2016-09-22 / Front Page

Strategic Plan Moves Forward

By Barry Bridges

After several months on the back burner, Newport’s strategic plan was again on the agenda on Saturday, Sept. 17, when City Councilors convened for a four-hour workshop at City Hall.

The last public discussion on updating the plan was in April, when residents had the opportunity during two moderated sessions to share their thoughts on the city’s strategic vision for the next five years.

Since that time, the hundreds of comments received through those meetings and the Engage Newport micro-site were collated and organized to assist city leaders in formulating a new plan going forward. The results of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) survey completed by the city’s department heads were also available for reference.

Kevin Knutson and Jacquelyn McCray of Management Partners, Inc., an Ohio-based consulting company retained by the city, facilitated the session with all seven councilors in attendance.

Knutson has outlined a strategic plan as “setting priorities and policy directives at a very high level, aligning all of the [city’s] resources in the direction [councilors] want to go…. A strategic plan defines your success.”

As councilors began their discussions, McCray advised, “Think about where you are as a community and where you want to be a few years down the road.”

In April, City Manager Joseph Nicholson described the need for a new plan to “tell us what we should be contemplating.”

Diving into the plan’s substance, councilors reviewed a preliminary vision statement. Knutson said, “We feel it should be simple, focused, and easy to remember.” After some discussion on the exact terms, councilors decided on the wording: “Newport is the most livable, vibrant and welcoming city in New England; an innovative place to live, work, learn, raise families and play.”

Underlying that vision is a mission statement. “Theoretically, the mission is how you’re going to achieve the vision,” said Knutson.

In its preliminary form, the city’s mission is a series of seven statements, speaking to themes such as governmental leadership; making Newport a safe and enjoyable place to live and work; exercising prudence in financial planning; sustaining a healthy economy and tourism climate; delivering cost effective municipal services; and supporting continuous improvements and public participation.

There was also an acknowledgement that there will be continued support and investment in public schools. “No matter what wording is used, we all know that we’re going to continue to invest in our schools,” said Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.

Four broad goals on the topics of infrastructure, communication, transportation, and economic development will support the mission. Councilors broke into two groups to outline objectives and success indicators for those goals.

With infrastructure, conversation centered on what the term actually encompasses and whether transportation should be a separate element.

“The first thing we need is an inventory of our assets,” said Councilor Justin McLaughlin. “Once we have a full picture of what we own, we can then make decisions on how to invest in that infrastructure.”

Concerning transportation, Councilor Kathryn Leonard said, “We need to move people in a friendly, expedient, dependable way.”

Napolitano added, “Everyone talks about Newport being ‘walkable’ – well, it is and it isn’t. I want to see buses more dependable; they’re not. And we need smaller buses for our narrow streets.”

The city’s future economic development was viewed as being closely related to a seamless transportation system.

There was considerable discussion on the city’s progress in the areas of communication and transparency, with the hope that the strategic plan could offer a clearer path to success. Several councilors agreed that the city’s websites could be improved. “Something like Engage Newport can be confusing. We need one unified source that people can reference,” said Councilor John Florez.

“We also need to have more substantive information in our newsletters,” said Second Ward Councilor

Lynn Ceglie. “That’s where a communication person would come in handy.”

In August, the city posted for its new chief information officer position, and the 45 applications that were received are currently being reviewed in the human resources department.

“We’ve been talking about this for years,” said Napolitano. “Communication is so important; we really need some answers [on how to best approach the issue].”

Reiterating the importance of a solid communications strategy, Knutson said, “I suggest a communications plan for the city, separate from this very high level process.”

After Saturday’s work session, the consultants will compile a draft document reflecting the consensus of the discussions. It will then be further reviewed and refined by councilors. “Everyone will have a chance to look at this again,” Knutson commented.

It is not certain when the new strategic plan will be finalized and approved. Although previously indicating that it could possibly be completed over the summer, McLaughlin also told Newport This Week, “It needs to be done, but it needs to be done right. So we will take the time we need.”

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