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City Life: No, really, we need to look at efficiency

August 09, 2011|By Steve Smith

It is hard to believe that any resident of Costa Mesa could take issue with the concept of making the city more efficient, but that's what happened as a result of last week's column ("City Life: City could benefit from more efficiency").

To recap, I offered an example of a labor-intensive process that could be improved using existing technology, such as email.

The negativity was surprising, particularly at a time when most of us are tightening our belts at home and have a deeper understanding of the need to save money. Here is a sampling of some of the online comments:

Reader10: "I also don't think for a minute that Costa Mesa will embrace innovation from what I have seen with the disfunction [sic] going on per the media."

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Brocktoon: "Perhaps we could run it more like Taco Bell, who give [sic] me ten hot sauce packets for every single burrito I buy."

Bitterenemies: "I agree with this concept though you would be amazed how many people do not use email."

Perhaps the disconnect was the reference to running a city more like a business, even though I wrote that "more like a business" and "completely like a business" are different. I'm not in favor of running a city completely like a business, but there are some business principles from which any city could benefit.

Improving efficiency is the responsibility of everyone in the public or private sector. It is not enough to encourage efficiency — that's the easy part. The hard part is developing a culture of efficiency from the top all the way down to the lowest-paid employee.

That culture helps remove the "functional silos" that exist in many bureaucracies, silos that limit communication between departments to fail to promote the sharing of ideas and failures. There is as much value in knowing what does not work as there is in what does.

Unfortunately, the idea of continuous improvement has been drowned out in Costa Mesa by the nonstop vitriol between the City Council majority and the Orange County Employees Assn. And that's a shame because compensation and efficiency are not joined at the hip.

During the debate about employee compensation and layoffs, there should be a concurrent discussion about improving efficiency and investing in it, if necessary, because that investment will reap dividends over time.

Ongoing efficiency is a good idea at any time. But it is not enough for any executive or elected representative to say, "We must improve efficiency."

He or she must take the lead and set the proper example. It is only through that type of leadership that we can expect real innovation to take place.

"Reader10" could be right. There could be enough dysfunction to limit the embracing of efficiency improvements, but that doesn't mean the city should give up.

Unlike a private-sector business, Costa Mesa is spending dollars earned by people who have worked and contributed tax dollars. During this time, we should all remember who pays for every paper clip, every stapler and every light bulb in City Hall.

We must do what we can to provide taxpayers with the best possible return on their tax investment.

Residents of Costa Mesa, or any city, deserve no less.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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