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Washington Examiner


Measurement Is Key To Seamless City Success

June 22, 2011

By Rick Baker

Third of a three-part series

It seemed odd to me that I did not receive many reports after I became mayor of St. Petersburg. I had responsibility for a much larger organization that included 34 departments, about 3,000 employees, and a budget over $500 million.

Yet after three months in office, the only regular reports I had received were the crime statistics and regional rainfall levels.

Keeping in mind our goals for the city, we decided to develop a set of performance measures for every department in the city, and tie the measures to the four core areas of our plan: Public Safety, Neighborhoods, Economic Development, and Public Schools.

We later added Improving Government Operations as a fifth category to highlight our efforts to reduce property taxes, improve maintenance turnaround times, streamline staffing, and make other improvements to the job of running the city.

We decided early on that the performance measures should be made available to the general public by putting them on the city’s website home page, and we branded them the “City Scorecard.”

By putting the City Scorecard online, we provided a public check on the organization. I felt that future administrations could not abandon the measures if we developed a public constituency for their maintenance and review.

We started the development of our list by reviewing performance measures in place within other major cities in the country. To prepare the City Scorecard, we gathered the leadership of each of the city’s departments in my office, and asked each person some very basic questions.

For instance: Is the fire department serving the residents of the city better today than a year ago? How can we measure the improvement in a way that is clear to the public? What measures are relevant?

We looked at response times for a fire call, comparing the current year to the past. The length of time it takes for a fire engine to show up is extremely important, especially if you are the one whose house is on fire.

Likewise, there are thousands of statistics gathered by the various city departments each year. Knowing that most people don’t have time to sift through countless statistics, we had to narrow significantly the number of measurements we included in the City Scorecard, giving only the relevant items.

In developing the general performance measures for the city, the key is to isolate those that are important to charting the broad course of the city. Similarly, the number of performance measures should be limited.

Some of the other cities whose measures we reviewed had several hundred measurements. If we expect leadership and the public to focus on the measurements, then the number of statistics must be such as to allow a fairly quick review.

My goal was to keep the number at about 150. We decided early on that the measurements should be in graphs, and that the formats for all the graphs should be the same.

We sent instructions to the departments to adopt the standard format for the general performance measures submitted. It remained the individual department’s responsibility to prepare and submit the periodic updates to the person with overall responsibility for the City Scorecard.

We also established a policy for the city’s internal audit department to review selected measurements on a regular basis, and test the accuracy of the data. In most cases the measurements are compared to the past in order to provide context and reveal trends.

In some cases we compared the data to other major cities in Florida, also to provide context. In a few cases we established minimum goals to be met, but for most measurements the goal was simply to improve.

During my two terms we regularly updated and revised the scorecard as we thought of new ways to measure our progress. The measurements became a way of ensuring that we were advancing our vision for the city, not just responding to challenges as they popped up.

The system worked so well that, upon taking office, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist asked that we present the City Scorecard to his Cabinet in order to help it develop performance measurements for our state.

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