Dayton’s missing metric: delivery of customer service

After a writing a blog for long enough, some things just start to write themselves for you. This post is based on comments on the site and a discussion I had with a senior city staff person- and both come back to a recurring theme of my trials and tribulations with Dayton City Hall going back to Inspector Gotcha and vinyl clad garage doors in a historic district.

First from comments on the site:

Bruce Kettelle May 15, 2010 at 9:18 am

There are customized performance based measurement plans in effect in many cities across the country. For example in Pittsburgh they have developed a model that allows the Mayor (and public) to monitor the city by department by setting specific goals (such as the number of graffiti abatements) which are reported monthly. What I find lacking in most of these systems are ways to monitor longer range broad ROI monitoring. Let’s say for instance Austin Road costs x to build, add y for additional studies, marketing, and incentives then compare that total to the amount of new property, payroll and sales taxes (et al) generated by the businesses attracted. Is it beneficial for the project? Is it beneficial for the County? Is it beneficial for the region or state? Those would be great questions to answer.

Pittsburgh’s Pitt Maps reports are here

http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/mayor/html/pittmaps.html

Dayton has also done budget goal setting, here is one recent online report.

www.cityofdayton.org/cco/Documents/Focus2010book.pdf

What I do not see on line is any regular reporting on how they are doing, or how they are measuring their success. Does anyone else know where to find those reports?

via Before raising taxes, Dayton needs a plan.

What Bruce is talking about is the metrics of managing a city. What are our goals. When you asked Rhine McLin or Nan Whaley or Civil Servants are People Too- you hear about our bond rating (as if the bond rating agencies got it right on Main Street any better than they got it on Wall Street)- our “balanced budget” (which is required by law), and maybe even “satisfaction scores” from surveys on the Fire Department (as if we have any comparison- you don’t typically have your house burn down twice- and compare departments). What has been missing is metrics on vision.

For all the smoke and mirrors Mike Turner used- the one thing he did better than the other mayors since Paul Leonard- is talk about accomplishments. It used to make me sick listening to him on the campaign trail talking about his “300 hours of community service”- as if he were using a lawyer’s time sheet to tally his value- but, the reality is- he had a metric and Dixon didn’t. He was a master at taking credit for things like Riverscape- or the Dragons’ stadium- which gave him an air of confidence that’s been sorely missing since. But the reality is that the only metrics that are measured in Dayton are those that we seemingly have no control over: DPS test scores, foreclosures, job losses, population losses, crime.

Whoa. Did I just say we don’t have control over crime? Yep. And here’s why- because we don’t measure anything internally at all. We have no metrics of our own- except a balanced budget and what we spent our money on- like Nan yapping about the 7 bridges- without any metric on how they add value to our population. This is something that reader Jesse has mentioned as well- what’s the value of what we’re buying with our taxes? To whom? Austin Road has been grand for some developers- but, to say it’s “adding value” for a majority of Montgomery County taxpayers would be a stretch- as it just has added more infrastructure for us to support- and more unneeded office space to make the existing space even more worthless.

Which brings me to the City Staffer- with whom I began the conversation by asking if they were in the running to replace Tim Riordan once he’s ready to go. Unfortunately, our current commission is so obsessed with its current predicament little has been done to plan for the future. They hadn’t been asked it- and that’s sending a message to start sending out resumes. This is the last thing an organization needs in a time of crisis. They did weigh in on our lack of a department of customer/citizen service – and pointed out that City Hall still exists as if they have no competition- and no need to “out-perform” and razzle-dazzle the citizenry. It’s been my major complaint since the first time I stepped into city hall- and received blank stares from an elected commission when asking help on my garage doors.

I don’t agree with a “department of customer service” – or a director of it- I believe in TQM- total quality management- where everyone in an organization is committed to delivering maximum value with EVERY transaction. That said, I’d say a majority of government employees don’t have a clue what their job really is- and they just go about it without a single thought about delivering quality.

If you search this site on just the word “Metric” you’ll find I’ve used the term a few times- for various posts. The most important is in the “Esrati plan”- which is there every time you look at the site (unless you are reading it all through RSS). In it is a short part about customer service metrics:

Customer service- Metrics

I’ve advocated this for a long time- before it was an ombudsman who would take complaints, and track resolutions- and report to the Commission. Now, I’d like to install a “Help Desk” to track cases through city hall. The City Manager would be evaluated based on the resolution ratio and qualitative scores generated by the software. We’ll also adopt technology to do some of the reporting, see the post: Data, Dayton and developing our City 2.0

It’s time to put checks and balances on our bureaucrats who are perceived as inflexible and unresponsive. Every city employee must feel as if they are responsible for the perception of our city.

The City Manager would have targets for increased income tax revenues, increased population, higher average home sales, lower commercial property vacancy rates- etc. By placing real metrics in place we can track performance. Currently, we do not seem to have goals and objectives in place.

via Esrati Plan.

In talking with Mayor Leitzell last night as we walked from 3rd and Main to Wright Dunbar (more frequent shuttle trolleys next time DDP) he told me there was talk of a five-year plan- but, that the current commission was worried about getting over the current crisis- before setting goals and objectives. I said I was entirely in favor of a plan- and doing it now- because what we have now is lacking all indications of doing anything except balancing a budget. We don’t know what our objectives are- and we have no way of telling if what we are doing is moving us in the right direction.

I often use the example of American football- the game is so complex- with so many rules- that unless you’ve played or watched the game for years- you’d have no idea what’s going on. In order to win- to score points- there are very important rules to follow- and understanding the objectives- even down to what player is supposed to do what- on EVERY single play- is key to winning. It’s the same with government- although we have no idea in Dayton what the rules are, or what we’re supposed to be doing every day- nor, do we know how we’ll be able to tell if we’re winning or losing.

And, that my friends- is why we’ve been floundering about for the last 20 years as the world has seemingly dealt us bad cards. We don’t know if we’re playing poker or blackjack- and we keep yelling 21 at the roulette wheel thinking that wins.

It’s time to define our metrics and start measuring the things we can control, and learn to live with those we don’t- and have the wisdom to know the difference.

Oh yeah- it’s time to start figuring out who the next City Manager will be- just in case something happens to Mr. Riordan- because that’s the way good leadership ensures continuous delivery of quality service.

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6 Responses

  1. djw May 16, 2010 / 11:12 pm
    We don’t know if we’re playing poker or blackjack- and we keep yelling 21 at the roulette wheel thinking that wins.
    I’m totally stealing this line; if it’s yours, well done, if it’s not, thanks for passing it along.
  2. jstults May 17, 2010 / 12:02 am
    I noticed in the video of the recent budget meeting that Microsoft licenses are a significant cost for the city (enough that they noted it and noted that it was increased this year).  OpenOffice has gotten to the point that it is very usable and mature; I think this is something that the city should seriously consider (it’s hard to beat free, and the learning curve is really not too bad).  There are probably specialized things that MSOffice does that people have gotten used to, but it’s worth asking the question whether they are really necessary or just ‘nice to haves’.  If nothing else, making public noise about a city going Open Source is often enough to get MS to negotiate license costs down.
     
    Also in that meeting they mentioned ‘taking it to the streets’ and asking for citizen input on the budgetary troubles.  Any word on if/when that will occur?  There’s really not enough detail in the information available in the slides on the city site to make intelligent observations / suggestions (this was pointed out by one of the commissioners too).
  3. Dan May 17, 2010 / 10:37 am
    There’s no surer way to get your SysAdmin to kick a fit than propose getting rid of Office or Windows.  For some reason most of them are absolutely smitten with Microsoft products and refuse to consider any alternatives.
     
    I don’t know though if I could ever endorse moving to Google Docs as an alternative for any public entity.  There are just too many privacy, data retention and security issues there.   Open Office, on the other hand, just seems like a no-brainer.
  4. Jesse May 17, 2010 / 3:28 pm

    David,
    Thanks for the mention in the post.
    I suggest that while metrics are good, they, alone, are not enough.  Metrics are only useful as they relate to real world value.  Real world value is best expressed in terms of the use of resources now (spending) or later (saving).  If you want to spend now, you must expect to get some return (happiness, comfort, etc.) but you do so at the expense of other spending, unless the thing on which you have spent provides an instant return in terms of dollars (as that is what you are spending).  As there is no spending that does this…as we would all constantly be performing this spending…we must assume then that for some period of time the monies dedicated to one purchase may not be dedicated to some other purchase.  This means that even those metrics must all be correlated across all possible spending (i.e. value of monies spent on bridges vs monies spent on police vs monies spent on Austin Pike vs monies spent on RTA vs monies spent on etc.)
    As is evident, what we need is a metric that crosses all of these possibilities.  The option that I suggest is money.  As we are utilizing money to perform the spending and all of the possibilities have costs, then we should measure the return on investment in terms of the spending on the investment…i.e. money.  Therefore, in order to find out what people most value, we should allow them to spend money on that which they value and to not spend on that which they do not value.  I have just discovered the ultimate metric.  Money used in a free society.
    Therefore if people value a bridge, they will invest in the company that purchases the land on either side of the river, and become part owner of the bridge that is being built. All of those people who value using the bridge to traverse from one side of the river to the other could then pay a toll to cross the bridge, or they could set up an account with the bridge owning company and get a special decal to place on their windshield that indicates they do not have to pay the toll based on number of trips across the bridge. If the same person doesn’t mind going traveling further to avoid the new bridge and its amazing expense then they can invest in police or fire protection, or McDonald’s, or the RTA, Dragon’s Stadium, or book stores, etc. It would seem to discourage bad investments, as people would then be more cautious and intent on making a profit (i.e. providing a good return on investment).
    Now I can hear people saying, but what about those people who do not have money to spend? How do we know what they value? What if they “neeeed” that bridge to get to work? If there are not significant enough people willing to pay for the bridge in the first place then no bridge should be built. If you are going to ask a group of people to participate who have no “skin in the game” then they will always vote for more than will be desired by those with the resources. This means that as opposed to savings, we always have a disproportionate amount of current spending. Savings are destroyed at the expense of the current whims of people who are doing no saving. This means that we are constantly on the verge of collapse because savings are being destroyed in favor of malinvestments. Malinvestments are those investments whose ROI is negative. The nature of coercion is increased negative ROI projects. The nature of freedom is increased positive ROI projects.

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