Measures Drive Performance in St. Petersburg

Incremental improvements can naturally stitch together and uplift an entire city.
by | June 6, 2011

Before being elected mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2001, I was president of a medium-sized law firm. Each week, I would get a detailed report of expenses, revenues, collections, caseloads and cash flow -- information critical to making decisions about the firm.

I didn't get many reports when I first became mayor of St. Petersburg. In fact, I was shocked at how few measures of performance were readily available.

If the mayor is the CEO of the city, he or she needs a clear picture of what is working and what is not working. Most importantly, for measurement to matter, it is important to compare results to past performance, evaluate success at meeting objectives and communicate the results to the public. In other words, the mayor -- and the public -- need measurable results to evaluate whether the city is meeting its core mission.

One of my first initiatives as mayor was to develop a set of performance measures for every department in the city and tie the measurements to our core areas: public safety, neighborhoods, economic development, public schools and improving government operations. This became St. Petersburg's City Scorecard.

We made the City Scorecard available to the public online. It became a natural check on our administration -- the vehicle by which every top official drove the city to better performance.

My book, The Seamless City, describes our efforts. Transparent performance measurement was one cornerstone of our success. While local leaders across the nation have been adopting similar methods of measuring their progress, making our scorecard public information ensured that we were advancing our vision for the city, not just responding to challenges. As I write in my book, "Cities improve when passionate leaders embrace the citizens' priorities and executive a plan to make the city better."

City Scorecard did just that. The success we enjoyed garnered attention. Upon taking office in 2007, Florida's then-Gov. Charlie Crist asked that we present our scorecard to his cabinet to help guide the development of the state's performance measurement system.

In addition to measurement are three other strategies that will work regardless of where your city is located or how many people call it home. Immediate improvements to the quality of life across the city will get noticed, will help restore civic pride and will create momentum for ongoing improvements in other areas. Just as fixing broken windows and cleaning-up graffiti immediately improve the livability of a neighborhood, so too does building and maintaining dog parks, creating bike trails and fixing sidewalks and roads in an efficient way.

Jobs and economic growth also are always important to a city -- especially in these tough economic times. Often overlooked is the importance of a responsive and consumer-oriented permitting process as a crucial element of economic development. If businesses and homeowners can quickly and efficiently secure the required permits needed to set-up shop, expand or renovate, the city's economy will have more success at moving forward.

Finally, private-sector support is a key necessity at a time when resources are limited. When the private sector makes meaningful investments in the community -- investments that make sense for businesses, schools and neighborhoods -- positive change begins to take root. It is important that private companies play the traditional role of good citizens, and are not looking for a contract or subsidy in return.

These building blocks form the foundation of the seamless city. Incremental improvements -- continuously measured and well communicated to the public -- naturally stitch together and can uplift an entire city.