No better, no worse?

Rating cities: Baltimore has to be more efficient even though its government is deemed average.

February 04, 2000

FREE advice for Mayor Martin O'Malley is in no short supply. The latest counsel comes from Governing magazine, which gives our City Hall a B-, which is also the average for the 34 other cities surveyed.

The analysis, conducted by the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is not a performance assessment. Rather it measures the adequacy of governing structures .

The results are intriguing. In financial management, for example, Baltimore gets a B+, while Philadelphia, which the O'Malley administration touts as a turnaround model, is given only a B-. And why not? Baltimore never went bankrupt; Philadelphia did. The study praises Baltimore's conservative budgeting, but notes that a paltry 1.6 percent of general fund revenues is earmarked for the rainy day fund and criticizes "almost nonexistent" cost accounting.

In recent decades, publications have come to love such lists, even though they often end up comparing apples and oranges. Their chief value is the discussion they prompt. Governing's list comes at a good time, as the O'Malley administration is undertaking a thorough evaluation of the bureaucracy and practices it inherited. More than 150 CEOs and others from the private sector have offered to help in the task.

During his 12 years in office, ex-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke toyed with comprehensive government restructuring. In the end, nothing happened. Too bad. Baltimore's government should aim to be better than average. Making it the best it can be ought to be Mr. O'Malley's goal.

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