City Government at its Best (and worst)
For the record, I didn’t flunk out of the private sector and roll myself up to the public trough — I actually chose to work in city government. Call me a bureaucrat and the hair on my neck stands up, my teeth grind and my fists clench. I’m on a lifelong crusade to change the public persona of government employees. I am out to show that governments can be as smart, hardworking and productive as any business. Yes, you read that last sentence right, your government can be an example of business excellence.
Don’t laugh, it’s true. I’ve seen it work. All those armchair government quarterbacks rattle on for hours about how government can cripple businesses…yadah, yadah, yadah. I’m not saying there’s not some bad apples out there but let’s not forget about the shining stars.
I’m sure that one of Newton’s Laws explained how if government can mess things up it can also propel things in an equal and opposite direction — I guess that would be the law of “conservation of government impact”. In other words, we’ve all become so callous quoting our favorite government flop that all we aspire for is a government that doesn’t do too much damage. And as a result we get exactly what we deserve.
- When someone asks about what you do for a living, you lie.
- You get really excited about a 2% pay raise.
- Your biggest loss from a system crash is you lose your best jokes.
- Your supervisor doesn’t have the ability to do your job.
- You sit in a cubicle smaller than your bedroom closet.
- Computer specialists know less about computers than your teenager.
- Lunch is like another scheduled meeting, only shorter.
- You see a good looking person and know they are a visitor.
- Management thinks a business trip with uncompensated mandatory weekend travel is a perk.
- Although you have a telephone, pager, E-mail, FAX, company distribution, Fed-X, US mail and coworkers sitting right on the other side of the partition…communication is a continuing problem.
- You know, and everyone that works with you knows, your performance is superior, but “satisfactory” is the highest level on the documented performance rating.
- You work 200 hours for the $100 bonus check and jubilantly say “Oh wow, thanks!”
- Dilbert cartoons hang outside every cube.
- When workers screw up they are transferred to another office to be someone else’s problem; when management screws up they are promoted.
- Your boss’ favorite lines are “when you get a few minutes,” “in your spare time,” “when you’re freed up” and “I have an opportunity for you.”
- Training is something spoken about but never seen.
- Vacation is something you roll over to next year.
- The worst possible reputation comes from being the initiator of a complaint.
- You only have makeup for fluorescent lighting.
I want a government that leads positive change, raises the bar, sets a higher standard, and aspires to be great. I didn’t come to Kent to be part of an irrelevant city government. I want our city government to make a difference and be something that the community depends on and is proud of.
My mission statement is “Work Hard. Do Good. Be Proud.” If we do those three things we will be a city government that people want in the game, not sitting on the bench. We did that in my last city. We were one of the first cities in the nation to use Six Sigma to reduce variability in our services. We used quality practices to improve everything we did. We pushed innovation. We leveraged technology. We cut costs and raised the level of service at the same time. We became the first city in the state of Tennessee to achieve level 3 (out of 5) for performance excellence using the Baldrige criteria.
As we got better our reputation grew. We began to see businesses copy us. Other cities came to visit with us to see how we did what we did. We started to use government excellence as a hub from which we built a whole new cluster of businesses that were devotees of quality and performance excellence and wanted to be part of a city that did the same.
I get that it’s chic to crack on your city government. And any government that can’t laugh at itself isn’t worth talking to. But frankly, busting on city government is old news and to prove my point I found this quote from an 1888 study of city government in the Philadelphia:
The affairs of the city of Philadelphia have fallen into a most deplorable condition. The amounts required annually for the payment of interest upon the funded debt and current expenses render it necessary to impose a rate of taxation which is as heavy as can be borne.
In the meantime the streets of the city have been allowed to fall into such a state as to be a reproach and a disgrace. Philadelphia is now recognized as the worst-paved and worst-cleaned city in the civilized world.
The water supply is so bad that during many weeks of the last winter it was not only distasteful and unwholesome for drinking, but offensive for bathing purposes.
The effort to clean the streets was abandoned for months, and no attempt was made to that end until some public-spirited citizens, at their own expense, cleaned a number of the principal thoroughfares.
The system of sewerage and the physical condition of the sewers is notoriously bad—so much so as to be dangerous to the health and most offensive to the comfort of our people.
Public work has been done so badly that structures have had to be renewed almost as soon as finished. Others have been in part constructed at enormous expense, and then permitted to fall to decay without completion.
Inefficiency, waste, badly-paved and filthy streets, unwholesome and offensive water, and slovenly and costly management, have been the rule for years past throughout the city government.
118 years later the vocabulary may have changed but the message is the same. I’m out to change that by speaking the language of possibility — what we’re capable of as a city government. Enough with the problems, let’s get fixing things. Let’s start using government to elevate and drive success. I admit it, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because I’ve got something to prove. And there’s nothing I enjoy better than proving the skeptics wrong.