What cities need to do if they are in startup mode
New cities are popping up in the U.S. A 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report estimated 17 new incorporations took place from 2010 to 2013. Brookhaven, Ga., in the northeastern suburbs of Atlanta, was incorporated Dec. 17, 2012. The city’s population is about 51,000.
GPN reached out to Brookhaven City Manager Christian Sigman to learn what steps cities need to take in their early years of development. Sigman has held the city manager’s post since this past June. He’s been in leadership roles in local governments for more than 30 years. Most recently he served as county administrator in Hamilton County, Ohio, where he led some 4,000 employees.
Brookhaven’s city charter spells out a variety of duties for its city manager. The charter notes that the city manager is responsible for the city’s day-to-day operations and management. The city manager is also responsible for directing Brookhaven’s 150 employees. “Running a city involves overseeing operations, organizational development, fiscal stewardship and policy implementation,” Sigman says.
On the budget front, about $160 million is earmarked for public works projects through Brookhaven’s various master plans. One of those projects is the Peachtree Creek Greenway — a proposed 12-mile multi-use trail that would stretch from the Atlanta beltline to Doraville, Ga., travelling parallel to the Buford Highway.
City officials are considering spending between $2.2 and $2.8 million in the latest fiscal year on paving and road construction. Other products on Brookhaven’s shopping list include: public safety equipment, computers, furniture, and vehicles, furniture, computers and phones. Below are Sigman’s views.
GPN: What’s it like creating a purchasing department in a startup city?
Christian Sigman: Lucky for me, my predecessor did it. The challenge is, you typically don’t have the controls and decision-making processes in place, and you are just hustling to get up and running. Sometimes there isn’t a process to follow; you just do it. And you have to get to the point where—purchasing is a process-driven activity—and sooner or later you have to document your purchasing processes and your filing and your record-keeping and all of that. To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t had a bid protest and we haven’t been sued. But you better have those policies in place before that happens, because litigation happens.
GPN: It probably helps if a city has skilled, trained, certified personnel on staff, if they are available.
CS: Very true. We have a really good purchasing team. Tyra Little is purchasing manager. We are getting the commodities and services we need and they are delivered to the right departments. So I have absolutely no problems.
GPN: Does Brookhaven use cooperative contracts or strategic sourcing to buy goods & services?
CS: Regarding purchases, yes we use cooperative contracts, whenever it’s advantageous to us. Those purchases can be via state contract, the federal General Services Administration or a neighboring jurisdiction that has a rider on their purchasing documents. We also use cooperative contracts through state associations, like the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA).
GPN: Are there any similarities between your work in Brookhaven and your career in Hamilton County, Ohio?
CS: This is my sixth city management job in 30 years. Procurement is the same everywhere you go. There’s always the issue of insurance coverage levels and those types of things. I’ve seen that in all six of them. I think we are a little bit more nimble here in Brookhaven compared to Hamilton County, because maybe our task orders are smaller. I think that’s probably the biggest difference.
GPN: Do you have any advice for communities that are in startup mode?
CS: I’d say that they need to definitely talk to their neighbors—i.e., They need to communicate with like-size cities within that state as well as similar cities within the metro area. Also, they need to check with state municipal associations. The Georgia Municipal Association for instance, offers a strong suite of services. State groups like the GMA can give your city a good start.