I have often stated the City should run in a business-like fashion, with greater oversight and accountability. Sounds good, but what does that mean? At one level, it means operating in an efficient and professional manner. But every business (and Cities are municipal corporations, after all) should be efficient and professional. For me, it means something more.
MANAGEMENT BEST PRACTICES
Almost everything we do involves providing a service or completing a project. This sets the stage for what I call "Management Best Practices."
Set Standards: If it's a service, then there should be a performance standard. If it's a project, it should have a budget and a schedule. An example from our Fire District is their five-minute response standard: Our Firefighters will arrive on scene within 5 minutes of the call, 90% of the time. For projects, there should be a limited number of "tasks" that need to be completed, such as acquiring land, getting environmental clearance, construction and so on. Each task should have a start and end date, and a budget. This is pretty simple, and yet, we do not have a comprehensive set of performance standards and project schedules--something I have advocated for years.
Monitor Progress: We should get an update on all our major services at least annually--making it part of the annual budget is a logical point. Project status reports should be provided more frequently, and be available for public review. If any project or service isn't meeting our standards, those are the items we focus on--and expect recommendations from staff on how to correct.
Leverage our Scarce Resources: We're never going to have enough dollars to do everything we want. To get the most "bang for our buck" we need to become more entrepreneurial and creative. Here's some examples:
Partner with community groups, The AC Community Parks Foundation, for example, could provide recreational services and special events, saving the City money. Building up our community groups could be a good investment for the City and strengthen those groups at the same time.
Work with Property Owners/Developers. Often, they are better equipped to accomplish things than we are, and through negotiations, we can get more things done. A good example is the Newell Road Extension--the adjacent property owners need the road to access their property; and we need it to provide traffic relief. If they build the road and we pay our share (or work with the County over cost-sharing), it gets the job done sooner and the City can focus on other projects--like the Broadway District (Hwy. 29 Corridor).
Combine multiple projects into one action. For example, some of our older parts of town have worn out roads and leaking utility pipes. If our Utility Funds borrow money at low interest rates and replace the pipes, they can also contribute to repaving the road, thus saving our limited Gas Tax dollars for other parts of town.
Get a second opinion on major projects. We should spend a few dollars inviting an outside engineering firm to look over our plans for major projects. There's more than one way to design a project, and some options are better than others. There have been a few projects that could have benefited from a second set of eyes--and the savings would more than pay for the review.
Put caps on overhead staffing and costs. The goal should be to put resources into field services (police, fire, streets, parks, etc.). Grants often place a limit on how much can be used for administrative costs; we should do the same, which would encourage us to identify more efficient ways to get our administrative jobs done.
Plan for the long term. There are some costs that occur each year; other costs won't happen for several years down the road. We need to set money aside each year so we have the money when those future costs come due. Likewise, if we had a financial forecasting model that identified a fiscal problem in the future, we could take the necessary steps to avoid the problem now. The point is, if you aren't looking down the road, you won't be able to identify and avoid problems, or seize opportunities.
If we use these "best practices" correctly, we should be able to improve our services, increase the quality of life in our community, and get more projects completed. And that is why a major role of the Council--and the Mayor--is to provide oversight of staff. If we are engaged and understand how local services are provided, we are more likely to intervene when necessary. Remember, the goal of accountability is to ensure success, not to punish failure.
With my background in Finance and Management, I will continue to speak out when there are alternatives to what is being proposed, and will encourage ways for the Council to work together as a team--with annual goal-setting sessions, for example.