Mayor must overhaul bureaucratic practices

Study conclusion: Inefficient work methods and inertia will aggravate Baltimore's future budget deficits.

September 23, 1999

WITH THE Nov. 2 general election a month away, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is relaying the following advice to his successor: "Baltimore City government cannot continue to conduct `business as usual' if it hopes to avert future budget deficits."

That is the conclusion of a study group Mr. Schmoke appointed in July 1998, when he was still thinking about seeking a fourth term. Called the Millennium Group, it urges the next city administration to:

Revamp the way the city manages and repairs its nearly 6,000 vehicles. It's currently a mess. An example: The computer system used to keep track of the fleet failed two years ago and has not been replaced.

Improve the maintenance of city-owned buildings by imposing standards used in the private sector.

Overhaul garbage collection. Because of unresolved labor problems, collection routes and tasks have remained essentially unchanged for the past three decades, leading to waste.

Introduce "market mechanisms into the delivery of government products or services." San Diego is cited as a model for its competitive assessment of needs before procurement and its performance monitoring system.

Adopt a set of priorities each year that would be used as the basis for developing the city's budget.

The Millennium Group's 36-page report also contains nine pages of comments from city agencies. Those smug and self-satisfied responses show how the bureaucracies will fight change. Everything is just fine, the agencies seem to say, and any weaknesses are due to insufficient funding.

This, of course, is balderdash.

One of the most shocking findings of the study group is that only 23 percent of city supervisors receive any training for those assignments. No wonder taxpayers complain about poor performance.

After Dec. 8, the new mayor will be free to remold Baltimore's troubled bureaucracy.

He should not waste time in doing so.

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