Today I taught a class on performance measurement to 30+ mayors, city council members, city managers, and managers of municipal departments. And I asked them to pick a department to work on - then pick a function in that department and come up with goals, objectives, strategies, and performance metrics.
At at the end of the session I asked all 6 groups to look back at what they created and decide whether, if budgets were constrained, their department and the related goals were worth funding.
For instance, one group worked on animal control. And they decided that citizen complaints about stray animals should be responded to in 15 minutes. And to pull this off, they would have to beef up animal control staff to cover more ground more continuously. If i were cutting budgets, I would feel very good about responding to calls within 4 hours.
Or what about the city that decided that its five pools should have clean water. Of course, if you are going to have a pool, it has to be clean so that no one gets sick. But, to pull this off, they decided they needed to hire a - get this - certified pool operator. Yes, a CPO! If I was really slashing budgets, I'd close the pools entirely. No need for a CPO!
When I told my husband about this when i got home, he commented that government was too in control of our lives. He sometimes thinks that government employees and leaders are hungry for power. This doesn't ring true with me.
I don't think it is about power - although it sometimes might be. i think it is more about government employees doing their best to take care of what they were tasked with. When the city decides to open a pool - they take on a huge responsibility and government employees have to work hard to make sure the pool is safe.
In my small business, people come to me and say, "Do you do X and so? Do you edit auditing manuals? I need help with that." Now while that isn't my primary line of business, I am not adverse to making more money or providing a service that I believe may help me establish relationships and get more business later.
If you a government manager and your citizens say, "I need the road widened!' you say, "Sure, no problem." And then go figure out how to make it happen and how to pay for it.
What else can a government leader do? The citizen says they need something, and it is our job to provide it. And if we are doing a really good job as a government manager, we are going to dot every i and cross every t - and that costs big bucks.
So instead of blaming our government leaders, maybe we should look at our own crazy expectations as citizens. Do we really need someone to respond to our call about a stray cat on our porch in 15 minutes? Does our small town really need 5 pools open 7 days a week? Do we have to have that road widened?
One of my relatives moved to a very small town. The house was very affordable and she pays ridiculously low property taxes. When it rains, her yard fills with water because she is on flat land and the city has no drainage system. Only Main Street has sidewalks. No one picks up her recycling. But she is very happy to let her yard flood and haul her own recycling back to the big city because she doesn't care much about those things and certainly doesn't want to pay for it.
With this downturn in the economy - with the government owing an overwhelming amount of debt - we are going to have to ask ourselves some tough questions. Do we really need that? Our governments are going to have to be more transparent about where our money goes so that we can make these tough calls.