Let’s imagine the City of Trenton was managed like a company. Many have pondered this notion including a few of our Council members.
Of course no one really thinks cities and companies are the same thing. I certainly don’t. But I do know that a few basic business principles apply to any organization.
At the top of the list of basic tools is “managing by objective (MBO)”.
Managing by objective is when you give your employees targets to hit and compensate them with a bonus or raise for reaching or exceeding them. Sounds pretty basic doesn’t it. Many, if not most management level employees in this country work under some form of MBO plan.
Not in Trenton city government.
We not only do not have objectives; our administration has proposed a 15% raise for the city’s top brass in the face of management failure after failure. Some of the most egregious of those are listed below.
- Trenton’s tax base has been stagnant and our tax rate has gone up not down.
- Was asleep at the wheel while payroll taxes were stolen – ~$5M hit to the budget.
- Operated without an approved budget for both of its fiscal years.
- Hired an incompetent IT firm.
- Messed up the swimming pool contract and wasted money to hire a new contractor.
- Stole a Christmas Tree from a city park.
- Set a new record in spending on lawsuits
- Oversaw a downgrade of the city’s credit rating.
- Epically failed to plow the streets during our one snow storm in 2016.
The Business Administrator made the pitch for his and the Mayor’s raise by suggesting that it would otherwise be tough to attract talent. City Council is being asked to consider ONLY this pay hike as a solution.
But consider the argument.
Our Mayor spent $100s of thousands of dollars to get the job he’s got and he knew the salary going in. All of the employees knew their salaries. It’s as if a salary pay hike were the only possible improvement the administration could think of to make Trenton a great place to work.
I can think of plenty of ways to make working in Trenton City government attractive.
How about setting objectives for the city and its departments?
People love having clear goals in their job. Great companies are great because their employees are fixated on common measures of success. For instance, should top city execs be working towards objectives for increasing our tax base, lowering crime rate, increasing the population, improving our per capita income, increasing the graduation rate and lowering taxes?
What if we gave bonuses tied to meeting or exceeding those objectives?
If I’m an aspiring economic development director, I’d love a chance to put my plans in to place and profiting from my effort. I’m sure most citizens wouldn’t mind at all if a Department Head made a big bonus based on our property tax rate going down.
What if we got rid of our residency requirement?
It’s just common sense that a high performing local employee from a neighboring city would be wary of uprooting her family to move from East Windsor or Princeton just to take a job 7 miles away in Trenton. What company forces their employees to move 7 miles in order to take a job?
What if we improved working conditions?
This is a broad category but do we really think Trenton is the best organization on the planet to work for? Does it provide a transparent management environment? Are goals clearly communicated? Do customers (i.e. citizens) respect the organization? Do we provide employees modern tools like E-Government? Do departments have ways of measuring success, for instance citizen satisfaction?
Handing out raises beyond the 1-2% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is just throwing money away. We need to be smarter than that. Trenton does need to attract top performers, but they need to be the kind of people that are OK with tying rewards to success.
What can you do?
Trenton’s leaders are immune to this kind of thinking as is evidenced by City Council’s positive vote on an ordinance to grant the administration’s salary increase request. Every member of the pubic that spoke at the meeting was against it, yet our Council voted for it anyway.
A group of petitioners has set in motion an effort to overturn the measure should it succeed on its second reading in two weeks on September 15 (all ordinances in Trenton need two successful votes). The petitioners are asking citizens to sign an e-petition in advance of the vote to provide an indication to Council on the likelihood of a petition fight. If the ordinance passes, the petitioners will have 20 days to collect just over 800 signatures. The e-petition will make that task easier.