The purpose of this post is to provide local government officials and their staff, students, and the public with information on effective and efficient local government. I’ve compiled resources on how to achieve efficiency within local government offices as well as practices currently adopted and implemented by local governments across North Carolina.
“It is the object of administrative study to discover, first, what government can properly and successfully do, and, secondly, how it can do these proper things with the utmost possible efficiency and at the least possible cost either of money or of energy.” – Woodrow Wilson, The Study of Administration
The National Association of Public Administrators recognizes four core values of public service: Effectiveness, Equity, Efficiency, and Economy. These values are the structured components that make up public service implementation. For the purposes of this blog, practices of effectiveness and efficiency will be highlighted to serve as a resource for local government officials and their staff.
Effectiveness and efficiency: What is it? How should it be applied in local governments?
- Effective and efficient government requires that all actors and agencies should operate by making the best use of available resources and personnel to produce the best possible results for the community.
I reached out to all 100 county managers in North Carolina for more insight on effectiveness and efficiency within their offices. Below are some examples of implemented practices.
“There are two things I use on a daily basis to help me keep up the effectiveness and/or efficiency of the office. Both items deal with prioritization and organization. Simply put, I try to touch things as few times as possible before acting on them. As a county manager several phone calls, emails, messages, and unscheduled “drop-ins” occur on a daily basis. A manager has to prioritize his or her activities or they will get tied up working on items of little importance. As things cross my desk, the 1st question I ask is “Am I the right person to deal with this?” If the answer is (No) then I need to immediately send it to the appropriate person/department. If the answer is (Yes) then I have another decision to make. “Should I deal with this now or later?” If the answer is (Now) then I deal with it and move on. If the answer is (Later) then that brings me to the next item I use on a daily basis, the tickle file.
I cannot take credit for the “tickle” file, I learned it from another County Manager. The tickle file is simply a set of file folders numbered 1-31. These correspond to the dates of the month. If I decide to deal with something later, the question I ask is what day am I going to deal with it. If I decided I had time on Tuesday, August 8th to work on the item, then I would place the item in the folder with the number 8 on it. This system allows me to keep my desk clear of unnecessary clutter which keeps my focus on the task(s) at hand. At the beginning of each morning, my staff bring me the folder for that day and I work through the items as time permits. If I am unable to complete the task, I assign it to another day and move on. As you may have guessed, this system works great most of the time but not all of the time. Sadly, I am human.
Of course these are things I use on a daily basis. The truly best practices for having an efficient government is:
- Good communication
- Model the Way
- Share your reasoning
- Encourage others and allow them to act
- Know others before you try to lead them” – Michael Felts – Granville County Manager
“From my perspective, one of the day to day best practices that is making a significant difference for Gaston County is our ‘Wellness Program”. It has several components including: Regular fitness activities such as “fit breaks” which are led by our fitness coordinator (contracted through a health care provider), walking challenges, healthy diet seminars and luncheons as well as other sessions on mitigating health risk factors. We have annual health screenings (incentive for participation) which are accompanied by consultations with individual employees concerning how they can improve their leading health indicators. We have also instituted a chronic disease management program and have a Nurse Practitioner (contract with healthcare provider) that provides counseling on a voluntary basis to at risk folks. In the three years since implementing these programs we have seen a steady reduction in use of sick leave and have been able to keep health plan (self-insured) costs in-check.” – Earl Mathers – Gaston County Manager
Robeson County Manager Ricky Harris states to “Be at work on time, return all phone calls, and be professional at all times”
“Best Practices to Improve Business Operations:
- I provide a weekly Communique to Commissioners to make sure they are kept in the loop between our monthly BoC Bd meetings and phone calls.
- I also hold monthly 1 on 1’s with County Commissioners to make sure I know their questions and concerns in general.
- 2-3 weeks prior to our monthly BoC meetings, I hold what we call Focus Area Workgroups (FAW’s) that align with our soon to be balanced scorecard for which we have placed various departments in. Those are Education, Business Operations, Growth and Infrastructure, Quality of Life/Place, & Healthy and Safe Communities. Each FAW has two commissioners. There are no votes taken at each meeting monthly, but we use them to inform them of issues and opportunities within each focus area and to also do agenda planning for our monthly BoC meetings
- After the monthly FAW’s, I hold an agenda setting meeting with my senior team to discuss issues that “bubble up” from our FAW’s, and to act on those things prior to the next BoC meeting (or future meetings).” – John Eller – Davie County Manager
Brunswick County Manager Ann Hardy states that she “delivers any news, information or decision that may be controversial or challenging by phone rather than by email or text”
“One simple thing that has helped me is providing a weekly commissioner update email to all commissioners every Friday. Not only do they enjoy receiving this and count on it, but it keeps them in tune with items from the week and gives me an opportunity to check their temperature on issues before bringing them up in a board meeting. If they have an issue, I ask that they call me directly to prevent the board from doing business or making decisions together via email. I find that this weekly email assists in moving our regular board meetings along quicker as they have had a chance to digest the issue well in advance of the board meeting.” – Jordan McMillen – Vance County Manager
Craven County Manager Jack Veit III says,
- I confer with my Assistant County Manager every morning first thing, we discuss what we are working on and identify key tasks that need be completed. He updates me on issues in the departments he directly manages and we discuss meeting, etc. which we have on calendars.
- I make sure that I share any information about County issues with all the Commissioners, no one Commissioners gets more than the others. I want to make sure they all have everything they need to make decisions.
- I return every call to made to me the same day, within reason. I want the folks who call to know their issues matter and I want to be accessible. I do not have voicemail on my office phone, if you call my office during normal business hours you will talk to a human on the other end. This allows for ease in message taking and a personalized interaction with the Manager’s Office.
- On complex issues, I bring together the Craven County Management Team (HR Director, Finance Director, Asst MGR and CO MGR) to discuss. I like having different ideas about solutions, I like debate on issues. This team allows for more through vetting of issues.”
The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) University outlines 18 practices for effective local government leadership. These practices have influenced ICMA University programs and workshops and are fundamentally essential to local government management, as provided by ICMA professionals. The detailed outline on these practices can be found here.
- Staff Effectiveness
Best practice: All Agency Day – “This is an annual effort I have found to be an effective mechanism to motivate and honor the employees in my department. We have a staff of 375 professionals and operate dozens of programs and services daily. However, one day a year we set aside half a day to honor and train employees en masse. This requires us to close our offices and suspend regular operations. Lunch is served, guest speakers/trainers are utilized and motivating activities are conducted. Staff have a brief respite and a chance to interact with colleagues they don’t otherwise see in their day to day work environments. Door prizes and small department-centric giveaways are distributed. Local radio or television personalities volunteer their time as event hosts. A highlight of the afternoon is the newly developed EXCEL Awards program. I initiated this program two years ago to recognize employees in my department who perform above and beyond the call of duty in five categories: Leadership, Creativity, Motivator and Service. The fifth category is named after a deceased staff member who exemplified characteristics consistent with the City’s values of “Caring, Collaboration and Commitment.” Awardees receive plaques and monetary compensation. The recipients of these coveted awards are nominated by employees and selected by an employee committee. In fact, the overall All Agency Day event is organized by employee volunteers and, up until this year, paid for by employee fundraisers conducted throughout the year.” – Venerria Thomas – Director, Department of Human Services, City of Newport News, Virginia
Wilson County Manager Denise Stingale states:
- “Wellness Extravaganza – Once per year our county hosts an event for all staff that promotes wellness, connects employees to community businesses and resources, showcases healthy cooking and exercise and connects their wellness and well-being as a county government employee. This is a best practice as part of leadership is fostering your very own organizational culture. We work hard to promote a culture of mental and physical well-being.
- Wellcare Clinic – We have an employee health clinic inside of our public health department. The county agrees to allow employees who utilize Well Care employee health services to do so without a requirement to use sick leave. This initiative has decreased employee time away from work with a quick return and increased employee health awareness. Well Care was initiated after employees and county management expressed an interest in ways to increase employee wellness, reduce lost time to sick leave and an overall need to connect county government employees to our local health department as a resource for regular care, immediate care and preventative care for diabetes, weight management, exercise, knowing critical health numbers and smoking cessation.
- DSS – created a Lunch and Relax series that has benefited employees with learning, stress reduction, and valuable information. It provides employees with opportunities to relax and experience professional growth opportunities outside of the scope of their day-to-day job increases job satisfaction. It offers employees a variety of options that decrease fatigue and support overall wellness during their daily efforts to service our citizens;
- WCiGov County Government Learning Model – The County Manager accepts nominations from departments for employees that either want to learn about all county government departments/services or strive to be in future leadership positions. The 12-month learning model takes employees on a journey through all departments. They see and learn hands-on what services are offered. They are required to attend a county commissioners meeting and connect their own departments to resources within other departments. The efficiency is that employee are able to connect citizens with other county government departments and many times they can see how their own work can connect and impact another department. At the same time, it provides the county with staff that may wish to grow into leaders within county government.
- Health School Based Clinic – Our Health Department staff have partnered with multiple county departments and community partners to develop a school based clinic that sees students and staff. In addition to creating partnerships, the initiative increases wellness and health care access to students that might not receive it and expands our Health Departments footprint in the health care community. In addition to the clinic there are opportunities for health awareness and positive healthy behaviors.”
- Policy Facilitation
- Functional and Operational Expertise and Planning
- Citizen Service
- “DSS – Ticket to Work Job Fair – The Ticket to Work Job Fair uses a pre-qualification process to ensure that job seekers have the minimum qualifications such as: Career Readiness Certificate, high school diploma or GED, certification through an Employment Readiness program, positive attitude, long-term job experience, a college diploma or certification. Job seekers receive a ticket to participate in the Job Fair, after being pre-qualified by a community partner. Community stakeholders contributing to this process include Veterans Residential Services, NC Vocational Rehabilitation, Upper Coastal Plains Area Agency on Aging, NC WORKS, Diversified Opportunities, Wilson Community College and Barton College. For those who do not meet the pre-qualification process, resources are made available to improve their employability and help them find work. The Department of Labor’s NC Job link mobile unit is on site for job seekers to register with NCWORKS, complete job applications and to print and copy resumes. Community resource booths are also available to assist job seekers.” – Denise Stinagle, Wilson County Manager
- Performance Measurement/Management and Quality Assurance
- Best practice: Alamance County’s Performance Management Program
- ICMA: Top Performance Management Resources and Local Government Examples
- Initiative, Risk Taking, Vision, Creativity, Innovation and Continuous Improvement
- Technology Literacy
- Democratic Advocacy and Public Engagement
- Financial Analysis
- Human Resources Management
- Strategic Planning
- Advocacy and Interpersonal Communication
- Best practice: Newport News Now – “This is a daily publication distributed by email to a distribution of about 60,000 residents locally. It is published by the city’s Communications Department and was initiated more than a year ago. In it we feature short synopses regarding current local issues, activities, events and government actions. Each Friday, a local business is featured. This publication is very popular and received resounding acceptance and accolades from the general public, civic organizations, the nonprofit sector and the business community. It has been a good way to get our unfiltered messages out directly to constituents and has helped to shape and inform some of our local media coverage, as well. The model has been so effective that surrounding communities are considering replicating the idea. A key to its effectiveness is keeping the articles concise, easily digestible, and relevant to constituent interests. To view an example of the Newport News Now, see the copy I pasted down below. Other examples can be found on our website nnva.gov under the How Do I… Find and View tabs.” – Venerria Thomas – Director, Department of Human Services, City of Newport News, Virginia
- Presentation Skills
- Media Relations
- Personal Development
Technology Literacy and Broadband Access
As technology continues to advance at unprecedented rates and continues to enhance every aspect of our day-to-day lives, ensuring equal access to broadband is essential to the success of local government efficiency across North Carolina. So many aspects of our lives depends on the Internet, from education to economics to government functioning. As the urban and rural divide continues to widen throughout North Carolina, so does the gap between equal access to broadband. Local governments are continuing to become more digitalized than ever essentially meaning that the demand for individuals with digital skills will continue to rise. But, how can one utilize or develop their technological skills if they live in an area with limited Internet access? Or access with slow speed? According to Congress, the standard speed benchmark for high-quality access is 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. In North Carolina, the average percent of county populations without broadband access is 20%. That is equivalent to half of all North Carolina counties. The Federal Communications Commission has undertaken several initiatives to bridge the digital divide. You can find the FCC’s initiatives here. Below is a map from the 2017 North Carolina Association of County Commissioners County Map Book illustrating the percent of county populations without “high-quality” broadband access.
Technology Literacy among Local Governments
E-government is defined as the use of information communication technologies by governments to intimately connect citizens and businesses with government via email, Internet, self-service kiosks, and other electronic media. Greater efficiency in government performance can be achieved through the use of e-government because it lowers costs, improves government processes, connects citizens, investors, and beneficiaries to interactive online services, and builds partnerships with external institutions such as non-profit and community-based organizations, private sector companies, and other public sector agencies. Such technologically advanced operations demand personnel with the knowledge and skills to effectively know how to conduct and manage online services.
Case Study: City Managers and E-Government Development: Assessing Technology Literacy and Leadership Needs
- “E-government needs to be viewed both as a set of technologies to master and as a call for administrative reform.”
- “All governments seeking to enhance their e-government capacity will also need to find ways to acquire personnel with the right mix of knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities.”
- “Using technology to better serve citizens is a management responsibility, and we need to approach e-government from a public management perspective.”
Best practice: Forsyth County
- “Forsyth County has developed an online “contract control” process for review and signatures. Prior to the online contract control process, a paper copy with a comment sheet attached would generally originate at a department and then get passed on for review, in order, to 1) Budget & Management, 2) Risk Management, 3) Accounts Payable, 4) the Attorney’s Office, and then 5) the Manager’s Office to be signed.
There were a couple of significant drawbacks to this system:
- a) It was a task to find out who actually had a contract… and was to blame for delays, and
- b) the approval process was “linear,” so one reviewer never saw a contract until the person preceding them was done although reviewers were looking at different sections of the contract.
To improve a) above, the online contract control system allows the department who submitted the contract to see where the contract is located in real time… and for how long it’s been there. As a result, a department knows more easily who to call to speed things up, and persons reviewing a contract don’t want to be responsible for delaying it and know they’re “on the clock,” so they are more conscientious about getting contracts reviewed and off their desks.
The contract control system now includes the original hard copy to be signed and a scanned contract. Everyone in the contract approval process (and others) can see the online contract and review their section even before the “chain of custody” rests with them. As a result, the Risk Manager, for example, can review the insurance requirements online even before the contract is actually passed to them for approval. Once they receive it online, it can be approved immediately since it was reviewed virtually before actually arriving at their desk.
The increased accountability and ability to review contracts simultaneously has been an improvement to the efficiency of the contract control system in my office’s daily operation.” – Deputy County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt
Diversity Management Practices
Practicing and implementing diversity management within local government offices and departments brings different perspectives, solutions, and overall morale to the table. It is vital that government entities strive to reflect the populations in which they serve. Today, of the 583 seats across NC County boards, only 91 seats are held by women, 109 seats are held by African-Americans, and only five are held by Native Americans. Dr. Leisha DeHart-Davis from the UNC School of Government provides insight on the lack of diversity within local government management in North Carolina with her blog entry Hidden Figures in Local Government Leadership.
Diversity management practices doesn’t have to begin solely in local government management. Local governments and/or elected officials can invest and build partnerships with colleges and universities to attract students of color and women to the public administration profession. Generating partnerships with political science departments and MPA programs can further expose students to careers in county government. Establishing internship opportunities with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), guest speaking at a campus voter registration event, and registering students to vote are just some examples on how local government officials can stay engaged with their communities and educate the next generation of leaders.
I’m looking forward to sharing more information! Stay tuned!