Popular democracy is coming to Annapolis city government, in the form of a progressive new management philosophy that encourages city employees to speak out and treat citizens the same way a business treatsits customers.
All four public employee unions have OK'd the new management plan, and Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has decided to add it into next year's budget, said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff.
"It will take a while to incorporate; this is not a program that can be pulled out or put into a budget," Mallinoff said. "We're talking about harnessing the creativity of every single employee in Annapolis for problem-solving through teamwork."
The program will affectthe way every city agency operates, but costs will be "small." The the only visible budget item will be for "management training and education," Mallinoff said, without getting into specific numbers.
Total Quality Management, or TQM, has been the rage of private industry in recent years. Business Week recently dedicated an entire issue to the concept. Executives from the Xerox, Motorola and Corning companies credit the use of employee "quality-control circles" and flatteningout their management pyramids with turning their businesses around.
Annapolis has decided to call its program Total Quality Leadershipand concentrate on treating all employees, no matter what their position, as colleagues.
Managers accustomed to treating their employees like worker bees will have to adjust and learn to listen to them in quality circles, Mallinoff said.
Mayor Hopkins gives the credit for developing TQL for the city to Public Works Engineer Margaret Martin.
"She deserves total credit for that. She's going beyond just doing her job to improve things for everybody," Hopkins said.
Martin exudes an infectious enthusiasm for TQL, and gave a 24-point dissertation on how city services can be improved and morale increased.
"Total Quality Leadership involves many things. It's not so simple that you can say it boils down to this," she said, apologizing for thebreadth of her explanation.
The first step is for civil servants to view citizens, co-workers or anybody else asking for help from thecity as a customer -- never as an impediment.
Then, bringing managers and employees together, they try to quantify the product -- in Annapolis' case, pleasing the customer -- and think of ways to improveits quality.
"Say someone's got a sewer back-up, you figure out how long it takes you to fix it," Martin said. "Then, later, you get all the employees together in a quality circle (and) look at ways you could do it faster.
"The key to this is that we use data and teachevery employee how to use data to commit to a continuous improvement," she said.
Not everybody is as enamored of the system as Martin and Mallinoff.
In a September column, syndicated columnist Tom Peter mocked the concept, saying: "TQM often looks suspiciously like thelatest act in a long-running farce called Revenge of the Number Nerds."
Alderman Carl Snowden, D-Ward 5, who recently received the city's TQL proposal, was also skeptical.
"I'm not so sure another alphabetized acronym is going to produce a better and more efficient government," Snowden said.