Smart Management

How Philadelphia Is Watering Community Creativity

As every homeowner knows, water flows in mysterious ways. A small crack in a gutter in one place may lead to an interior leak and water damage two rooms over and a floor below. In much the same way -- though in a positive sense -- an ambitious, broad-scale initiative by the city of Philadelphia to address major stormwater-system deficiencies is seeping into many avenues of reform and creativity, with payoffs far beyond its fulfillment of a federal consent decree.

In this space back in 2010, I described the $8 billion plan being reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency to meet Philadelphia's obligations an environmental problem faced by many older cities that have combined sewer and stormwater systems: During heavy rainfall, the stormwater that normally flows through a water-treatment system overwhelms it, releasing raw sewage and filthy urban stormwater into rivers and streams. READ MORE

The Next Big Thing in Local Government

Where is local government going? In an era of tumultuous change and declining trust in government, cities and counties face major attitudinal and demographic forces, including competition for resources devoted to the "graying" and the "browning" of America and population and generational changes in government workforces. And there's another, perhaps overarching, challenge: the difficulty taxpayers have in thinking about government as experimental when experimental thinking will be exactly what will be needed in the coming decades.

Certainly challenges like those -- not to mention those as yet unforeseen -- are going to do much to shape the future direction of local government. They were among the forces identified by a panel of experts in a recent live-streamed discussion I moderated. Co-sponsored by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Alliance for Innovation (AFI), the webcast was part of a larger "Next Big Thing" project sponsored by AFI. READ MORE

Primary Absurdity: Our Expensive Presidential Beauty Contests

Feb. 9, 2016, looms larger by the day. That's the date of the iconic New Hampshire presidential primary, famous for dashing the dreams of so many White House wannabes and vaulting previously obscure candidates onto center stage.

So is this also the day reserved for loyal Granite State Democrats and Republicans to reflect carefully on their respective parties' bedrock principles as they weigh who their party's standard-bearers deserve to be? Think again. READ MORE

Do Animal Shelters Serve People or Pups?

One of the challenges in many government agencies is that leaders are expected to fulfill multiple missions, which sometimes conflict with one another. Consider departments of motor vehicles: They are required to keep the waiting lines moving fast while also ensuring accuracy. Similarly, social services agencies want to reach more eligible people even as they are under tremendous pressure to save dollars.

It all makes us think of an editor we once had who would place the following marginal note at the top of our copy: “Tighten this, and loosen it.” We never quite got what she really wanted, and our inclination was just to make some random changes, hoping they fell into the category of tightening while loosening. READ MORE

'You're Fired': Ways to Get Rid of Bad Government Workers

How hard is it to dismiss a public-sector employee because he or she is incompetent, repeatedly earns complaints from the public or shows up late every day? We hear different responses from human resource officials and from the managers who want the employees dismissed.

HR people tend to emphasize that all a manager needs to do is keep proper documentation of bad behavior. But managers often tell us that the process of dismissal is arduous, if not impossible, unless the employee has engaged in egregious behavior like drinking on the job or waving a firearm around. READ MORE