Texas City Management Conference: Social Media Strategies

Management Partners Special Advisor Linda Barton attended the Texas City Management Conference earlier this month and sent this report.

The topic that continued to emerge in sessions was the impact of social media. The concept of social media is relatively new, but the impact has been enormous. There are instances where individuals have lost their jobs, elected officials have been recalled and organizations have been thrown into chaos due to rants on social media. There were sessions on ways that public organizations can effectively use social media as well as minimizing negative impact if backlash starts toward the organization or toward individuals. Even more important was the number of times speakers in numerous sessions talked about how a variety of issues escalated due to the social media discussion.

Very few cities have a social media policy that apples to the public. More, but still few, have a social media policy for employees. Most of the principles of a policy are common sense—no anonymous posts, no personal attacks, no profanity, no threats. If these behaviors occur, the public organization indicates they will remove the post from their site.

In cases of attacks on sites not owned by the city, it was recommended that responses be factual and in sync with organizational policies. If the comments are positive, it is important to respond and thank publicly. If the comments are negative but a common issue, acknowledge and respond, which shows that the organization is listening. If the complaint is specific to an individual or small group, the recommendation was to publicly request a private meeting with the individual. Sometimes, in the case of outrageous comments, others may address it on your behalf and you do not have to say anything. But, never engage in negative emotion, be concise and be strategic.

Building Financial Resiliency in Governments

On June 3rd I had the good fortune to address a large audience at the Government Finance Officers Association’s 109th annual conference in rainy Philadelphia, during a session entitled “The Resilient Government.” I joined Bob Eichem, Chief Financial Officer of Boulder, Colorado, and GFOA’s outgoing president, and Mike Bailey, Finance Director of Redmond, Washington, to discuss the different strategies finance professionals can use to promote financial resiliency in their organizations.

Panelists discussing financial resiliency at the GFOA conference.

The ability for a local government to anticipate, react, and bounce back from major impacts has been a key theme for GFOA this year. President Eichem convened a task force to define resiliency, identify helpful tools and techniques, and establish best practices to help local governments be better prepared for major organizational changes. The research and findings of the task force were published in the April 2015 Government Finance Review and provide a good overview of the ideas that can promote flexibility and preparedness.

My part of the conference session focused on long-term financial planning and the critical role that multi-year forecasts play in understanding and preparing for potential impacts. A well-planned process, with thorough analysis and clear links to organizational strategy, can provide a solid foundation for local government to plan for disruption and make strategic resource allocation decisions. Part of my presentation highlighted the use of scenario modelling to determine the potential impact of external changes and allow policy makers to discuss contingency plans and priorities, by seeing what impact different external changes would have on the bottom line.

The outcomes of using a long-term planning process are manifold. It helps officials understand the current financial condition, diagnoses unrecognized or little-understood problems, build the case for action, and promote developing a mix of strategies to respond to crisis. It has other, related benefits as well, including building trust with citizens and imposing discipline on the decision-making process.

Later this year, GFOA will be publishing best practice guidelines generated by the Resiliency Task Force, which I served on.

Rod Gould joins Management Partners

Rod Gould, whose award-winning career in local government included stints as city manager of Santa Monica, Poway, San Rafael and Monrovia, is joining Management Partners as vice president for management, based in the firm’s West Coast office.

Gould will assist West Regional Vice President Andrew Belknap in a range of responsibilities, including the management of current projects, development of new projects, and recruitment and development of new associates. Management Partners assists hundreds of local governments across the U.S., including many in California, with projects that include performance management, strategic planning, organizational analysis and financial forecasting.

"Throughout my career in city management, I have been consistently impressed with the quality and utility of Management Partners' work,” Gould said. “I’m eager to join such a committed and expert group of management consultants dedicated to excellence in local government, and I view it as another stage of service."

Gould most recently led Santa Monica through a successful recovery from the recession. Highlights of his five years in office include large-scale capital projects, advanced sustainability measures, a 20 percent reduction in the homeless population, improved infrastructure maintenance and preservation of the city’s AAA bond rating.

“Rod brings an outstanding background of local government service to Management Partners,” said Jerry Newfarmer, President and CEO of the firm. “He learned about the quality of the work that Management Partners can do for a client first-hand by being a consumer of our work, and we are thrilled that he is joining us to help other local governments.”

Prior to his service in Santa Monica, Gould served as City Manager in Poway, San Rafael and Monrovia, and as Assistant City Manager in Walnut Creek, California. Before his career in public service, he was a Senior Management Consultant with Deloitte, Haskins and Sells in consulting. He has a BA from Yale University in economics and political science and an MPA from the Kennedy School at Harvard, as well as many professional awards from his time in local government.

Management Partners is a professional management consulting firm specializing in helping local government organizations improve performance. The firm’s clients benefit from the expertise of professionals with extensive experience in all aspects of public management as well as knowledge of how the best jurisdictions in the country provide services. Management Partners was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, with offices in San Jose and Costa Mesa, California.

San Bernardino moves forward with bankruptcy plan

City Council members in San Bernardino, one of only a few American cities to declare bankruptcy in recent years, approved a plan this week to resolve its fiscal problems. The plan was prepared with the help of Management Partners, and it comes ahead of a May 30 deadline to submit such a plan to U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The plan has been covered extensively in local media, especially by the San Bernardino Sun's Ryan Hagen. This story looks at the plan's details, this story explains a session to build support for the plan and this story explains the City Council vote and what happens next.

The Atlantic's James Fallows has also written about San Bernardino, explaining the factors that contributed to its bankruptcy. In this story, written just before the City Council vote, Fallows explains why what's happening in San Bernardino matters even to people in cities not facing fiscal distress.

Overcoming obstacles to shared services

At the Alliance for Innovation’s recent Transforming Local Government conference, Virginia Beach was awarded a 2015 Innovation Award for its shared-service plan with Norfolk and Chesapeake. Too often, people weigh the cost savings and efficiency of shared services against the risk of job loss and political difficulties and conclude it’s just not worth it.

In working with governments like Virginia Beach that have successfully implemented initiatives, we’ve found there are ways to maneuver around or through these roadblocks. They may not be quick or easy, but it’s worth the effort to help governments run more efficiently and effectively.

Enlist the private sector. Business and non-profit leaders understand shared services because many of them embraced the approach years ago. They can jump-start the conversation by providing examples from their own businesses, and elected officials often find their point of view persuasive.

Involve elected officials early. There are political risks to sharing services that include potential job losses and changes in the way jurisdictions do business. Even if the long-term benefits are worth it, there’s good reason for political leadership to be at least a little nervous about the idea, and they may fear they’ll be blamed if anything goes wrong. Enlisting their involvement early in the process, and keeping them updated on the efforts, can help make them effective allies.

Survey the options. The possibilities for sharing services can seem endless, which makes it hard to know where to start. That’s why it helps to launch by empowering a committee to make a list of all the options, no matter how big or small. As ideas are considered by a diverse group of interested parties, a list of important projects often emerges. Tackle a few manageable ones for quick, early wins, but make a plan to tackle the harder projects once the effort gains some momentum.

Be transparent about jobs. Doing more with less can make leaders and residents happy, but it can also lead to a smaller workforce. Handle this challenge by open communication. Let employees share their feedback so they know what’s going on and have a chance to offer their ideas. Attrition and not filling open positions can lessen the negative impact on employees. Being honest about the process and keeping people informed will go a long way in easing fears about the future.

Make a plan for implementation. It’s dispiriting for everyone involved to go through the effort of identifying changes, only to see their ideas die on a shelf somewhere. Make sure all that hard work doesn’t go to waste by creating an implementation plan that includes tasks both immediate and long-term, along with the people charged with carrying them out. Make sure the priorities are included in the performance reviews of managers and staff. Come back to the plan at regular intervals to check on progress, and update it on a regular basis as the organization evolves.

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© Management Partners, Inc. 2011