Atheist Treasurers Not Allowed in Arkansas, the Merits of Revenue-Raising, and How Nebraska Wound up with a Unicameral Legislature
All the public-sector management news you need to know.
The June issue of Public Management magazine features four answers to the query: “What’s the most important interview question you ask when hiring staff (and why)?" The comments published were interesting -- so much so that we wanted to try to get a wider sampling from B&G Readers. So, tell us what you think, and if we receive a sufficient number of responses, we’ll report back soon.
It would be interesting if you could take your blood pressure before and after reading the following excerpt from a CNNMoney article:
“City governments aren't exactly known for innovation. ‘Get in line,’ ‘fill out this form’ and ‘you need a permit’ are the bureaucracy's invariable responses to virtually any question. Municipal technology is also often mired in the past: paper files, outdated computer systems and an aversion to sharing data with businesses that want to use it are common.”
We don’t want to pretend that governments are entirely free of this kind of attitude, but we devoutly believe it to be the kind of wild overstatement that deteriorates citizens’ faith in government and conceivably makes it difficult to create positive change with public buy-in.
Why do so many technology systems fail at their assigned tasks when they go live? Lots of reasons, but lack of appropriate pre-startup testing is certainly one significant possibility in any number of instances.
Consider a recent audit in North Carolina of a nearly $500 million computer system that’s planned to start processing Medicaid claims in July. It’s been in the works for four and a half years, and yet the audit’s findings are sufficient to promulgate insecurity if not downright fear of failure. Here are four of the key findings:
1. “The Department has failed to fully test the system, and the production testing process had flaws.”
2. “Key decisions about the addition of 1,500 user accounts and privacy and security procedures have yet to be made, increasing uncertainty about project readiness.”
3. “A vendor hired to oversee the project did not conduct independent verifications as expected by the federal agency that administers Medicaid, and another vendor was permitted to set its own guidelines for whether its work was acceptable.”
4. “No formal criteria exist to determine whether the new system is ready to go-live.”
The troubles currently facing recently arrested former Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner highlight the need for updating the state's law on the qualifications for that office.
As conservative blogger Jason Tolbert of The Tolbert Report noted, the current qualifications for the treasurer's office haven’t been changed since they were established in 1874. There’s no requirement for the treasurer to have financial experience. In fact, according to Tolbert, "the only qualification in the state constitution is that the treasurer must be an Arkansas resident and cannot be 'convicted of embezzlement of public money, bribery, forgery or other infamous crime.' Also -- revealing the dated nature of our 1874 state constitution -- no officeholder can be an atheist or have fought a duel in the last 10 years."
We asked B&G Readers a couple of weeks ago if they think there’s anything wrong with states and municipalities altering traffic policies to raise more revenue. Some have accused Florida of doing so -- read why here.
The responses were about as varied as we’ve ever seen -- which was interesting in and of itself. Below are a couple of extreme viewpoints from government managers who prefer to remain anonymous. If either of these inspires any comments on your part, we’d be happy to keep the conversation going -- so please write us.
“If the state made this change to raise money, they should be ashamed of themselves. This would be another case in which government leaders are being overly clever and manipulative in order to improve revenue. It is never justifiable to trick the taxpayers into paying more. If in a democratic society, we are unable to raise enough revenue through transparent decisionmaking, then the consequences should just be accepted and passed onto the same citizens who don't want to pay.”
And on the other hand:
“We citizens want lots of high-quality services from our local governments, and we expect more than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. And of course, we citizens do not want to pay more for these services. Local government officials must therefore constantly search for new revenue sources. I see nothing wrong with increasing traffic-enforcement activity as a means of raising revenues PROVIDED that appropriate notice of the changes is given, so that citizens have the opportunity to modify their driving habits.”
The late New York City Mayor Ed Koch on the power of the New York legislature: “We're in the hands of the state legislature and God, but at the moment, the state legislature has more to say than God.”
Tampa, Fla.’s City Council recently decided that it couldn’t afford to pay for a budget analyst anymore.
Apparently, the notion was that the money was better spent on direct services. We’ve raised this issue before and we continue to believe that a competent budget analyst in a city the size of Tampa can more than save his or her own salary as a result of the kind of work they do.
Council member Mary Mulhern agreed with our point of view, according to the Tampa Bay Times, saying that, "Our job is to be a check and balance on the administration; we're it. I feel like it's an abdication of our responsibility not to do this."
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that states and cities have every right to live in dread of a cyberattack that could shut down government and the services it provides. Clear evidence of this risk can be found in a recent legislative audit in Maryland, which found that more than 30 agencies in that state are particularly vulnerable.
Apparently, operating systems have gone for more than five years without updates, putting the government at particular risk. We very much doubt that Maryland is alone.
Good Jobs First, a national policy resource center, just came out with a terrific report titled “Show Us the Local Subsidies.” It focuses on the lack of transparency about local economic development subsidies in big cities and counties. Some of its findings were pretty startling.
For example, two-thirds of the local economic development subsidy programs in the nation’s largest cities and counties do not reveal online which companies are receiving the assistance; and even fewer disclose online the costs of the deals or how many jobs were created in return.
Ever wonder how Nebraska wound up being the only state with a unicameral legislature? We have, and thanks to a ten-minute documentary by two young Nebraska students, we know the story.
In short, it was the work of U. S. Senator George Norris back in 1934. Norris, who served in Congress, waged a one-man campaign across the state in favor of reducing the legislature from two chambers to one, with virtually no support except for that of the voters who supported his ballot measure. Norris tried to get other states to make the same move for awhile but was never successful, leaving Nebraska unique in this way.