that we’re all hungry for,” he said.
Council member Garcia reiterated that in asking for the community to become engaged at the outset, the city does not forget to engage residents in the final plans and development.
“We owe that to them, to take it back to them to continue to get engaged, continue to get more people to continue to find ways of … adding to those ideas,” Garcia said. “We have a very clear picture here. That’s why it was an important on a personal level (to develop a strategic plan), that’s what I’m looking for.”