Saying that Detroit has suffered from some historically bad choices and that much of their pain has been self-inflicted is too easy, isn’t it? The home of the American auto industry for over a century, the city under the leadership of former professional basketball player, Mayor Dave Bing, who was known during his playing days for his “playmaking” abilities has sought to escape the stigma associated with a state take-over and thus far, has narrowly escaped it. According to Governing.com, “the Detroit city council and the state of Michigan reached an agreement that comes with rigid requirements that still could land Detroit under state control. But it also creates a partnership that promises better services for the city’s suffering residents.”
When automakers sneezed, Detroit didn’t just catch a cold, they contracted pneumonia with few remedies in sight. With mistakes come lessons to be learned and below are some ideas on how to avoid the budget pitfalls that often plague so many large cities.
- Peer into your Crystal Ball…everyday! – Many cities are “one industry” towns whether it’s manufacturing or a Wal-Mart, and become over reliant on those so-called cash cows. Creating a diverse portfolio of emerging businesses is fundamental to long-term economic viability. Look around your community and take note of what types of businesses are locating or expanding and insist your Economic Development strategy consist of a smart, clustering strategy of growing and prosperous businesses. While few enterprises are recession-proof, others are incredibly subject to boom-bust economic cycles and with it, generate similar waves in your community.
- Set Priorities – It’s easy to drift and all of sudden, everything your agency is providing has become what’s expected by your customers. Taxpayers become accustomed to a certain level of service and resist its decline. Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to calibrate expectations among citizens. Calibrating expectations isn’t the same as lowering expectations. We recommend challenging the notion that more people and more funds translates into improved services and that less of each diminishes the same service. Actually, money is not your agency’s most precious resource…time is! When people can be redirected to invest their time and efforts against an agreed upon set of priorities, service can be maintained and even improved, during the most trying of financial circumstances. In other words, buying new workout clothes (i.e. acquiring more resources) doesn’t help you get in shape any faster unless you actually visit the health club!
- Partner with Your Workforce – Whether or not you have unions in your workplace, enlisting the active involvement of your workforce members is fundamental to avoiding a meltdown. Effective union relations require the same set of practices that positive employee relations include. Right now, salaries and pensions for public employees are viewed by many as the culprits of the runaway budget issues that many cities are facing. However, government leaders can use this scenario to seek out workforce members to help improve operations, maximize resources and strengthen your brand. We’ve met a number of top performers from all ranks that often look back on these challenging times as some of the best years of their career because they’re were challenged by a continuing series of disruptions and they’re developing new muscles to respond. Stop by the break room, go make a copy yourself, visit a satellite facility and invest more intently with your people – the dividends are immeasurable.