The Metro Council handed a significant win to Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration Wednesday, when it approved spending $300,000 from the supplemental budget to bring in a Cincinnati consulting firm to identify specific ways to make city government more efficient.
But that was the easy part. Implementing the changes consultant Jerry Newfarmer and his team at Management Partners will recommend for streamlining departments, eliminating waste and, perhaps, even privatizing services, will eventually come down to some tough decisions for elected officials like the mayor and Metro Council.
“The results of our work will not be politically easy,” says Newfarmer, who served as city manager of Cincinnati and San Jose, California, before forming his firm. “There may be difficult decisions that are required, and we’ve been through that with many clients.”
Newfarmer says once a contract with the city-parish is finalized and approved by the Metro Council, he’ll send a team of about 10 consultants to Baton Rouge, where they’ll spend one year engaged in a three-step process that includes: analyzing city government, preparing an improvement plan to maximize efficiency, and working with department heads and the administration to implement the action items in the plan.
“It’s important to make sure it gets done and to not let the bureaucrats stop it because that represents change and government employees don’t like change,” he says. “It’s a major management task.”
Newfarmer has already spent some time in Baton Rouge getting a preliminary look at the operations of city government and plans to return even before a contract is finalized to begin laying the groundwork for his team. He says it’s too soon to point to specific examples of action items that might make the list of recommendations, but he suggests it could include such things as leasing fleet vehicles instead of owning them and storing them in rented warehouses, outsourcing or privatizing certain services and teaming up with other local governments for shared services.
He concedes that some changes will take additional revenue, and some will require changes to the law. But the implementation piece of the puzzle will be particularly important in Baton Rouge, where “things have been very bad operationally for a very long period of time,” he adds.
“A lot of the governments we work with have been working well,” he says. “We don’t have to sweat the implementation very much because they have in place management that knows how to do that. I’m not sure that is the case here.”
Ultimately, Newfarmer concedes he has no ability or authority to force the city to make a change.
“We will do our job identifying the duck and leading it to water,” he says.
Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel hopes to introduce a proposed contract with Management Partners to the Metro Council at its Aug. 8 meeting. The council could then hold a public hearing and vote at its meeting two weeks later.