It occurred to me that one could construe my last couple of posts as being very pro-government. I don’t mind that tag. I am pro-government. I am also pro-good government. Sometimes, my stauch defense of government against inaccuracies and distortions places me on sides of the ideological and political ledgers. I don’t see good government, or truth-seeking, as a partisan endeavor. Nonetheless, city managers, above all else, must remain non-partisan. Fortunately, I had a miniaturetrove of non-traditional government articles saved for just such an occasion.
Volunteerism in Cities
Chicago-area cities have stepped up their use of volunteers, according to an April article in the Chicago Tribune. This has some labor groups irritated that cities are trying to replace permanent, paid workers with lesser-skilled volunteers. And, others complain that volunteers may not be as motivated as full-time workers. The argument is that volunteers, who are not in line for a paycheck, may hold less esteem for their efforts. Joseph Schwieterman, a public policy and urban planning professor at DePaul University, said, “”When you have paid staff, when you say ‘jump,’ they jump. When it’s a volunteer, there’s no real penalty for not going the extra mile.” I am skeptical of that perspective. This assumes that punishment or negative reinforcement (withholding rewards) is the primary motivator for employees. On the contary, I find volunteers to be highly motivated. They work for the City because they choose to do so; not because must. There are two key factors in properly aligning volunteers. The first is simply to find them. The last thing most folks want to do after the “daily grind” is volunteer their time to city services. Second, supervisors must properly align the skillsets of volunteers in order to use them properly. If supevisors place anyone, volunteer or not, to a position in which an employee cannot excel, one may dismiss the whole experiment as “not worth our time” or “you get what you pay for.”
Data is the national pasttime
I love data. I love baseball. And, I can turn them into a metaphor for just about anything. So, I loved the story from about a month ago on MLB.com that discussed how the Tampa Bay Rays use detailed data to implement defensive shifts on virtually every batter – not just dead-pull hitters. Traditionally, no sport has been more about the gut feelings and traditionalism than baseball. The concept of sabermetrics started to change that perspective by focusing on alternative statistics like on-base +slugging (OPS), and Walks and Hits per Inning (WHIP). The best-selling book and Oscar-nominated film Moneyball focused on General Manager Billy Beane’s use of new data (there, I think I am now the final government blogger who had not yet inserted a Moneyball reference). The Rays have frustrated powerful offenses by taking statistics to the defensive side of the ledger, which some thought was virtually impossible. If data analysis can determine where Derek Jeter will hit a line drive based upon receiving a curve ball versus a split-finger fastball, surely we can use data to determine where and how to build a road, or where to deploy our public safety personnel.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
You may have heard an NPR story (or related stories) that reported Congress members’ speech patterns to be much like the speech of 10th-graders. The report used the Flesch-Kincaid score, which measures sentence complexity and vocabulary. Unsurprisingly, they found that overall Congress is getting, well, dumber in its speech patterns. And, tea-party Republicans were the dumbest of all (for the record: I cannot help but wonder if this conclusion was predetermined). Here is the problem: Flesch-Kincaid does not measure speech fluidity or coherence. It simply measures how big one’s words are, and how long one can talk without taking a breath (or at least ending a sentence with a period). The first rule of measurement is to ensure one is using the correct tool. Slate.com saved me the trouble of devoting an entire piece to this.
Update: I did not see an article on the same silly story in the Grand Forks Herald before I posted.
Population to employee ratio – 7,222:1
Governing reported some time ago that the City of Weston, Florida has just nine employees for a town of 65,000 residents. In short, the City contracts virtually everything but administration. Obviously, circumstances vary. But, I always love stories like this that, under the right political, economic, and management circumstances, it can be done.
Run like a business?
OK. I could not resist at least one reference in favor of traditional government. Governing writer John Martin compared the cost of sending a simple greeting card from Alaska to Florida.
- The US Post Office: $0.45
- UPS: $28.05