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Is the City of Margate Strategic Plan Smarter than a 5th Grader? (Editorial)

In a City with nearly 40 top employees earning more than $100,000 a year in wages, coupled a slew of Masters Degrees and a day-long Strategic Planning meeting in June at a cost of $17,000; the Margate Strategic Plan up for approval Wednesday looks like a 5th grader wrote it. _____________ The June Strategic Planning meeting was facilitated at cost of $17,000 for a Colorado-based consultant to coach department heads and elected officials into establishing a new five year strategy for Margate's future. All five city commissioners had been profiled by the consultant prior to the meeting and their respective communication styles shared with one another. The meeting started late because of traffic. All five elected officials attended along with Interim City Manager, Sam May and City Clerk, Joe Kavanagh. City Attorney, Douglas Gonzales - one of three Charter Officers in the City, did not attend the meeting early on. Margate Mayor, Tommy Ruzzano, expressed disappointment with the attorney's absence because he wanted to discuss improved communications among charter officers and the elected officials that hire them. He said he has been receiving information, which has been less than accurate, from management and wanted to address past communication faux pas so as not to repeat them in the future. He also wanted to discuss Commissioner, Lesa Peerman’s alleged social media habits, to which both May and meeting facilitator, Dr, Mickey A. Benson, PhD., of Monitor Associates, advised elected officials to ignore as part of fostering communication reform. On numerous occasions Peerman has posted derogatory social media rants about colleagues on the dais. “Today is where we begin to move forward. Forget about the past,” she said. “What are our strengths and weaknesses [as a City] and what are we going to do?” Key personnel missing from the meeting included Margate Fire Chief, Dan Booker, who was excused for a training meeting; and the City’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Alison Saffold, who at first May said was going to be late, but in the end did not attend the meeting. Vice Mayor, Arlene Schwartz, did not approve of the absence. “Out of everybody, any person in her position should be here,” Schwartz said at the meeting. The Vice Mayor was critical of the City’s existing Strategic Plan (2014-2019), which she called a joke. “I looked at it last night for the first time and laughed,” Schwartz said at the June meeting. “When was the last time we looked at it?” Plans for downtown development - arguably the city’s most vital undertaking in 60 years - are mentioned nowhere in the 2018-2022 Strategic Plan (seen at bottom) proposed for Wednesday. Although lands are taxpayer owned via the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency (MCRA), city commissioners serve doubly as the Board of Directors of the MCRA, but refrained at the meeting from discussing the destination of $30 million worth of taxpayer owned land and selling it to a developer for $10 million - far beneath fair market value. Moreover, elected officials approved housing units in excess allowed by the county when endorsing the development deal in July last year. With a proposed $5 million fire station in the balance and an increase in Margate homeowner’s annual fire assessment to pay for it, the city’s Fire Chief neither attended the meeting nor sent a representative in his place, despite elected officials armed with many questions on the topic. Public Safety Goals are not included the City’s new Strategic Plan - despite consuming 62% of the city’s General Fund Budget. When commissioners touched on improving community policing, Police Chief, Dana Watson, said surveys over the years show an average 92% satisfaction rate. Watson was not specific about what surveys to which he referred. Mechanisms and timelines for implementation and outcomes, along with measurability of goals do not appear in the planning document. If Schwartz was disappointed with the last Strategic Plan, she’ll be doubly duped Wednesday if she votes to approve the new plan on the table. (Click to compare to previous Strategic Plan) An informed resource on strategic planning for cities, the Office of the New York State Comptroller published the“Local Government Management Guide to Strategic Planning” which is followed by many to this day. The study suggests four key questions in the municipal planning process.

1. Where are we [City] currently? 2. Where do we want to be in the future? 3. How do we get there? 4. How do we gauge progress?

When city staff arrived at the June meeting prior to lunchtime, few had input or fully embraced the strategic planning process. Some elected officials participated vigorously; others not so much. The majority of components proposed in the new plan mimic the plan of old and touch little on ideas presented by elected officials at the June meeting. Commissioners Lesa Peerman and Joanne Simone sat opposite Ruzzano, Schwartz and Commissioner Anthony Caggiano throughout the day, signaling a strong difference of opinion. To the dismay of some, commissioners never got the opportunity to eek out their professional and personal differences. Simone and Peerman left the meeting early. The June Strategic Planning session was poorly noticed to the public and the meeting was held in the Town of Davie so that department heads would not be distracted with regular business, said city officials.

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