The Politics of Management: Paying More For Less
Most people who live in Ann Arbor don’t have the time or the inclination to get overly involved in the minutia of city government. People are busy spending their days getting done what they need to get done to get the bills paid. Politics isn’t a passion for many, and the thought of running for an elected office probably never crosses the minds of most folks. After all, there are about 10 million people in Michigan, but only about 1,500 mayors. There are just 40 Michigan state senators.
I was at synagogue last Friday and overheard the spouse of a candidate for County Commissioner ask my partner why on earth I wanted to run for mayor. Good question. Why, indeed? Our roads are some of the worst in the entire state. The Stadium bridges are, literally, falling down. The budget is a constant source of heartburn to anyone with the time to read through the behemoth (a tip: you’ll get more information by studying the city’s audited financial statements). Who wants to work to clean up that kind of a mess? Me. Why? Because while there is a mess to clean up, I see that there is also incredible potential and opportunity to make Ann Arbor an even better place for all of us to call home. I am committed to living, working and raising a family here. What better reason to share my decades of management, marketing and finance experience, step up, and accept the challenge of public service?
A police officer whom I spoke with recently made a point of telling me about the two surveys of staff morale that found our 750 city employees in desperate need of some serious pep talks, and maybe even a few anti-depressants. We have employees who feel under-appreciated, and are inclined to jump ship. They work under constant threat of layoff. Studies make clear that layoffs do not actually save money, because overall productivity decreases. The top performers who survive a layoff won’t necessarily feel obligated to soldier on. A 2000 study by Roderick Iverson and Jacqueline Pullman from the University of Melbourne, and a 2003 study by Sarah Moore, Leon Grunberg, and Edward Greenberg from the University of Colorado at Boulder, both confirmed that employees were far more likely to quit jobs in environments of repeated downsizing. The likelihood that an employee will quit actually increases the more layoffs he or she “survives,” the CU-Boulder study found.
The City Administrator Roger Fraser recently gave a presentation to Mayor and Council members in which he presented the following graph:
Between 2002 and 2010, Ann Arbor has reduced its work force through layoff, early retirement and attrition by about 30 people per year. This graph purports two facts.
First, that the overall reduction has resulted in $25 million dollars in “savings.”
The second fact is that the number of consultants (contracted services) and temps has remained “flat.”
No one on Council asked to have the terms “savings” and “flat” defined. Should they have? The City Administrator’s financial data should be presumed to be accurate. However, we have to remember that since 2003, Roger Fraser has inflated General Fund deficits in every budget. With the exception of 2009, when the actual numbers have come in, our General Fund has actually finished with modest surpluses. This is a very important fact that would give anyone with experience in budgeting and finance ample reason to question Mr. Fraser very closely when presented with financial data such as the data in the graph above.
How would one go about verifying Fraser’s data? The City files income tax returns just as you and I do. In those returns, are several bits of information that allow us to check Mr. Fraser’s work.
Here’s a graph with information from the City’s income tax returns filed between 2000 and 2009:
|Fiscal Year||Number of FTE and Contract Employees Claimed||Wages Claimed|
|2000||1,230||$49.6 million dollars|
|2001||# of employees not recorded on tax return||$58.7 million dollars|
|2002||1,149||$55.9 million dollars|
|2003||1,102||$54.7 million dollars|
|2004||1,079||$54.2 million dollars|
|2005||1,128||$57.5 million dollars|
|2006||1,104||$60.3 million dollars|
|2007||1,069||$57.2 million dollars|
|2008||1,018||$55.3 million dollars|
|2009||1,029||$54.7 million dollars|
You should, of course, have an immediate question: Where’s the purported $25 million dollar “savings” Mr. Fraser told Council has been realized by the “streamlining” of those 239 employees? The next question is why the total number of employees declared to the IRS doesn’t match information presented to the public by Mayor Hieftje and Mr. Fraser. In December of 2009, Mr. Fraser, in a presentation to Council, told the group that as of December 2009 Ann Arbor employes 756 people.
According to the City’s IRS tax returns, Ann Arbor employs 201 fewer people than in 2000, but spending on wages has increased. In fact, in 2009 we paid about the same to employ 1,029 people as we did to employ 1,159 people in 2002.
We’re paying more for less. We’re getting less for more.
The City Administrator’s data raise many more questions than they answer, and the data are certainly not of the quality necessary to make informed decisions concerning closing projected budget gaps. Mayor and Council have a legal and fiduciary obligation to hold the City Administrator accountable in the performance of his job. Repeatedly presenting incomplete and contradicting financial data to bolster claims of savings that are suspect, at best, is cause for serious concern, close questioning and, potentially, some very frank discussions between Mayor, Council and the City Administrator.
It is clear to me that, as any good manager knows, profitability is not achieved through a long-term strategy of layoffs. Why not? Employee morale and productivity drop, as documented in many studies, including the two I referred to above. Over the last decade, Council members and Mayor have run for re-election based on their support of a fiscal strategy that encompassed the systematic decimation of Ann Arbor’s human capital—our police, firefighters, customer service workers, foresters, planners, even our dog catcher is gone. It’s clear from the IRS data that the cost of government has not been reduced by the layoffs, nor has there been any marked increase in the efficiency of city government; we’ve paid millions for consultants and contract workers to supplement the work of our remaining city staff.
It should be clear that further layoffs are not the answer to the fiscal problems facing our city. The answer is to reverse the damage done and rebuild our human capital.
The City’s department managers must be forced to cut out the junk food from the City’s fiscal diet. This means sharply reducing the amounts approved for contract labor and consultants. For instance, Ann Arbor employs both a landscape architect and a forester, yet Council recently approved several hundred thousand dollars worth of contracts for companies to do landscape architecture and forestry work for the City. Our City Attorney’s office has eight full-time attorneys (tip o’ the keyboard to Rick) on staff, yet that office has asked Council to approve close to $400,000 in contracts for outsourced legal work over the past 18 months. In 2009, Ann Arbor spent over $1 million dollars on consultants.
There’s much more we can do to sort out the fiscal mess that has been created over the past half a dozen years.
The real work will start, and the real savings will be realized, when we reconfigure the City of Ann Arbor Employees’ Retirement System for future retirees—a crucial task put off for a decade, much like the reconstruction of the Stadium bridges, and a good part of the reason our city budget is crumbling, much like our streets.
So what’s it going to take to get our labor unions and non-unionized employees to buy into a complete restructuring of their retiree benefit programs? How are we going to get retirees to pay, for instance, 10 percent of their yearly $7 million dollar health insurance premiums, and to implement a change in benefits to those who retire before 65? How will we ask for an even larger contribution for health insurance premiums from early retired city employees who’re employed full-time elsewhere? How are we going to get employees to agree to accept a change to the age at which they may retire?
For starters, it’s going to new elected leadership at City Hall who is prepared to ask them to do it.
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