Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Finance Director Expects Overhaul

There’s a new budget sheriff in town.

Douglas Peck, the newly appointed director of Administration & Finance, Health and Social Services, wants the FY 2009 budget to be tied directly to “measurable outcomes.” To that end, he has launched a job analysis process to determine the “capacity and skill set” of each city employee. Managers will be held accountable to identify gaps between “what the city expects, what the citizens expect” and what is currently in place.

The process is expected to uncover “tools, resources and skills” not currently being utilized as well as gaps.

The unprecedented scrutiny jolted the bureaucratic status quo, Peck indicated.

“It was a wake-up call for everybody,” he said.

The examination of municipal employee functioning faces potential barriers including union rules as well as individuals’ sense of comfort or entitlement due to tradition, family ties or possible patronage, Peck admits.

“I’m up against a history and culture I had nothing to do with,” he said, stating the average employee tenure is 20 years.

Cynthia Smith, president of the Plainfield Municipal Employees Association, said evaluations have taken place, but any future action must take into account Civil Service rules on employee rights.

Noting his way had never been tried before and that he has only been with the city for 90 days, Peck nonetheless insists, “I’m steering us to be the best we can be.”

Plainfield city operations are carried out by divisions within three departments. The bulk of funding goes for salaries, with public safety – police and fire – taking the lion’s share. Each year, division and department heads must submit budget requests to the city administrator and mayor, who can then modify them to make an executive budget to present to the City Council. The Planning Board also submits a capital budget for items such as vehicles, building repairs and acquisition of equipment for long-term use.

While the city administrator and the mayor have power over the budget, as finance director, Peck said he sees himself as the top executive in charge of the process.

Once the City Council introduces the budget, it can then hold budget hearings and make its own recommendations before final passage. Peck said he plans to meet with the council’s three-member Finance Committee to discuss the new process.

“The idea is to count, and for managers to manage,” he said. “That which gets counted, gets done.”

Managers will be evaluated on their ability to evaluate employees, he said.

Peck said he sees as the biggest issue that decisions are being made about the budget “that are not informed decisions.” He notes there is no budget office to furnish analysis and forecasting, just an Audit & Control division to keep track of finances. Similarly, the New Jersey public employment system results in people getting a “position by examination.” He wants to tie the budget to levels of service, he said. Voters and elected officials can then prioritize spending, he said.

“I know how to do it, I know how to work it, but it’s not as easy as one would think,” Peck said.

His observations of public policy began at age 14 when he was a summer worker in the City of Cleveland’s planning department, he said. Peck went on to earn an undergraduate degree in urban planning and a graduate degree in public administration. During the 1980s, he served as assistant to the city manager of Cincinnati, Ohio, he said.

For 10 years starting in 1998, Peck also ran his own consulting company specializing in helping government entities to improve operations.

The City Council approved a $12,000 stipend for Peck in April just before Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs appointed him for 90 days. He has since received advice and consent for a term to run concurrently with the mayor’s term ending Dec. 31, 2009. Peck said the stipend was not a relocation package. His wife and three children remain in Cleveland while sale of their home and purchase of one here can be worked out.

Meanwhile, Peck is also aiming to increase the tax collection rate from its current 97 percent to 100 percent, he said. To that end, he hopes to bring in a coach on best collection practices to boost the rate. Historically, up to 10 percent of property taxes have remained unpaid and the city has held tax lien sales to recoup the revenues.

Peck also plans to review all city rates and fees for possible changes.

He also wants to get graduate students to perform research for the city and is looking into more shared services, including perhaps a shared chief financial officer. The city has not had a permanent CFO since Peter Sepelya retired in December.

Peck said the mayor is planning a series of interactive meetings across the city, starting in August, to talk about “what can be done, at what cost.”

“We want the public to hold us accountable,” he said. “Once we build confidence, we think we will be moving toward increased confidence to do even bigger and better things.”

--Bernice Paglia

4 Comments:

Blogger olddoc said...

Let us hope this is not more "talk the talk" but he will be able to "walk the walk". It will be interesting to watch if there is any change. I just can't conceive the present powers permitting su ch radical ideas.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice,

Peck could begin by reading the Citizens Revitalization Report 1997.This report was prepared by citizens, informed and smart, and sponsored by Assemblyman Green. But wouldn't you know Green & Co. didn't have the courage to follow the recommendations. The primary finding: enforce quality of life laws such as the Property Maintenance Code! Today, that seems a no brainer. No community has turned itself around without doing that! However, to this day, Green/Briggs/Maier have failed our great city. So don't hold your breath expecting the new boy in town to do much. Like the public safety director, I doubt Peck will be moving to town. It looks like the Plainfield "two step." Sleep well citizens of Plainfield- if you can.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous GB Park said...

Unfortunately, the world of 'Consultants' seems to be creeping into City Hall.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is an idea that I have not seen addressed: How about rolling the MUA fees charged to property owners (garbage and sewer) into the property taxes? Then we could deduct these charges from our federal income taxes. No deduction is available now. This could put hundreds of dollars back into the pockets back into the pockets of Plainfield residents.

10:08 PM  

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