Last Saturday I attended a “strategic planning retreat” of DeKalb City Council, department heads and a couple others. Here’s a slideshow of the agendas, planning guide and timeline.

If you come here often, you may have noticed that I removed commentary this week about the retreat that featured the city’s systematic disrespect of the public. I meant it as part of a series of posts about the event but plans changed so I pulled it, at least for now.

Still, it’s important to note that DeKalb treats the general public as second-class citizens no matter how much they pretend otherwise. Here’s a recap of a couple of the points:

– City officials had access to a more substantive, so-called “annotated” agenda than the public had access to. One result was that the regular folks showed up before 8 a.m. while the privileged rolled in anytime they liked between 8-8:30, knowing the plan for the first half hour was actually to eat breakfast.

– Much was made during the retreat of the lack of public attendance and the need for better engagement with residents, yet the city failed to provide a public comment period for the 4-hour meeting.

It could have been different. For instance, think about what they could have done when only two of us showed up. Imagine if the leadership really did “think outside the box” as they always urge each other to do and had invited us to the table for full participation in all the exercises. Sure, it would have set a precedent. A REALLY COOL PRECEDENT.

Anyway, moving on, it does seem that I’ve managed to encapsulate more of my thoughts about this meeting on Facebook.

I was shocked to discover that “strategic planning” didn’t mean “strategic financial planning” but rather an intention to update the Comprehensive Plan in order to enshrine pet building projects. Nobody is talking about the financial consultants’ warnings that we need to fundamentally change city operations in order to survive and have a shot at thriving. Nobody is talking about the auditors’ recommendation to figure out how we managed “excessive spending” of $3.1 million over budget for FY2013 and FIX IT. $3.1 million is the equivalent of 10% of our operations budget. It’s a big deal whether anybody wants to admit it or not — and that’s not even getting into where the money for the “excessive spending” came from, and why the audited numbers differ from what’s shown on the budget in some of these funds.

That being said, I want to once again emphasize that although it was the wrong type of strategic planning for our current situation, when it came time for identifying the more immediate budget priorities, most of the talk about monument-building fell away. As a budget workshop the meeting wasn’t half bad.