As my final term ends, I am increasingly asked what I think is my most important accomplishment. Rebuilding the sewer system? Overseeing the largest expansion of the airport in its history? Launching the Beltline?
While those issues get headlines, I actually believe that my most important contribution will be restoring the professional and ethical management of government back into the city’s day-to-day operations. It is what residents expected and deserved.
Eight years ago there were no monthly financial reports being run, operating data was unavailable and no one could tell me how many employees worked for the city. The water service was in chaos with contractors threatening to stop work; potholes were not being filled; and parks were not being maintained.
We needed a comprehensive turnaround plan, which Bain & Co. developed for us. It included 29 specific strategies for re-inventing city government. We also brought in consultants to advise us on how to re-engineer dozens of city businesses including courts management, building permitting, fleet management, solid waste, human resources, IT management and procurement.
As a result of reform measures that we have put in place, we are delivering services more effectively and efficiently. Since 2001, we have reduced the number of general government employees by 30 percent, from 5,600 to less than 4,000. We did this and hired 300 additional police officers during a period in which the city’s population grew by 25 percent. When we came into office, according to Bain’s analysis, we were among our peer cities one of the least efficient city governments. Today, only one city is ahead of us in that ranking.
So how did we make these improvements in just eight years?
First, we began tracking and collecting performance data with the creation of ATLStat, a measurement tool that tracks the information on the city’s Web site. We have targets, and managers are accountable for achieving those targets, and they are reviewed in weekly meetings.
Second, we aggressively reorganized our business operations. This included consolidation of the courts, which reduced staffing from 480 to 132, and re-engineered jail operations, which reduced staffing from 640 to 240.
Third, we invested in new technologies to improve productivity in finance, human resources, information technology, planning and police and fire.
Fourth, we privatized services where there was a business case to justify doing so. As a result, we realized service improvements and savings in worker’s compensation management, public vending, fine collections, parking enforcement and inmate services.
So eight years later, with the hard work of the Cabinet and hundreds of city employees, we are turning the corner. The new mayor will inherit a government that is ethical, professionally managed, transparent and much more efficient.
As my term concludes, I am reminded of a gospel song with the words, “Lord, let my work speak for me.” What a great song.
Shirley Franklin is Atlanta mayor.
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com