August 26, 2010

10-Year Plan: Dickert's broken promise

What's a plan?

That's the question Alderman Terry McCarthy raised this morning in The Journal Times in response to the document Mayor John Dickert released this week. Here's McCarthy's comment, as written by reporter Paul Sloth: 
A plan is to accomplish something specific. It would include the specific steps to get that goal. The use of the word plan might be a little loose. From that perspective, his definition of plan and my definition of plan might be different.
Aside from the hundred or so comments posted on RacinePost and the JT's website, that was the closest thing to criticism Sloth could find to the mayor's 10-year plan. While Sloth dismisses McCarthy's comments as "minor criticism," it's an important question.

Is the document Dickert released a "plan" for the city?

We've spent the last two days talking to community members and officials searching for an answer to this question. Each raised concerns that can be broken down into three categories:

1. Process. The mayor's 10-year plan for the city was written as a campaign piece, not as a working document for the community. He spent 15 months ignoring a campaign promise, then, fearful of not getting re-elected, released a rambling document without community input or City Council review. It's not a 10-year city plan. It's a campaign lit piece released, at no cost, by the JT.

Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus in political science at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hit on this point in the JT. Here's his comment, as reported by Sloth:
It is highly unusual for an individual and particularly an elected official to write THE plan. Typically the process is important. Ideally elected officials should be leading a serious dialogue with the community about what kind of community do we want to have and is it realistic.
Dickert led no discussion and sought no input. It's a missed opportunity. He could have led a meaningful, needed, community discussion about Racine's future. Instead, he held a dialogue with himself. 

2. Presentation. The document itself is poorly done. The writing is incomplete and grammatically challenged, the formatting is, at best, inconsistent, some information is repeated twice, and the layout is non-existent. (One example: Page 4 calls for a diagram, but there's no actual diagram.) Consider this section, taken verbatim, from the 10-year plan:
Narrative – When we stat this journey to implement the 10 year plan we are beginning with the following statistics
1. Unemployment at 17.5 %.
2. We have been rated #2 in the state in unemployment since the 1990’s.
3. The cities manufacturing base has decline by 8,000 jobs.
4. City spending was up 25% from $33.3 Million to $44.3 million since 2000.
5. Racine has seen only 11% growth in the last 30 years. Compared to the State’s 21%.

We're the last people to criticize someone for grammatical errors (surely, there are a bunch on this site), but this is supposed to be the guiding document for the city for the next 10 years. Would it hurt to have someone go through and correct spelling and grammatical errors?

Now read the full document. How would Dickert present this to the community? Service clubs? Business leaders? The City Council? You wouldn't even get laughed out of CNH's or SC Johnson's board rooms because there's no way their boards would take something like this up.

Compare Dickert's "plan" to the "North Star Vision" Dr. James Shaw implemented at Racine Unified. Shaw offered a clearly stated vision, supporting documents and an actual "Scorecard" for the School Board and community to grade him against. It's a professional, coherent vision that Shaw spent the last two years developing and communicating to staff, students and the community.

Another example is the Racine County Workforce Development Board's "Higher Expectations" strategic plan, which laid out a countywide strategy to create a competitive local workforce. The plan identified six "Calls to Action," and led to programs such as "Advancing Family Assets," which is working to help families break out of poverty. The 10-year strategic plan was written by a coalition of community stakeholders and contained clearly measurable outcomes. A one-year progress report on the plan was held at Wingspread in 2009.

Dickert's plan more closely resembles the widely panned NAACP "report" on Downtown Racine. Dickert refused to even read that document because it wasn't approved by the organization. That leads to an interesting question: Who approved Dickert's plan? Why should anyone take it seriously?

3. Benchmarking. Dickert made a big point in the Journal Times to say he wants the community to "benchmark" him with the plan. Amazingly, there's nothing in the plan to "benchmark." He sets no timetables for his initiatives and sets few goals for the city to reach. Apparently city residents are supposed to hold him accountable in 10 years - after they re-elect him twice, of course.

Taken together, the mayor's 10-year plan is either severely flawed or simply not a plan. In either case, he hasn't lived up to his campaign promise.

A few more notes on the plan, as released:

  • Dickert told the JT he was watching Des Moines, Iowa; Austin, Texas; and Seattle for tips on how to transform Racine into a Top 10 city. His plan apparently involves luring the Wisconsin state capitol to Racine, opening one of the country's largest research universities, and creating a legendary local music scene. Otherwise, comparing Racine in any way to those cities is pretty silly. 
  • What's personally surprising about the first two days of coverage is how closely it's following the arrangement between the JT and Dickert described to me by insiders. The paper would launch an "exclusive" front page package of stories, then follow-up with stories laying out the plan. So far, that's what we've seen. If expectations hold we'll see glowing future stories about specific aspects of the plan, such as the mayor's long-term parks planning.
  • All of the numbers included in Dickert's 10-year plan came from Money magazine's 2010 "Best Places to Live" issue.

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  1. Wow the Post gutted Dickert. Made great points.
    Looks like John Dickert is very worried he will not be reelected (He is right)
    As for "Instead, he held a dialogue with himself."
    He needs no other input.

    Dickert should look at Gary IN,Detroit MI,Rockford IL, to compare Racine to.
    John "Less then One Term" Dickert should think about selling houses again soon

  2. He needs to stop combing his hair, stop kissing himself in the mirror, start listening to people and do his job for the little time he has left in office.

  3. markflynn@tds.net8/26/2010 2:45 PM

    Many of us never expected a presumptuous plan as soon as Dickert was placed in office. When he obtained the position he was too uninformed to develop a coherent plan. As he investigated the strengths and weaknesses within city administration, he was able to piece one together. Did Dickert in fact state a written plan would be in place within a specified time period? If not, no campaign promise was broken.

    As you stated above, Shaw took 2 years to develop a coherent plan, and was praised for doing so, yet Dickert was expected to do so within a much shorter time period.
    I am not making excuses for him, I would have liked to see a plan sooner, but the city is a large corporation with many different divisions, and I wholly understand the problems in dealing with this city's bureaucratic structure. It is largely unresponsive, and if it took Dickert as long to get answers as it takes some of us, then I can understand the time lag.
    I also noticed a few glaring grammatical errors of your own in the above piece. I also noticed the errors in Dickert's plan. Were Dickert's errors in fact his, or were they transcription errors in getting the page up electronically?

    As for the nature of the plan, it is not a concise blueprint for tomorrow, but it is the start, an outline, for a better Racine, and I read it as just that. I think there were things missing, and I disagreed with some facets.

    I think one of the biggest barriers to growth in Racine is the continuous failure of our banking industry to back local businesses as they toil to improve our city. The outside developers take the money and run (ie Artech) and I cringe each time a local business is sold to foreign (non-local)interests.
    Most local business owners are dedicated to their city, and will re-invest in it til the day they die. I believe the best plan for improvement of our businesses and our city is to believe in our local business owners, and to fund them accordingly, instead of giving all the incentives to outside interests.
    So, are we out to create a better Racine, or just out for headlines? And will the war between the JT and the Post ever end? Some of us read you both... Can't we just get along? You both have your strengths and weaknesses...just like the rest of us...

  4. The J-T IMHO is nothing more then a hack working for the Mayor in a foolhardy belief that somehow The Mayor can save The J-T from losing even more readers.
    If not for The Post we would have never found out about lots of stories the J-T never would have touched. I not agree with their politics but as far as I believe The Post is a Newspaper The J-T is bird cage lining.

  5. Personally, I prefer to spend my time and surround myself with people who have positive attitudes and who live to make our community a better place. In this example, I would walk away from the Racine Post before I would the mayor.

  6. Please start walking. To say the Mayor has positive attitudes and lives to make our community a better place, I say you must not read what is going on or are a crony

  7. Mark-

    I'd agree with you if the final plan was a polished, useful document. But this is notes on a napkin. We're talking about the future of our city! It deserves better treatment.


    We call it like we see it. Someone close to the Mayor needs to give him a wake up call, and quick. This type of report isn't acceptable for an organization of any kind. It's not a serious blueprint for an entire city's future.

    We sincerely hope the Mayor's plan works, but we have our doubts.

  8. What is REALLY pathetic is not only the Mayor's poor performance and cheap version of a plan, but the fact we have a 100k a year City Administrator (Tom Friedel) and a PIO (Mark Eichorst) and between the three of them, This is what they come up with?!? Racine should be outraged and should DEMAND better!

  9. I am very disappointed.

  10. 452-Well said, it's amateur hour at city hall.

  11. One thing I think we have to recognize with this mayor (as well as other mayors and even governors) is that they cannot be blamed for, nor can they solve, double-digit unemployment nationwide. Mayor Dickert plans to return to 1990's 4% unemployment level. He may as well plan to return to 1990 gasoline prices or 1990 rainfall totals.

    Also, I have heard the mayor declare on TV what he repeats in his plan: "Revamp CAR-25 to tell Racine's Story."

    Community Access TV was never intended to be a PR tool for city government. It is intended to be a channel that Racine's citizens (community) can use (access) to communicate to each other. It is a public benefit we are all supposed to get in exchange for handing the cable franchise over to the cable company. Furthermore, who does he plan to tell "Racine's Story" to via a channel that is only seen in Racine?

  12. He must have wrote his plan on a dirty napkin while playing bigshot with his buddy at the Ivanhoe. Does it smell like cheap booze and a Dutch Master?

  13. It seems to me that if I were a potential employer who was considering moving my business to Racine, and then I read the "10-Year Plan" as presented, I would no longer have an interest in relocating to Racine.

  14. This plan is an embarrassment to Racine. Thanks Dickert, we have enough perception problems as it is.

  15. The guy is a complete idiot,and Racine is the arm pit of the state if not the nation!!! Racine has nothing to offer except high unemployment, alot of hate and anger in that city. You couldnt give me a house in that town.!! The mayor and the urnial times are to worried about writing and slandering other people in the paper!! Get a life Mayor!!! Ur a slug and ur over paid with the rest of ur cronnies....


    the post 'gutted' dickert only because it gave them the opportunity to take several shots at the JT.

    Congratulations JT on open disclosure and truth.
    Thank you for re-energizing my faith in honest journalism.

    John Willock

  18. Have any of you noticed that new businesses coming into the area are locating just outside of Racine's boundries?

    Racine needs a 3 step plan, not a 10 year dream.

    1. Fix Unified. This can only be done by engaging the ENTIRE community and holding our youth to stronger expectations. House to house neighborhood to neighborhood. Why would people choose to come here based on our schools? We do not have a funding problem Racine we have an expectations problem. Ask youself this, when was the last time you spoke with anyone who moved to Racine because of our schools? It is not about the buildings people, it is about the product and the attitude.

    2. Improve the business climate. City Hall acts as a barrier to new business when they should be doing everything in their power to attract and help new businesses to our city. We'll keep our gravel lot because we would rather have that than a $3million project. (Give me a break) Open doors instead of erecting barriers.

    3. Crime. Improving on the first 2 points will help here but we need to engage the whole community.

    We don't need trains, our transit system is fine. We don't need street art. We don't have 10 years.

    What we need is a change in attitude in this community and a change in leadership.

  19. Oh, and 4:07 pm Anon...

    Burrying your head in the sand and pretending everything is just peachy is not that much of a help.

    You may feel better by ignoring reality but that is no way to make a positive change in the community.

  20. R.D.- You should run for mayor!

  21. I've said it before and I will say it until I can no longer speak.

    If the next Governor of Wisconsin (Scott Walker) guts this GD WELFARE from this ENTIRE state, these loudmouth, rude, uneducated, sloppy SOB's will leave this city in particular for greener($$$$$$$$$) pastures.

    That is how you will fix this city and state.

    Tell me I'm wrong, and I'll say get bent.

  22. Anon 12;47, my thanks I am humbled.

    Mrs. RD disagrees.

  23. Dustin -
    I certainly appreciate your comittment and dedication to making Racine a better place. (and I think it's great that you are injecting some competition to help make the news outlets here improve)

    However, your constant commentaries about elected officials, ideas and policies crosses a line. If you want to comment on these things great...but do it in the proper way. Don't label yourself as a "news outlet" when you are editorializing. Again, you need to separate the two...that's why there are opinion pages in newspaper.

  24. George Why do I think if the Post was licking the Mayor's boots you would not be bitching?

  25. "George" works for Dickert.

  26. Dickert is a complete self serving moron. He has proven that to the City Of Racine time and time again. As long as he is in office, this city will continue it's downhill slide. The only people benefitting from Dickert being mayor are his friends and's really very sad and Racine needs to wake up and take our city back!

  27. Tim the Shrubber8/30/2010 8:11 AM

    "Dickert should look at Gary IN,Detroit MI,Rockford IL, to compare Racine to."

    So, you think Racine should aspire to be Gary or Detroit? I think yu really missed the point. As poorly written as the plan thingy is, the obvious goal to to be like cities which are doing better than Racine...not ones doing worse.

  28. Detroit MI is at least doing interesting ideas to end the rot. In Racine looks like the rot is only starting.

  29. Tim the Shrubber8/30/2010 12:53 PM

    Perhaps the 'interesting' ideas in Detroit might be a bit more applicable if the situation in Racine in any way paralleled Detroit.

  30. I give John Dickert credit for throwing some ideas out there - he's not just sitting there hoping for something to happen. I'm sure his ideas will be refined and made applicable. One political sides says "no" to everything and only offers criticism - the other side presents ideas and plans to make things better.

  31. The JT finally catches up with the rest of us.

    Does Dickert have any friends left?