In less than six months on the job, new Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson has lined up consultants to scour the budget for savings. He’s hired a slew of new department heads. He’s commissioned a survey to gauge employee satisfaction.
All of those steps were taken with one goal in mind: making Georgia’ largest county a model of effective government.
Critics have long called Fulton a poster child for government waste.
But if reforming government were football, Anderson says he’s still in the pre-season. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he said he plans to take Fulton County government to the Super Bowl.
“It’s not a playoff team today, but it can be,” Anderson said.
Some of the county’s toughest critics have taken notice, though with a mix of hope and skepticism. Former state Rep. Ed Lindsey said “the right person can do a great deal,” and said Anderson is on the right track.
“I give our new county manager a strong B-plus for effort,” Lindsey said. “We’ve had other good people, however, go into that job with good intentions and then be chewed up by the status quo.”
If nothing else, the county’s leadership has succeeded at setting a new tone.
The seven-member commission that took office in January has three new members – the biggest turnover in a generation.
Chairman John Eaves has organized several meetings with the mayors of Fulton’s 14 cities to discuss economic development and transportation initiatives. Eaves has also tried to improve relations with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
But the board’s decision to hire Anderson in March may prove to have the biggest impact.
A former BellSouth and AT&T executive, Anderson has spent years in and out of government, billing himself as a leader who knows how to squeeze savings from bureaucracies and improve customer service. He says he did it at BellSouth and at the U.S. Federal Reserve, where he was chief operating officer.
Anderson now oversees a government with 5,000 employees and a budget of nearly $1 billion. He has wasted little time making his mark.
In April, management consultant KPMG — hired by commissioners last year – issued a report contending Fulton could save up to $100 million annually by consolidating administrative functions, outsourcing work and taking a number of other steps.
Anderson now is asking commissioners to hire consultant Accenture to convert KPMG’s broad outline into a specific plan of action, including goals and metrics. The contract – worth up to $685,440 – is on the agenda for Wednesday’s commission meeting.
The county already has hired Accenture to examine information technology operations. In coming months, Anderson also wants an inventory of facilities – some of which might be sold so the county can better maintain others – and a comprehensive review of county policies in order to improve operations.
Among other things, Anderson also plans to implement an employee evaluation system that will tie raises to performance and more customer service training.
To help manage the transformation, Anderson has hired 10 department heads and top administrators. One example: He hired Todd Long, currently deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, to be chief operating officer, a new post.
Such moves have won praise from critics like state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs.
“I’m very, very pleased with what I’ve seen so far with Dick,” Willard said. “He’s a good businessman. I think he’s made some major strides.”
Anderson expects many of his initiatives to bear fruit next year. In his football analogy, 2016 is the “regular season.”
Commissioners are so confident he’ll succeed that they voted 5-2 recently to roll back part of last year’s 17 percent property tax increase. That will leave a $74 million hole in next year’s budget – a hole they expect Anderson to plug.
“It’s going to cause us to tighten our belt,” Eaves said. “But it’s also going to force us to figure out ways to be more efficient.”
Anderson believes his initiatives will allow Fulton to reinvest in services or return money to taxpayers – making Fulton a model for local government in the process. At BellSouth, the company earned a J.D. Powers award for customer satisfaction while he was there.
He likened the award to a Super Bowl Trophy – one he’d like to bring to Fulton County.
“We didn’t win it by not having a plan, not having metrics, not having accountability,” Anderson said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.