Monday, November 18, 2013

Attitudes toward council initiatives, and metrics-based performance management

I recognize that some are still angry about Safe Grow and the time spent on topics that one Philadelphia-Eastern Neighborhood (PEN) resident characterizes as "excesses" and another calls "grandstanding, headline issues." Another PEN resident asked why the council isn't "establishing measures of accountability to the community, that is, mechanisms to measure success of the initiatives they voted for and funded."

By way of response:

We don't agree that the initiatives seen as excesses and grandstanding, are. Local supporters of innovations such as Same Day Registration & Voting, and voting for 16 year olds and on-parole/on-probation felons, believe that these are positive steps that make a substantive difference. They are designed to work for Takoma Park, and financially, they don't cost much.

Uncontroversial steps such as creation of a half-time senior-services coordinator position (designed to support Aging In Place and city-wide "village" development) and opening the library on Sunday afternoons are cost far more.

Yes, innovations do gain headlines. (That's not bad in itself.) I'm glad that the coverage I've seen has been positive. The voting analysis Takoma Park Sees High Turnout Among Teens After Election Reform is typical, and I was glad to read ex-Takoma Parker Susan Harris's take on Safe Grow, Lawn Pesticides Outlawed! (Safe Grow won a first victory before it was even enacted, when Washington Adventist Hospital agreed to forego use of lawncare pesticides.)

What about "mechanisms to measure success of the initiatives"? Implementation of suitable mechanisms is something I and other council members have been pushing. One, in particular, is collection of operational data ("metrics") with regular reporting against performance benchmarks in order to determine the cost, effectiveness, and ways to improve the spectrum of city programs and operations. My understanding is that the previous city manager had committed to piloting metrics & reporting for one city department -- Josh Wright could possibly comment on this -- but didn't deliver. I brought up metrics & reporting during the search that led to hiring of the current city manager, and I believe he will deliver. Please hold me accountable on this point.

I have also been pressing for staff-council discussion of year-ahead program plans, during the first quarter of the calendar, prior to the budget presentation and discussion that takes place, in April & May of each year, for the fiscal year that starts the following July 1. I don't know if I can make this innovation happen. Really, it depends on buy-in from the mayor, who creates the council agenda, and Bruce Williams hasn't yet reacted on this point.

Thanks again to everyone who has shared thoughts on city operations and planning and the choices we make. Please do keep them coming.

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