Last year, when I was reviewing some of the benefits given by the City Council to the fire union, I asked in public what I thought at the time to be a simple question: “How does paying for a college class benefit the Glendale taxpayer?”
The class in question was on Shakespeare. Under the Memorandum of Understanding with the firefighters association, the city management and the city council approved sharing the costs of college classes. So how does a class in Shakespeare help a Glendale firefighter assist the public in the course of his duties?
The question is not intended simply as a demonstration of the cynical state of the way the city manages its finances. The answer from the city manager is that the agreement called for providing 50% of college tuition. Still the question remained unanswered and none of the councilmen followed through with any questions of their own.
If we had such a highly competitive situation that we would have to pay for one-half of college tuition, why would we have hundreds of men applying for what is but a handful of job vacancies each year? There is no competitive situation that calls for such largesse. But the real question we should be asking is a basic one: “How will such expenditures improve the quality of life of the city’s residents?” or simply, “How will it benefit the public?”
Those questions are, in essence, at the heart of strategic planning. The actions that an organization takes must, in the end, fulfill an objective measurable in benefits to those who’ve invested in the organization.
If a business invests in new machinery, it is usually because it will help the organization reduce costs, or improve the quality of products, or its delivery to customers. When the customer purchases the product, it improves the company’s profitability which, in turn, benefits the organization’s shareholders. If a customer purchases the product consistently, the benefits for the shareholder will be sustainable.
If a governmental organization improves the training of its employees, it generally aims to improve its internal processes, which in turn improves its products or services, which improves the customer’s (taxpayers and residents) experience and leads to meeting the objectives of the stakeholders.
I’ve been observing and studying Glendale’s government for years, and the basics of strategic planning is generally lost to most of the city’s department heads. It’s not part of the management culture. Glendale Water & Power’s electrical utility is one encouraging exception. They’ve analyzed the major causes of power outages, set policies to reduce them, budgeted for the improvements, then measured to see how those improvements met their intended objectives. They then report monthly to the public on their results — good or bad. For the past few years, the reliability of electrical delivery to Glendale Water & Power customers has improved significantly.
So how would a class in astronomy or Shakespeare help a firefighter or paramedic improve the delivery of service? The City Council has not given me any answers that justify those expenditures or dozens of similar city benefits it has handed out to managers and the elite employee associations. Many, if not most, of those benefits have little or nothing to do with the ultimate measure of the city’s budget — the quality of life of the city’s residents.
This city has a long way to go before it can compete favorably with the best run cities in the nation. Without effective performance objectives and measures, then any expenditure can be justified on the flimsiest of justifications and budgetary control is lost.
The city’s budget process has become, to some of us, a comedy of errors. But to Glendale stakeholders who watch intently, it can’t be written off as much ado about nothing.
HERBERT MOLANO is a Tujunga resident.