A couple of weeks ago, we asked B&G readers to tell us first-hand about the results of training cutbacks. The answers we received were similar in nature: Reductions in training, respondents wrote, were likely a bad way to save money. "Unquestionably," wrote one commenter, "reductions in training and other forms of professional development have a negative impact on productivity, customer service, morale and other measures associated with high performing organizations."

But many respondents went beyond simply pointing out the problems. They offered some ways their agency had tried to make up for fewer training dollars. We’d be very eager to gather more solutions, at which point we’ll publish a good list. Will you please share? We hope so.

While we’re talking about training, we’d like to point you to an interesting piece in the current issue of Public Management magazine. The article (which is for subscribers only) indicates that there have been many cutbacks in police driver training in recent years. It goes on to argue that paying for training is far cheaper than “paying for the aftermath of unnecessary collisions.” Turns out, according to authors Eric Peterson and Travis Yates, that “police-vehicle collisions often represent the greatest liability for local governments. Just one incident can result in a series of claims against an agency.”

Here’s a website we recommend: It’s a searchable registry of a variety of mental health and substance abuse intervention programs. The site includes general information about a number of efforts, details about the research outcomes reviewed, contact information and more. The benefits, for those interested in programs aimed at improving mental health and diminishing substance abuse, just begin with ratings of the “quality of the research supporting intervention outcomes and the quality and availability of training and implementation materials.”  

As car-owning residents of New York City, when we imagine Heaven, it’s a place in which there is genuinely ample parking. So it had never occurred to us that there might be a downside to too much of this commodity.

But apparently this is an issue that cities need to be thinking about, according to a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper indicates that downtown Orlando "has plenty of parking, with more than 26,000 spots.” What’s the problem? "Experts maintain there is just too much parking, not only in downtown Orlando but throughout the city and in much of America …. The problem with abundant parking, critics say, is that it is a poor use of space and leads to wasteful driving and air pollution . . . Even worse, in the case of large lots, like those surrounding shopping malls, the blacktop can lead to much higher temperatures during sunny, hot days."

“The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.”

-- A.A. Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame.

Descriptions of the extremes of urban fiscal distress often include some mention of laying off police officers. We’ve never really thought twice about this; it always seemed like common sense that no entity would weaken its public safety corps unless it had taken advantage of every other conceivable alternative.

But now we're thinking twice, after consultants from the International City/County Management Association told the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., that it should cut the number of its police officers. The report from the ICMA said that Grand Rapids police operate "in a more efficient and cost-effective manner than the average U.S. city," with 159 officers per 100,000 residents compared to a national average of 190 officers per 100,000 residents. But, according to the consultants, the volume of calls to the police didn't justify the number of officers on patrol.

Manager's Reading List. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, recommended by Greg Spradleu, senior management consultant of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. The book focuses on ways that people and organizations can make success more likely by identifying the patterns -- the habits -- that rule the way they behave. Once understood, changes in those habits can ripple through an entire entity, for the better, the book argues.

Read the archived Manager's Reading List recommendations.

Virtually all the items we include in the B&G Report come from interviews, studies, news reports and so on. But we feel moved to offer a tip of the hat to the New York State Comptroller’s office for an experience we had personally. We had heard from relatives about the frequency with which plain folks like us have unclaimed property on file. So we went to the comptroller’s office website, looked ourselves up and found some available money for each of us. It took about four minutes (no exaggeration) to apply, and we got two checks ($240 total) within one week. One week! That’s faster than it takes us to get a doctor’s appointment.

"I think that the biggest problem we have in this country is that we have 18,000 police departments with 18,000 sets of policies and 18,000 ways of doing business. We should come together and develop model policies,” reports Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo in a new report from the Police Executive Research Forum about how police departments can minimize the use of force, particularly when dealing with the mentally ill. It’s a good read, if the topic is of interest to you.

The topic of various weight control surgeries, like gastric bypass, lap band surgery and other bariatric procedures, has been controversial in medical circles for some time. We’re in no position to opine about the medical advantages or disadvantages here (not only are we not a doctor, we don’t even play one on TV). But we were thoroughly intrigued by a pilot program in Virginia that has sought to get better results from bariatric surgery and rein in costs.

Virginia faced rising and unsustainable costs for bariatric surgery. In Fiscal Year 2010, the state employee health plan projected claims expenses at $12 million.  Even more important, the dangers of this elective surgery were becoming all too real. A thorough review of data showed a 25 percent complication rate, including the deaths of two Virginia employees with claims exceeding $1 million each. There was also concern that many employees having the surgery were not seeing the health outcomes anticipated and were regaining weight. It was apparent to Department of Human Resource Management Director Sara Wilson that something had to be done.  Rather than eliminate coverage of gastric bypass surgery, which the state had included as an employee health benefit for years, the Virginia General Assembly approved a pilot program. Launched in early 2010, the program seeks to control the use of this surgery and make sure that those who have it are ready for the major changes in lifestyle required.

The pilot program puts candidates for surgery in a 12-month pre-surgery program. The goal is to improve chances for successful surgery through lifestyle changes and a disease management program beforehand, and provide intense follow-up afterward. Prior to the surgery, employees have weight management and nutritional counseling, personalized coaching and support services, with participation a requirement for gaining approval for the surgery.  When surgery is approved, the state health plan waives the inpatient or outpatient surgery copayment, giving individuals an additional stake in the outcome.

Result: There were 94 percent fewer bariatric surgery cases in Fiscal Year 2011 than in the previous year. Because of their increased coping skills, many employees in the pilot program began to lose weight on their own and decided to forego the surgery. Bariatric surgery cost declined from $10.2 million in 2008 to $800,000 in 2011.

For more information about this program, see page 19 of the Fiscal Year 2011 report on the health benefits program of the Commonwealth of Virginia.