Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When addressing mismanagment in city government, why disband when you can consolidate?

With the ever-prevalent discussions in the media revolving around our area's budget deficit, there is often talk of disbanding troubled city agencies instead of going to the trouble of running them properly and fixing the issue(s) that contributed to their recent downfall. While it seems like that may be a good, quick fix...that isn't what has been proven to work in other cities with similar issues. Many of the suggestions for improving city government come from other cities, mostly because I have worked throughout our nation, living in four of our biggest metropolitan areas. I do this because I personally picked Philly as a place I wanted to come home (as opposed to ending up here for a job), and feel as if I am a bit of a "soothsayer", giving examples of effective management while desperately trying to keep Philly from taking the path of Washington, Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans.

So why are we constantly trying to disband entire agencies and re-assign their duties to other beleaguered city agencies when very little effort is being invested in consolidation or privatization?

Many of our city services are redundant and can be consolidated into agencies for better, more streamlined management, resulting in better interoperability with other government agencies and customer service to taxpayers. I believe that there are some ideas that deserve exploration in saving our city money while improving city services to boot:

  • Merge the Parking Authority and Housing Police with the Philadelphia Police Department. Anyone who spent anytime in New York prior to the mid-1990s will remember that there used to a NYC Department of Traffic, NYC Transit Police, and NYC Housing Police. These were three extremely expensive, highly political agencies with their own senior management structures. In 1995, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani merged these agencies with the NYPD, with extremely positive results on the efficiency of the operating budget (since the police department already had geographic areas of command, payroll, management, etc) and a notable drop in crime due to increased police presence. In Philadelphia, city police already handle over 80% of the calls for service in city housing projects, and over 90% of the investigative caseload; making the housing police a redundancy that is beholden to an ethically challenged housing authority.

    The PPA has an annual budget of over $212,985,321, which should raise eyebrows because it is designed to be a revenue generating agency, and it only brought in $20,019,422 (roughly 10%). Aside from the management of city-owned garages, they primarily enforce parking violations and taxi/limo regulations. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Police Department maintains the elite Highway Patrol Division alongside the Traffic Division. While both of them are extensively trained in the vehicle code, the Traffic Division (which is extremely overtime intensive) remains responsible for the direction of traffic, construction details, etc throughout the city. I suggest we merge the Parking Authority with the Police Department, and put the roughly 1,000 PPA employees under the command of the traffic division. This will let the city downsize the bloated PPA executive payroll, allow cheaper, civilian employees traffic direction duties, and cross-train police officers with taxi/limo enforcement that can be done on routine traffic stops. Furthermore, it will do away with a known patronage pit by putting these parking/traffic enforcement positions under a civil service system.

    Unlike New York, unfortunately, SEPTA Police cannot be merged with city police as SEPTA routes are inter-jurisdictional in nature.
  • Merge the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Warrant Unit, Philadelphia Prisons Department, Clerk of Quarter Sessions (bail collections) and various facility security contracts with the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office. As mentioned in prior discussions, the office of the sheriff is ridiculously underutilized in Philadelphia. Following the example of most other major metropolitan areas in America; the Sheriff is responsible for the transport of prisoners, operating the county jail, court security, (local) witness protection, civil and criminal warrants, asset forfeiture, collection of tax liens, force protection (protective services at city/county-owned facilities), prisoner processing and a great deal of the criminal intelligence caseload. Meanwhile, the currently mismanaged Sheriff's Office is only proficient at court security and prisoner transport, with an extremely questionable management of the sheriff sale program. My suggestion, retain this historic agency but reinvent it into an agency that can actually generate revenue (by enforcing taxes and collecting what's owed to the city) while contributing to our city's public safety (by taking the pressure off of an overworked police department).
  • Merge the Ethics Board and the PHA Inspector General with the Philadelphia Office of the Inspector General. As discussed in the topic "Who are our city's official watchdogs?" last week; our city is currently operating three completely redundant agencies, each with an operating budget; none of which are close to accomplishing their stated objective(s) in a meaningful, efficient manner. First, the Inspector General needs to be legally granted independent investigative authority (now they are only able to investigate executive agencies and cannot initiate audits and investigations without running them by the Mayor) to investigate ALL city agencies and contractors, which will take some of the pressure off of the Controller's office. Once this necessary, transparent task is complete (and has been asked for by the current Inspector General, Amy Kurland), then the ethics board will prove to be a redundant waste of city revenue. The PHA Inspector General exists because the city Inspector General has no authority to investigate PHA, and "missed" the $900,000 + settlements of Carl Greene's sexual harassment complaints with city funds.
  • Last, but not least; GET OUT OF THE UTILITY BUSINESS. While nobody in New York likes Con Edison and nobody in New Jersey likes Aqua, etc…the following facts remain: gas and water service is reliable, and due to a licensee relationship with the areas they serve, a utility provider can't get away with the overt problems that currently exist with PWD and PGW. Case in point, 7 weeks ago PWD addressed an issue on the 2700 block of Indiana St. They opened up a giant hole in the street, fixed the issue, then proceeded to close the street with jersey barriers and leave the gaping hole there. It is still an open hole today. Coincidentally, the PWD had to fix an issue last Sunday in the 3000 block of Edgemont St. (literally around the corner), tearing open the street, fixing the problem, and again; leaving a giant hole in a closed thorofare. How can a construction crew tear up a street then not fix it thereafter? A vendor would be accountable to the city and therefore not find this acceptable. More importantly, how much would a sale of these utilities be worth to the city? It may be as much as our total deficit.

    Part of this group's purpose is to share ideas to fix our city's problems...what are your thoughts? Please comment on your ideas!

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