A yardstick for city services

Posted: December 11, 2006

THE MORE I talk to taxpayers, the more I hear the same complaint: With taxes so high, wouldn't it be nice if we the people at least received our money's worth in services?

Philadelphians deserve a city government that is effective, cost-efficient and responsive to their needs. That gets the job done right, on time, within budget. That's accountable to all residents and all neighborhoods.

And here's how: City Service Reform.

Getting there means implementing an innovative and highly successful performance-management strategy called CitiStat.

Since CitiStat was developed in Baltimore six years ago, it's dramatically improved the performance of that city's agencies, saved millions and made city government more efficient and effective.

Philadelphians deserve the same level of performance from our City Hall.

CitiStat is a powerful combination of technology and management. It would enable Philadelphia to collect information on and evaluate the performance of a wide variety of city functions and concerns, from trash violations to potholes. As a result, city agencies would be asked to regularly measure and report on how well they serve the public.

CitiStat technology integrates database, spreadsheet and mapping software to collect and report essential data about delivery of city services. The good news is that the Mayor's Office of Information Services already possesses the basic technology architecture and expertise we need to implement CitiStat.

But the essential element needed to make CitiStat work for Philadelphia is leadership from our mayor and members of City Council who are committed to managing city agencies to achieve excellence and results.

With CitiStat, the Streets Department could record the location and number of potholes reported by the public and the number filled. The Neighborhood Transformation Initiative office could monitor the number of buildings demolished or transferred. The Department of Human Services could report progress toward moving homeless clients into stable housing or helping foster children with safe and adequate placements.

A CitiStat team, working under the direction of the mayor's office, could audit the data and compare it to previous periods. The team could also generate maps that show the locations of various department activities, like streets where potholes have most recently been fixed, graffiti and drug hotspots, and locations of recent fires. The CitiStat team could then provide summary information for the mayor's office and managing director that would identify successes and highlight areas for improvement.

REGULAR CitiStat meetings with department heads and staff could then be scheduled to review the data. The meetings would let department heads share information and ideas, and collaborate to solve problems quickly. Strategies would be developed, managers held accountable, results measured - not yearly, quarterly or monthly, but week to week.

CitiStat would let the city make better choices based more on hard data than on politics. Rather than making budget and management decisions with incomplete or anecdotal information, Council and the administration would be able to make the right choices for the city based on up-to-date facts.

The final step would be to integrate CitiStat with a new 311 non-emergency city services phone line. Philadelphians would request city services by dialing a new 311 phone number or by logging onto the Internet. They would get a tracking number for their request that would let them follow the progress of their request. CitiStat would use a database and 311 to track citizen requests and provide information about how effectively city agencies are responding.

If we are to make Philadelphia a world-class city, we should use top-of-the-line technology to deliver outstanding city services to our residents. And we deserve a mayor and City Council who will ensure that city agencies produce results. *

Vern Anastasio is a real-estate lawyer. E-mail Vern@vernanastasio.com.

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