Learning from the private sector
The Delaware River Port Authority of Pennsylvania and New Jersey offers an example of the success managers in the public sector can attain when they take a few cues from the private sector. The authority, a bi-state public corporation with three business units that oversee the Port of Philadelphia and Camden, operates four bridges and a commuter rail system.
In 1995, the authority was not measuring up as an organization. Its staffing levels were too high, its budget was bloated, strategic planning was nonexistent, and the public’s perception of the organization was unfavorable.
The situation cried out for fresh ideas and new approaches, and a new management team came on board. It stopped looking at the authority as a government entity and began seeing it as a private company accountable to its customers.
The team’s first order of business was to get an outside view of the operation — routine procedure in the private sector. A leading national consulting firm produced 63 recommendations covering such areas as organizational structure, use of technology and managemenresults on their local access channel, Macomb County residents could log onto the web page and obtain additional details about the elections. For example, links displayed an overview of votes by municipality and by precinct. Within seconds of being tabulated in the clerk’s office, votes could be tracked online, down to the precinct level.
The web page gave residents the means to make sophisticated comparisons that once were available only through consultants. “I was impressed,” says Donald Worrell, director for the Mount Clemens Public Library. “It was well-organized and easy to understand at a glance.”
The web page was designed in partnership with the cable station, which is funded by the Mount Clemens Community School District and the city of Mount Clemens. The studios, located at the local high school, are used to teach media management and production. Both community and commercial projects are produced at the studios. For the web page, Macomb County paid less than $20,000 to cover professional and student design; the site was maintained in New York by a former Mount Clemens student.
The pilot project’s success has spawned an even more ambitious project for the 1998 fall elections. The cable station is designing a program that will allow online users to compare county election results by precinct, political party or geographic area. The user will be able to compare data in an individual-vs.-individual or individual-vs.-group format, and he or she will be able to display the comparison with a line graph, bar graph or pie chart.
The county also is considering hiring the cable station to design a web site that would allow the public to search databases, like business names, via the Internet. As it did with the elections web page, the county plans to have the site hosted remotely, thereby protecting its mainframe from intrusion while providing public information on a round-the-clock basis without adding staff.
“My goal is to continue to make public records easily available to residents, and [the web page] is making that possible,” Sabaugh says. “I am also pleased that this is in partnership with our local schools. We are investing in the future.”