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Home > News > DeKalb County > Georgia State Study findings on DeKalb County Government

Georgia State Study findings on DeKalb County Government

Comments by Commissioner Rader and links to study

Posted: May 11th, 2010 @ 6:30pm

Staffing Study Cites Inefficiencies in County Government By Jeff Rader "That's the way we've always done it." The above is a popular refrain in organizations and businesses. It’s a way to justify operational methods, usually based on organizational culture or a manager's instincts, in the absence of concrete data. The downside to adhering to the same operational model is that the organization or business does not adapt to evolving trends. Rather it tends to change only in response to exceptional circumstances, such as the recent nosedive of the U.S. economy, the worst since the Great Depression. Such is the case for DeKalb County government, which, like most public sector entities, has been slow to adapt to emerging trends. Now that the county is forced to tighten its belt, the foundation for updating its operational model cannot be the gut feelings or educated guesses of the administration's leaders. That is why the county Board of Commissioners contracted with Georgia State University last Fall to conduct a staffing study and analysis of DeKalb County. With the release of the study's report, the county now has concrete data to help make strategic and informed decisions in revamping its organization. In the three-and-a-half years since I was elected to the Board of Commissioners (BOC), I have continually pointed out that the county should not continue to do business as usual. One example is my January 2010 update on the budget process (see link at bottom). Some of the business-as-usual examples cited in the GSU study, conducted by its Public Performance and Management Group: • Unfilled positions carried over to following year's budget, allowing departments to spend the money for other purposes • Employees hired in one department, ended up working in another department while being paid by the original department • Employees accumulated significant overtime pay, sometimes more than 20 percent of their base salary • Employees hired for specific time period or project remained employed long after initial time period or project ended Hopefully the county administration takes action this year to eliminate those cited examples because they are not consistent with best business practices. Meanwhile the county is attempting to reduce its workforce as a short-term fix to close the anticipated budget deficit, pending final revenue projections in June when the BOC has to set the millage rate for property taxes. The question becomes how to best downsize the workforce. The administration, to my regret, chose to proceed with an across-the-board approach by offering any early retirement package. At last count, more than 820 employees accepted the offer, well above the stated goal of 550 employees. Because the administration allowed the employees to self-select which positions to vacate, the county lost talented and experienced personnel, most notably in public safety departments. More than 30 percent of those early retirees are from police, fire and sheriff's departments. An alternative method for adjusting the workforce, which I also discussed in my October 2009 update (see link at bottom), is to adjust the goals and service expectations for each department, which in turn dictates the number and type of employees needed. The GSU study report does not suggest what might be the revised goals for each department because that should be developed through consensus among the county's constituencies. Nonetheless, the county needs to prioritize its services, to focus on its core services such as public safety, because future budgets are likely to be constrained by the economy or population growth. To quote the report, "Everything the county does cannot be critically important; … strategic services have become confused with desirable services…." Based on current goals and service expectations, the report does look at the efficiency of the county's organizational chart. Its findings and recommendations mostly fall under these themes: Duplication, Consolidation, Elimination and Outsourcing. Duplication: Departments prepare technical specifications and research best prices for purchase requests. Those requests are submitted to the purchasing department, which replicates those steps. Consolidation: Several departments have their own personnel to handle tasks such as payroll, human resources and purchasing. Those common functions could be consolidated into central offices. Elimination: Numerous positions serve narrow or nebulous purpose such that they can be absorbed by another position. Some examples cited in the study are Special Project Coordinator in CEO's office, Audiovisual Production Assistant in police department, and Public Works Outreach Specialist, to name a few. Outsourcing: Some services, requiring little institutional knowledge of county government, can be performed by the private sector. Among those suggested by the report are fleet management (vehicle maintenance), animal control, road paving and payroll. Altogether, the study report's recommendations would reduce the county workforce by 909 positions with minimal impact on existing levels of service. Those positions would amount to an annual savings, according to the report, of almost $43 million. In addition to the annual savings, the absence of those positions has a long-term impact on the county's future obligations through its benefits program – medical and retirement. The 909 positions cited in the study are contingent upon the county adopting all of the report's recommendations. As the county evaluates the benefits and risks for each recommendation, its own conclusions may differ from those in the report. The real value of the study lies not in its subjective recommendations, but its objective analysis of staffing for the entire county government. The study's data will be an effective starting point for departmental performance audits, to be conducted by an internal auditor at the direction of the BOC's Audit Committee, which I chair. I discussed the audit committee in my February 2010 Digest and performance audits in my October 2009 update. The take-away message from the report is a reminder that an effective organization is a dynamic one, which continually monitors, evaluates and revises its operational model. Then the operative phrase, unlike the opening line of this commentary, would become, "That's how we do it and evidence shows that it works." Links: Staffing Study (look for link titled "GSU Staffing Study") January 2010 Update October 2009 Update (Commissioner Jeff Rader represents District Two on DeKalb County's Board of Commissioners. He was elected to the position in 2006 for a four-year term.)

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