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Weekly Review: Civility; Shut-Down Day; Mailbox Logic

Weekly Review by the Auburn City Manager

By Glenn E. Aho

auburn city manager

“If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all.” That’s most likely one of the most referenced quotes when teaching children about civility or simply being polite. The quote is ageless and timeless, but useless when not considered at all—particularly by adults who know better or especially public figures.

Whether it’s a U.S. Supreme Court Justice mouthing the words, “Not true,” or a U.S. Congressman yelling “You lie!” to our President, these events underscore our country’s need to restore civility. A USA Today article written last spring proclaimed, “Americans Are Fed Up with Incivility in Politics,” and a study conducted by the Center for Political Participation reported 95% of its respondents supported civility, not incivility, and believed civility is important to democracy.

The study is being used by organizers of the, asking governors and members of Congress to take a civility pledge in hopes of changing the uncivil tone of our country’s politics. People can disagree and still be civil.

A call for civility spans wider than just politics: just consider the barbs and “trash talk” that New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan has delivered to the New England Patriots. Of concern to millions is that children often take their cues for behavior from sports figures; what examples are we setting? Calls for more online civility are evidenced by actions taken by newspapers to now require names with online comments.

The late Margaret Chase Smith eloquently memorialized what public service is in her creed. She said that public service “must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation with full recognition that every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration.”

Though civility should be used by everyone, I believe that public-service leaders from all levels of government must rise to a higher standard. It’s been said that from everyone who been given much, much will be required.

Auburn Hall Shut-Down Day. By reorganizing city departments within Auburn Hall, about one-quarter of the building’s space was left unused. That space will now be occupied by the Auburn Police Department, fully using Auburn Hall to its fullest potential and avoiding the need to heat and cool unused portions of the building.

This move will save taxpayers at least $60,000 each year just in utility costs, plus hundreds and hundreds of thousands in avoided costs to upgrade and maintain the present police station.

To finish re-organizing Auburn Hall, we are scheduling a “shut-down” day for Wednesday, January 26. Auburn Hall will be closed to the public, though people inside will be hard at work. We’re hoping our organizational work can all be done within a day.

At one point it was thought the city would need off-site storage. But if what space we have is organized, the off-site storage will be unnecessary. We had considered using the city’s electrical building at 29 Library Avenue; however, with the city’s fire alarm system and electrical inventory inside, there isn’t enough space.

On the shut-down day, final departmental moves will be made, such as moving ICT to the first floor and coordinating and moving files. For example, personnel records are scattered throughout the city, but all will now be located in one depository near the city manager’s office.

Storage areas in the basement of Auburn Hall will be organized and categorized by department so that proper record retention and preservation can take place. Departments will also be organized better in terms of filing and storage. There are still boxes from the original move to Auburn Hall in 2004 that need to be reviewed and culled if possible.

Part of the city’s shut-down day will be identifying what documents need to be stored on the city’s Knowledge Tree Document Management System. The software was purchased years ago, but largely unused. A new Standard Operating Procedure for document management will be written and documents will be properly scanned and filed electronically.

At the end of the day, Auburn Hall will be headed in the right direction toward establishing a more efficient document management system in terms of document retrieval, preservation and organization. Gone will be the days that we’re unaware of a city document or just can’t find it.

Span of Control. “None of us is smarter than all of us” is the theme that best describes of how Auburn is reorganizing itself internally. Composed of about 13 “small businesses,” financial and operational efficiencies will be realized through better coordination and communication.

The city manager’s current span of control is a ration of 1:13; that means there are 13 departments that report directly to the manager. That is neither efficient nor effective for one person: even the military suggests no more than six to eight reports per supervisor.

With too many reports, it’s too easy to overlook or not even notice situations that are adversely affecting the overall performance of the city. As public service expectations call for greater fiscal and operational efficiencies and effectiveness, the city’s organizational structure—meaning how individual departments coordinate and communicate—must change.

Following the “none of us is smarter than all of us” theme, each of the city’s 13 departments will be categorized within one of three groups: public administration, public service and public safety. This organization creates a manageable administrative span-of-control and creates a team environment.

Since not every department is the same size, not every department manager is required to have the same levels of managerial skills and abilities. Grouping similar departments to be lead by team leaders will foster the team environment and team results. Teamwork requires trust, accountability, commitment, conflict and results.

This will be the framework for which each of these teams will implement and the city’s 5P Management System (Programs, Projects, Performance, Personnel and Problems).

The benefit of this reorganization is that it decentralizes or pushes decision-making to the best possible level of management or labor. By giving more responsibility to employees, they also have a greater opportunity for achievement, thus creating a motivating work environment. Without properly placing responsibility where it belongs, it’s impossible to evaluate one’s skills and abilities and to determine if the city is operating efficiently or not.

With Auburn’s organizational changes, we will know exactly what needs to change to meet public expectation.

Learn Before You Lead. “Learn Before You Lead” is something that’s frequently said in management. There are several ways to interpret this, whether it’s learning about yourself before you lead others or learning about a subject before taking action. In either case the point is to first learn, then act.

Last year the city looked at the consolidating fire and police into a public safety department. As we learned of the challenges with operational consolidation, we looked at what possible administrative consolidation could take place that made sense, if any. The city of Grants Pass, Oregon was identified as a model that might provide the best examples of what may or may not work for Auburn.

The city formed a Review Team, which consists of Deputy Fire Chief Low, Deputy Fire Chief Minkowsky, Fire Lt. Andresen, Police Detective Syphers and Deputy Police Chief Moen, to review everything about Grants Pass. The team will soon be traveling to Grants Pass to learn everything possible of its public safety organization in terms of organizational structure, management model, personnel, costs, calls for service, operations, etc.

More specifically, the team will be looking at how the administrative functions of police and fire operate and complement each other, to what level does cross-training occur, and why full functional cross-training failed. We hope to learn from both the failures and successes of Grants Pass and to have the team return with recommendations as how we can improve our overall operations.

Deputy Chief Moen said the team is looking forward to the trip and bringing back information and ideas that could lead to better efficiencies for our agencies.

As the operational budgets for both the police and fire are nearly $6.8 million, it will be worth the trip to learn what savings might be possible, even if the identifying savings total 1% of our overall costs—$68,000 is nothing to sneeze at.

AFD Cost Savings. The cost of taking measures to prevent damage from fire is much less than the cost of a fire in a building. Conducting fire inspections allows the Auburn Fire Dept. to identify hazards, but also to learn the interior structure of a building under safe conditions.

While contemplating how this process could be done more efficiently, AFD Private Scott Smith suggested the manual process become more electronic. By implementing the electronic process Deputy Chief Low said at the very least the suggestion will save the department nearly 1,000 driven miles and over $400 in fuel cost, not to mention equipment hours on the engine.

Once this process is worked out, it may very well lead to other areas the employees identify as tax savings to our residents. I commend and encourage suggestions such as the one made by Private Smith.

Developing our corporate culture, which is to provide superior services at an affordable cost, will require that everyone does what they can to help our taxpayers. We are appreciative of Private Smith’s suggestion.

Mailbox Logic. Country music lovers may know about Michael Martin Murphey’s song “Cowboy Logic,” which claimed that sitting in the middle seat of the truck was the smartest place to sit because you didn’t have to drive or have to mess with the gate. But did they know there also is something called mailbox logic?

It’s definitely not the same. But there is something logical you can do to save yourself a lot of muss and fuss. By simply shoveling the snow from around your mailbox post, it relieves the pressure created by passing snowplows that could potentially knock your mailbox post over.

Though there’s yet to be a song written for mailbox logic, you can benefit from using it just the same. Two years ago the city stopped replacing mailboxes, but does offer temporary mailboxes should yours become dislodged.

Now the perfect country and western song will not only include, Momma, trains, prison and drinking, but also having your mailbox struck by the ole snowplow!

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