A special project by Contributor John Guevara, with Managing Editor Shane Nicholson
Last month, we introduced our “Contract with the Community,” a 10 item list of simple reforms and ideas intended to bring about a more open, honest and transparent government. Over the coming weeks, we will explore in-depth each of those 10 items. This week, we look at No. 4, “Maximize efficiency.”
One of the hot terms out there is “rightsizing.” Rightsizing and its variants have looped their way from the late-80s corporate world into realtor speak and is currently making the rounds of government lingo.
It is up to “We the People” to ensure rightsizing is more than a political buzzword and one way to do that is by requiring that local governments maximize efficiency.
It was Nehru who said, “Obviously, the highest type of efficiency is that which can utilize existing material to the best advantage.” Efficiency from our public officials – both elected and appointed – should by definition include four things. First, they should consolidate the areas of government where there is duplication. Second, find ways to collaborate where consolidation isn’t possible. Third, they should maximize the use of technology to improve operations. Fourth, they should develop dashboards to measure how they are improving their performance and make publish those dashboards regularly.
Consolidation is definitely gaining steam in Winnebago County, as it should. It has been 36 years since the last local government consolidation took place. For decades, the region was served by the City of Rockford Health Department. In 1961, the Winnebago County Board created the Winnebago County Health Department. It only took 10 years for Rockford residents to see the benefits of folding the City Health Department into the County’s, saving taxpayer dollars in the process.
In 2010 County board members, led by now State Rep. John Cabello when he was on the Board, began putting pressure on Sheriff Dick Myers to explore consolidating the city and county 9-1-1 call centers. The idea began gaining support in the City of Rockford with the new City Council in 2013.
Alderman Jamie Getchius, a staunch supporter of the Contract with the Community, says, “We need to be aggressive about consolidating services for the benefit of the taxpayers. As an example, we should combine the city and county 9-1-1 call centers. I have passed a joint resolution with the Rockford City Council and Winnebago County Board to explore this option. It was favorably received by the 9-1-1 Board. I look forward to this work being completed.”
A major area of consolidation would be the elimination of Township governments. This idea has moved forward in downstate Belleville, saving taxpayers over a quarter-million dollars. Evanston Township has also been eliminated. Evanston has joined DuPage, McHenry and Lake Counties in seeking legislation from Springfield to allow the dissolution of different governments including townships.
Folding Rockford Township into County and City government at the very least would save taxpayers the annual six-figure salary and benefits of the Rockford Township Supervisor.
Another opportunity for consolidation is in election offices. Winnebago County is one of the few remaining counties in Illinois with two election offices: the Winnebago County Clerk’s office and the City of Rockford Election Commission. The push to combine the two goes back to the 1950s and has been the central theme of the past two Republican candidates for the office.
The reason the conversation has taken almost seven decades is simple according to Rockford Election Commissioner, Ryan Brauns. Brauns maintains that the issue is philosophical. He says we have an “opportunity for the best run system with the most continuity” in an independent, court appointed, bipartisan commission environment.
An independent commission has been endorsed in two studies by the League of Women Voters. It takes elections out of the hands of elected officials and puts them into the hands of election professionals. However, it requires authorization from the General Assembly in Springfield.
Voters in the City of Rockford could choose to consolidate election offices and save tax dollars if a referendum were placed on the ballot dissolving Rockford’s Election Commission. This would place city elections in the office of the Winnebago County Clerk.
Collaboration is also an important component when maximizing efficiency. Far too often state laws, politics or up front costs prevent governments from consolidating offices. In that event, collaboration through intergovernmental agreements is one way to maximize efficiency and save taxpayer dollars.
17th Circuit Chief Judge Joe McGraw wrote to highlight an example of just such collaboration:
“The recent Intergovernmental Agreement entered into by the Court, Chairman Frank Haney, Sheriff Caruana, Mayor Morrissey and Chief O’Shea is a prime example of efficiency in government. Through collaborative efforts and a reallocation of available resources we found a shared solution to restore and enhance the functioning of the Winnebago County Juvenile Assessment Center. Our agreement serves to enhance public safety by reestablishing a law enforcement officer at the Juvenile Assessment Center. This position was eliminated in October 2015 due to financial constraints. Now, law enforcement officers will be able to bring juveniles to the Assessment Center for a swift assessment and determination of appropriate rehabilitative services for minors who are arrested. Law enforcement officers will be able to drop off the juvenile at the Assessment Center with the Sheriff’s Deputy and get back out on the street. This increases the amount of time the Patrol Officers can stay out on the street doing their sworn duties rather than being tied up at the Assessment Center. A fully operational Juvenile Assessment Center benefits the justice system, the juvenile and the safety of the community. The Court tirelessly campaigned for the restoration of the Juvenile Assessment Center to peak efficiency. The Sheriff has done his part, the City has done their part and now it is up to the County Board to do their part to fund the Detention Officers who transport juveniles from the Assessment Center to the Detention center, if necessary, so that law enforcement officers can get back on the street and protect the community.”
Democratic Minority County Board Caucus Leader Joe Hoffman also believes collaboration is important. He would like the board and Chairman Haney to work with the Court Administration to reduce its “top heavy management and administrative staff.”.
In the absence of a state law creating an independent election commission, or the passage of a referendum dissolving the Rockford Elections office, Brauns suggests integrated collaboration to get the ball rolling. The two election offices have already dipped their toe in the waters of collaboration last year when they hosted a single off-site location for early voting. Brauns thinks an intergovernmental agreement to progress into alignment would eventually pave the way for consolidation.
Technological improvements are essential to maximizing efficiency. The Rock River Times highlighted a prime example of this in the Winnebago County Circuit Clerk’s office only a couple months ago. Not only did they develop a paperless system for courtrooms; they meticulously measured every interaction in each courtroom to make sure that the paperless system was fast enough to save time and personnel, a savings which ultimately saves taxpayer money while demonstrating good stewardship. Their example sets the bar for local governments everywhere.
Lastly, the only way for the community to gauge how each public body is maximizing efficiency is if there is a simple dashboard report. Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney has made departmental scorecards a central theme of his administration. The City of Rockford offers several different reporting systems. The foundation is there to help people see what’s being done, what the plan is, and what the projections are for the future. It’s up to elected and appointed officials to make it happen.
Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There can be economy only where there is efficiency.” Independent candidate for mayor, and supporter of the Contract with the Community, Rudy Valdez agrees. “Maximizing government efficiency not only saves taxpayer dollars,” he said, “but also results in more timely decision making. The speed of government would actually accelerate.”
Government should do more than spend our money. It should work to spend our money in the best way possible and be required to prove that the way it’s spending it is the best way. Following these four steps will maximize government efficiency for our community.