Indianapolis mayor writes ‘City’ primer
Sunday, July 5, 1998
Review by DENISE TESSIER
"The Twenty-First Century City'' by Mayor Stephen Goldsmith
Regnery Publishing, $24.95, 229 pp.
One of the greatest challenges facing America's cities is how to do more with less. Roads, parks, downtowns, garbage and the crime rate all need maintenance and attention, while cities have fewer of the federal, state and tax dollars they have come to rely on in the past.
Federal cutbacks have forced state governments to stretch dollars more ways, and cities have watched their tax bases shrink as more choose to live and work in suburbs.
At the same time, urban taxpayers are justifiably demanding quality services—and at a reasonable cost—from their governments.
In recent years, a number of cities such as Phoenix, San Diego, Charlotte, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Milwaukee have explored alternative ways to deliver services, and the successful approaches tried are in many ways making their city governments more competitive and efficient.
Aware of these innovations, Albuquerque's City Hall is pursuing its own set of five-year goals, which includes a call for high quality and efficiency. City Council recently passed a resolution, drafted by Councillor Mike McEntee, establishing an 11-member task force to look at ways to accomplish those goals.
Significantly, this resolution (Council Bill R54) directs the task force to look at a variety of methods toward cost-effectiveness and efficiency, without dictating how city departments are to get there. It's an open-minded approach acknowledging that city employees are often the source of good ideas, and that a variety of partnerships, intergovernmental agreements and public-private competition may all work in individual instances.
In their quest for information, one resource task force members might check out is "The 21st Century City," a detailed report of what the city of Indianapolis did to inject free-market principles into city government, written by and from the perspective of Stephen Goldsmith, the city's mayor since 1992.
It's also instructive for anyone who has ever wondered why buses don't run more routes or certain parts of the city get more attention than others. It's a kind of primer on city government, how it works and how a city's attempts at innovation can be stifled by things like the bureaucratic strings attached to federal money. It also shows how individuals can turn around neighborhoods by making their voices heard.
Goldsmith presents Indianapolis as an example of how competitive forces can be injected into almost every part of government to better serve the public. He also shows that competition is not necessarily the same as privatization. And he recounts the opposition, fears and brick walls his administration encountered in challenging the government to behave differently.
Realizing that raising taxes might just force more people into the suburbs, Goldsmith said his only option was to lower costs. To do that, his administration took a number of approaches. For example, determining the actual costs of a service, such as filling a pothole, led to changes that cut or eliminated huge amounts of waste in terms of time and money. Threatened with privatization, union workers in several departments ended up bidding on their own jobs and keeping them, with significant efficiency gains. Wastewater treatment was bid out to a private firm at a savings of $65 million in five years, with cleaner water leaving the plant.
Since 1992, Goldsmith says, deficits have been eliminated, taxes have been cut, employee morale is up and most city workers have saved their jobs.
The book also deals with welfare-to-work programs and regional issues of annexation (why it's not necessarily a good thing to do), shared infrastructure investment and economic expansion.
Not everything that worked in this conservative Midwestern city of 800,000 would apply to Albuquerque, but Goldsmith's recitation of the Indianapolis experience is an intriguing compendium of one seemingly drastic approach after another, with often compelling results.
Denise Tessier is a Journal editorial writer.
©1998 The Aluquerque Journal
Visit The Twenty First Century City webpage