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13 Takeaways from the City’s Performance Review 

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Scott Elmquist

It’s a party for your printer.

The mayor announced the completion of a performance review Thursday. Focus groups, individual interviews and surveys collected feedback from 35 city agencies during the last few months -- a process administered by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

It’s worth reading. The language is accessible, and the word “impactful” is used only once. Remember, City Hall is full of real people doing real work every day. This report was meant to focus on the problems, because people want things to improve. And they came up with 110 pages worth of improvements.

On second thought, maybe don’t print it. Here are some takeaways.

1. Participation in the surveys was low, though it varied. The lowest survey participation was from the Department of Parks, Recreation abd Community Facilities: only 9 percent. Police had 12 percent. And Department of Public Works 13. Props to Human Resources and Procurement Services for 59 percent each.

2. The push-pull between feedback the Richmond Police Department and Justice Services is interesting. The police cite frustrations with violent offenders being released on bond, but justice services wants to help keep people out of jail via programs like home monitoring and Social Services. Those contradict each other somewhat, though it’s a moot point -- it’s up to judges.

3. Internal dispute! This one from the Finance Department -- to sell or not to sell those tax-delinquent properties.

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4. Many departments reported frustrations with excessive bureaucracy and red tape in buying things, getting bills paid or making any sorts of changes to process. In Department of Public Works’ case, unpaid bills apparently have resulted in equipment being repossessed from construction sites.

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5. Nearly every department cited low morale, but the situation seemed particularly dire -- and perhaps overly articulated -- in Economic and Community Development (ECD). “The lack of empowerment at the director level and above has reportedly led to an approach to critical thinking defined as self-protective,” it reads. “Rather than handle and resolve certain things, individuals allegedly pass the problem on to their superiors or a related department to approve it, even when such approval isn't required. Employees gave several examples of key people avoiding making decisions so they can distance themselves from the outcomes that may be later criticized by the CAO, the Mayor and/or Council.”

6. Recommendations from this department included separating Economic Development from Community Development, and giving the administration and mayor access to their own legal counsel, as the city attorney works for City Council. The latter might require a change in the city charter.

7. The Minority Business Development Department thinks Economic and Community Development could be a little nicer to it:

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8. City Hall’s appearance is mentioned in the Economic and Community Development and Minority Business Development sections. But someone in the Planning Department seems to have a problem with people hanging around a public building:

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9. The folks in the Office of Community Wealth Building wish more people knew how cool they were:

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10. The Human Resources Department, like Willy Loman, wants to be well-liked:

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11. And the IT department can’t get any respect:

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12. Things people don’t like:

• RAPIDS: the “budgeting module cannot be utilized”

• The office of the City Attorney: “a backlog for legal documents”

• The city’s website: “needs to be more informative, interactive and user friendly”

13. The problem of departments operating in isolated silos is a recurring theme. But the performance review, while noting the problem, seems to exacerbate it by offering silo’ed recommendations. The broad recommendations at the beginning are compilations of recurring themes, not specific suggestions, like merging departments or staff changes. But, perhaps those simply weren't made public.

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