Category Archives: Local Gov’t Management

Shared Services: A Solution for Local Governments

Appearing online in the April 2013 edition of the Business News Online

http://www.thebusinessnewsonline.com/ncw/index.htm

It’s no secret local governments are experiencing financial challenges. Large economic, technological and political forces are threatening traditional service portfolios. Those of us working in local government management generally expect these forces to be part of a “new normal” that includes shrinking revenues, historic cuts to state-shared revenue programs, budget and subsequent service reductions, public employee labor and salary reforms.

The challenge of managing local agencies in this new environment will require local government to seriously evaluate its service offerings and assess which business practices will be preserved.

As administrator for the Village of Weston, this is a critical business issue for us as well as many other units of local government throughout the state. Because of these challenges, without alternatives, we can expect future services to be reduced or eliminated. Fortunately, I do not think we have reached the point where the only alternative is a choice of have or have not. A preferred strategy that deserves more attention and energy is an effort to merge and consolidate services among multiple communities.

The Village of Weston already has a proven track record with intergovernmental partnerships. The village jointly shares the Everest Metro Police Department with two other local communities. Our Fire and EMS department responds to calls both in and outside of our village. The village’s street department services citizens in both the village and Town of Weston. For Weston, shared services have been one of our strategies to provide existing services at a reduced cost to our taxpayers.

In an effort to build upon this success, we have explored other possibilities including sharing a director of public works management team with the Village of Kronenwetter, sharing a deputy clerk/treasurer with the City of Schofield, participating with the City of Wausau on a study of fire and rescue services throughout our metro area, and conducting a management study with the YMCA to see if it can manage our local aquatic center for less cost than the village can. We will continue to pursue all additional possibilities for shared services in the future.

By comparison, mergers and consolidations are a fixture of competitive practice throughout business and industry. The news has reported on the decision of companies like Office Depot and OfficeMax, as well as U.S. Airways and American Airlines, to merge their corporations. The prevailing wisdom is mergers and acquisitions makes sense. Given the enduring economic stagnation, private businesses must make adjustments to maintain service expectations and enhance profitability. For those who believe the axiom “government should work more like a business,” this approach should be a no-brainer.

Despite many successful, cost-effective examples of municipal service cooperation, the political motivation to explore this strategy as an alternative to our increasing financial challenges remains tepid. There are many reasons for this. Generally, the effort to build teams and create trust in the public sector takes time, involves work, and often boils down to the character, leadership, and future-focus of the people participating in the effort. Specifically, some political leaders fear a reduction in power, oversight and control. Some public employees might attempt to obstruct these efforts out of concern for their employment or because they are concerned about how consolidation could affect and alter the workplace environment. Some citizens might resist because they have a strong emotional attachment to their community and exhibit a strong sense of pride-of-place. They fear service consolidation will translate into the loss of their community’s unique historic identity.

While I realize these are very real concerns, I truly believe municipal service cooperation is an opportunity to improve upon a proven system of service delivery, in which shared oversight among municipal agencies leads to increased opportunities as the cost of providing exclusive services is carried by more consumers. The advantages, in my opinion, far outweigh the concerns, including reduced costs to taxpayers, preservation of traditional and anticipated services levels that have been threatened by reduced revenues, increased opportunities to hire and retain specialists in the local government arena who would otherwise be unaffordable for individual agencies, and sharing talent and expertise to address and solve problems across political boundaries. All this can be done cooperatively and still allow for individual communities to maintain their identities, local elected leaders, local ordinances and separate rates of taxation.

Gov. Walker’s State of the State Speech laid out five priorities for Wisconsin in the next two years, one of which included government reform. With this goal in mind, I can think of no better solution than working with our leaders in Madison, and supporting those who represent us in our local towns, villages, and cities to vigorously pursue cost-saving opportunities. It is my hope local taxpayers will support these efforts and call for action as a means of both preserving quality services and responding to the challenges of decreasing revenues and increasing costs.

State has Team W, Team U and Team D; I’m on Team J

After reading Ken Harwood’s (He is the Executive Director of Lafayette Development Corp and edits and publishes WisconsinDevelopment.com) recent article entitled, “Right now, state has Team W, Team U and Team D; I’m on Team J“, I can say without hesitation that I am with Ken and also on Team J!

Wisconsin State Journal: It’s time to stop demonizing public workers

Public Worker Image? – “Is there something wrong with a police officer or a firefighter who regularly has put himself or herself in harm’s way expecting a decent paycheck for that work? Should the teacher who has spent years in college and now works to make something of our kids not receive a fair wage and benefits? Or the crews that get called out on subzero days to fix a water main break? Or the social workers who are called to dangerous places to try to fix our society’s problems? The bottom line is that the private sector needs the public one and vice versa. While there are those who revel in creating schisms between the two for their own selfish ambitions, we’re all in these trying times together. Sure, there are slackers who get jobs in government just as there are slackers in virtually every plant and office in America. But, like most of the workers who toil for private companies, public workers are conscientious and caring, and they don’t deserve to be demonized.” SOURCE – Wisconsin State Journal; 2/8/2012.

Caledonia Wisconsin Village Administrator Resigns, Tells Board: “My Tank Is Empty”

After six and a half years of serving as the Village Administrator, Tom Lebak is calling it quits, reported the Caledonia Patch in its article of January 4th, 2012. Rarely does the news media capture and print such frank and candid comments from a local government administrator, like they did here with Tom. Some examples of his quotes include:

“It’s just time,” Lebak said. “Over the holiday when I was off it felt like I was breathing again. My six and a half years here have been a challenge to say the least. However, I feel that I have reached the end of the road, my tank is empty and I do not have much more to give. I feel in my heart that I have done my best and I certainly appreciate the opportunity that I was given to serve the residents of Caledonia.”

For those of us who have had the honor and privilege of serving as a city (or county, village, town) manager (or administrator)  can empathize with these statements. Though I am younger than Tom, and only into my fifth year working in this field I have come to suspect that like me, most of my colleagues are driven by a sense of purpose and inertia that comes from within.

However, and especially so in these crazy economic times, it seems that it is the destiny of most local government managers to eventually burn out, having fought so many battles. I wish Tom the best and I hope that he finds new opportunities to “fill his tank”.

The Value of Public Service by Randy Reid, County Manager, Alachua County, FL | icma.org

Randy Reid, Alachua County FL Manager, provides an articulate defense of the importance of public service, as well as some of the joys, stressing fundamentally the service component. Thank you Randy for a great article which provides clarity for the roles and responsbilities of public servants in these challenging times.

The Value of Public Service by Randy Reid, County Manager, Alachua County, FL | icma.org.

Our Story – What is means to be a municipal clerk

The Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association is 1,400 members strong and still growing. The purpose of this Association is to improve the administration of local government and to benefit the City, Town, or Village Clerk, Deputy Clerk or any official having similar duties, by providing them with the skills and the knowledge through which the quality of the services they perform may be improved.

What it means to be a clerk and a member of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Assocation (WMCA) from WMCA – WI Clerks Association on Vimeo.

Life, Well Run

Thousands of decisions are made every day in cities, towns, and counties that determine our quality of life. A recent Harris Interactive poll found that while a third of citizens polled know that city managers oversee the day-to-day operations of their community, only 5 percent could describe what a manager does or their important role in shaping a community.

Downtown redevelopment plan drafted

Downtown Redevelopment Plan Drafted (Poynette Press; 9//2011)

Excerpt: The initial draft of the plan identified a concept building that would create an 8,400-square-foot space on the first floor for the library and a coffee shop and a 7,200-square-foot space on the second floor to house approximately three or four commercial office tenants. Other improvements would be 25 off-street parking spaces and a “pocket park/walkway” for access to parking and outdoor café seating. The plan would also preserve the Poynette Area Historical Society building and separate commercial and residential uses on the same block.

“We have a ways to go,” Guild said. “We’re laying the foundation and putting the
pieces together.”

$25K awarded for downtown

$25K awarded for downtown (Poynette Press; 8/30/2011)

Excerpt: Douglas Thurlow, underwriter and planner for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), said in the course of a year, the agency approves around 15 proposals. He said while several things stood out with Poynette’s proposal, the
amount of work already done by village officials was most impressive.

“Usually when you see a planning proposal, they’re at the first stage, whereas (Poynette) had already done a lot of the work,” he said. “So the plan here is to move right into the implementation stage, and that’s pretty unusual for a project. You like to see the project has a good chance of working, and this one seems like it’s far enough along it’s going to.
I was really impressed by the quality of work they’ve done so far.”

Thurlow said he was particularly impressed by the work done by Guild on the project, as well as Guild’s personal attention to seeing it through.

“I went up and met with Dan (Guild) in the fall, and I thought he was a very bright guy, seems like he’s very committed to making this project happen,” he said. “That helps when you see somebody who’s going to quarterback the project who seems to have the skills to
make it happen. He’s a go-getter and he had done his research. He had a realistic view of how to put the thing together, and I was impressed with him, and also was impressed by the effort as far as the community. It’s a great idea, as far as adjusting the needs of the community from what was a 19th-century downtown into the 21st century, because everything about that community is in a state of flux.