Teaming up for efficiency

Glendale News Press

I've worked in organizations ranging in size from a handful to tens of thousands of employees. An interesting experience was when I was part of the formation of a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., called Powell Tate. I was one of a dozen employees to first join this bipartisan firm created by the late Jody Powell, President Carter's press secretary, and Sheila Tate, who was Nancy Reagan's press secretary.

Our firm grew to 150 employees, but when we were smaller, everyone worked as if it were their own company. As employee numbers increased, inefficiencies grew. That bothered me because we were an employee-owned company.

These inefficiencies are things you care about if it's your money, but as a company gets bigger, employees seem to think less about the price of anything. The attitude is: It's someone else's money.

Last month, as part of City Council discussions about how to deal with Glendale's budget shortfall, city leaders were looking for ways to capture efficiencies between our three neighboring cities — Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena. I applaud this effort because one of the advantages of teaming up can be to have greater negotiating leverage when it comes to buying goods and services.

There may also be opportunities to combine certain city services. If managed well, this can yield positive results for taxpayers. It won't solve our budget problems, but it is one option worth considering.

My caution on the teaming idea, however, is to look very closely at any steps to ensure we do not lose our city's independence in the process by getting into protracted deals over long periods of time that might hurt us if the program isn't managed well. While we have our budget challenges, we're still in better shape than larger cities partially because sometimes "smaller is better."

In my experience, in a smaller operation things can be more efficiently managed, and you can be nimbler with course corrections when necessary. While teaming up with neighboring cities is a good place to look for financial savings, this alone is not a fix to the more fundamental financial issues facing Glendale.

First, the reality is that we don't get a fair share of our property tax revenues collected from our residents compared with Burbank and Pasadena because of policies adopted decades ago, which our city failed to address at the time.

Second, we have significant pension obligations and employee contracts that have a substantial impact on the city's budget. One thing is clear: The status quo is no longer sustainable. Taxpayers already have their backs against the wall financially and can't be expected to pay more into the system. So we need to look at new ideas, but also prioritize our spending, just like we've had to do at home.

These are politically harder challenges, but that is where the long-term solutions are and where we need leadership from all sides. Tough economic times are good opportunities to not only devise innovative solutions, but to also get parties to the negotiating table to have difficult conversations.

In the end, I have faith we all want what is good for our city. To reach our city's financial objectives, appropriate parties need to work together and must be willing to chip in because we all have a stake in the outcome.

Something that can't be compromised in this process is maintaining accountability in the city's financial decisions and how things are run. Teaming up with neighboring cities runs the risk of diluting a sense of ownership, which can lead us toward spending apathy, just like when a small company grows into a big one.

Ensuring there is continuing accountability takes active leadership. This will be needed whether we are addressing the big contractual issues or considering any new ideas.

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