When Richmonders went to the polls a few years ago to decide if they wanted an elected mayor, I was firmly on the side of those who not only wanted an elected mayor but wanted one with at least as much -- if not more -- clout and power than the City Council. A lifelong fan of Mayor Doug Wilder, I've been less than impressed with his performance as mayor, describing him as being more effective at breaking bad ideas than initiating good ones.
My opinion is shifting, if slightly, based almost entirely on an item in the latest edition of the Mayor's Visions Newsletter.
To better gauge the performance of your local government, work is already underway to implement an online management performance program deemed highly successful in cities such as New York and Baltimore. "CitiStat" is a centralized database that will provide progress reports on City department work such as number of potholes repaired, streetlights replaced, and vacant buildings secured.
By July, CitiStat will begin measuring results citywide - not yearly, quarterly or monthly, but week to week. Best of all, these performance measures will be posted on the City's website so that citizens can examine what - and how much - is being done on their behalf.
After reading up on CitiStat and how it has been used in Baltimore (and elsewhere), all I can say is full steam ahead. While there has been a lot of housecleaning at City Hall in the two years since Wilder moved in, this is one of the first instances (outside of his bickering with the School Board) that I've seen an aggressive move toward shifting accountability deep within the city government -- and giving the public a transparent way to see what their tax dollars are doing.
Since it was implemented in Baltimore, CitiStat has been widely praised -- so much so that the Baltimore Examiner issued a call for its expansion throughout Maryland, which is currently underway.
Baltimore’s system is unique in that it includes a 311 number residents can call when they think they’re not getting what they pay for in city services and for non-emergency issues. The process relies on the proven management idea that what gets measured gets done and bosses need to inspect what they expect.
From repair of potholes to disposition of abandoned buildings to cleanup of disgusting alleys, from effectiveness of sewage screens and to crime and police resource deployment and lots more, our city executives set goals and track turnover, overtime and job performance.
The city has saved $350 million in six years by using CitiStat, according to Stephen Kearney, the director of policy and communication for Mayor O’Malley.
In a room equipped with enough electronics and audio-visual support to remind visitors of the “Star Trek” control room, city department managers must stand, report and defend their performance and that of their people on a regular schedule and answer questions in hearing/near-trial format about why they are or are not performing and what they plan to do to get better.
Among many other things, the CitiStat approach helps to catch employees who chronically don’t complete work during business hours and cause overtime expenses.
Maryland's StateStat initiative recently unveiled BayStat (because, Lord knows you don't want to come up with anything creative for a name). But it's still Baltimore's system that attracts the most attention after five years in action; in 2004, the City of Baltimore was recognized by Harvard's JFK School of Government for innovation and accountability in government:
... CitiStat is nothing short of confrontational. In bi-weekly meetings, the manager of each city agency must stand at a podium and answer questions from a panel led by the mayor or his appointed inquisitor. The questions are culled from CitiStat's statistical analyses of the agency's previous two-week performance. During the meeting, various images are projected onto two screens behind the manager: graphs of performance, recent pictures of job sites, and even the manager's face beside a performance chart. However, CitiStat was not created to assign blame; it was created to generate personal accountability for the City's challenges and focus efforts towards producing quick, effective results. In Mayor O'Malley's words, CitiStat "puts a face on the problem."
... CitiStat's primary innovation is its ability to tailor performance evaluations to each agency: the animal control manager must explain an increase in strays and propose a solution; the housing manager must explain a chart of vacant houses and the plans to resolve this problem; all managers may be asked to explain each hour of their department's overtime. The financial effectiveness of the program has been estimated as a total aggregate savings of 100 million for its first four years of existence. With CitiStat's annual budget of $400,000, Baltimore estimates that its return on initial investment in the first year was over 12 million dollars.
The program's effectiveness in service delivery is also considerable. The Baltimore Sun reported that in 2002 the City took eight days to remove an abandoned vehicle, in 2004 it took five. Also in 2004, the City's goal of responding to missed trash collection complaints within 24 hours was achieved 82 percent of the time, up from 44 percent in 2002. Since CitiStat's statistics are published on the city website, the public also benefits from the increased governmental transparency.