Budget Round 3: Where’s Your Emergency?

City council lukewarm to outsourcing, safety services cuts

With limited success on Monday night, city administrator Roger Fraser prodded city councilmembers to confront the city’s budget impact statements. Each of the city’s service units had prepared the statements and made them available to the council a few weeks ago.

chief of police Ann Arbor Barnett Jones

Chronicle file photo from August 2009 of Barnett Jones, chief of police for the city of Ann Arbor. Jones was recounting for The Chronicle how the assigned budget exercise for FY 2010 – the current year – had begun with funding cuts that were equivalent to an elimination of 40 sworn officers. It didn't end that way – due to cost savings in other areas and an early-out retirement incentive. For FY 2011, the exercise began with funding cuts equivalent to 19 officers, which Jones says he's now been able to limit to 9-12 officers. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the third council meeting since the beginning of the year held to focus specifically on the budget, after the council’s budget retreat in December 2009.

In ballpark numbers, Ann Arbor faces a $5.2 million budget shortfall for FY 2011, which begins July 1, 2010. And even if every measure listed on the budget impact sheets is enacted, it would amount to $4.8 million in savings, leaving the city still almost $0.4 million short of balancing its budget.

The meeting did not include any discussion of possible other specific revenue sources, either in the form of payments from the Downtown Development Authority, a city income tax or a Headlee override. The Headlee option has been suggested in a recent “budget white paper” circulated by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), but only if certain conditions are met. Briere, along with Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), did not attend Monday’s meeting.

The meeting began with presentations on possible outsourcing of emergency management and IT functions at the city. Councilmembers as a group reflected the same lack of enthusiasm for outsourcing those functions as Barnett Jones, chief of police, and Dan Rainey, head of IT, had expressed in their respective presentations.

When mayor John Hieftje appeared ready to send everyone home without any discussion of the budget impact statements, Fraser reiterated a point he’d made earlier: His expectation was that council would discuss the budget impact statements – he had city staff on hand to answer any questions. The council indulged Fraser by quizzing Barnett Jones about the possible layoff of 9-12 sworn police officers.

Background: Income Tax, Headlee, and DDA Revenue

At Monday’s meeting, the idea of addressing the budget shortfall from the revenue perspective did not explicitly arise during the council’s deliberations – either in the form of enacting a city income tax in lieu of the current property tax, or by overriding the Headlee Amendment, which would reset property tax levels to their original millage rate.

Either measure would need to be put before voters – the next opportunity being the August 2010 primary. Neither approach would generate additional revenues in time to affect the FY 2011  budget, which starts July 1, 2010. A Headlee override of a specific millage would reset the millage rate to its original value. [The effect of the Headlee Amendment is to limit property tax revenues so that they do not outpace the rate of inflation. Tax revenues might outpace inflation in a market where property values are increasing rapidly. The Headlee mechanism for limiting tax revenues is to discount the millage rate appropriately.]

The recommendation of a Headlee override from Sabra Briere (Ward 1) in her white paper comes with a condition that the city make a clear decision to change its priorities. Among the changes she advocates:

  • Resetting city salaries and benefits, with particular attention to top level managment staff – she suggests exploring a reduction of 10% in salary.
  • Develop public/private partnerships to manage business-type activities that – measured over the course of 5 years – are not breaking even. The idea includes both golf courses, and possibly the airport.
  • Parks used for recreation should be maintained – parks maintenance is a core city service.
  • Natural area parks should have their maintenance restricted during this down economic time to the minimum levels required for public safety.
  • While park maintenance for some parks is being restricted, during this time of financial instability, no new parks should be established that require maintenance. That includes the new parkland that would result from the removal of Argo Dam.
  • Focus of capital improvements should be the replacement of the East Stadium bridges. Specifically, no new debt should be taken on for the Fuller Road Station or for a hotel/conference center development on top of the city-owned Library Lot.
  • Require the district court to cut its budget by 11% for a savings of $462,000.

At the council’s most recent budget committee meeting on Feb. 16, Fraser got a green light from committee members to work towards getting a survey of voter attitudes on the question of replacing the general operating millage with a city income tax. [Committee members are Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).] Presumably the same survey could be designed to plumb voter attitudes on the Headlee question as well.

Also at the Feb. 16 budget committee meeting, Fraser reminded councilmembers that the $5.2 million shortfall includes $1.7 million that the city hopes to negotiate from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. That is, if the city is able successfully to renegotiate the agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s downtown parking system, the FY 2011 shortfall would be around $3.5 million, not $5.2 million. That assumes the renegotiation would not have any other impact on revenues, or introduce other costs.

It was over a year ago that the city council passed a resolution calling on the DDA to enter into negotiations on the agreement. For six months, the council delayed voting to appoint a negotiating committee until two members of the DDA’s negotiating team – the so-called “mutually beneficial” committee – were replaced.

The members to which the council objected were Jennifer Hall and Rene Greff. [Chronicle coverage: "DDA Retreat: Who's on the Committee" and "DDA's Board Chair Addresses Dispute with City Council"] The council’s committee was appointed on July 6, 2009, and included councilmembers Leigh Greden, Margie Teall, and Carsten Hohnke. Greden was defeated a month later by Stephen Kunselman in the Democratic primary, but no replacement for Greden has been appointed.

Based on the lack of any public notice of such a meeting – which all city committees are required to give, based on a council resolution dating to the early 1990s – the committees of the council and DDA have not ever met.

Another place some councilmembers are looking at to shore up this year’s budget is the city’s economic development fund, established to fund incentives for Google in the form of 400 parking spaces. At the end of the year, after the parking incentive obligation is met, the fund balance is projected to be $700,000.

Outsourcing: IT and Emergency Management

The council began their Monday meeting focused on the budget, with presentations on the possibility of outsourcing some specific functions – these were remaining from a list of “big ideas” that the council had been working through.  It’s a fair description to say that there was no great enthusiasm for outsourcing IT or emergency management.

Outsourcing IT

IT services includes computer hardware and software support services for  the city. Dan Rainey, the city’s IT director, presented the council with much of the same material they’d had in their budget information packets on outsourcing IT.

The $5.6 million IT budget includes $2.7 million in personnel costs, $1.2 million in software, and $1.7 million in operations. The average rate of pay excluding top management, he said, translated to $50/hour, a rate which Rainey said the city would be hard-pressed to match “on the street.”

Rainey described outsourcing as a useful tool – the IT department used outsourcing on a selective basis. Examples of outsourced functions between 2005-2009 include:

  • Police operations software and services
  • Human resource management and payroll
  • 15th District Court operations software and services
  • Housing Commission operations
  • Parking ticket issuance and payment procedures
  • Retirement system operations software
  • Content management software
  • Parks reservation and class registration
  • Tax and assessment reporting
  • Tax, invoice, and water bill payments
  • Constituent RSS and email notifications

Although outsourcing on a selective basis was used as a tool, Rainey said, one of the themes he stressed was the idea that it was unwise to outsource the relationship with their customers – other city staff. The IT department is funded through an internal service fund, which means that IT charges are assessed to each service unit.

Tom Crawford Dan Rainey city of Ann Arbor

Left: Tom Crawford, chief financial officer of the city of Ann Arbor, at the city council's Feb. 22 budget meeting. Right: Dan Rainey, the city's director of IT.

Picking up on the theme of customers, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked: If your customers don’t like your services, can they go somewhere else?  Kunselman made the question more precise by asking if service units had the option of opting for a lower level of service in order to reduce their IT costs. Rainey told Kunselman that was something they were looking at eventually doing.

Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO, addressed the general issue of how someon might be able to make a decision that seemed like it would save money compared to the cost that the city provided hardware and support services [e.g., putting a computer on a desk]. Said Crawford, “That works great … until something breaks.” Then, continued Crawford, people come back to the “mother ship.”

Kunselman asked about Trakit, a piece of software used by the city to track development projects through their life. He said he heard various concerns expressed that the software was too expensive, that it was not working as intended, and that it was requiring extra staff time. Kunselman asked Rainey if so much had been already invested in Trakit that the city could not back out of it. Rainey said that was not the case.

Rainey reported that the software had cost $0.5 million plus $70-80,000 of consulting work. He stressed that it was not a permitting system, but rather a work flow management system. Rainey allowed that it would take a few iterations to get it to work the way they wanted it to. Rainey mentioned the integration of Trakit with mapping tools: Google Maps and Live Maps. When a project is added to the Trakit system, the information is immediately and automatically plotted on a publicly accessible map.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked if outsourcing servers and storage might eventually be something worth looking at. Rainey said that any alternative to their current arrangement would likely represent an order of magnitude decrease in the speed of their network, which currently is provided through Merit Network.

Asked by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) what one thing he would change, Rainey said he would like people to be less afraid of technology. Technology offered efficiency gains, he said, so he would like to increase the rate of adoption.

Outsourcing Emergency Management

Emergency management has to do with management of human-made and natural disasters, not police services per se. But it was natural that Barnett Jones, the city’s safety services administrator and police chief, gave the presentation on outsourcing.

The current director of emergency management is a member of Jones’ police force, Sgt. Edward Dreslinki. Dreslinski was appointed to the job in July 2009 by the city council, succeeding Lt. Myron Blackwell. The line of succession for the post consists of assistant emergency managers: Lucy Teets, Lt. Myron Blackwell, Mary Joan Fales, Matthew Naud, Matthew Schroeder and Andrew Box.

Jones began by referencing Act 390, the state statute enabling the appointment of a director of emergency management.

It’s not outsourcing to a private vendor that is being contemplated. As Jones pointed out, Act 390 would allow the city to turn its emergency management over to the county’s coordinator, instead of appointing its own.

(2) A municipality with a population of 25,000 or more shall either appoint a municipal emergency management coordinator or appoint the coordinator of the county as the municipal emergency management coordinator pursuant to subsection (7).

The choice, then, is between appointing an emergency management coordinator for the city or having the county exercise that function.

Jones pointed out that with a city appointment, nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, the city had political control. If responsibility were ceded to the county, he feared, it would be difficult ever getting that function back “under our span of control.” Currently, Jones said, the mayor, the city administrator, or he himself could declare an emergency event.

Chief of Police Barnett Jones

Barnett Jones, Ann Arbor chief of police, gave the city council a presentation on the feasibility of assigning responsibility for emergency management to the county.

Jones also pointed out that over the last 10 years, $2.2 million has come into the community via homeland defense and emergency management grants. If the city were to contract with the county, he said, the city would have to compete with other areas to get that kind of grant money. It would no longer be earmarked for the city, but rather the county.

The grant money, Jones said, could be used to purchase a variety of equipment as well as to fund required training exercises. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) noted that while the funds are dedicated, they have utility in other facets of providing safety services broadly in the community.

On the theme of local control, John Hieftje weighed in, saying that on 9/11 the decision not to declare a state of emergency in Ann Arbor was easier to make because everyone was able to meet face-to-face without having to use the phone.

Jones summarized the reasons that the city’s emergency management system gets activated as mostly relating to either severe weather or hazardous materials.  Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) querried Jones about how often the emergency management center is activated, and asked for some recent examples.

Jones reported that it had come into play when some power lines were down in the southwest part of the city and several homes were without power. The city responded by deploying the director of emergency management, who made sure that warming stations at public schools would be available, if the power outage would be long-lasting. When it was determined that the outage was not going to be long-lasting, the system was shut down.

Before that, Jones said, it had been a football Saturday. For every University of Michigan home game, he explained, the emergency management command post is staffed up at the “Buffalo Lot” – the city-owned property just north of the Michigan Stadium. Hohnke concluded that it was not a once-in-5-year event when the system was activated, but rather something that was fairly frequent.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know if the costs were charged back to UM for the staffing of the command post on football Saturdays. Jones clarified that there was a grant that provided for 35% of the salary of the director of emergency management. So that is not charged to the university, Jones said. But everyone else’s time is charged to UM, Jones said. After Jones explained that the practice had been in place at least since he took over as chief, Higgins said this was the first time she’d ever heard of the emergency management system being used for football Saturdays.

Responding to later questions from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jones described the total cost of emergency management staff as $130,000-$140,000 total, with $45,000 covered by a grant. Total cost to the city’s general fund, said Jones, was around $90,000.

Rapundalo wondered if there were any conditions on the grant that would preclude charging the cost of the director of emergency management back to UM. Jones told Rapundalo that he would check on that. Rapundalo asked that it be reviewed by the city attorney’s office. It was the police department’s preference, said Jones, to staff the command post in that way, with 52-54 officers on site. Hearing that number, Higgins followed up with the observation: “That’s a lot of officers!”

Higgins wondered how many officers where patrolling the city if that was the staffing level for a football Saturday. Jones stated that they had a total complement of officers scheduled to be on duty that day in the city, plus the officers working the football stadium. Higgins stated: “That can’t leave anybody in reserve.” Jones’ reply: “Yes, ma’am.” Jones later clarified for The Chronicle that his response meant that, yes, the city did have appropriate numbers of reserve officers on football Saturdays.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5), looking through the levels of funding over the last 10 years, noted that it seemed inconsistent and uneven. Jones said that after 9/11, a lot of federal money went into homeland security, but that funding had begun to taper off. In addition, Jones said, the funding strategy has changed so that it now goes to “regions” instead of individual municipalities – with municipalities now competing for the funds.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Jones about projected needs for capital expenses over the next few years. Jones said that there had been a lot of technology acquired – a couple of license plate readers, as well as 13-14 in-car video systems. Jones said he wanted to “slow down” and “reign in” acquisition of new technology so that officers could have time to train on the technology they already had. Jones stressed that any new technology included a training module, which could be more expensive per officer than the hardware itself. They’d be “standing down” on additional technology acquisitions, he said.

Also related to capital expenses, Jones cautioned that investments in their patrol vehicles might need to increase. Ford Motor Co., Jones said, was possibly planning to end production of the Crown Victoria, which is used as by most police departments in America. Although Dodge had gotten into the market with its Charger, Jones said, the few Chargers the AAPD had purchased had received an evaluation of “ehhhh” from officers who’d used them – they had sight-distance issues. Jones said that it was not certain when and if GM would get into the market. If Ford ends production of the Crown Vic, Jones warned, they would have to invest in new equipment for inside the patrol cars. In-car equipment is designed for a particular kind of vehicle.

Budget Impact Statements

There were a few “big ideas” remaining on the list, which mayor John Hieftje read. Those included rethinking SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) membership and reducing Act 51 allocations to alternative transportation from 5% to the minimum state-mandated level of 1%. Act 51 money is most generally used for street maintenance and snow removal.

There was no great enthusiasm among councilmembers for exploring either of those topics.

Budget Impact: Starting the Safety Services Discussion

But at city administrator Roger Fraser’s urging, the council did take a look at the budget impact statements – for the police department. It was Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) who took the lead by asking when police services would be discussed. Fraser indicated to Higgins that the “big idea” associated with police services had been to look at the possibility of contracting with Washtenaw County for police services.

However, Fraser said he’d understood the council’s direction on that was to take it off the list. At the council’s December budget retreat, chief of police Barnett Jones had told councilmembers they already employed the best policing force in the county – the AAPD.

Budget Impact: Higgins Against Police Cuts

Jones clarified for Higgins that last year, the early retirement incentives had resulted in 24 sworn officers and 2 dispatchers leaving the force – five greater than the number planned, said Jones. That left the total number of sworn police officers at 124, Jones said.

The budget impact statements reflect a further reduction of nine police officer positions, three community standards positions, a community standards supervisor position and a community standards administrative support position, for a total of 14 FTEs. Jones said that the year’s budget exercise to reduce costs by 7.5% had meant a $1.9 million target, and that translated into a reduction of 19 officers. He’d looked at everything in the department, Jones said, and gotten that number down to 9-12.

Higgins said the reduction in numbers was not acceptable to her. She  told Jones that she understood he’d done what he’d been asked to do, but that she was not in favor of cutting police services by 7.5%.  She asked if the overall reduction of community standards positions last year from 10 to 5 positions would allow the department to maintain service. Jones replied that there would be service reductions.

Budget Impact: Revenue Implications of Police Cuts

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), keying on the phrase “service reductions” noted that this meant revenue reductions for the citations that the community standards officers wrote. Where was that in the budget impact statement, she asked. Jones allowed that revenues would be reduced. Queried by Smith, Jones said that annual revenue per community standards officer was $7,700 per officer. Smith was surprised by the low figure, noting that parking violation revenues totaled more than $2 million per year. CFO Tom Crawford clarified that the $7,700 per officer figure reflected ordinance work [e.g., littering, weeds, etc.].

Traffic enforcement officers, continued Jones, generate around $110,000 per officer.

Hieftje offered an historical interlude by reflecting on the payback period for last year’s early retirement incentives – paid for out of general fund reserves – was 2.5 years, and noting that he did not believe that the city of Ann Arbor had ever laid off a police officer.

Commenting on the mayor’s remarks, Jones said that there was nothing more demoralizing to a department than to lay off some of its members, or to take command officers and put them back on patrol. That was a scenario that the early retirement incentives had avoided.

Budget Impact: How Many Police Do We Have?

Higgins returned to a topic she’d introduced during the discussion of emergency management – the staffing of the emergency management post on UM football Saturdays. Given that Jones had assured the council that in addition to the more than 50 officers on duty for the games, the city also had a full complement of police officers on duty, Higgins wanted to know how many officers were a “full complement.”

Jones told Higgins that he was hoping no one would ask that question – there are a lot of people out there, he said, “who don’t have our best interests in mind.” Because of that, he said he was reluctant to talk about how exactly they did things in terms of how many police officers were deployed and where they were assigned within the city. However, he did say that a shift consisted of 20 patrol officers.

Jones also clarified that on UM football Saturdays, there are actually a total of more than 100 officers on duty – the additional officers coming from other jurisdictions like UM’s Department of Public Safety, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, and Pittsfield Township’s Department of Public Safety.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to now if the reduction in community standards personnel had implications for issues of “blight.” In that connection, he wanted to know specifically if decisions would be made about which ordinances would actually be enforced. City administrator Roger Fraser fielded part of the question by noting that the “quality of the community” would still be important.

Budget Impact: How Many Police Do We Need?

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that if safety services were held harmless, it was difficult to see how to get to a balance with the rest of the budget. So he phrased a question for Jones this way: How many police officers do we need?

Hohnke allowed that communities are unique and they each had their special requirements, but he wondered how Jones evaluated appropriate staffing levels. For example, Hohnke said, five police officers would be obviously too few. But how did Jones assess how many they needed?

Jones’ response: “We can’t afford to lose a police officer.” He pointed to the reduction in the force since the year 2000 when there were 216 sworn officers, down to the current levels of 124. But, Jones said, the city is at a point where the reality is that there’s a $5-6 million deficit, and 50% of that budget is safety services.

Jones said he lost sleep at night over “his kids” – which is how he thinks of his officers. He continued by saying that his counterparts in Troy, Sterling Heights, and Oakland County were also losing sleep for the same reason. Jones said that Troy was facing layoffs of 50 police officers if voters did not approve a millage the following day at the polls. [Voters rejected the millage.]

Jones concluded by telling Hohnke: “You asked me, Carsten, I gave you a response: We need everybody we have.”

Hohnke persisted. He allowed that comparing current levels to the year 2000 showed a stark contrast. But in the 1990s, he said, there was an increase in staffing partly attributed to the federal police-hiring grants during the Clinton administration. Further, he said, with the addition of the police component to the UM Department of Public Safety – now with around 50 sworn officers – Hohnke wondered if the reductions were perhaps consistent with an appropriate level of service.

Is it a matter of defensive policing versus an ability to be more proactive, Hohnke wondered. Jones told Hohnke that it was a “little bit of yes and a little bit of no.” In the yes category, Jones described how force reductions could take away from his “crew unit.” Responding to a  later question from Mike Anglin (Ward 5) about what the “crew unit” did, Jones described a range of proactive activity, including patrol, surveillance, backup, and “arresting bad guys.”

In the no category, Jones described how one possibility was that the front desk might be closed during certain times.  Or residents might have to come down to the station to fill out a traffic accident report.

Higgins asked that the council be provided with response times over a 30-day period and information about how the calls got prioritized.

Smith asked if further force reductions would have an effect on the strategy that Jones had adopted for downtown policing. That strategy had been to eliminate downtown beat assignments in favor of encouraging patrol officers to spend their one-hour out-of-car time in the downtown area, walking around. Jones told Smith that the feedback on that strategy had been positive. But the difference, he added, was that downtown merchants didn’t recognize the patrol officers as “their” officers.

Budget Impact: Police Pay

Hohnke asked the city’s director of human resources, Robyn Wilkerson, to comment on compensation issues. He wanted to know how the city of Ann Arbor compared to other communities. She said the city was not the highest in terms of wages, but that in terms of pensions, deductibles, and co-pays, the city was on “the low end.” Hohnke sought clarification of “the low end” – Wilkerson meant that Ann Arbor workers paid less than workers in other communities towards those benefits.

City administrator Roger Fraser confirmed that on wages, the city was “in the middle” but where the city was out of sync was in the amount that the employees contribute.

Hieftje asked Wilkerson about the Act 312 bargaining units. Police are covered under Act 312, which does not allow the units to strike. Instead, there is a prescribed arbitration procedure. [Last year, in a recent arbitration case involving the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association, the arbiter ruled in favor of the union, and the city council needed to appropriate an additional $673,000 to cover the settlement cost.] Hieftje said that there were some “lightweight” changes proposed to Act 312 in the state legislature, but that the Michigan Municipal League wanted more substantive changes.

Budget Impact: “It just doesn’t feel right.”

In wrapping up the meeting, city administrator Roger Fraser referred to Carsten Hohnke’s question about how they knew that police staffing levels were appropriate. “You get to a certain point when it just doesn’t feel right,” Fraser said.  He said there were few things in the budget impact statements that were good for the city. It would be unfair, he continued, to say that any of the items in the impact statements were actions that they advocated. It was a matter of creating a financial plan they could live with.

Fraser allowed that it was a very difficult conversation to have. Still, he asked councilmembers to keep in mind that he was willing to explore all kinds of things. He concluded: “It isn’t fun.”

Next budget meeting: The next meeting of the city council that will focus just on budget issues will be March 8, 2010, starting at 6 p.m. in city council chambers, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date] The focus will be public services – in particular, solid waste and the possibility of modifying the way the city collects trash, as well as a possible street lighting district.


  1. By Bob Martel
    February 27, 2010 at 9:03 am | permalink

    Whenever I read these articles about City Council deliberations pertaining to budgets in particular, I am always struck by the incredible level of discussion at a management-minutiae level. I’ve been on the boards of numerous non-profits and a few for profit corporations and, as a rule, we never got involved at such a level of day to day management detail, preferring to set overall policy directions, charging management to implement and then monitoring performance. Perhaps it is the appropriate role of a City Council in Michigan to oversee operational decisions made by staff, but it sure seems cumbersome to have 11 part time elected officials micro manage a staff of nearly 1,000 persons.

  2. By mr dairy
    February 27, 2010 at 9:37 am | permalink

    Perhaps if the administrative management of city hall were more transparent and willing invite the public to participate in the process and were our residents/voters/citizens and taxpayers more trusting of the often murky management of the bureaucracy, might it be possible that councilors would feel less compelled to, as you say, micromanage?

  3. By gill
    February 27, 2010 at 10:31 am | permalink

    “it was not a permitting system, but rather a work flow management system.”

    Can someone name any software at the City that actually does work flow management? It seems to me that any work flow management software simply replaces low cost clerical staff with very expensive I.T. staff, which become necessary to maintain the software. I see now why I.T. likes theoretical work flow software…

  4. By mr dairy
    February 27, 2010 at 10:39 am | permalink

    #3. This is exactly the case with the purchase of Etrakit software used by Planning and Development Services. $1,000,000 + and counting…

    Expensive CRW Etrakit software that came with expensive IT maintenance, replaced Okemos based municipal software maker BS&A that is used by other Michigan municipalities and our own Tax Assessors office.

  5. February 27, 2010 at 11:01 am | permalink

    Regarding Bob Martel’s comments, this is a common complaint about elected boards, that they “micromanage”. There is some justice to this, in that individual board members (council members in this case) may get into very minute issues, to answer a constituent’s complaint, for example. But usually this tension between the executive and the board is necessary when the board represents the electorate. How else is the popular will to be expressed other than through their elected representatives? A non-profit or even for-profit corporation is a different case.

    It is characteristic that the appointed administrator would like to be left alone to run things as s/he likes. But if the board’s role is to set policy, then the budget IS the policy in many cases. It is especially true now. In times of plenty, when there is pretty much enough money to do anything, it is not so much an issue. But when we are talking about cutting services (and Roger Fraser has suggested a number of draconian cuts), the council must get intimately involved. It is their job to pick through the tangle of options, even as it is his to offer them.

    There is a whole discipline of study around the questions of board governance. John Carver has written a number of books, notably “Boards that make a difference” [link]. Perhaps if council can ever move from having to put out major house (budget) fires, they would benefit from a retreat about their governance system.

  6. By T. Ferguson
    February 27, 2010 at 12:18 pm | permalink

    Mr Dairy, in the article Mr. Rainey is quoted that the Etrakit software cost .5 million. You indicate that it cost over a million dollars. I’m confused, which is it?

    Software has been used for decades in the private sector as a tool to make people more efficient or reduce staffing levels and therefore reduce costs associated with operating a business. I see no reason why this shouldn’t apply to the public sector. As a taxpayer I’m perplexed as to why technology isn’t being leveraged more to reduce costs at the City. Software is expensive but not as expensive as salaries, health care costs, and pensions.

  7. By Alpha Alpha
    February 27, 2010 at 3:37 pm | permalink

    Regarding compensation:

    “On the low end”? “In the middle”? No numbers??

    Where are the numbers?

    Comparing BLS data to 2010 Budget Book data shows the average city
    employee earns substantially more than the average government employee,
    and over twice what the average civilian earns.

  8. By Gill
    February 27, 2010 at 4:05 pm | permalink

    It might be nice if Council hired a group like this: [link to Menlo Innovations website] (they are located Kerrytown) to review all the major software packages that the City uses. Maybe they would be willing to do a review for less than their usual fees for the City. The report should then be public info. If anyone else lower on the food chain at the City hires them, the info can disappear or the consultant dropped because they are coming up with the “wrong” results (like someone made a bad choice in software purchases).

    Work flow management software is only good for a process that is consistently the same thing over and over. It is NOT good for any process that has variables – like a development process.

    For example, mailing a package can be simple: what size is it, how much does it weigh, and where is it going. But now allow various people to add and subtract things from the package while it is en route, maybe change the size of the package, and even let a group take the package to vote whether it can continue on to its destination. Maybe the vote has contingencies. Gets to the point where it is cheaper to have a human make the decisions rather than a programmer code up endless decision paths.

  9. By T. Ferguson
    February 27, 2010 at 7:07 pm | permalink

    Gill – I disagree about your work flow comment. Process management software, aka work flow, is critical for managing complex processes.(Especially bureaucratic government processes) Not all process management software needs to have rigid decision paths. Process management software should be used to ensure the public is treated fairly and City staff are held accountable.

  10. By Alpha Alpha
    February 28, 2010 at 10:25 am | permalink

    “On the low end”? “In the middle”?

    Not even close!

    I suggest everyone look carefully at:

    It clearly shows our city workers earn substantially more than their
    governmental peers, and way more than civilians earn.

  11. By Dave Askins
    February 28, 2010 at 10:45 am | permalink

    Re: [10] Editor’s note to Alpha Alpha, The Chronicle provided more than adequate context to understand Ms. Wilkerson’s characterization “on the low end” accurately:

    She said the city was not the highest in terms of wages, but that in terms of pensions, deductibles, and co-pays, the city was on “the low end.” Hohnke sought clarification of “the low end” – Wilkerson meant that Ann Arbor workers paid less than workers in other communities towards those benefits.

    In commenting, please do not strip quotes of their original context, giving them a different interpretation, in order to serve a rhetorical point.

    What is interesting about Ms. Wilkeron’s quote — and the reason we quoted it — is precisely that she, as the city’s human resources director, sees the issue from a different point of view than the average citizen, namely: “How much do workers contribute towards their health care and retirement?” It’s an interesting contrast to the way many people look at the issue, which is simply: “How much are city workers getting?”

  12. By Alpha Alpha
    February 28, 2010 at 11:05 am | permalink

    Good point well taken.

    I did read it from the viewpoint of “How much are workers getting?”;
    that’s the cause of the confusion.
    I think many would agree the paragraph is perhaps less than clear.

    Regardless, now we can look at numbers instead of potentially
    confusing words, at the link cited.

    Thank you for the accuracy check, and your fine efforts.

  13. By mr dairy
    February 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm | permalink

    Was Mr Rainey’s claim of $500,000 the cost of support or the cost of purchase? Both? I do not know, but I do know that when Etrakit was first mentioned in city hall discussions, the $1 million amount was stated as the initial cost and start up.

  14. By mr dairy
    February 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm | permalink

    Etrakit was chosen as part of the reorganization of Planning and Development Services. The terms of it’s selection and purchase are a bit murky.

    The contract was essentially written to CRW’s specifications that excluded other vendors and the city’s existing software vendor at the time BS&A.

    According to staff of PDS, to this day, CRW/Etrakit has NOT fulfilled the terms of the purchase contract. It has been a costly failure.

  15. By T. Ferguson
    February 28, 2010 at 5:55 pm | permalink

    I appreciate the clarification Mr Dairy. Do you know what terms of the purchase contract were not fulfilled?

  16. By mr dairy
    February 28, 2010 at 6:33 pm | permalink

    I suggest that anyone who is interested, talk to PDS staff, managers and their elected officials.

    To my knowledge the Etrakit purchase contract was negotiated through the City Attorney’s office. I suggest that anyone interested in the details of the purchase contract contact the Attorney’s office.

    Among other features, I believe that the real time online updates from field inspections has yet to be complete and implemented.

  17. March 1, 2010 at 9:00 am | permalink

    Bob, to follow up on Vivienne’s response to your comment, I think you might be misinterpreting information gathering for the purposes of decision-making on the budget as micromanaging. I think our council members understand and stick to their roles quite well in this area.

    Re: IT–New employees aren’t considered failures part way through their orientation and training. Complex software systems require a similar integration and setup period. The users of such systems, being the ones whose daily work requires the most changes, are often not enthusiastic during the transition period. On the other hand, some users appreciate the potential of new systems and look forward to using it more fully, showing less frustration with immediate problems.

  18. By Dave Askins
    March 1, 2010 at 9:14 am | permalink

    Re: [4], [6] and subsequent discussion of the cost of the Trakit software.

    The $0.5 million cost cited by Dan Rainey and reported in the article is likely based on the June 18, 2007 city council resolution authorizing the software purchase:

    Resolution to Approve a Service, Software Licensing, and Support Agreement with CRW Systems for the TRAKiT Software and Implementation of a third party (Tele-Works) IVR system – RFP No. 626 ($504,000.00) and establish a project budget
    not to exceed $554,400.00