The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors approved hiring a strategic planner last week at a cost of about $10,000 despite initial opposition from two board members.
At the Wednesday, Sept. 20 meeting, supervisors Gary Dunkley and Carol Jacobs said they preferred to keep strategic planning in-house, rather than hire another consultant.
“I don’t see the necessity of this expense,” Dunkley said. “I believe we are a water district. We have our premise and what we have to accomplish with our maintenance of our roads, drainage and infrastructure. We’re not a city, and strategic planning, to me, is more for a city. We already have our prime objective that we need to achieve. We don’t need a planner, especially at these prices.”
Supervisor Betty Argue, who brought the idea forward, said she was surprised to hear opposition, given that the discussion of hiring a strategic planner has been ongoing for months.
“I am just astounded to hear this from Gary tonight,” Argue said. “Was it not you, Gary, who said we need a business plan? That’s what this is. You have been arguing for a business plan, and that’s exactly what strategic planning is.”
“A business plan made up by the board,” Dunkley replied. “This is not made up by the board.”
“This is us working through the process with a strategic planner, creating a strategic plan by the board to give direction to the district staff,” Argue countered.
Special District Services CEO Todd Wodraska, who was filling in for his father, ITID Manager John “Woody” Wodraska, said the goal of the consultant would be to have someone to serve as a facilitator to hash out what the board wants staff to be working on.
“It seems to me there is a disconnect, in my short time working here, about what staff should be working on versus what they feel like is important,” Wodraska said. “While this isn’t like putting a comprehensive plan together, it’s more of trying to sync up what exactly the mission and goal of the Indian Trail Improvement District is. The way I talked to my father about it was, in a lot of ways, he feels that one of the big core missions of this district is regarding drainage, and it doesn’t always feel like that’s one of the core missions.”
Wodraska added that he and his father both had the impression that the board was behind the concept of hiring a strategic planning consultant.
“I didn’t know the cost,” Dunkley said.
ITID President Jennifer Hager said the strategic planning process was not long-term but to get the district going in the right direction.
“What is the time frame?” Hager asked.
“It really is up to the board how we want to do it,” Argue said.
Wodraska, who had spoken with the potential consultant, said he didn’t know what the exact number of meetings would be.
“That’s something that we need to know,” Hager said.
Jacobs was concerned that next year will bring an election where three of the five sitting supervisors could be gone.
“We pay this money, and a year goes by really quickly, and we get a new board member saying, ‘We don’t want this, the district manager should handle that and work with the board,’” Jacobs said. “I just think by the time we get her [on board], before you know it you’ve got an election.”
Supervisor Ralph Bair agreed with strategic planning.
“The thing that I’m wondering is whether we will have enough information so we can decide where we want to go, and are we going to have stable enough management that the plan can be followed?” Bair asked. “I don’t want to have us pay this $10,000 and have management say, ‘Well, we’re going to follow that sort of,’ or something like that. I want stable management so we can put forth a plan and make it work.”
Bair said that ITID has been so busy addressing one emergency after another, and flip-flopping between whether to lease equipment or buy equipment, that it has lost focus, explaining that in past years, previous boards had leased heavy equipment because that was the only way they could afford to operate.
“We couldn’t have [the equipment] down and had it leased. [The lessor] came and fixed it, and we had it back on the road,” he said. “To me, that’s what a plan is. We keep going back and forth between buying and fixing and things like that. I just think we need something a little more stable, and a strategic plan kind of makes sense to me, because sometimes, even if the new board doesn’t follow it, at least they have some information to go from.”
Hager said she favored hiring a strategic planning consultant but could not manage extra meetings to conduct them.
“I can’t handle any more meetings in my life, seriously, but I think that the district would benefit from something like this,” she said. “As for the cost, look at everything else that we pay for. We sling raises left and right, and we buy things sometimes that are more than we should be spending. However, this is an investment in the district. I think that it’s worthwhile to finance this.”
Bair said the consultant would have public meetings with residents as well as board members.
“It wouldn’t be all our time,” he said. “We can kind of work around anybody’s schedule to do that.”
Dunkley said as a business owner, he believes in strategic planning.
“I was talking more or less like a promise that we could go by,” he said. “My biggest thing is water, drainage, roads, infrastructure, but we keep on flip-flopping. This is a good idea. I did not know how much it was going to cost, but if they are going to give seminars to the public, I can go with this.”
Argue recommended Barbara Cottrell among the three potential consultants.
Wodraska added that strategic planning would be of benefit for changing boards or staff, because new members would have it as a resource.
“Taking the time to do this is actually for changing boards, for changing managers, for changing staff, because when somebody new comes in, they’re going to say, ‘Where’s the document that says what I’m supposed to do?’” he said.
Argue made a motion to approve a consultant, which passed 5-0.
ITID Attorney Mary Viator said she would bring back a scope of work for the board’s consideration. Hager invited Cottrell to come to the board’s next meeting.