The following letter was sent to Harford County Council President Billy Boniface and the members of the county council. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication.
President Boniface and Council Members:
Tony Passaro and I were invited to comment on a 2008 report on Harford County government efficiency. The copy furnished us was three years old without update information. Therefore current status disappointingly is unknown. Our preliminary comments are attached for your perusal. The time for action is now. Inaction is costing the taxpayer $3,000, 000 per month.
Roy Whiteley/Tony Passaro
REVIEW COMMENTS ON THE JULY 8, 2008 REPORT Entitled “COMMISSION TO STUDY EFFICIENCY & ECONOMY IN GOVERNMENT” And County Executive, “DAVID CRAIG’S SEPTEMBER 11, 2008 RESPONSE TO SAME”.
The poignant fact is that this report and its subsequent response have apparently lain fallow for over three years. To date, it appears that no implementation plan has ever materialized or even been formulated, not even a draft of one. Therefore, our first take is to judge the report an academic exercise. Government may move slowly but a three-year hiatus in starting a badly needed cost-cutting program clearly indicates that “cutting costs” has a very low priority in the mind of the County.
We found this review effort an exercise in futility because we did not have knowledge of any actions taken or the present status of the recommendations of the initial Commission report. In three years, certainly some actions have been taken. The question is “Which Ones?”
Since we have made assumptions about the apparent lack of action or visible evidence thereof and so that we may continue to assist in this review, we respectively request that we receive, within one month of this memo, an update on the status of every item suggested within the Commission report. This information obviously must be available to the committee or commission that is to be appointed before April, 2011 to formally address these reports. We feel our critique will aid in their efforts while also assisting in the future drafting of an appropriate plan of action complete with significant benchmarks and critical paths.
Based on the information we have in hand, we offer the following initial observations on the incomplete status of the report and response:
POINT 1: The first page of this report emphasizes “….it is crucial that the Craig Administration work diligently to reform the culture of government in order to emphasize innovation, efficiency, accountability, and creative thinking.” This may have been boldly stated but little if any effort appears to have been made to implement such a program. Make cost cutting and driving operational efficiency a top, if not the TOP priority of the Administration.
POINT 2: Raise both the priority and the visibility of such a program. We suggest that cash rewards based on percentage of money saved for the best ideas put forth by taxpayers as well as county employees and make it visible. Publicizing the rewards and benefits of cost cutting in government operational efficiency will positively convey to county employees and the taxpayer the intent and resolve of this Administration.
POINT 3: The report faults the predisposition of government employees to maintaining the status quo because of the way they are evaluated. The basic evaluation is to determine if the employee meets minimum standards for employment. There apparently is no recognition for going above and beyond one’s minimum requirements. No incentives are apparently offered to spur additional effort, advancement or other rewards.
It is time to update employee review forms with scores for “making things better”. There are numerous private sector companies that utilize and offer such reviews, materials, and training negating any need to re-invent the wheel to emulate them. Such reviews frame the employee as an integral part of the system and rates the employee as 1. small, 2. minor or 3. significant contributor to the mission statement. Merit would be much more appropriate.
The report reinforces our position by stating “it appears that many employees are predisposed to performing maintenance of the status quo over innovatively solving problems, that the County’s use of technology is limited at best, and that the County’ process (and we would add, Mission Statement) could stand to be better defined.”
Unfortunately, some employees in management we have recently encountered believe that “government cannot be run like a business”. While we would agree that government cannot be run as business to make a profit, running government as though that is the goal would only improve its working efficiency. We strongly suggest that those people who think and perform otherwise be asked to take AMA Business Management courses to dispel this misconception.
POINT 4: The fact that Deputy Directors are classified and therefore not directly responsible to the County Executive is bizarre. This egregious decision must be corrected by any means possible. Actually, for any administration to function responsibly all government employees need to serve “at will” just as private sector employees do, to help change the culture of government employees. Accountability, along with concern for achieving excellence in their job performance and its affect on the County and its taxpayers should be paramount.
POINT 5: The Board of Education budget dominates more than 57% of the County budget. The Superintendent’s recent request for a $26 million increase in the budget in these trying economic times is poorly conceived and a clear indicator of the myopic public employee culture addressed throughout the report and this critique.
Funding of only the Maintenance of Effort value should be employed by the Administration to bring about a meaningful working relationship between the BOE and the Administration for the betterment of all taxpayers. While it is apparently too late to initiate legislation this year to correct this Statewide problem, unless it could be introduced as an emergency legislation, the problem needs to be addressed by the Administration and the entire Harford County delegation immediately following the 2011 session so that a unified County action can be promulgated and so that the Administration can organize and solicit support from the other 23 jurisdictions of the State.
POINT 6: Automated timekeeping is necessary to control actual employee attendance and overtime. Apparently, some advancement in this effort is being undertaken but it appears to be meeting resistance and is moving at a snail’s pace. Proper prioritization and assignment of human resources and overtime starts with accurate time keeping.
POINT 7: The report suggests the consolidation of Construction Management under one agency. This falls into line with our thinking. The consolidation of multiple government operations will inevitably eliminate duplication and redundancy. Where does this suggestion stand today?
POINT 8: The cost of $50,000 per year to the taxpayers of the County to rent back the Highlands Community Association building the County already owns is “penny wise and pound foolish”. This lease back arrangement should be renegotiated immediately. To wait for the lease renewal to come due is an irresponsible shirking of fiscal responsibility.
POINT 9: Maintenance request centralization reinforces the comments we have repeatedly offered urging countywide centralization of as many operations as possible to effect maximum cost savings. It confirms our call to operate government “like a successful, profit making business”.
POINT 10: The use of County owned vehicles by employees for personal transportation i.e. take home cars, is a perquisite the County taxpayers cannot afford. County vehicles should never be assigned on a permanent basis for take home or personal use UNLESS the vehicle and its driver is assigned to emergency service and is “on call” when the vehicle is in their possession. All vehicles should be kept under one centralized command so they can be quickly located, scheduled for maintenance, and prioritized for usage.
POINT 11: Cell phones are the most inefficient and expensive means of person-to-person communication. Next to computers, they are the most abused pieces of equipment in use by business and government. The County already has several radio communication units in service. They should be utilized to the maximum extent possible with vehicles equipped with two way radio communication for those persons authorized to use the vehicles and have the need for full time communication contact. This will help to reduce the cost of telephone services.
POINT 12: Many experts, both inside and outside of government have advocated an integration of Countywide IT systems. However, each little entity, notably Sherriff’s department (who recently purchased $350,000 in redundant equipment) and Libraries have consistently fought system centralization. Centralization efforts must be intensified before further decentralization expands in defiance of the efforts to do otherwise.
POINT 13: The restructuring of the Department of Public Works into either separate departments or specialty divisions is long overdue. Such entities would better serve the taxpaying public by having one homogeneous mission rather than working in a fractured multifaceted organization with competing cultures, missions, and goals. Certainly using specialty departments for specific services like water and sewer, construction management, solid waste transportation, and design functions makes sense by concentrating expertise and resources in a homogeneous entity that will promote a unified culture of purpose, mission, loyalty, and performance.
POINT 14: The creation of special/revenue authorities needs more study. Certainly such entities and like entities such as TIF’s have provided positive results in many jurisdictions and thus deserve further consideration.
POINT 15: Adoption/implementation. The response to this report offered by the Executive, while extensive, is incomplete. It contains numerous comments by the Executive Staff, requesting clarification by the County Executive. These requests appear to remain largely unaddressed. It indicates that this initiative has been assigned a “LOW PRIORITY” and therefore unimportant and not worth serious consideration.
Perhaps if the action noted in our first item of this critique were promptly addressed “POINT 1- Make cost cutting and driving operational efficiency a top, if not the TOP priority of this Administration…”, we might be able to reach a more positive conclusion. As the County Executive’s response indicates, “It all starts with a documented plan with measurable objectives and performance milestones periodically updated and regularly communicated to staff, elected officials, citizens, and businesses.” The question is “Where is the plan?”
In summary, we feel that being offered the opportunity to perform this review, without updated data on hand, is analogous to being asked to perform a fool’s errand. We were expected to address these matters without having all the details. We can only properly respond to your request after we receive the proper information to address. Time is of the essence because each month we delay wastes another $3,000,000 of the taxpayer’s money.