Bell reorganization to be eased in

By Justin Boron

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell on Tuesday addressed a recent study of the county government's organizational efficiency, saying he wants to ease in its recommendations gradually over the next two years.

Among other organizational changes, the study advocates reducing the number of county-run departments, modernizing the government's technology, streamlining its response to constituent concerns, and reviewing how much money the county spends on its personnel.

Bell said slowly implementing the changes - which could realign the county-run resources under as few as 14 department heads - would ensure that current staff members could contribute to the transition and calm any fears they have "for their jobs" or "of losing their authority."

Commissioners discussed parts of a report and presentation generated by officials at the Athens-based Carl Vinson Institute of Government, who were contracted to outline improved organizational practices for the county government. Adjourning with no clear consensus on how exactly to proceed with the study, the Board of Commissioners agreed to further review it and meet again at an undetermined date.

During the presentation, John O'Looney, a co-author of the study, stressed that the county's department heads are highly-capable and skilled in their jobs.

"You obviously have competent department heads," he said.

But nevertheless, the study by the University of Georgia's public service arm found Clayton County has too many departments, O'Looney said.

In a model that he said was the "best guess" at what might work for Clayton County, two of the county's larger departments, community development and transportation and development, would be reconfigured to fit under a new public works and an "enhanced" community development department.

The "enhanced" community development would include engineering services, the economic development department, planning and zoning, and traffic engineering. Essentially, O'Looney said it would create a "one-stop shop" for developers.

In addition to building and maintenance, the county warehouse, and refuse control, the new public works department would take over several other transportation services including C-TRAN, Tara Field, and fleet maintenance.

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

The suggested realignment of resources, O'Looney said, would improve efficiency by reducing the number of supervisors reporting to the commission. He said several departments would be placed under new larger departments, leaving them with the same responsibilities but transforming them into program managers.

However, Commissioner Charley Griswell said he has seen this type of structure before.

"Close to 30 years ago, we had the same thing you have up there," he said. "And it didn't work."

Commissioner Wolé Ralph also said he would like to ascertain levels of service needed before restructuring the government.

But Bell argued the first step toward reevaluating services would be to establish its structure.

"If you don't have anything to measure, then you're just guessing," he said.

The Carl Vinson officials said their study wasn't really geared toward determining service needs.

"If anything, we were impressed with the level of service provided," said Harry Hayes, another co-author of the study.

The presentation also highlighted the need for a constituent services and organizational knowledge department, which O'Looney said would track constituent's complaints and satisfaction with the government's service.

O'Looney said one staff member told him he 'spent a lot of time on the phone directing people where they needed to go.'

The new department would assign someone to take a constituent's complaint, tell them who would be calling them back, and then follow up with an e-mail confirming the person's concern had been documented.

The meeting also strayed from the presentation several times, evolving into a feedback and brainstorming discussion between commissioners.

Commissioner Virginia Gray raised problems with accountability and passing the buck regarding constituent services.

"A lot of these issues are just a matter of people taking care of their responsibility," she said.

At another point in the meeting, some of the commissioners blamed themselves for insufficient oversight of some of the various departments, committees, and authorities.

Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer said they board members should do a better job of overseeing them.

Bell said "that's one of the reasons the Development Authority was off track so far. You didn't know what they were doing."

Ralph also said he thought the problem applied to departments and the extent to which commissioners are informed of the issues that come up on business agendas.

"There needs to be more deliberation," he said.