South Portland officials take a stab at strategic planning

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5-year plans to address facilities, staffing, operations

SOUTH PORTLAND — City department heads are working on strategic plans for their departments that would help guide decision-making for the next five years.

City Manager Jim Gailey said department heads were directed in November to begin working on strategic plans as a way for the city to be more proactive with its policies and decisions.

“We’re very reactive,” Gailey said. “We really don’t have a real focus. In my short time here in the manager’s seat, I’ve seen us being pulled in many different directions.”

Mayor Tom Blake, who highlighted the needs for strategic plans in his inaugural address, said he hopes the plans will be considered when the city begins updating its Comprehensive Plan this summer. 

The five-year plans being crafted by each department are being guided by a draft vision statement that reads:

“South Portland will strive to be the best small city in New England in which to live, raise a family and conduct business. South Portland will be known for its coastal location, environmental stewardship, outstanding schools, historical significance, quality neighborhoods, prosperous economic climate and excellent municipal services.” 

Blake, a founder of the Land Trust, said that he very much liked the environmental emphasis, noting the city has 14 miles of coastline, five watersheds and more than 15 ponds. “Environmental stewardship is critical to maintain a quality of life in (South Portland),” he said. 

Gailey said the city departments took a stab at strategic planning in the mid to late 1990s when Jeffrey Jordan was city manager, but the effort never really took off. 

The City Council will be asked for feedback on the plans before they are complete. Gailey said he hoped to bring the plans before the council this spring, but the timeline has been pushed back to late summer or early fall. 

“We’ve had other things we’ve had to turn our attention to,” Gailey said, referring to the budget and fallout from city layoffs. 

Blake said the strategic plans are vital to making decisions on staffing, buildings and functions of each department. Had strategic plans been in place, he said, the city could have avoided the ongoing criticism leveled by residents who are upset the city bought the former National Guard Armory for $650,000 without a planned use. 

“With flexible plans in place we can avoid pitfalls like the Armory and the need for a major high school renovation,” Blake said. “Whatever we do must be planned for, built right and maintained.” 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or