It turns out that mom’s advice to share our toys and play well with others is also full of good business logic.
Cities around our region have jumped on the bandwagon and started partnering at unprecedented levels. From sharing equipment to sharing revenues, there’s a new attitude towards our neighbors which should have benefits for all of us for years to come.
On an intellectual level, cities have talked about the value of partnering for years but it took a good dose of fiscal distress to finally prompt actions to back up those words. There’s nothing like a genuine sense of urgency to inspire bold steps and in the world of political organizations reaching across-jurisdictional boundaries represents a sea change.
It might not sound like all that much to share a bucket truck (which is what the City of Kent and the City of Aurora have done for the last 2 years) but when it comes to equipment purchased with public funds in one community potentially being used in another community, you can just see the hair on the back of political leader’s necks stand up.
Local elected leaders take their jobs as stewards for their community and its resources very seriously, which historically meant what comes from Kent stays in Kent. Drawing that line makes a lot of sense, and is very defensible, but it also can leave us short at the worst possible moments. Fortunately, in areas like Police and Fire, cities have been able to step outside their jurisdictional boxes for some time under the auspices of mutual aid — and that’s worked extremely well.
Communities understand that in a disaster or catastrophic event, everyone rallies to support those in need regardless of political boundaries. However, that spirit of collaboration stopped at the border of everyday, routine services that cities provide.
Whether it’s turf issues, community pride or a sense of rivalry, it’s been an uphill battle to step across city borders for non-emergency functions. The silver lining to the less than friendly economy over the last 3 years has been knocking down the size of that hill, and slowly we’re seeing sharing of resources trickle down to everyday services from pothole repairs to tree chipping.
Cities have realized that emergency services aren’t the only expensive operations we run and if there’s a way to cut costs in non-emergency services cities are ready to act.
After 22 years in City government, it’s exciting to see these doors with our neighbors opening up. The good news for all of us is that with each new partner experience we learn something, we see the value of it, and most importantly we get better at it — which means we there should be more where that came from.
Sometimes transformations are dramatic but other times a lot of little steps can add up to something big. We are in the midst of one of those quiet transformations for how cities do business and I’m proud that Kent has been at the forefront of this wave.
Kent Public Service Director is spearheading an effort to apply the mutual aid model from Police and Fire to public works operations — and he’s got the attention of local leaders in Portage and even in Summit County that are anxious to improve service delivery without increasing costs.
The Mayor’s of Streetsboro and Stow have hosted meetings over the last 6 months to chart out areas where we could all stand to gain from better cooperation. The low hanging fruit has been public works functions, e.g., street repairs, brush chipping, etc.
Step 1 was the creation of a new region-wide database that allowed each City to upload their equipment inventory, equipment operators, supervisors and contact information so that in the event of an unexpected need in the middle of the night one community can know who to reach out to for help. Creating such an inventory sounds like it should be a relatively simple task but I can tell you, it’s not, and despite good intentions for years, no one was able to pull it off. Until now.
In a stroke of genius, Kent’s Public Service Director created a public service wiki page that allowed each City to upload their respective information which could then be accessed by any of the partners using a mobile phone from the job site, which is usually in a ditch at 1 am or some equally unconnected location. Smart phones and tablets have changed the way we can do our business in the field and this new application is exactly the kind of simple solution that we’ve all been waiting for.
Here’s the sort of information that the site contains.
That doesn’t mean we’ve left emergency services partnering behind. We recently reported to City Council on the efforts of six local dispatch agencies that have collaborated to submit a grant application for a project that is intended to bring about improvements in the coordinated call receipt and dispatching of 9-1-1 and other emergency calls for public safety services. These agencies are the City of Ravenna, the City of Kent, The City of Streetsboro, the City of Aurora, and the agencies of the Portage County Sheriff’s Office and Kent State University.
This is just a sampling of what’s going on and we should all expect more to come.