Category Archives: City Managers

Shared Services: A Solution for Local Governments

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

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.

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”.

City Manager Shuffle: When and Why do City Managers Job Hop?

While there are certainly a few of my City Manager colleagues in Wisconsin who defy this trend, the pattern for a local government manager’s career have become much more fluid, often taking them all over the country, as the demands for excellence, the intolerance for any failures, and the sheer grind of local politics makes longevity in any one community nearly impossible. This trend will have profound implications as managers will, I forsee, make sacrifices for their families, particularily their kids.

City Manager Shuffle: When and Why do City Managers Job Hop?

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

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 |