County efficiency study makes recommendations

By Justin Boron

A far reaching assessment of the Clayton County government's efficiency - which the News Daily obtained a copy of through the Open Records Act - recommends overhauling of the government's departmental structure, reviewing the distribution of its financial resources, and updating its technology.

The suggested revamping would, among other changes, reduce the 29 existing, county-run departments by more than half, enhance digital records storage, and require a review of how much money the county invests in its services and staff. It also would redistribute parts of two of the largest county-run departments - transportation and development and the community development - between two new departments.

Generated by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a public service arm of the University of Georgia, the non-binding study analyzes department-head interviews, feedback sessions, and scholarly research to make its recommendations.

The findings report has been anticipated by county officials and managerial staff for several months and has the potential to transform the makeup of authority and supervision in the county administration.

It also prompted Commissioner Charley Griswell to propose a measure that would protect departments from being dismantled without unanimous consent of the county commission. That proposal came up for consideration on the board's Tuesday business agenda. But it was deferred until a later date.

Four of the commissioners said they had received the study but hadn't had time to review it and could not comment for this story. Ultimately, the commissioners will be the ones to decide how much, if any, of the recommendations are embraced.

Even if the study is only partially implemented it could still improve the government's efficiency, said John O'Looney, one of the study's authors.

"In government, things are rarely all or nothing. Governance is the art of finding practical compromises that move things forward," he said.

Carl Vinson Public Service Associate Harry Hayes, Governmental Services Attorney Betty Hudson, and Public Service Assistant and Athens-Clarke County Commissioner David Lynn also contributed to the study.

The UGA group's recommendations, if implemented, would represent a marked shift in how the county's chairman and commissioners have supervised the government, particularly in the breadth of their oversight.

Specifically, the study addresses a management concept called "span of control," which it defines as the number of subordinates that report directly to a supervisor.

Researchers warned that their recommendations were made without feedback from the commissioners, limiting the report to a "draft" status.

But generally, they urge in the report that the chairman have fewer subordinates reporting directly to him. Meanwhile, it encourages an increase in the amount of personnel a department head oversees, O'Looney said.

"A composite model reduces the span of control for the chairman but urges an increase in average span of control at the departmental level. Some departments already have effective spans of control, while others will need to increase that span over time," he said.

In the study's new model for Clayton County, the commission chairman would depend on general staff managers to filter the important departmental decisions from non-important ones.

At the heart of the restructuring, though would be a realignment of resources that downsizes the number of departments from 36 to 22, albeit the report does not suggest disposing any staff.

Instead, it advocates consolidating the components of the county's 29 county-run departments under fewer supervisors. The proposal would delegate more decision making to managers and would diverge from a practice in which the chairman must interact with too many managers from departments of varying sizes.

Constitutional offices are untouched by the report because they are state mandated offices, O'Looney said.

The consolidation would result in several new departments including a public works, an "enhanced" community development, a community services and learning, human resources, information technology, and a constituent services and organizational knowledge office.

Two of the county's larger departments, community development and transportation and development, would be reconfigured to fit under public works and an "enhanced" community development department. The new community development and engineering would also would absorb the economic development department.

Meanwhile, public works would take over several other transportation services including C-TRAN, Tara Field, fleet maintenance, building and maintenance, the warehouse, and refuse control.

Central services, which currently oversees county purchasing and the warehouse, would fall under the finance department.

The added constituent services department would provide a single point of contact for citizens to get in touch with any specific person they need, the study says. It also would track citizen feedback, complaints, and requests. O'Looney said other groups such as attorneys, media, interest groups, and neighborhood associations also would see an added benefit.

Carl Vinson researchers also urge in the report that the county update its technology by digitizing more of its documents, making its computer systems more congruent, and improving systems for audits and tax assessment.

The report advocates several other smaller changes to departments as well and provides several other models that contributed to the final composite recommendation.

For all that their recommendations, researchers admit in the study that there are some issues that "simply changing the organization or installing new technology will not necessarily address."

From their interviews, researchers recognized a need for more professional rapport between various departments to diminish communication barriers.

The study quotes one respondent saying, "Some department heads have not even met other department heads except perhaps at the recent luncheon given by the new administration. If the people knew each other, perhaps they would be more concerned about how their decisions for their department affect other departments."