POSTED ON JANUARY 12, 2011:
Ideas From Audit Imminent
Officials Expect First Report on City's Cost-cutting Priorities by End of January
The city's Management Review Office -- charged with evaluating a recent audit of all city services by the firm KPMG and making recommendations for implementing some of those findings -- should be ready to issue its first report to city officials by the end of the month, according to the mayor's chief of staff.
"I think, clearly, within the next 30 to 60 days, we should start to see action on some of the smaller, lower-hanging fruit," Terry Simonson said. "Hopefully, by late spring or early summer, some of those will have come to fruition."
District 9 City Councilor G.T. Bynum indicated he's eager to receive that report.
"Oh, yeah, I'm ecstatic to hear that," he said. "Somewhat similar to the PLANiTULSA process, it has seemed perhaps to many of us we got this wonderful report donated to us (by the Tulsa Community Foundation, which covered the cost of the study), and then it just kind of sat there for a while," he said. "I know they've been having lots of meetings, but we haven't see much action. I've been a little bit frustrated, so I'm excited to hear they're almost ready to bring forth some recommendations for us to act on."
That timetable coincides with the expectations Simonson expressed in September when the long-anticipated KPMG study was released. The 282-page study uncovered and reviewed 1,512 city services that are provided by 20 departments across the city. According to the study, 61 percent of those services are not mandated, leading many city officials -- including Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. -- to conclude a lot of them were unnecessary.
That would be welcome news for a city government that has struggled to make ends meet during a sharp economic downturn and was forced to implement a number of cost-cutting measures last year that included layoffs, furloughs and reductions in services.
Simonson -- who initiated the idea of having the study conducted on the first day of the Bartlett administration in December 2009 -- said when it was released on Sept. 9 that he thought it would be a few months before the newly created Management Review Office headed by city auditor Preston Doerflinger would be ready to issue a report on the two dozen or so recommendations it was charged with evaluating and prioritizing.
"We always expected, due to the massiveness of the report and the fact that it had 1,100 recommendations made in it, that we'd have to do quite a bit of verification and meeting with employees and manager, as well as installing software to track the cost and performance of some of these services," Simonson said. "We knew there would be quite a bit of infrastructure to implement and staff to train."
Doerflinger did not respond to an Urban Tulsa Weekly request for comment.
City officials acknowledged at the time of the study's release that the report could be viewed by some city employees as the first step in an effort to eliminate many of their jobs. Bartlett tried to alleviate those fears at the time by sending a letter to city employees on Sept. 8 in which he characterized the study's findings as opportunities, not mandates.
Doerflinger echoed the mayor's stand with his own message to city employees in September.
"The thing I want to convey is, it is possible to save money and save your job," he told UTW. "Our goal is not job elimination."
Since then, Simonson said, city leaders have continued their efforts to keep employees in the loop in regard to the study.
"The more we talk, the more we educate and the more we learn," he said. "Less people are threatened by it and are embracing the promise it holds. The purpose of this was not to lay people off. We didn't need to do a KPMG study to learn to lay people off."
Doerflinger cautioned citizens in September against expecting too much too soon from the study, indicating it would take months and years for the report to make its impact felt fully. Simonson backed up that assertion last week, though he said the participation of city workers has helped make a difference.
"There's still a lot to learn," he said. "People are taking more of a wait-and-see attitude, but what's helped us turn the corner has been the involvement of more and more employees and managers. I think they realize it's not happening to them, it's happening with them. We want them to realize they would be a big part of any implementation."
Bynum said the Management Review Office's report will come at a good time.
"It's good timing for us to begin doing this now," he said, noting the council soon will begin hearings on the municipal budget for the next fiscal year. "Any changes we can incorporate in the first half of the calendar year, we can have in place for the budget for the upcoming year."
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