Beyond Buzzwords

There are so many cliches about creative and inclusive management that you risk laughter just by putting them down on the page. But in management, as in many other fields of human endeavor, cliches are rooted in reality. That’s how they became cliches in the first place. And the eight individuals chosen as Governing’s Public Officials of the Year for 2004 achieved striking results by using strategies that make us all wince when we hear them described: They thought outside the box, expanded the envelope and brought everyone into the tent.

2004 POY CoverIn Virginia, there are actually two boxes. Democrats live in one, Republicans in the other, and fraternization, let alone genuine cooperation, is almost unknown. But Democratic Governor Mark Warner decided that the imperative of state tax reform justified venturing out and making an alliance with Senate Finance Chairman John Chichester, a Republican who had long favored similar policies. Chichester brought with him a solid cohort of GOP senators to work with Warner, and the result was tax reform legislation that will help make Virginia fiscally solvent for years to come.Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin found herself trapped in a box that wasn’t so much partisan as regional. When she took office in 2002, her city faced crippling budget problems, and the government leaders in jurisdictions surrounding her hadn’t shown much interest in helping. Ignoring that history, Franklin successfully reached out to the county executives, state legislators and federal officials who were in a position to make fiscal recovery significantly easier. Atlanta isn’t out of the budgetary woods, but Franklin’s willingness to think unconventionally and cultivate new allies has given the city a sense of optimism it has not felt in a long time.

Nobody validates the principle of envelope expansion better than North Carolina Treasurer Richard Moore. Moore asked a simple question: What quality of service is Wall Street providing to state pension funds such as his, which are among its largest investors? He found that service left much to be desired, and that other state treasurers were in largely the same boat. Through his recent efforts, a coalition of states has pressured Wall Street investment firms to sign pledges of accountability, transparency and ethical practice.

Whatever metaphor you want to use, creative public management frequently consists of taking policies or processes normally seen as incongruous or even opposite, and fusing them together for the public benefit. It’s a little unusual for a veteran politician and lieutenant governor to become a chief information officer, but Val Oveson did it in Utah because he saw connections between politics and technology that few noticed. That’s one reason Utah has a Web site with citizen-participation features no other state can equal.

Judicial proceedings and performance measurement don’t exactly sound like a match made in heaven, but as chief judge in Minnesota’s Hennepin County, Kevin Burke invoked performance standards for the judges under his administrative jurisdiction. He even had films made so judges could critique their own performance. The results speak for themselves: Court delays are down; respect for the system is up.

Jim McConnell, who oversees school construction for the Los Angeles Unified School District, doesn’t come from anywhere near the envelope of local education bureaucracy. He’s a retired commander in the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps. When he took his job in 2001, he knew virtually nothing about schools. But he knew about bringing construction projects in on time, and that turned out to be more important. Under his leadership, L.A. has built 27 badly needed new schools in three years and is on track to meet its goal of 65 new schools by the end of 2006.

Then there is Tricia Leddy. It may not be precisely accurate to say that she operates outside the box: Leddy has been working quietly and patiently in Rhode Island’s health care system for the past 20 years. But she has taken advantage of the opportunities within that system to build a maternity and child care program that experts consider the best in the country.

Presented here are profiles of all eight of Governing’s 2004 Public Officials of the Year, selected from nominations by readers, interviews with state and local government specialists, and reporting by the Governing staff.

Kevin S. Burke, chief judge, Hennepin County Court

Shirley Franklin, mayor of Atlanta

Tricia Leddy, administrator, Rhode Island Center for Child and Family Health

Jim McConnell, director of facilities services, Los Angeles Unified School District

Richard H. Moore, treasurer, North Carolina

W. Val Oveson, chief information officer, Utah

Mark Warner, governor of Virginia, and John Chichester, state Senate Finance Committee chairman