Odd License Requirements, How Oklahoma City Lost 1M Pounds, and New Government Jargon

Public-sector management news you should know.

According to WTSP, a Tampa TV station, municipalities in Florida are raising millions of additional dollars from red-light cameras thanks to a decision to shave just fractions of a second from the amount of time lights are set to remain yellow. The change was permitted after the state's Department of Transportation altered the formula for yellow-light timing. Some are accusing the state of making the change exclusively as a way to raise more money, while state officials argue they were only changing the rules to comply with already existing language in the law.

If the state did make the change just to raise money, though, is there anything wrong with that? We don't know what to think, and we're curious to hear from you. Email us your thoughts.

License requirements for jobs sometimes make us scratch our heads. They pop up at different times and have been influenced by different external pressures, producing some odd results.

For example: According to a report from New York's Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, a person can become a licensed emergency medical technician in the state with just 35 days of training, but it takes four times as much training to become a makeup artist.

Special funds can easily become unaccountable pockets of cash that accumulate in cities, counties and states. This isn’t generally the case, of course, but we’ve just come across a rather extreme example that makes the point. According to a local TV station in Los Angeles, money that could have been used to keep teachers, police and firefighters at a time when many were laid off, instead accumulated in the city's Special Transportation Grant Fund.

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The city’s Department of Transportation has one month to issue a detailed review of how $42.6 million in public funds were mistakenly transferred for 17 years to the wrong account. Meanwhile, City Council Budget Committee Chairman Paul Krekorian has recommended ways to prevent more money from being forgotten in special funds.

With a national attack on obesity, the search for ways to encourage citizens to shed pounds is at the forefront of efforts in many cities and states. One that’s had remarkable success is Oklahoma City.

Inspired by a 2007 ranking in Men’s Fitness magazine that labeled the city as one of the nation’s most overweight, Mayor Mick Cornett decided to wage a Battle of the Bulge.

The mayor had already fought to shed pounds himself and then encouraged citizens to lose one million pounds in total. As part of his effort, he created a website to provide resources to help keep track of the total amount of pounds shed. He also invested in parks, wellness centers, sidewalks and biking paths to help citizens get more exercise.

The results? More than 40,000 people accepted his challenge and lost over a million pounds, and in 2012, Men’s Fitness recognized Oklahoma City as one of America’s fittest cities.

Our takeaway from this is that one of the most powerful managerial tools for advancing policy goals is the resolute involvement of high-level leadership.

We asked B&G Readers a couple of weeks ago how important they thought it was for public-sector managers to have private-sector experience. Though not all our respondents indicated that it was vital, some did -- and all said they believed it was useful. The following is one particularly articulate email making the case for the value of a private-sector background. It’s from Hank Griffith, the grants coordination manager in Harris County, Texas:

“I personally feel that it is critical for senior public-sector employees to have private-sector experience. More and more, local and state governments are expected to act in a more fiscally responsible manner similar to private industry. We can’t continue to expect to simply continually give cost-of-living raises, build new buildings simply because it would be nice to have, etc. and expect the taxpayer to foot the bill. If a private industry company acted in that manner, the company would price itself out of business. As private industry has learned for decades, you have to learn to become as efficient as possible and find ways to do more with less. In the public sector, we tend to have a habit of creating and running departments in “silo’s” and not using the expertise of other departments. As a result, there is much duplication of services, and nobody becomes efficient at anything because they are trying to provide every service to everyone.”

“We are imperfect. We cannot expect perfect government.” --William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States.

One of the common complaints about performance measurements is that they’re often uninformative for programs that take years to show results. That can certainly be frustrating in areas like preschool education or preventive medicine, but the challenge of long-term payoffs isn’t a reason to give up on beginning longitudinal measurement in the first place.

Consider recent data about the impact of a bevy of programs on Wisconsin’s recidivism rates. According to the state Department of Corrections, “analyses show that recidivism rates have steadily decreased since 1993. The three-year follow-up recidivism rate decreased by 28.5% (or 12.9 percentage points) from 1993, when the recidivism rate was the highest at 45.3%, to 2007, when it was 32.4%. Furthermore, as recidivism rates decreased, the number of releases from prison dramatically increased, tripling between 1990 and 2009. An offender released in 1993 was 1.4 times more likely to recidivate within three years than an offender released in 2007."

We’ve mentioned Tap The Power before -- a wonderful resource provided by the Wisconsin Legislative Research Bureau -- and it's so good that we wanted to remind you of it again. These short publications provide a bibliography for issues of the day. There's an emphasis on Wisconsin, of course, but the lists are useful for anyone interested in government management and policy. Recent bibliographic list topics include oral health coverage for underserved populations, youth homelessness, transportation funding, charter schools and venture capital.

Ever hear of “hoghousing?” We love getting acquainted with government jargon, and this is a new one for us. According to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, in some states “to hoghouse, a legislator moves to amend an existing bill by deleting everything and inserting all new text." But in Minnesota, hoghousing is instead referred to as “delete everything amendments.”

By the way, we’d be negligent if we didn’t mention the recent retirement of the Minnesota Library’s director Robbie LaFleur, who has done a remarkable job in building this wonderful institution.

Correction: This column has been updated to correct an error in the second item, on license requirements. Medical technicians can be licensed In New York with just 35 days of training (not 35 hours).

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