American City and County – Government trends, case studies, best practices, exclusive analysis, and a broad scope of local and state government news. https://www.americancityandcounty.com Government trends, case studies, best practices, exclusive analysis, and a broad scope of local and state government news. Fri, 05 Jun 2020 18:56:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 Video analytics can help contact tracing, physical distancing, occupancy management and face mask detection https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/05/video-analytics-can-help-contact-tracing-physical-distancing-occupancy-management-and-face-mask-detection/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/05/video-analytics-can-help-contact-tracing-physical-distancing-occupancy-management-and-face-mask-detection/#respond Fri, 05 Jun 2020 18:50:27 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57790 BriefCam, a provider of video content analytics has announced new capabilities that will help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and support the safe and responsible re-opening across the country. New features to their system include:

  • Proximity Identification: For effective contact tracing and enforcing social distancing, v5.6.1 offers the ability to forensically review video to identify individuals who were in proximity to another individual for a determined duration of time, and to combine with Face Recognition and Appearance Similarity capabilities to determine if a person has been in contact with COVID-19 infected individuals. This enables users to quantify the proximity of people across time and location, compare across days and correlate with external data sources to ensure compliance with social distancing mandates.
  • Face Mask Detection: Provides the ability to search for people with or without a face mask, as well as detect and alert on face mask violations in real-time.
  • Occupancy Controller:  Enables users to maintain building occupancy requirements by setting rules to count people as they enter and exit a premises across multiple cameras and entry and exit points. When the threshold is met, an alert can be sent to access control solutions, security staff, VMS, or any other destination. Users can understand occupancy detail over time and location through business intelligence dashboards and prove compliance.

“Our video analytics platform has greatly expanded in its ability to offer new use cases for accelerating video investigations over the last year,” Tomer Saar, BriefCam vie president said in a statement. “During this pandemic we are proud to be able to offer organizations and businesses the critical tools through our proximity identification, face mask detection and occupancy controller capabilities to help them reopen their organizations and places of businesses while protecting their employees and customers.”

BriefCam v5.6.1 will be generally available in June 2020. Proximity Identification with real-time alerting as well as Face Mask Detection analysis and trending capabilities is planned for August 2020.

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DC mayor commissions ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural on street leading to White House, BLM organizers not impressed by ‘performative’ gesture https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/05/dc-mayor-commissions-black-lives-matter-mural-on-street-leading-to-white-house-blm-organizers-not-impressed-by-performative-gesture/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/05/dc-mayor-commissions-black-lives-matter-mural-on-street-leading-to-white-house-blm-organizers-not-impressed-by-performative-gesture/#respond Fri, 05 Jun 2020 18:10:24 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57782 In an attempt to show solidarity with protestors demanding police reform and justice for the black men and women killed by law enforcement, Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington D.C., had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive block letters on the road leading to the White House. She also renamed the painted section 16th Street “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”

“There was a dispute this week about whose street this is,” John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff, said in a tweet. “Mayor Bowser wanted to make it abundantly clear that this is DC’s street and to honor demonstrators who (were) peacefully protesting on Monday evening.”

The dispute Falcicchio referenced was a controversial photo-op held by President Trump in which the president walked from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. through Layfette Square Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church to say a few words of encouragement and strength while holding a Bible. To accomplish this, law enforcement was ordered to clear protesters from the president’s path – a move even some of Trump’s allies have criticized as both unconstitutional and unnecessarily violent, according to Politico.

The painting of the slogan coincided with Bowser sharing a letter addressed to the president in which Bowser informs him she has ended the state of emergency in the city and requests the withdrawal of “all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington, DC,” including the “unidentified federal personnel patrolling the streets…” Here the mayor is referring to reports of  troops wearing riot gear with no identifiable markings patrolling the nation’s capital.

On Friday morning, local artists and public work crews emblazoned the slogan in huge yellow letters spanning both lanes of traffic, CNN reports. While the project is visually striking, officials from one of the protest movement’s main organizers, Black Lives Matter, were not impressed by the display.

A tweet from the official D.C. chapter of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, dismissed the mayor’s actions, calling them empty gestures, NBC News reports.

“This is a performative distraction from real policy changes,” the tweet read. “Bowser has consistently been on the wrong side of BLMDC history. This is to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands. Black Lives Matter means defund the police.”

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Cities struggle to quell violence while protecting rights of protesters; some set curfews, others lift them https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/04/cities-struggle-to-quell-violence-while-protecting-rights-of-protesters-some-set-curfews-others-lift-them/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/04/cities-struggle-to-quell-violence-while-protecting-rights-of-protesters-some-set-curfews-others-lift-them/#respond Thu, 04 Jun 2020 21:54:01 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57775 While the leaders of numerous major American Cities have instituted curfews in hopes of preventing demonstrations from becoming violent, some are lifting the restrictions and others are standing opposed to enacting them in the first place.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Vi Lyles said curfews infringe on the rights of demonstrators to protest peacefully, according to The Charlotte Observer.

“I believe deeply that people should be allowed to protest,” Lyles said. “They should be able to protest within the law, and a curfew lifts that right.”

Numerous other cities, however, do not share Lyles’ sentiments. Minneapolis and St. Paul, the epicenter of the nationwide protest movement after the slaying of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin were among the first to enact city-wide curfews, according to Forbes. Others soon followed, including Atlanta, Detroit, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Richmond, Seattle, Birmingham and others.

Los Angeles leadership, however, has reversed course, LAist reports. After several days of mandating protestors disperse in the early evening, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the curfew would be lifted for Thursday. On Twitter, the mayor said, “we remain strongly committed to protecting the right of Angelenos to make their voices heard and ensuring the safety of our community.”

The decision comes on the heels of an announcement made by the American Civil Liberties Union that the organization would be filing suit on behalf of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and individual journalists, protesters and others against both the city and county of Los Angeles, the local NBC affiliate reports.

“The city and county of Los Angeles are attempting to use these curfews to suppress Black Lives Matter-L.A.’s right to protest,” Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of BLM-L.A., said in a statement. “They are attempting to suppress our ability to fully mobilize and focus full attention on the true issue of concern in the protests — police violence against black people.”

Several other cities have also lifted their curfews, including Carmel, Ind.,Reno, Nev., and Madison, Wis.

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Pressured by protests, Birmingham mayor removes controversial Confederate monument https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/03/pressured-by-protests-birmingham-mayor-removes-controversial-confederate-monument/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/03/pressured-by-protests-birmingham-mayor-removes-controversial-confederate-monument/#respond Wed, 03 Jun 2020 16:23:46 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57739 Cities across the country are experiencing civil unrest as protesters take to the streets, calling for police reform and justice in the killings of George Floyd and other black men and women. Response to these protests has been varied, but several communities are looking for ways to work with the protestors, to listen to their demands and act on them.

Earlier this week, protestors in Birmingham, Ala., successfully tore down and vandalized several confederate monuments in the city, finally setting their sights set on a five-story-tall, century-old monument to confederate troops that had become a touchstone of controversy in recent years, according to NPR. Rather than allow protestors to knock down the Confederate Sailors and Soldiers Monument – potentially putting themselves in harm’s way and damaging more property – Mayor Randall Woodfin instead begged the crowd to allow the city to remove it.

On Sunday, the mayor made a speech to the crowd at the monument site using a megaphone to amplify his voice. “Allow me to finish the job for you,” he asked, telling him the job would be done by midday on Tuesday. “I wanted you to hear it directly from me. But I need you to stand down.” City crews came in, and by Tuesday afternoon little remained of the obelisk.

However, Woodfin’s actions weren’t without detractors, and they even prompted legal consequence – the state’s Attorney General Steve Marshall announced a lawsuit against the city on Tuesday, stating the demolition of the monument was in violation of Alabama’s Memorial Preservation act, which was passed in 2017 to “protect architecturally significant buildings, memorial buildings, memorial streets and monuments located on public property for 40 or more years,” a local NBC affiliate reports.

A $25,000 fine is expected to be leveled against the city, as it was when the monument was partially covered in 2017 during protests related to the killing of Freddie Gray in Ferguson, Mo. the TV station reports. The mayor, however, stands behind his decision, telling AL.com he’s willing to accept the fine because it’s far lower than the cost of the civil unrest in the city.

In a press conference on Tuesday he said he was “very moved by the outpouring of support,” and said the monument’s removal is indicative of the city’s desire to heal, Newsweek reports.

“This action is a very, very powerful symbol of our city’s desire to move beyond the pain of the past and uniting into the future,” he said.

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City of Seattle’s Sound Transit Saves $2-Million Via Car Sharing https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/city-of-seattles-sound-transit-saves-2-million-via-car-sharing/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/city-of-seattles-sound-transit-saves-2-million-via-car-sharing/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2020 17:27:57 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57726 Seattle’s Sound Transit has slashed 115 vehicles from its non-revenue fleet thanks to vehicle sharing and fleet management technology.

The reductions are part of the transit agency’s initiative to operate its fleet and facilities more efficiently. Legacy processes were replaced, resulting in automated, streamlined access to vehicles for approximately 1,000 of the agency’s staff. A savings of more than $2 million has been realized for taxpayers since launching the initiative in 2013, and the savings continue to grow. Read their success story and find out how they did it, and how you can too.

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AC&C Special Report: American cities & counties grapple with fallout from COVID-19 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/acc-special-report-american-cities-counties-grapple-with-fallout-from-covid-19/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/acc-special-report-american-cities-counties-grapple-with-fallout-from-covid-19/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2020 17:16:37 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57722

In early May, American City & County Editor Derek Prall discussed the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak with Brooks Rainwater, director of the National League of Cities’ Center for City Solutions and Teryn Zmuda, deputy chief innovation officer and chief economist for the National Association of Counties’ County Innovations Lab.

This podcast is brought to you by Library Systems & Services.

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How Clerks Can Lead Digital Transformation in Their Office https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/how-clerks-can-lead-digital-transformation-in-their-office/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/how-clerks-can-lead-digital-transformation-in-their-office/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2020 17:10:29 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57695 For municipalities, digital transformation means the days of phone calls and walk-ins are quickly becoming as antiquated as landlines and fax machines. It means citizens no longer think exclusively of engagement as one-on-one personal interactions, but instead, they are thinking of obtaining information and submitting requests with a digital-first mindset. It means your citizens—and your voters—are demanding new experiences and greater access to data, while your employees want greater work-related application convenience and the ability to utilize the systems and tools they need to accomplish their job functions from anywhere, on any Internet-enabled device. In this white paper you’ll learn:

  • Why Municipalities Should Embrace Digital Transformation
  • How Clerks Can Lead Their Communities Through Digital Transformation
  • How to be a Change Agent in the Era of Digital Transformation

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Advice from the Experts: Asset Management for Cities & Counties https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/advice-from-the-experts-asset-management-for-cities-counties/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/advice-from-the-experts-asset-management-for-cities-counties/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2020 16:54:41 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57699 A key item on the to-do list before implementing a new asset management system is identifying your asset data. Once you know where all of your asset data is located, it is time to think about all the departments in your city or county organization who will be using this new application. In this white paper, asset management experts provide answers to common questions cities and counties ask before implementing a new asset management system.

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7 tips for choosing a local government content management system https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/7-tips-for-choosing-a-local-government-content-management-system/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/02/7-tips-for-choosing-a-local-government-content-management-system/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2020 16:49:06 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57702 There are 7 factors to consider when choosing a content management system for your website. Learn what you need to keep your digitally-minded citizens engaged.

Today’s citizens have high expectations. They want total flexibility to access local news, information, resources, and tools at any time of the day or night, from any Internet-enabled device. If you need a new content management system (CMS) but don’t know where to begin, you should know that there are seven vital factors when choosing a modern solution.

  1. Omni-Channel Communication Flexibility

It’s no longer enough to offer a responsive website and an accompanying mobile app. Local governments must use a wide variety of communication channels to reach citizens. Such channels include mobile apps, social media, wearables, smart home devices, digital road signage, kiosks, and whatever the IoT thinks of next. Make sure you are choosing a CMS that will allow you to create content one time and publish it to multiple channels.

  1. Built-In API Integrations

The only way to keep pace with growing citizen demands is to ensure your software stack allows for data sharing. Make sure you are choosing a CMS with built-in application program interface (API) integrations. Such functionality will allow you to link your CMS to other key systems, such as your accounting system, calendar, email, social media platforms, and team collaboration tools, serving as a workforce multiplier, and allowing you to do more, with less.

  1. Intuitive Core Publishing Functionality

When reviewing CMS options, consider how easy it is to add basic content. If basic page editing requires advanced tech skills, then you can expect such a CMS to be too time-consuming and technical to offer you ideal flexibility. You need a system that allows you to do your job efficiently, and then frees up your time for other responsibilities.

  1. Customizable Branding

Every page of your municipal website should adhere to your brand guidelines. To accomplish this without custom designing each page, the most valuable CMS platforms will allow for the design of an overarching brand using a behind-the-scenes default style template.

5. Built-In Search Functionality

Many of your website users are going to want to search for the specific content they’re looking for, rather than scanning menu options to find information. Make sure any CMS you choose offers a reliable built-in search tool. Ask prospective vendors how frequently the CMS indexes new content within the site map, if it indexes attached files, such as documents, and how the search feature ranks results.

  1. Dynamic Content Capabilities

Video is one of the best ways to engage with website visitors. Your CMS must allow you to easily incorporate videos into your website, whether you are linking to an external video sharing site such as YouTube, or displaying embedded videos. Consider it a bonus if your CMS allows you to stream live video of community events as they happen.

7. Role-Based Permissions

Even if you are a one-person communication team, imagine the potential of letting individual departments edit or update their page content. Such functionality will streamline your workflows and ensure better accuracy and timeliness of new content. An ideal CMS will allow a single super-user administrator to set various permission levels based on role or department. You may want to give some department managers the ability to edit but not publish content, however, or you may want to limit their ability to update only certain pages.

If you’re ready to get started with your community’s website redesign, download our local government website redesign toolkit.

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COVID-19: A new normal means a new approach to local government https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/01/covid-19-a-new-normal-means-a-new-approach-to-local-government/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/01/covid-19-a-new-normal-means-a-new-approach-to-local-government/#respond Mon, 01 Jun 2020 20:09:34 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57713 Since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of our country, an unprecedented 38.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment – and that number is growing. To add to the economic devastation, a quarter of small businesses don’t expect to survive and another third are skeptical of their ability to reopen in the coming months.

Concurrently, an alarming report by the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute found that nearly 40% of the lay-offs associated with the pandemic may be permanent – consistent with a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that found 40 percent of small businesses fail to reopen after a disaster.

This crisis has touched government on every level from Congress to municipalities. While local governments await much-needed federal aid, it is likely that any financial relief will not be enough to return to where we once were.

In Lehigh County, Pa., our region is banding together to figure out a way we can not only survive – but thrive – in a post-pandemic world. Outlined here is where we are and where we aspire to go, in the hopes that our plan will give other local government officials ideas for how they can help their communities make it to the other side of this crisis.State of the state: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is over 15 percent as of May 22 – the highest recorded since 1983. Nowhere is this crisis grossly exacerbating existing problems than in the cultural industries that enrich resident’s quality of life and make the Lehigh Valley competitive.

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council found that pre-coronavirus, arts and cultural industries experienced a 3.3% decline in revenue while Pennsylvania overall saw a 25% increase. Meanwhile, many of the institutions and philanthropists that have historically supported these industries have exhausted their funds or ceased to exist – gifts have declined by almost 10%.

It is unsurprising that the statewide “Stay at Home” order has further diminished the strength of the creative economy in Lehigh County and is threatening to undermine the economic competitiveness of the Lehigh Valley in the long-run.

The COVID-19 pandemic in-and-of itself would have been devastating enough if it didn’t occur with the parallel inefficiencies of raising revenue in Pennsylvania’s municipalities: Even during times of broad economic growth, many communities were already effectively treading water – limiting their ability to save, invest in themselves, and pay down long-term liabilities.

In Lehigh County, specifically, a 2017 study found that Lehigh County’s tax burden increased between 1990 and 2014. In some instances, tax burden grew by over 40%.

The coronavirus pandemic has only deepened these financial problems not only for Lehigh County, but for municipalities across the nation in similar predicaments. And so now, the question for local policymakers is simple: How do we build the bridge to the post-coronavirus world in a way that addresses the long-term structural issues of municipal finances while setting the foundation for broad-based economic recovery?

Pittsburgh: A successful case study

Fortunately, we didn’t have to look far for a roadmap of how to address further economic destruction to Lehigh County’s cultural industries: The Regional Asset District (RAD) created a 1 percent sales tax county-wide in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh – allocating the funds toward investing in local cultural assets as well as municipal finances. Fifty percent of the new revenue went to local libraries and parks as well as larger tourist attractions like the Pittsburgh Zoo and the National Aviary.

The RAD has been a resounding success. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County routinely “punch above their weight” in terms of arts-related job creation and total industry spending, coming in at 28 and 30, respectively, out of 194 metropolitan regions. The RAD accounts for about 71% of all public investments of the arts. Additionally, the distribution of money allowed 114 of the county’s municipalities to reduce their local millage rate while also investing in infrastructure and public safety.

This investment in the arts has made Allegheny County one of the most competitive places in the country – the Economist Intelligence Unit listed Pittsburgh as the second most livable city in 2018, affordability and the creative economy were major factors in that ranking.

Lehigh County’s prosperity proposal

Pointing to Pittsburgh’s success, we’ve proposed a similar model in Lehigh County – the Regional Prosperity District (RPD). The current proposal calls for between 1-1.5 percent county-wide sales tax increase and a modest .1-.5 percent personal income tax – which would generate an estimated $90-120 million a year in additional revenue.

The funds would be divided as such: 25 percent would go to the Regional Investment Fund (RIF) which would invest in everything from parks and trails to theaters and libraries; 25 percent would go to the local county government or school districts; and 50 percent would go towards local municipalities, allocated through an equation used to measure tax distress, and could be used to fund pensions, police departments, and infrastructure.

We believe this proposal rises to the occasion of the economic crisis and sets Lehigh County up for long-term success:

First, it’s geared towards job creation, and the creative economy has a strong economic multiplier: Americans for the Arts found that each arts patron in the Lehigh Valley spends $28.33 per visit – excluding the cost of admission – which supports restaurants, retailers, and even babysitters. Additionally, for every $100,000 spent by patrons of the arts, three-and-a-half jobs are created.

Moreover, the RIF could invest in job incubators and start-up firms on a sizeable scale.  The creative economy that deals primarily with knowledge, technology, and human creativity has a one-to-five multiplier. Local job creation stemming from existing or new firms accounts for almost 90% of all jobs. Investing in these industries ensures we improve the metrics that define livability, maintain competitiveness, and rebuild much of the economy that will be lost.

Second, the money allocated to municipalities eliminates the structural limitations of tax base constraints that distresses many of Pennsylvania’s communities. This allows for additional revenue, which is regionally-sourced, to be invested in property tax relief and improved local services.

Today, the primary tool we have to finance these initiatives is a property tax – highly unpopular and limited by municipal boundaries. The RPD is the tool we need to invest in ourselves – ensuring we create economic growth, revitalize the local economy, and aid our struggling communities.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Regional Prosperity District and how it is currently structured, read the full proposal here.

Mark Pinsley is  the Lehigh County, Pa., Controller. Joshua Siegel is an Allentown, Pa. City Councilman.

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An American crisis: Riots break out across the country https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/01/an-american-crisis-riots-break-out-across-the-country-in-response-to-police-brutality-and-systemic-racism/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/01/an-american-crisis-riots-break-out-across-the-country-in-response-to-police-brutality-and-systemic-racism/#respond Mon, 01 Jun 2020 19:48:21 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57708 Tempers boiled over across the country this weekend as protests in dozens of cities turned violent leading to property damage, loss of life and increasing tensions between the police and the communities they’re charged with protecting.

But to understand the chaos, we have to understand what brought us to this point.

George Floyd’s Death – The Tipping Point

On May 25, a black man named George Floyd was killed while in Minneapolis Police custody. Videos of the arrest surfaced which depict a white officer – Derek Chauvin – kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as he pleads for his life. Three other officers were on the scene, and all four have been fired. Chauvin faces third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges, CNN reports.

The video appalled viewers, who took to the streets in protest. While demonstrators were demanding justice for Floyd, many also protested the killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and Ahmaud Arbey in Brunswick, Ga. For many, these deaths are indicative of widespread systemic racism and a broken American justice system.

The Protests, Riots and Mounting Tensions

The weekend saw numerous protests across the country – many of which turned violent. Police cars were torched in Atlanta, and businesses were looted in Minneapolis. In Louisville, a demonstrator was shot and killed by police, who claim they were returning fire on the crowd. Scores of videos have hit social media depicting scenes of chaos and violence, and numerous states of emergency have been declared, with many governors activating the National Guard and over a dozen cities setting curfews.  

Protests in the nation’s capital became so violent, President Donald Trump was moved to the White House’s underground bunker Friday night and the Pennsylvania Avenue resident’s lights were turned off.

While the costs of the damage are yet unknown, it’s safe to assume it’s in the multiple millions. However, property hasn’t been the only thing damaged. Faith in America’s institutions has been shaken to the core.

Local Leaders Respond, Trump Fans the Flames

President Trump is putting pressure on state and local leadership to get the protests under control. “Most of you are weak,” Trump told governors and law enforcement officials on a Monday morning call. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time,” said. “They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”

The president also took to Twitter, seemingly suggesting that demonstrators could be shot if property damage continues. In a message decrying the violence, Trump referred to demonstrators as “Thugs” and said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The phrase was used by Miami’s Police Chief in 1967 when putting down a riot, and presidential candidate and segregationist George Wallace the following year, NBC reports.

Trump’s response has been criticized by many, including long-time political adversary, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who accused the president of trying to “foment violence.” The mayor did not mince words in her response.

“We see the game he’s playing because it’s so transparent and he’s not very good at it. He wants to show failures on the part of Democratic local leaders to throw red meat to his base. His goal is to polarize, to destabilize local government and inflame racist urges. And we can absolutely not let him prevail,” Lightfoot said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “I will code what I really want to say to Donald Trump. It’s two words: It begins with F and ends with YOU.”

Lightfoot isn’t the only local leader to scrap with Trump over the past week. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington D.C. lashed out over the president’s criticism that she was not providing city police officers to help on Friday night, a claim she’s denied.

“While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” she wrote. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone …”

Despite the chaos and destruction, many local leaders are looking to a more positive future – although that future is unsure, it’s clear changes must occur. Speaking to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said there are no easy answers, but violence is not the answer.

“We know the frustration is still there and all of the issues and all of the concerns and anger that were there on Friday haven’t gone away, The mayor said. “But this is more of a systematic issue that we’re facing. That’s going to take time for us to address. But certainly acknowledging the death, the death of so many innocent people in America, and it’s — there are no easy answers… [but] the solution is not to destroy our cities.

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The art of a graffiti-free city https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/01/the-art-of-a-graffiti-free-city/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/06/01/the-art-of-a-graffiti-free-city/#respond Mon, 01 Jun 2020 19:41:26 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57707 Cities across America are struggling with the effects of graffiti at an annual cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. To exasperate the problem, some areas of the country are actually embracing “graffiti art.” Are these cities throwing in the towel – simply giving up on the prevention and control of graffiti?

In the communities where graffiti isn’t allowed, tolerated or even an option, cost-effective ways to remove, prevent and repel graffiti are available.

Graffiti littering their buildings can decrease property values as well as incur owners the costs of repairing the damage. Left on buildings, graffiti can cause merchants to lose business, because it can give shoppers a sense of insecurity. To some, graffiti may signal that a community is losing control or that no one cares. This, in turn, leads to more vandalism and property damage.

Graffiti can cause mechanical/structural problems as well. Many times, graffiti is simply covered by a coat of paint, which invites a separate set of problems. The proper type of coating, designed for these types of walls, is not always used.

If the building is not painted and is a natural masonry or concrete surface, it has been designed as such. If such a surface were to be painted, it would change how the building breathes, sheds and holds moisture. When masonry or concrete stores moisture during freeze-thaw cycles, it breaks down and falls apart. It also can promote mold formation within the wall system. This eventually causes overall structural damage to the building.

Corrosion of steel reinforcing within these walls also occurs when moisture is trapped. When overlooked, it will become a major problem. In short, a simple “tagged” wall can result in serious structural damage, depending on how the graffiti is addressed.

Sections of masonry and concrete facades are routinely replaced, many due to graffiti damage. Finding a matching material is often impossible. If you to take masonry units off one side of a building and compare them to the opposite side, they would no longer match. Sections of masonry age and weather differently. If you pay attention to structures in your local community, you will be able to identify patches and repairs. The replaced material will look similar to the original, but is recognizably different. This can be as much of an eyesore as is graffiti, and expensive, to boot.

But this masonry conundrum is avoidable. Preventative maintenance against and proper removal of graffiti are the best defenses. Graffiti repellents are a great method of preventative maintenance, since they act as in invisible barrier to protect the surface of masonry and concrete.

Unlike many paints used to cover up graffiti, these barriers are breathable and prevent moisture storage. They work as a water repellent against driving rains and sprinkler systems. They assist in UV protection and protect against the natural buildup of pollutants and staining.

In most cases, when a wall with a graffiti repellent is tagged, that graffiti can simply be washed off with a pressure washer. The sooner it is cleaned, the easier it comes off. Without the repellent, paint is quite difficult to remove from such porous surfaces. Some paint removers are designed specifically for masonry, and many of these products can remove multiple layers of paint without harming the bare masonry.

Remember, masonry is a material with the capability to have a remarkably long lifespan. I previously laid brick for 18 years and am a fourth-generation bricklayer. In the Utah town where I live, many buildings feature my great grandfather’s workmanship, still standing today. By protecting and preserving our structures, we are preserving history. Our local buildings, communities and neighborhoods can remain appealing, prosperous and functional.

Jayson Kellos is Architectural Representative, Western Region, for Hohmann & Barnard/Diedrich by MiTek.

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A pandemic, remote work and ‘the new normal’ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/27/a-pandemic-remote-work-and-the-new-normal/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/27/a-pandemic-remote-work-and-the-new-normal/#respond Wed, 27 May 2020 20:21:16 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57688 The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of our society – including the way local government workforces perform their day-to-day operations. The virus forced employees out of their offices and into their homes. Essential workers have staggered their shifts and limited their interaction with the public and each other. Remote work has become the norm, and virtual service delivery has become critical, leaving many communities scrambling to digitize services.

However, the pandemic might also be an opportunity to reassess the way we think about the way the work of local government is performed. Questions of how, why and where abound. One thing is for certain, though, this is a turning point for government, and it’s up to local leaders to determine what the new normal will look like.

The importance of policy

The workplace policies most local governments] had in place prior to the pandemic were really meant for in-person engagements Ryan Park, state and local government marketing manager at Laserfiche, says. “As the shift to remote work has taken place, it’s definitely caused a disruption in being able to effectively and collaboratively work from home.”

However, despite these dramatic changes in how and where the work is being performed, it’s still the ultimate goal of local government to provide programs and services to their residents as efficiently as possible and at the best return on investment for their tax dollars, Jason Grant, director of advocacy at the International City/County Management Association, says. Although the current situation has necessitated less face-to-face interaction, the work of local government still needs to be accomplished – we don’t have the luxury of closing up shop to wait this out, he says.

While there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to these workforce transitions, it’s important to ask how we will manage the needs of the people and protect local government employees while following the guidance coming from the leaders in the state and federal governments as well as the scientific community, Grant says. This balancing act should be at the core of every decision made during the pandemic.

With this in mind, Grant says there are a lot of opportunities for re-imagining how local governments accomplish their work, and various communities are approaching the challenges differently. “Some immediately implemented telework, some didn’t. For some it was necessary, for some it wasn’t,” he says. Some communities were better prepared for this transition than others – they had the IT infrastructure in place, they had the crisis management plans written.  “The challenges or obstacles will be different from locality to locality,” Grant adds.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t best practices for managing decentralized teams. For these lessons, it’s helpful to look at both private and public sector entities that were implementing remote work structures before the pandemic.

The transition to telework and virtual service delivery

“If you’re going to use telework, there are certain things you need to have in place,” Grant says. “One is your management practices and your personnel policies.” During this period of transition, these policies must be clearly defined, and they need to be robust. Employees need to have defined communication paths to their supervisors; they need to know how they will be submitting deliverables in the new virtual environment. Expectations need to be clear, and communication needs to be open and frequent.”

Ryan Changcoco, head of management development and industry verticals at the Association for Talent Development, adds that once the process is identified for how work gets done, it is important to set expectations and guidelines for discussing and sharing milestones. “Managers and leaders should set meetings dedicated to discussing these milestones and expectations, Changcoco says. Additionally, implementing project management tools that you can share with your direct reports, such as Trello, Asana, Monday, or MS Project. Something as simple as a shared spreadsheet can help keep everyone on the same page with regards to projects and important deliverables.”

Communication is also critical, Changcoco says. “In a virtual work environment, impromptu meetings, office drop-ins, and hallway conversations are not an option. However, consistent communication is still key to setting expectations and making a virtual arrangement work for teams,” he explains. “As the team’s manager, it is up to you to determine the proper channels that your team should use for effective communications. There are many technology solutions to help bridge the connection gap, and when all else fails, there is no reason not to go old school and pick up the phone and place a call or send a text.”

Grant also cautions that just because someone might be working from a remote location, that doesn’t relieve their department from their legal and regulatory responsibilities as an employer. “If someone needs accommodations, those accommodations need to be met in some way. If someone is teleworking, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any obligations for the local government…” Grant says. “There are basic operational and policy items that need to be put in place first to manage operations.”

The pandemic, however, has necessitated making these changes on much tighter timelines than normal. This means there needs to be some level of prioritization. Beyond having strong personnel policies in place, Grant suggests considering the best use of IT resources and the security of connections between employees. “What you need to prioritize will be dependent on your particular situation,” he says. “Different communities are in different phases of this.”

Training during this process, however, is critical. Russell Narahara, management analyst for Laguna Niguel, Calif., says using virtual platforms to train city employees is crucial for the success of work-from-home programs and helping to transition critical services into virtual spaces.

“It has been a challenge,” Narahara says. “It’s a challenge to actually deploy these solutions and train staff to use them. How we’re accomplishing that is using remote platforms. Where we would typically have a kick-off meeting with all the city staff in one location, we’re starting to record videos to show how solutions work.”

These video training modules are short, and deal with one concept at a time, Narahara says. Instead of giving employees hours of training materials, they are presented with what they need to know when they need to know it. While this hasn’t made the transition seamless, it’s certainly made it easier.

And while the adaptation of new technology to maintain productivity is difficult, Changcoco says it’s not the only hurdle.

“The key to a successful transition is more about finding and sticking to a process that works for them to maintain productivity, Changcoco says. “It’s important for people to understand that the fluidity of the at-home workday will have way more peaks and troughs because of the personal challenges that many face.”

Offering advice to leaders going through this transition, Changcoco says it’s important to be nimble and flexible. “Focus on setting expectations, over-communicating, and connecting,” he says. “Be hyper-aware about not being in the office and do your best to listen intently.  When doing meetings or check-ins, try to use the video function if that is something that you are open to. It helps with reading facial expressions and body language.”

The new normal

“I think by and large in society – government, private sector – you’re going to see a shift,” Grant says, explaining that for the past few months, people have been forced to live in a more online world. Adjusting to this “new normal” might impact the way these people want government to deliver services. This might be an opportunity for local governments to adapt to the changing demands of the constituents they serve.

Additionally, Grant says that while there is a desire to return to a pre-pandemic normal, remote work has been successful. “Most of what we’re hearing now is that those jobs that have transitioned to telework have been working well,” he says. There’s not a rush to reopen buildings and get employees back to perform the functions of government – the adoption of remote work has pretty successfully bridged the gaps where it was needed. “I think you will see governments asking, “what does that new normal looks like?”” he adds. “For some, there will be increased teleworking.”

The future of increased telework might be inevitable, but Changcoco says that doesn’t mean it will be overly disruptive to government processes. “Process and structure are the backbone of success for all work environments, both in-person and virtual,” he says. “Transitioning to the “new normal” does not mean that you must re-invent the wheel. It means that you need to modify it to better suit your vehicle.”

For Park, that means acting on the opportunity to bring face-to-face interaction into the virtual space. “Through this disruption, a lot of essential services that were designed for in-person meetings can be brought online and made virtual,” he says. “This is how we keep civic life going during the pandemic and beyond.”

The human element

It’s easy to think of governmental operations as faceless, monolithic tasks that must be accomplished, but in these times it’s particularly important to remember the work of local government is performed by people. These are people with friends and families, hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties. Change is challenging for people, and it’s especially difficult when the impetus of that change is a global health crisis. Managers, department heads and team leads need to be cognizant of this and practice empathy wherever possible.

“Managers need to reach out to their staff to have one-on-one conversations with them to make sure they’re heard,” Grant says. They need to ask their employees what their needs are, what their concerns are and how the team can adjust to make them feel both productive and secure. “It’s on managers to reach out – to have those real conversations with people,” he says, adding that many local governments have assistance programs available – mental health or otherwise. It would be a good idea for leaders to familiarize themselves with what their organizations offer so if a team member is struggling, they can get the help they need.”

Managers need to realize that their team members are under extreme stress, Changcoco says, so it’s important to watch out for signs of burnout. “The lack of connection due to social distancing can take a toll on people,” he says. “Pair this with personal challenges faced at home and the overall changes that are happening at work; this is a formula that causes a great deal of stress on any individual.”

The positives in a pandemic

These are unprecedented times. These are challenging times, and for far too many, these are terrible times. However, that doesn’t mean these times are hopeless.

One of the silver linings, Narahara says, is that this is an opportunity to take a hard look at the way we do things in local government and ask tough questions about those processes. The pandemic has been disruptive to the idea of “this is how we’ve always done it,” and it’s a chance to rethink entrenched processes.

Ultimately though, for Grant, the positive takeaway here is the continued willingness of local government leaders and employees to rise to the occasion. “The biggest thing you see is local governments striving to continue serving their communities,” he says. “We’re still meeting the needs of the people. That’s what we do.”

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Public office from the home office https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/27/public-office-from-the-home-office/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/27/public-office-from-the-home-office/#respond Wed, 27 May 2020 20:08:54 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57684

On March 10, San Rafael, Calif., officials began looking into holding virtual public meetings, according to San Rafael City Clerk Lindsay Lara.

As the threat of the novel coronavirus outbreak loomed, city officials figured that people would prefer to not physically come to meetings. Nevertheless, officials wanted to give those people an opportunity to have their voices heard.

To Lara’s office at the time, providing the option of attending a virtual city council meeting seemed like, “it was just going to be this thing we were offering that was kind of above and beyond what anyone else was going to be offering,” she says.

Three days later, President Donald Trump would declare a national emergency concerning the coronavirus outbreak. Six days after that, California Governor Gavin Newsom would issue a statewide shelter in place order. By March 26, America would lead the world in confirmed coronavirus cases.

As the outbreak has continued to pummel the country, it has thrust the local public meeting — like many American institutions — into uncharted territory.

Within that territory, it has faced a feasibility crisis: how can a public meeting be held if meeting in public is dangerous or even illegal? How can this cornerstone of American democracy function while following shelter in place and social distancing rules? Digital technology has proven to be the public meeting’s saving grace in the age of COVID-19.

Within days of being brainstormed, San Rafael’s idea for holding virtual public meetings shifted from being a luxury for residents to being a necessity for many local governments.

As the shift from in-person meetings to virtual ones continues to sweep the U.S., local governments that have adopted virtual public meetings are continuing to discover what methods and practices work best for holding them from one’s home.

This shift hasn’t been without its bumps. For instance, a virtual Chicago City Council meeting held on April 24 erupted into exclamations of profanity and accusations of misbehavior between officials, a Chicago Sun-Times report shows.

“Well, obviously having virtual City Council meetings has its moments,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said after the meeting, according to the newspaper.

Additionally, multiple local governments have reported being Zoom bombed, which refers to individuals intruding into video conferencing meetings held on platforms like Zoom. These intrusions often result in the intruders shouting obscenities or streaming pornography onto participants’ screens.

“It was kind of scary to delve into this realm,” Lafayette, Colo., Communications Director and Assistant to the City Administrator Debbie Wilmot says. “We weren’t quite sure how that was going to work, especially with a lot of the stories that we had been hearing of the Zoom bombers coming in and creating a ruckus for meetings and having to close down meetings.”

However, as the coronavirus outbreak threatened the country, the Lafayette City Council wanted its meetings to remain transparent and to allow as much public participation as possible, Wilmot says. So, officials decided to convene all council members and city staff presenters into a Zoom meeting.

The meetings can be viewed in a few ways — people can watch meetings on the government’s cable access channel, as a live stream on the city’s website, by logging into Zoom and watching it there by calling in through
a phone line or watching a recorded version on the government’s website the following day, Wilmot says.

Residents can also participate in public comment during meetings by calling in on a phone line, by watching the meeting on Zoom or by submitting written comments before the meeting, which are read during the meeting, according to Wilmot.

“We just looked at it from a perspective of accessibility for everyone,” she says of the multiple ways for participation. “If somebody didn’t have computer access for instance, we wanted to give them the opportunity to call in on their landline if that was the only mode of communication they would have.”

Lafayette is using a paid version of Zoom and has security protocols in place that have kept them secure from Zoom bombings so far, Wilmot says.

Similarly, San Rafael uses the paid Zoom Webinar as a way for residents to participate in its virtual meetings via phone. One of its strategies to keep Zoom bombers out is by not allowing people to share their screen, to use video or to use the chat feature in Zoom meetings. In doing so, San Rafael officials are really just making their meetings unattractive for Zoom bombers to disrupt, Lara says.

In addition to Zoom Webinar, the city streams its virtual meetings via YouTube Live, which also allows people to issue public comments in real-time via the live chat, Lara says.

For Lara, one of the most important things that San Rafael staff did to prepare for virtual meetings was conducting ample testing. “We were testing like every day, testing nonstop. We were testing the [open broadcaster streaming software] we were using as the connector between Zoom and YouTube,” Lara says. “We were testing our overlays, we were testing latency… we moved to a gigabit fiber connection to increase our internet speeds significantly.”

Testing extended to training the council and the mayor — Lara did one-on-one test runs with individual council members to ensure that their sound, lighting, angles and backgrounds would appear professional for virtual public meetings.

Nonstop testing is the first thing that Lara recommends as far as best practices for virtual public meetings goes. This includes chat functions, phone lines, feedback loops and more. Communicating instructions and any nuances of virtual meetings to constituents is also important.

Lara says the most important best practice is to create a script for the city council to follow and sharing it with the entire legislative body. People talking over each other can be an issue in virtual meetings, and not having social cues to pick up on can be difficult in figuring out when someone wants to speak.

Creating a script however, made meetings simple and straightforward to follow.

“I think that provided a good amount of comfort and structure to the meeting,” Lara says. “It allowed the mayor to be able to truly manage the meeting in the way that he would be able to in person. And it also I think, just gave comfort to everyone who was participating, to have [a] very clear guide on how the meeting was going to be run throughout the process.”

Dane County, Wis., has taken the concept of a script one step further — its staff have compiled an online toolkit to detail the best practices county officials have used in holding virtual public meetings, as well as discoveries that officials have made in the process.

Dane County certainly has expertise in the matter —its first virtual public meeting was held on March 19. After Dane County Board of Supervisors Chair Analiese Eicher made a Facebook post of herself and the county clerk running the first remote meeting on the GoToMeeting platform, she says that she received lots of inquiries about the meeting.

County staff decided that since they had been building a toolkit for themselves, “how about we do something that’s a little more public facing so that other communities don’t have to go through the trial and error that we went through in making this happen,” Eicher says.

For Dane County, a successful meeting has multiple components, according to the toolkit. Several of
these components relate to the pre-planning of the meeting. Essential staff should hold a conference call after the meeting has been set to determine the staff’s roles. Only essential items should go on the meeting agenda. Motions should be arranged ahead of time.

Participants should join the meeting 10 to 15 minutes before the start, and registration information should be monitored, collected and shared with the chair and staff five to 10 minutes before the meeting’s start, according to the toolkit.

Once the meeting has started, a verbal roll call should be conducted, and the chair should subsequently make virtual public meeting etiquette announcements. Robert’s Rules of Order and Board should be followed, as well.

For Eicher, the transition to virtual meetings has been an easy one, she says. Incidentally, prior to the outbreak, the Dane County Board had been discussing how to facilitate supervisors’ remote participation in meetings to allow for travel, family issues or medical issues that could crop up and prevent a supervisor from attending meetings in-person.

Changes derived from those discussions passed during the county’s April 21 meeting. So, while Eicher admits she’s very much looking forward to having in-person meetings again, these virtual public meeting-related best practices and procedures could present utility beyond just holding virtual public meetings during a global pandemic.

“I think everyone is really ready to come back together and to be together in person,” Eicher says. “But I do think it’s useful and helpful, particularly from an accessibility standpoint, that we have made some changes to our rules and ordinances to allow more remote participation.”

To view the Dane County Remote Public Meeting Toolkit, click here.

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Using data to make better decisions on project selections and schedules under CARES Act https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/22/using-data-to-make-better-decisions-on-project-selections-and-schedules-under-cares-act/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/22/using-data-to-make-better-decisions-on-project-selections-and-schedules-under-cares-act/#respond Fri, 22 May 2020 18:36:29 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57629 Now that the $2T Phase 3 portion of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has been officially signed into place, attention is being turned towards a potential Phase 4.

As we know, Phase 3 will provide direct payments to individuals, expand unemployment benefits and provide relief to small businesses and health care systems. A Phase 4 will be needed to help jump start the US economy using infrastructure investing as the key part of the stimulus package.

Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has been having discussions with both Republican and Democratic members of congress on this package resulting in large differences on the overall relief. President Trump would like to see $2 trillion over 10 years while the Democrats are leaning towards $760B over 5 years.

Interest in infrastructure spending is not just limited to the political circles in Washington. Many industry associations such as the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the America Highway Users Alliance (AHUA) have written letters to members of Congress pushing for this next phase.

With this in mind, what can state DOT and local public works agencies be doing to prepare for a massive infrastructure stimulus package? As we recall from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, projects that were considered “shovel-ready” seemed to get priority for funding. Instead of just a first come, first serve basis for funding dollars, what if local transportation agencies used data to help direct the finding to the most needed projects?

Classification systems such as Pavement Condition Reports and Benefit-Cost Ratio Analysis are two examples of tools that agencies use to identify road and highway repair needs. For example, on their high traffic roads, the Oregon DOT performs a semi-annual pavement report using a Pavement Data Collection Vehicle and assigns a score from 0-100, with the Fair-Better Line at 46. This detailed analysis provides a large amount of accurate data to help ODOT prioritize highway repair and replacement projects.  The entire ODOT pavement report can be found here.

Local agencies such McLean County in Illinois use a Benefit-Cost Ratio Analysis to help determine the ranking of roads for repair and replacement. This kind of analysis not only uses the initial capital costs, but factors in other variables such as improvements in public safety, limiting effects of adverse travel and life cycle costs. In a recent analysis, the county looked at twenty potential projects and ranked them according to their benefit-cost ratio (B-C) number. The projects with the highest B-C ratios would get prioritized over the projects with lower B-C ratios. The McLean County analysis report can be found here.

Using identification systems like these should only be one part of the overall infrastructure solution for state DOTs and local public works agencies. Design solutions that can help reduce costs, construction time, economic impacts from construction delays, construction damage to surrounding infrastructure, along with improving resiliency of roadways should be evaluated to help stretch these infrastructure investment dollars.

For state DOTs or other large design groups, using this comparative roadway data may be standard procedure. However, for local municipalities, compiling this data to better compare and address the economic and infrastructure life options can be very time consuming and costly. To assist local agencies and designers, Tensar has worked with many research groups to develop solutions, design tools and calculators.

For example, Tensar’s SpectraPave design software and the easy to use built-in value calculators, can aid local and state agencies in their efforts to compare the economic and infrastructure life benefits of various solutions.  Besides pavement design, Tensar has additional design tools that aid agencies and engineers evaluate innovative solutions for foundations, retaining walls, slopes and pavement overlays.

With the potential of a massive infrastructure bill coming to help rebuild America’s public roads, now is the time to be completing designs and prioritizing highway and roads projects.

Paul Schmitz is the market manager of public roads at the Tensar International Corporation.

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Young Leaders Episode 1 – Brynn Myers – City Manager, Temple, Texas https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/21/young-leaders-episode-1-brynn-myers/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/21/young-leaders-episode-1-brynn-myers/#respond Wed, 20 May 2020 23:23:37 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57652

American City & County has launched The Young Leaders –a series of podcasts featuring young government leaders from across the county. In this series you’ll hear about the challenges they faced starting their public sector careers, current issues they are dealing with in running their governments as well as the innovative ideas they’re bringing to the table.

OMNIA Partners Public Sector is the exclusive sponsor of The Young Leaders podcast series.

 

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The pandemic and digital optimization — what does it mean for municipal HR? https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/the-pandemic-and-digital-optimization-what-does-it-mean-for-municipal-hr/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/the-pandemic-and-digital-optimization-what-does-it-mean-for-municipal-hr/#respond Wed, 20 May 2020 19:35:35 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57641 Human resource managers have long prided themselves on having a physical presence in their offices. HR managers should, after all, be visible and accessible. They should have a physical open door so that staff can seek them out for counsel at any time. However, COVID-19 has wholly disrupted this model for both private and public sector HR leaders.

For local governments that have operated for centuries on-site with open doors, and that have not previously had to build a long-term sustainable model to enable remote work, the COVID-19 pandemic and its shelter-in-place requirement have sent employees home and created distance and uncertainty for HR leaders.

While governments are adapting — putting tools and technology in place to archetype a work-from-home model to enable short-term success — trend watchers are asking the overarching question: How will COVID-19’s diversified workforce experience redefine employee expectations of the public sector?

When the pandemic subsides, will everyone revert to their in-office, in-person, manual workflows, or will the forced work-from-home, digital-first experience prove to offer value to employees that HR leaders have to address? Further, will there be negative repercussions to a nation having survived a pandemic that employers will need to navigate?

We predict that HR leaders should expect what is being called, in the short-term, the new normal of government service delivery, to become a much more permanent work modality alteration.

The Remote Work Shift

Non-unionized private sector employers with multiple offices around the nation or the world face a different logistical reality relative to the possibility of changing work-from-home policies after the COVID-19 crisis. While the public sector will be expected to reopen its doors and employees will be expected to return to their desks, it can’t be ignored that COVID-19 has proven that administrative staff in many departments and roles can be productive when working remotely. This surprising fact is true, particularly when employees are given the necessary cloud-based technology, and if they make an effort to create a functional home office.

In response to those employees that have found that without the distractions of the watercooler, the team birthday lunch and the unexpected office visitor pop-in, that their daily productivity has boomed, can department leaders, in good faith, deny requests to consider possible part-time or ad-hoc work-from-home requests? For those cases where an employee needs to stay home with a sick child and would typically have to take sick leave or paid-time-off (PTO) if the employee can effectively work from home without sacrificing PTO, should such arrangements be considered? HR leaders should expect such discussions to arise during future union negotiation agreements.

Morale and Engagement Challenges

Any discussion around how municipalities are responding to the COVID-19 crisis is incomplete without a consideration of staffing changes. While municipal doors are closed, and departments such as parks and recreation are losing revenue due to canceled programming, municipalities have been forced to consider hour reductions and furloughs for impacted, non-essential staff positions. Furloughs and their mandatory but temporary unpaid leave put employees in a challenging financial situation and may force some to consider alternative employment if they can find such opportunities.

For those able to wait out their period of unemployment, it is reasonable to expect that their morale may be damaged when they eventually return to work. Having been deemed non-essential and furloughed during the pandemic, the expectation that employees will complacently return to work and pick back up key projects may not be realistic. Their morale, confidence, and engagement may be damaged, which will put more significant pressure on HR leaders to find genuine opportunities to reengage these individuals and keep them from becoming a source of negative energy within their department.

Digital Employee Management

HR managers still operating under paper-based workflows during COVID-19 have likely been hamstrung in any efforts to promote, hire, onboard, and evaluate employee performance, if such functions have been able to continue amidst the chaos. Without the ability to hand an employee a paper onboarding packet or accept a paper job application from an interested candidate, or ask a manager to sign an original copy of their employee’s performance review, critical talent management workflows are stymied. The HR departments able to keep calm and carry on, are those that have been able to continue such critical operations using cloud-based software.

Public sector HR managers who have not already taken strides to implement digital optimization efforts to online-convert analog workflows will need to ask themselves if their operations are prepared for another work environment disruption. For those that answer “no,” post-COVID-19 priorities must include digital optimization considerations.

Stressing Worker Wellness

We have quickly become a society that strictly counts the exact number of seconds with which we wash our hands. We are also becoming a society that acutely feels the strain of unavailable team members who are temporarily lost to us while recovering from a complex illness or attempting to homeschool their children. The point is that COVID-19 has uncovered a national need to better care for our health and wellbeing while forcing us to scrutinize our work-home life balance and priority setting.

Some of the largest employers in the nation, like Wal-Mart and Starbucks, are assessing their health care and employee assistance program benefits and enhancing them to ensure employees have access to appropriate levels of sick leave, access to telemedicine services, and that they know how to obtain mental health counseling support. The public sector, whose employees have been critical to providing local community news, resources, aid, and community support, deserve to prioritize their health and wellbeing with the same amount of employer support as those in the private sector, and it will be HR leaders’ responsibility to initiate those opportunity advancements. 

Prioritize Cross-Training Programs

In the initial days of local governments’ shift to decentralized work, vital municipal operations stalled as department leaders grappled with such challenges as critical staff members not having adequate technology or access to systems, employees needing to take time off to care for themselves or sick family members, and making arrangement to homeschool their children.

What HR managers should learn from these disruptions, is that more cross-training could have alleviated some of the burdens caused by single-point-of-failure operations. If more employees could conduct critical functions, process forms, and requests, work within vital software systems, or answer citizen questions on specific topics, the initial stress fractures caused by remote work disruptions may have been mitigated. Lessons learned from COVID-19, and the corresponding critical initiatives for HR leaders should include a higher priority on employee cross-training efforts in all departments to mitigate the chance of future disruptions.

COVID-19 as a Gov Service Delivery Optimization Accelerator

The loss of life that COVID-19 is causing is unthinkable. Leaders across the nation owe it to all those whose lives have been lost to take what they have learned during this pandemic and use it to strengthen our society and safeguard us from future catastrophic health, business, and economic impact. A year from now, municipal HR leaders will no doubt realize that a byproduct of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic is an acceleration toward workplace efficiency models, more significant employee support, and optimized citizen service delivery, three valuable trends that will help leaders move our communities forward—together.

Jessica LaFeve-Smith is the solutions manager for CivicHR.

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The advent and benefits of self-service citizen support technology https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/the-advent-and-benefits-of-self-service-citizen-support-technology/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/the-advent-and-benefits-of-self-service-citizen-support-technology/#respond Wed, 20 May 2020 19:27:39 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57636 Consumer confidence in any municipality is directly related to how that government delivers the services it offers. This is a conclusion drawn from a March 2020 paper “Happiness and the Quality of Government” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

While the overarching concept of this particular paper is easy to grasp, the real work begins when trying to put this principle into practice. Centrally, municipal administrators may need to ask their service teams how they can better support citizens’ service requests and how to deliver a better experience to citizens while doing it – an experience that’s better than how most individuals currently engage with their local governments.

A 2017 Deloitte report found that 80 percent of public sector respondents stated that a digital communication strategy was important for their municipality’s success. However, 42 percent of these respondents said that their organization lacked a clear and coherent digital strategy. Even worse, almost 60 percent said their government organization was a slow adopter or a non-participant.

There are a couple of important points to focus on, according to Deloitte. The websites of municipalities must be accessible anytime and from any device, and data should be easily shared across multiple departments. Without these capabilities, there’s no way to easily interact with those being served. But there is much more that can be done to serve and interact with the public.

Citizen support communication technology can provide the individuals with a better user experience and create strong channels for people to engage directly with your service departments, which can cut down on the need to provide manual and cumbersome customer service.

Individuals become their own customer service

Determining the path to seamless citizen support starts by asking citizens a few questions: When the public visits your website, are you really serving them or just providing them a place to read about what the organization or department does? You are engaging people in a productive partnership or are you just pushing information out to people? What steps must individuals take to engage with your department if they wish to communicate their needs for the services you provide?

Examine all friction points a citizen must endure to report maintenance of a pothole, for example, or to report a code violation, or to inquire about the schedule of an upcoming summer camp or ask questions of the waste management department.

Each of these processes likely can be much more efficient. The first step forward to smooth these wrinkles is to engage your internal service department (many organizations refer to them as the helpdesk).

Helpdesk teams address all user concerns, requests, questions or challenges. This may mean unlocking a user account, logging a needed computer repair, fixing a misfiring printer, reserving a meeting room, processing a newly hired employee into the organization, or even securing a car from fleet services.

Opening internal channels to external audiences

This internally focused approach can be extended to external partners, constituents, and customers. In some cases, when these processes are opened up to users, they can self-serve their requests. This is often seen in education. Administrators, staff, and students access the school’s service desk for any concerns. For example, students often are locked out of their encounter online learning environments.

One group missing from this conversation is the parents of the students.

While not a direct recipient of the school’s services, they are integral to its operation: Many want access to their children’s grades, financial statements, and schools want to connect with them when they need to send emergency communications.

Bringing these “outsiders” into the internal environment allows a school to establish two-way communication channels with an otherwise cut-off or otherwise fenced-off group. Additionally this can reduce any friction when the parents want to communicate with the school.

The example of schools communicating with parents as outside users apply aptly to local municipalities to bring members of the public into the fold.

Citizen support as a service

Currently, most individuals interact with their local governments like this: A driver continuously pounds his car into a pothole at the end of his driveway. Frustrated, he goes to his city’s website, where he leaves a general comment about the situation, asking for service. When he doesn’t see action through that step, he sends an email through the address listed on the website, hoping someone in the appropriate department will respond. If the municipality takes action, he may only know when the crew shows up to fill the pothole.

Instead, through a citizen support solution, a ticket is created and forwarded to the appropriate department once a citizen submits the request. When this ticket is created, the person submitting the request receives confirmation of receipt along with the ticket number, expected date of response (with understandable disclaimers about pressing and unforeseen projects), and a phone number or direct email address to the department leading the project.

Individuals researching a summer camp or other program can have a similar experience. Instead of sending an email that opens a ticket, the individual can log in to the municipality’s service portal and log a request. The request is routed directly to the Parks and Recreation Department (or wherever applicable). The person filing the request automatically receives a generated message providing them an estimate of when their query will be answered, by whom, as well as provides the appropriate contact information.

Citizen support helpdesk solutions reduce in-bound phone calls and frees up resources from staff who otherwise must respond to every query. Instead, internal teams can complete the most pressing projects and answer these queries in allotted slots during the workday, offering a more efficient workday for the staffer.

Full self-service citizen support

Two-thirds of respondents to a ZenDesk survey stated that they would rather serve their needs from their municipality’s website rather than calling the relevant office or individual. This is a concept known as “full self-service citizen support.”

Many people underestimate the loss in productivity and the time it takes to respond to a citizen’s call. You can measure lost resources by auditing computer and phone logs to determine the amount of time each request takes. Then take a look at the impact each call has on that employee’s productivity. As you know, it can take some time for an employee to get back on task after an interruption, no matter how well-intentioned and productive the individual.

This measurement process allows you to accurately assess the impact of not employing citizen support solutions to meet individual’s needs. If you find that calls, emails and walk-ins constitute a significant part of the workday, you need to examine the types of questions and calls your employees are receiving. If this audit shows areas where citizen support solutions may positively impact your operations.

Citizen support: a want or must-have?

The citizens you serve understand that digital experiences can be customized and made personal. The benefits of doing so are enormous, certainly for those interacting with the municipality. Enacting a direct-to-consumer approach allows you the opportunity to open doors previously only available through phone calls, email, or otherwise direct interaction. Doing so lets you automatically track and respond to all interactions with individuals through a secure portal, and dramatically improves engagement rates with communities served.

If you find that the benefits of such citizen support solutions will have a direct impact on operations and will help to serve your customers better, implementing the technology may become a must-have. No matter, whatever communicative aspects that you feel will help make interacting with the public more accessible and more rewarding for all is certainly something most leaders want.

Ruben Franzen is the president of TOPdesk US, a global provider of enterprise service management solutions.

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Mayors working to fight a different invisible threat during the pandemic: domestic abuse https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/mayors-working-to-fight-a-different-invisible-threat-during-the-pandemic-domestic-abuse/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/mayors-working-to-fight-a-different-invisible-threat-during-the-pandemic-domestic-abuse/#respond Wed, 20 May 2020 19:08:45 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57631 Much has been said in recent weeks about the public health pandemic sweeping through our country. Coined the “invisible enemy” in our midst, COVID-19 has upended nearly every institution and organization in our society, from hospital emergency rooms to our favorite shops on “Main Street.” And while the public health and economic disruptions have been well-documented, one too-often hidden scourge, domestic violence, is ravaging our families and neighborhoods.

As the Mayor of Gresham, Oregon and a Trustee with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and as the President and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), we are watching domestic violence rates spike as an immediate aftermath of our collective efforts to stem the rate of transmission of COVID-19 through physical distancing restrictions. In Gresham, the month of March brought a 77 percent increase in domestic violence calls for police service over the same month a year prior. This trend was consistent with data from other areas of the country, where we are seeing similar increases from the east coast to the west coast.

While frustratingly difficult to detect and disrupt under normal circumstances, victims of domestic violence have even fewer channels of support available to them in these current conditions. Because of physical distancing, a supportive coworker is less likely to spot the emotional and physical signs of abuse, and victims face a diminishing landscape of trusted friends, family members, and colleagues with whom they can confide. When the only communication channel available for a victim is a phone within the house, it is all too easy for abusers to control and stifle calls for help, with victims facing the looming threat of physical retribution.  These are only some examples of the challenges victims and survivors are facing, as a result of COVID-19.

Community leaders across America have encouraged residents not to let physical distancing lead to social isolation. Now more than ever, it’s important to be true neighbors to those in our midst even if neighborliness is restricted, at the moment, to virtual modes of communication. While these social connections are important for maintaining our mental health and our sense of interpersonal belonging, in this era of physical estrangement, they can also be a critical tool of abusers to further abuse.

The best allies for domestic violence victims are those who are emotionally available and represent support and trust. If you are concerned that a friend or loved one is facing violence in the home, express support, share resources, and encourage victims to take the best actions for them, be it fleeing to the safety of shelter, reaching out to family, or reporting their abusers. Domestic violence shelters and programs nationwide continue to operate as critical services and are taking every precaution to ensure these services and service delivery are COVID-19 safe.

As government leaders, it can be tempting to focus on good news and quietly move past bad news. But in the case of domestic violence, elected officials and public servants can empower victims to seek refuge by shining a light on this terrible menace. That’s why the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence teamed up with mayors and police chiefs from across America to amplify our concern over this sharp spike in cases and equip our leaders with the tools and advice they need to protect families.

Wherever you are, use your influence to research the data, share the message, and reference available support services. Victims can seek crisis help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline by visiting thehotline.org or by calling 1-800-799-SAFE.  Additionally, resources for family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and others are available on the NCADV website.

In the midst of this pandemic, people are looking to public officials for information and guidance. You are uniquely positioned to draw their attention to the hidden terror that occurs within the walls of homes in our communities. Lending your voice to this issue can crush the curve of another dangerous threat in our midst, the harrowing devastation of domestic violence.

Shane Bemis is the Mayor of Gresham, Oregon and Trustee with the U.S. Conference of Mayors

Ruth Glenn is the President and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

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Smarter criminal justice reform https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/smarter-criminal-justice-reform/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/20/smarter-criminal-justice-reform/#respond Wed, 20 May 2020 18:52:05 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57625 The United States has a massive incarceration problem. Since the 1970s, there has been a 700 percent increase in our prison population. Currently, about 2.3 million women and men are incarcerated, with close to 650,000 people released from prisons each year. The reality that these people face when released is a lack of marketable skills and joblessness. Both of these factors account for the fact that within three years of release, 67.8 percent will be rearrested.

Smart reform must focus on two core areas: employability and helping individuals address the issues that led them to prison. The former can be done by providing on-the-job experience in prison and through skills-based programs offered by non-profit organizations like The Last Mile. Both paths must focus on helping women and men increase their marketability so that they are competitive in the hiring process when they reenter society.

One company, Phoenix-based Televerde began working with incarcerated women in Arizona in 1994. Twenty-five years later, the company’s U.S. engagement centers are staffed almost entirely by women in prison. Televerde empowers incarcerated women with business skills and technology certification, which helps them prepare for life after prison. Support continues with career opportunities, mentoring, and a host of life, wellness, and community resources following their release.

A recent study by the Arizona State University Seidman Research Institute validates the social and economic impact of this prison workforce development program on individuals, families and the state of Arizona.

Impact on program participants:

  • Recidivism (i.e., the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) among program participants is 91 percent lower than the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ national rate among females released from state prisons: one-year rate: 0.4 percent; three-year rate: 5.4 percent.
  • Graduates are 2X more likely to be in gainful employment post-release; 94 percent of graduates are in paid employment 5 years after incarceration compared to 49 percent of other formerly incarcerated women.
  • Graduates earn almost four times the national average for formerly incarcerated females, average lifetime earnings of up to $1.9M depending on age.
  • Despite similar levels of at the time of incarceration, graduates attain higher levels of education with 84 percent having some college and 30% earning advanced degrees.

Impact on families:

  • Dependent children are 11x more likely to graduate high school than dependent children of other incarcerated mothers.
  • Adult children 11x less likely to be incarcerated compared to the adult children of other incarcerated mothers.
  • Almost 70 percent of graduates report improved relationships with children, partners/spouses, and other family members as a result of their experience.

Impact on the state of Arizona:

  • Reduced recidivism.
  • Saves up to $9.5M annually; $76M since 2011 for Arizona state.
  • $7.8M – $8.9M annual savings due to fewer children in foster care.
  • <3 percent dependence on entitlement programs due to higher employment and salaries.
  • Program participants may contribute an additional $27M in personal income taxes over their post-release lifetime due to increased earnings.
  • These operations generated $238M GDP and $196M labor income 2011- 2018.

These are strong outcomes result from providing marketable skills training, continuous learning and on-the-job experience to individuals while incarcerated. The results also underscore the economic benefits and savings when we prepare people for high-skill jobs.

Today, Televerde operates 10 engagement centers inside three U.S. state prison facilities. This project show government and business the talent that exists behind bars.

The main takeaways include:

  • A person’s background or circumstance does not define their character, capabilities or future.
  • Discarding anyone for the worst mistake they made on the worst day of their life is a waste of human potential.
  • When people are given opportunities and support to reach their highest potential, they almost always will.

Morag Lucey is the Chief Executive Officer for Televerde, an integrated sales and marketing technology organization based in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Purchasing during a pandemic: Navigating COVID-19 using cooperative procurement https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/purchasing-during-a-pandemic-navigating-covid-19-using-cooperative-procurement/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/purchasing-during-a-pandemic-navigating-covid-19-using-cooperative-procurement/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 18:02:52 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57616 Procurement teams across the country are challenged with an onslaught of competing demands for health and safety equipment while working remotely from an Emergency Operations Center or home office – not the easiest of times. Despite the emergency, ensuring best value is still paramount, and is becoming a difficult challenge. With limited resources and worldwide demand for similar products, price gouging and unscrupulous suppliers have been reported. To complicate matters even further, government teams are learning the ever-changing requirements to comply with guidelines for federal stimulus loans or FEMA reimbursements.

Cooperative procurement, defined as the use of solicited, ready-to-go contracts established by a government agency or cooperative organization, is a contracting solution being used to address many of these complex challenges. During an emergency, there are advantages of having set pricing that does not fluctuate, as well as working with awarded suppliers with well-established reputations. FEMA allows the use of cooperative contracts during an emergency within specific parameters, and defines a cooperative purchasing program as “a cooperative arrangement for acquiring goods or services that involves aggregating the demand of two or more entities in an effort to obtain a more economical purchase.”

A recent webinar sponsored by National Cooperative Procurement Partners (NCPP) featured a panel of experts to offer insights into the current COVID-19 supply chain situation, changing FEMA requirements, whether cooperative contracts may be leveraged, and additional resources to help government teams during this emergency. A speaker at the webinar, Dr. Kim Abrego from Disaster Recovery Services and an expert in FEMA requirements, noted, “COVID-19 is quite different from any declared event that FEMA has seen to-date. Instead of having to support the financial recovery of public entities in a localized region, FEMA is now supporting efforts across the nation and not able to deploy their usual field support team to actively engage with applicants due to social distancing. As a result, FEMA is shifting its program to an online model.” Using the newly updated Program Delivery Manager (PDMG), created as a result of this pandemic, agency applicants will be responsible for shepherding their projects through FEMA’s Grants Portal.

Part of any preparation before and during an emergency is having well-thought-out policies and procedures for emergency purposes. Not only does this provide guidance for the entire organization, but it is also essential when an agency is involved in an audit or FEMA review. One of the first requests made is for a copy of an agency’s disaster procurement policy. Debbie Wellnitz, Manager for the City of Concord, Calif., Police Department shared her experience of starting this effort from scratch a few years ago to address the frequent fires in California. Her advice to other teams is to “ensure that all FEMA regulations and requirements are incorporated into your agency’s emergency policy. I highly recommend you have a FEMA expert review your policy to ensure compliance.” According to Abrego, “One of the top reasons that FEMA deems reimbursements to be void or incomplete is due to procurement issues – all the more reason to have comprehensive emergency procurement policies.”

First-responders, hospital teams, airport personnel and other government employees do not have the benefit of sheltering in place, because they must interact with the public. Shortages, backlogs and bidding wars for limited supplies, have caused agencies to compete against others for items such as masks, personal protection equipment, and ventilators. As suppliers work furiously to restock and meet backlogged orders, Chris Mellis, Senior Vice-President of Strategic Accounts from OMNIA Partners offers additional insight. “Stay in communication with vendors as supplies fluctuate from week to week to ensure your order is in the queue as they are working down their list of clients. Cooperative organizations can also help with compiled COVID-19 resources to focus efforts in assisting first responders and government teams in obtaining needed commodities.” Dan Listug, Government Relations Counsel for Sourcewell, a cooperative organization, notes that “cooperative contracts can be used for this emergency. Procurement teams should still conduct due diligence to determine if the contract will meet their own agency and FEMA requirements. Credible cooperative organizations should be able to provide all documentation related to the solicitation and contract to conduct that review.”

While supply chain discussions about commodities, such as masks and ventilators, have received a lot of attention, construction contracting is impacted as well. With well-entrenched procedures, the typically long process of government construction bids does not allow for flexibility to react quickly to emerging needs or changing requirements. A solution to help agencies across the U.S. quickly complete COVID-19 related work is called Job Order Contracting (JOC). JOC uses a database comprised of pre-priced construction tasks, with set labor costs, and can be accessed through already solicited cooperative contracts as a ready-to-go construction option for government entities, large and small. Providing financial auditability, JOC’s preset unit pricing helps avoid price gouging or expensive change orders.

Gordian is helping agencies across the U.S. quickly complete COVID-19-related work. To be proactive in advance of government requests, the company’s Cost Engineers have already mapped their line items to the Alternate Care Site program developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), as well as biohazard and infectious disease control remediation. For example, Chicago is using its Gordian JOC program to quickly build-out acute hospital space at the McCormick Place Alternate Care Facility. Since April 2nd, contractors working with city teams, have installed over 750 self-contained units in two weeks.

Procurement is on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing the needed supplies and services to support their agency’s first responders and support teams. As a well-accepted contracting tool, cooperative procurement can help meet those ever-changing needs, in the shortest timeframes possible. In the end, an organization’s response is only as good as its procurement processes and supply chain resources.

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Purchasing in a pandemic: Life on the front lines in Rockland County, N.Y. https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/purchasing-in-a-pandemic-life-on-the-front-lines-in-rockland-county-n-y/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/purchasing-in-a-pandemic-life-on-the-front-lines-in-rockland-county-n-y/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 17:58:16 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57613 Paul Brennan has been the director of purchasing for Rockland County, N.Y., for 27 years. His community has been one of the hardest hit in the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, supply chains have broken down and procurement processes have needed to be amended. Contributing editor Derek Prall spoke with Brennen on April 2 to discuss the challenges his department is facing What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Derek Prall: So, Rockland County is really on the front lines here as infection goes.

Paul Brennan: Correct – we’re just north of New York City, and we’ve had one of the largest outbreaks of any county in the country. Unfortunately, our county was mentioned in one of the president’s news conferences just the other day.

Prall: Yes, that whole region has been really hard hit. Generally speaking, what has been your biggest challenge as this pandemic has been progressing

Brennan: Really the biggest challenge is chasing medical supplies. Personal protective equipment is in very short supply. What’s been particularly disappointing is that you’re not getting any type of information from the major manufacturers of this equipment. You go to the major distributors and they’re getting no information. No one can give you an answer of when they’re expecting products.

Prall: Obviously there are myriad complicated reasons for this – but why is there this communication breakdown in a time when it seems so critical? Shouldn’t this be one of the highest priorities?

Brennan: You would think so, but I think the problem is that we really weren’t prepared with a central way to procure these supplies nationwide. What you’re left with is every state out there competing against every other state. Every county is competing with every county. We’re all competing with each other for the same supplies as opposed to having a more centralized approach. Our state system worked very well, but just a few days ago we got word that the state warehouse is empty, and they aren’t sure when they’ll be getting more supplies. I think the real critical thing from the federal government standpoint – I don’t think anything like this was ever planned for. You have the national stockpile of medical supplies that are strategically located throughout the country, but the way this stockpile was created and managed – it was never designed to handle a crisis affecting the whole country.

Prall: Something of this magnitude…

Brennan: Exactly. There’s been, you know, a weather event in the southeast or an earthquake or forest fire in the west and you have supplies for that – for one geographic location. It wasn’t designed for a country-wide crisis and a country-wide shortage of supplies. We need to ask the question – has “just in time” failed us? Just in time inventory is all well and good under normal circumstances, but as soon as there’s a disruption it breaks down.

Prall: Is this a problem of certain communities hoarding supplies in a sense? I mean, when you go to the grocery store and there’s no toilet paper, part of the problem is one person buying 100 rolls that they likely won’t need. Are governments doing the same thing with personal protective equipment?

Brennan: No, I don’t think anyone is hoarding because we’d all be out there beating each other up. The prices wouldn’t be going through the roof. One of the purposes of just in time from a manufacturer’s perspective is the ability to adjust quickly to demand. We’re not seeing that. We’re not seeing quality products coming to the market. Right now the market is being flooded with questionable products – you don’t know if these unknown manufacturers are making legitimate products or if these are counterfeit. We vet people every day, but pulling the trigger is difficult because you don’t know who these people are. You don’t know what you’re getting and they want money upfront. I think I put more on my p-card in the last three weeks than I did in the last three years.

Prall: So during a time of unprecedented crisis like this, have your procurement policies changed significantly?

Brennan: Well we’re certainly buying a lot more on p-cards. If a supplier has the products we need we can’t waste time to issue a purchase order and they don’t want to wait to get paid. If I have the product and you want it here’s the price, you pay me now and I’ll ship it. But at least with a procurement card, you still have a level of protection. If you make a large purchase and it doesn’t show up, at least you have some protection through the credit card company. We declared a state of emergency because we can’t adhere to the public bidding requirements right now. I don’t have time to go out and get quotes on a lot of things. If I find someone with the product I need, I need to buy it.

Prall: You need to pull the trigger.

Brennan: Right. But we’re a little worried about FEMA reimbursement for that because usually FEMA requires a public purchasing process for these supplies. We’re worried they won’t reimburse us if they don’t see multiple quotes.

Prall: Do you have any indication thus far that they might lift those requirements given the nature of this emergency?

Brennan: Not as of yet. They’re still asking for documentation of competition, and haven’t offered any updated or revised any of their requirements.

Prall: So even though you’re unsure about how reimbursement is going to work, you need to act quickly?

Brennan: Yes. Maybe it’s just the experience of being in this job for so long, but you start thinking ahead. We had to start thinking about body bags and refrigerated trailers and things of that nature. I normally buy body bags once a year for my medical examiner’s office, but some of the funeral homes have called expressing concern. I called my supplier down in Florida and they said they have 150 left. I said I’ll take them. Here’s the credit card. You always have to be thinking about not only what you need today, but what you’ll need tomorrow.

Prall: It sounds like immediacy is the name of the game. Thinking a few steps ahead is important. To do that, you need good communication not only with your procurement team but even interdepartmentally to discuss what the needs are now and how those needs will evolve.

Brennan: Yeah, communication is important. It’s even more important now because a lot of people are working remotely. When you’re in the office communication is easy, but the decentralization has been difficult. We’re using new technologies to communicate with each other. We can video chat. We have at least one conference call a day to highlight what the critical items are we’re looking for and assign buyers specific goals. We share information at the end of the day, and we have a daily supply committee conference call. We’re also getting requests from other municipalities and other agencies, and if we have anything we can help with, we share resources.

Prall: We’re all in this together, in a sense. It seems like there’s a prioritization of keeping lines of communication open, not only in the county but throughout the state. That being said, I think it’s important to share not only resources but lessons we’ve learned through this. What advice do you have for your peers?

Brennan: Something we talk about every day is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re in this for the long-haul – it’s not going to be a one- or two-week thing where we’re done and we move on. This is a marathon. You need to remember to take care of yourself. A burned-out buyer can be very dangerous – bad decisions can be made. If your anxiety levels are getting a little high, don’t be afraid to take a break for a couple of hours. The pressure is constant, so you need to take the time to care for yourself. Also – look for opportunities to collaborate with your neighboring procurement departments. Purchasing together increases buying power.

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P-cards: Small changes can create significant process improvements https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/p-cards-small-changes-can-create-significant-process-improvements/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/p-cards-small-changes-can-create-significant-process-improvements/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 17:48:31 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57610 When we think about making process improvements, we think about new systems or reinventing the wheel, but sometimes, little changes can produce big results. We began a p-card process review in January of 2019 as a part of our continuous improvement program.

We all know that P-Cards are a more efficient method in which to make small purchases, but when was the last time that you really looked at your P-Card process? We conducted an extensive cross-departmental study and found that “auto coding” P-Card transactions under $75 led to extensive time savings.

The city process-mapped what we thought was a fairly standard process. Then we invited departmental subject matter experts to add their unique steps to the process. After we filled up an entire whiteboard, we realized that the City spent a great deal of time prompting the approval process.

Opportunity

Where we thought outside the box and what we would like to share with you is “automatically coding” P-Card transactions. The concept that we started with was that small purchases (<$75) took up a large percentage of the work volume but carried very little financial value/risk. Collecting data, we confirmed that these transactions, <$75 (the sweet spot) accounted for 46 percent of our Citywide transactional volume and only accounted for 3% of the P-Card spend (approximately 0.3 percent of our M&O budget).

Solution

Partnering with I.T., we requested a technology solution and found out that not only was it possible, but it was a fairly easy program to create. This auto-coding program would need a crosswalk created. A crosswalk works by coding our City account number to each transaction, based upon the MCC code of the purchase. With MCC codes, each product sold has an MCC code assigned to it. For instance, liquor has been assigned MCC Code 5921 and P-card purchases are blocked when this code is used.

Fraud

To prevent fraud, one of our I.T. people created an email notification for transactions within the sweet spot. Whenever a participant purchases an item within the sweet spot range, they receive an email with a description and cost, notifying them that the purchase was made against their card. If the purchase is fraudulent, they simply notify our team and we will shut down that card/transaction. If the participant doesn’t respond, the transaction is considered approved and they are accountable for the purchase.

Benefit

A few courageous managers were willing to give it a try and we started with them. The results were immediate, we didn’t kill anyone’s budget, the small-dollar transactions weren’t visible when they looked at their budgets, and the time savings were noticeable. The average current process time takes 4.5 minutes and our current volume is 32,000 transactions per year.  Removing 46% of transactions has the opportunity to give us back 1200 labor hours/yr.   Currently, we have five groups using the process and expect the full roll out to take us one year.

Where do you go from Here?

We recommend that you search for Process Mapping videos (like this), get a small team together and start with something small. Learn how you are processing p-cards, most departments are surprised by the results. On our first review, we discovered that 5 people were retaining copies of the same receipt, that was easy to fix and a big win. Understanding your actual processes will identify some low hanging fruit, you should pick that fruit and take an easy win, this will build credibility for your team as you take bolder steps. Lastly, know that change takes time & don’t be afraid to fail, because that will be a valuable lesson that you take to your next project.

Colin Millar began his public service career with the City of Boise in 2007. With over 30 years of purchasing and materials management experience, Colin now manages the Procure to Pay team, with a staff of 10 members.

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Fiscal management can be taxing without the right procurement taxonomy in place https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/fiscal-management-can-be-taxing-without-the-right-procurement-taxonomy-in-place/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/fiscal-management-can-be-taxing-without-the-right-procurement-taxonomy-in-place/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 17:36:57 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57607 There’s an old saying that “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” In the context of government procurement, I would go further to say that every minute spent organizing is also potentially thousands of dollars – or hundreds of thousands of dollars – saved. (And several hours earned.)

As you all know, keeping track of every dollar spent by your organization is a taxing job. Some would say impossible. With the average agency managing 456 solicitations per year, it can be a struggle to monitor allocated and available spend levels in real-time. Things get even more complicated if you don’t have a well-organized way to document purchases and track category-specific spend.

That’s one of the many reasons why implementing a universal taxonomy such as the NIGP Code has become a best practice for public sector agencies at all levels.

Want to Improve Spend Management? Start by Improving Your Records Management

Every state and local government, education entity and special district is tasked with maintaining strict fiscal responsibility, and the highly-structured design of procurement classification systems like the NIGP Code* automatically track spending by individual commodity and services code groupings. Within a matter of minutes, you can see how your agency is spending, and how much it’s spending, both holistically and at a very exhaustive level.
The NIGP Code, for example, allows you to assign a product or service a 3-digit class code, a 5-digit class-item code, a 7-digit class-item-group code, and a detailed 11-digit code.

This makes it easy to report and analyze spend at a very deep level without having to dedicate hours to the manual dissection of spend for “vehicle docks” within the automotive/fleet accessories or mobile computing technology categories.

It also allows you to cross-index spend data against vendor categories or minority-owned business entity (MBE)/woman-owned business entity (WBE) classifications and even track “green” spending using a dedicated set of “Green Commodity Codes.” As a result, it becomes easier to monitor progress towards contract award goals and employ risk-based procurement strategies to help organize spend areas for evaluation of both waste and underutilization of budgeted funds. In fact, NIGP Code users can realize savings of up to 20 percent through the combination of effective spend analysis and strategic sourcing.

Supplier Management Is Also Critical to Spend Management – and a Benefit of Universal Taxonomy Systems

Speaking of strategic sourcing: one of the other prime benefits of using a structured commodity and services classification system to improve your procurement function is the supplier management toolset.

You can organize the suppliers you do business in a similar manner as you would the product or service categories, which streamlines the process of finding available suppliers for various products and services. Just as importantly, you can frequently gauge the volume and quality of suppliers in each product or service category down to the 11-digit code, if desired, to ensure adequate competition and determine if further supplier diversification is needed to meet MBE/WBE goals.

When it comes time to solicit, you have the option to facilitate spend rollup at the item level, leading to more competitive bidding and, subsequently, an increased value return for spending across the board.

Why Classification Systems Such as NIGP Code Become Even More Critical Tools During Crises

Though universal taxonomies are vital tools in maintaining day-to-day fiscal responsibility, balancing budgets, even more important when priorities shift or increased sourcing is needed.

The recent COVID-19 emergency effort is a prime example. In the early stages, before emergency funds were released, agencies were increasing purchases in key categories such as medical supplies, cleaning services, food kits and technology tools to assist with distance learning.

Though we’ve yet to solicit formal feedback, I would assume that agencies with a universal taxonomy in place, such as the NIGP Code, might have found it easier to track spend or even assign additional funding to particular types of purchases to maintain control of crisis-related spending, reduce fraud or earmark buys that exceeded normal operation thresholds so as not to skew future analysis of agency spend for budget assignment purposes.

At the same time, those same agencies may have been able to ramp up hyper-focused sourcing efforts with a little less effort due to the detailed product and service search capabilities. Instead of having to pick up the phone to call everyone registered as a “medical supplies” provider from the start, they would have been able to drill down to those with “personal protection equipment” (PPE) or ventilators or hospital beds to start and then broaden their search as demand increased and supply decreased within traditional sources. When it came time to expand the search parameters to find “outside of the box” sources of N95 masks, the NIGP Code most likely assisted with the targeted identification of construction companies, utility contractors and even tech companies that may have them in reserve for their field-based workers or employees assigned to fire, dust or other airborne hazard-prone areas.

Then again, since the NIGP Code serves to standardize descriptions for stock items, it is quite possible that they were actually able to locate these non-traditional supply sources from the start.

The uniform product numbering across suppliers – which eliminates duplicate items throughout inventory locations – can help to expedite sourcing when every second counts. As can the product/service grouping function, which allows buyers to consolidate similar requisitions together, order from blankets and contracts and facilitate procurement workflows based on commodity or service.

Is There a Classification System That Will More Effectively Help Me Improve Spend Habits and Supplier Utilization?

In the spirit of full disclosure, not all taxonomies are created equal and not all may offer the detailed 11-digit code option like the NIGP Code does.

Think of a procurement taxonomy like a filing system for your personal important documents: some like to categorize alphabetically, some by date and some by “type” of record. Others prefer to create their own filing system, one that would the average person wouldn’t understand without knowing that person well.

Procurement taxonomies can vary similarly. Though most take a categorical approach – medical, construction, food and beverage, technology, etc. – the challenge I’ve heard from agencies is that many only offer one or two tiers of “filing” within a category. This can be especially true of homegrown classification systems. Then again, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Having to assign or apply too many codes to a single product or service could limit your results when conducting a wider-scope spend analysis. You may find yourself running too many reports and trying to reconcile them all to extract the information you need.

That’s why opting for universal taxonomies such as the NIGP Code is always recommended in the public sector. Beyond minimizing onboarding and ongoing training requirements, the use of a standard procurement classification system enables spend audits to be conducted quickly and results to be accepted with confidence. It reduces, if not fully eliminates, any potential discrepancies about how certain products and services may or may not be classified from one agency to the next and whether or not spend is being accurately calculated for each category on a broader level.

Plus, choosing a third-party-managed classification system such as NIGP Code means that your procurement and IT teams get to enjoy all of the benefits without having to do any of the work to update or remove codes, notify users of changes and other tasks that can become burdensome. This is a living and breathing system after all. Stagnation can be just as detrimental to your agency’s spend management capabilities as not having an organized records system at all. New products and services are coming to market every day and you need to be able to monitor your agency’s spend appropriately. Trying to force-fit them into the wrong category can skew future budget allocations and hinder your agency’s ability to effectively serve constituents.

Click here to learn more about the NIGP Code.

*The NIGP Code is the most widely used commodity/services code in the public sector and is utilized by 1400 governmental entities, including 30 states. It is currently maintained and supported by Periscope Holdings, an Austin-based technology holding company focused on the public sector and the sole custodian and marketer of the Code under an ongoing agreement with NIGP.

Jean Clark, FNIGP, CPPO, C.P.M, CPM is President of NIGP Code and Consulting Services at Periscope Holdings, Inc. She is an NIGP Past President and former State of Arizona Procurement Administrator.

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Connection matters: Technology, communication and connection https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/connection-matters-technology-communication-and-connection/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/connection-matters-technology-communication-and-connection/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 17:25:50 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57603 COVID-19 is forcing us to adopt the technologies that some of us have successfully avoided up to this point. Even those who are comfortable with technology acknowledge the tactile differences between in-person and virtual meetings. A few task force members with whom I often work have resolutely refused to learn new platforms. They insist that documents be attached to emails as Word documents. I’m happy to do it. I understand their frustration with the learning curve and idiosyncrasies of each new “app.” COVID-19 is not so flexible. Some of those task force members have now been directed to pack up necessary items from their brick-and-mortar offices and work or deliver classes remotely.

In this surreal time, how do we use technology to connect and collaborate with one another? How do we view technology as a tool to enhance communication and productivity while acknowledging that there is no substitute for human touch?
In 2013, I enrolled in a transformational life coach certificate course at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. When it came time to apply our new skills, my cohort and I discovered that we would be coaching some of our clients virtually. Having grown up as the daughter of a psychiatric social worker who worked face-to-face with her clients and their families, I was skeptical. Isn’t it common knowledge that only 7 percent of communication is verbal? More specifically, according to

Professor Emeritus of Psychology Albert Mehrabian at the University of California, Los Angeles, 55 percent of non-verbal communication is made up of body language while 38 percent is conveyed through tone of voice.

By experiencing the online coaching process and, subsequently, through work with task forces using teleconference platforms, I came to appreciate the effectiveness of virtual delivery. Though I often use audio only, I have learned to pick up signals other than “body language.” As noted in my last article, I have learned to read the silences. If I don’t know the reason for a silence, I ask. My attunement and sensitivity to the pace, tone, inflection and choice of words have increased.

So has my willingness to ask when I need more information.

My most effective teams excel because we share a safe space, an environment in which each member is encouraged to express their thoughts. Our approach is governed by two rules: (1) No apologies. We’re glad each member is here and contributing; and (2) Feel free. Without communication, we have nothing and can go nowhere. It is those fleeting and seemingly insignificant thoughts, when expressed, that often add the most value.

In these teams, we begin with a shared vision, develop relationships and communicate without hesitation due to fear of judgment or reprisal. Our shared vision provides a common goal and strategic approach, which makes the individual steps more apparent. The relationships lead to accountability and support. Communication breeds trust. To these components, we add persistence and resilience. To collaborate, especially in these times, we use shared documents such as those provided by Google or Microsoft Teams. Are we effective because of technology or despite it? All I know is that we succeed when we each decide that the goal is worth it when we commit to the vision and to one another.

Because of the pandemic, many of NIGP’s instructors who previously taught face-to-face classes have stepped up and volunteered to deliver these classes virtually, even with no prior experience. I’m heartened at how each of these instructors has found ways to personalize the online experience. When class sizes are small enough, microphones are left open and discussion is possible. Instructors are still able to share stories and ask if the concepts are clear. Students can ask for clarification or repetition, as needed. Regular breaks are provided for students to detach from their monitors and clear their minds. During these breaks, attendees connect and vent about life with the pandemic. We find ways to connect and empathize.

Technology may seem sterile, but the communication we conduct through it need not exclude compassion. Right now, I’m listening to an online class. Between lessons, attendees share breaking news of an extension for tax filings and of newly announced state lockdowns. For students in those states, the talk turns to the need to do food shopping. The class then resumes review of the core competencies needed to be effective public procurement professionals, the front line that will execute the purchases needed to confront the pandemic.

In addition to connecting with colleagues and continuing our work and professional development, we use technology, particularly now, to keep in touch with family and friends. Some of this technology includes video as well as audio. In former times, we would drive or walk over to visit our loved ones. Today, we connect through Skype, Zoom or old-fashioned landlines. Let us be grateful for technology and recognize that it can be used according to our perception of it. I prefer to use technology to connect, to commiserate and to cooperate. What is your view of technology? How will you use it to achieve your goals?

Lisa Frank is NIGP’s Global Practices Manager. She collaborates with public procurement practitioners and academics to conduct research and develop useful guidance on public procurement topics.

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Top 10 energy buying mistakes you didn’t realize you were making (and how to avoid them) https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/top-10-energy-buying-mistakes-you-didnt-realize-you-were-making-and-how-to-avoid-them/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/top-10-energy-buying-mistakes-you-didnt-realize-you-were-making-and-how-to-avoid-them/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 17:19:21 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57598 Mistake Number 9: Poor Energy Supply Contract Negotiation

This series on the Top 10 energy buying mistakes that purchasing professionals make is nearing its conclusion. Previous installments discussed issues of not procuring proactively, missing the most competitive rates, developing an inappropriate procurement strategy for your specific needs, neglecting a pre-determined goal of what you want to achieve, utilizing an aggregation for purchasing energy, taking a decentralized approach, hiring one company to handle all energy activities, and focusing too much on the process instead of the results. By taking all these mistakes into consideration, you will be well equipped as a purchasing professional to handle upcoming energy procurement needs.

In this ninth installment, we will discuss problems that arise from poor energy supply contract negotiation. This article will focus on five key areas of energy supply contracts that many times are not given proper consideration during contract negotiation:

  • Payment Terms
  • Termination Fees
  • Adding/Deleting Accounts
  • Energy Usage Bandwidth
  • Material Changes

An even bigger mistake is to not negotiate your contract at all. If you have gone through a very thorough energy procurement process, all can be lost by then establishing a contract that puts you as the buyer at a disadvantage. Make sure that, once you have gone through your procurement process, you move on to the stage of actually reviewing and negotiating these five key areas, as well as the general terms inherent in all energy supply contracts.

Payment Terms:
The Mistake: Not matching payment terms to your payment capabilities
Payment term language is the most basic of all clauses we will discuss here. In general, suppliers want to be paid as soon as possible. You as a customer want the lowest rate, and the prices a supplier offers are typically lower when shorter payment terms are in the contract. So, if you have a contract with Net 10 payment terms, you should ensure you can turn a bill around and issue payment within 10 days.

Why It Happens: You think you can pay faster than you really can
Most organizations think their administrative operations are more efficient than they really are. It is fairly common to end up paying significant amounts of late fees each year just because your check doesn’t make it to the supplier by the due date. Not only is this wasting your administrators’ time by forcing them to contact suppliers to discuss payments, but it also has a cascade effect of impacting your credit rating.

How to Fix It: Establishing terms that reduce or eliminate late payment fees
If it really takes you a month to process a bill and pay it, be realistic during negotiation and request 30-day payment terms up front. This may mean your energy rate is a bit higher, but you will pay less in the long run by eliminating late fees.

Termination Fees
The Mistake: Lack of awareness regarding facilities you may be buying or selling
Termination fees kick in when even one of your energy accounts is removed from contract. If you have 10 buildings, and you sell one of them, you are considered to have “terminated” that one account. Most termination fees comprise a combination of market losses for selling unused energy back into the market and the ensuing administrative costs. Not being aware of future facility plans can lead to undue termination fees.

Why It Happens: You don’t think there will be changes to your property portfolio
As with other clauses, negotiating more favorable termination language for you as the buyer leads to a higher rate from the supplier. Prior to entering into an energy contract, check with your organization’s real estate group or facility department to see if there are any anticipated future moves, and then discuss what your needs may be with the supplier.

How to Fix It: Negotiate termination fees that are consistent with your future plans
If there truly will be no changes to your facilities, a termination clause has little effect on you. If, however, there is a likelihood that your organization may sell or vacate one or more facilities, push for language that will allow you to leave with no penalty if you give sufficient notice. This will provide a level of protection against termination fees.

Adding/Deleting Accounts:
The Mistake: Not including an add/delete clause when necessary
This clause is something that many suppliers will not include unless the buyer requests it. Again, it comes at a premium, so only ask for this stipulation if you anticipate adding or removing locations from your contract.

Why It Happens: As with termination fees, there is little awareness of future facility needs
If you are not involved in organizational forecasting and remain unaware of future needs, you most likely will sign a contract with no add or delete provisions. This means that if you add a new site, it will be priced at current market rates; if you delete a site, you will pay a termination fee (see above).

How to Fix It: Insert add/delete language to cover your future needs
Add/delete language is typically inserted by allowing a certain percentage of change. The most generous add/delete clauses are around 20%, which means you can add or delete accounts from your contract at no penalty as long as the change does not exceed 20% of the overall load. So, make sure you have a percentage negotiated that matches your anticipated needs.

Energy Usage Bandwidth
The Mistake: Bandwidth language is not broad enough to address changes in usage at your facilities
Unlike termination fees, bandwidth clauses can lead to fees resulting from using more or less energy than estimated in the original contract. A 0 percent bandwidth clause would mean that you would pay the contract rate for all estimated energy: If you use less than contracted, you would pay a fee to sell that unused energy back. If you use more, you would pay the current market rate for that extra energy.

Why It Happens: Again, typically a lack of knowledge regarding changes in operations
You must understand both your usage profile and your likelihood of significant change to determine what percentage bandwidth you may need. If your energy needs are fairly predictable and have been stable for several years, you can achieve a lower rate by agreeing to a lower bandwidth percentage, such as 10% or 20%. But if your needs are unpredictable or have varied over the past few years, you’ll want a higher bandwidth percentage or even unlimited bandwidth.

How to Fix It: Negotiate bandwidth that covers anticipated changes
If you want the most protective language, push to negotiate 100% or even unlimited bandwidth. This would mean that any changes in your usage are covered under the contract, and you would always pay the contract rate for any and all energy you use. The more comfortable you are with the predictability of your usage, the lower the bandwidth you can agree to.

Material Changes
The Mistake: Not being aware such a clause exists

Material changes are typically defined in contracts as any change in usage resulting from a change in operations that becomes permanent or semi-permanent. The majority of the time, a buyer focuses on bandwidth language but is not aware of material change language. The result may be unlimited bandwidth but a very restrictive – and ultimately costly – material change clause.

Why It Happens: Lack of experience in negotiating supply contracts
When a material change clause is triggered based on changes in usage/operations at your organization, it will usually give the supplier the ability to unilaterally establish a new price. This can lead to huge disruptions in your energy budget, should such a clause be triggered.

How to Fix It: Ensure such clauses are worded fairly or eliminated altogether
During your negotiation, first attempt to have the material change clause deleted. If you cannot eliminate this clause, it is important that you remove the vagueness inherent in many of these clauses. You should define any actual change in energy usage such as duration (ask the seller to identify exactly how many months a deviation in usage lasts) and percentage of change (be sure the seller spells out whether “material” is considered a 10% change, a 50% change, or something else). Work to make these as advantageous to you as possible.

Conclusion: Proper Negotiation is a Balancing Act
Picture a scenario in which you have lined everything up properly throughout your procurement process. You have found the optimal market window for savings by working with your energy advisor and leveraging key market intelligence. You have then maximized competition by bringing all suppliers together to compete in an apples-to-apples process. You have arrived at a price that provides excellent savings and budgetary control. But then you end up signing a contract that ultimately results in higher prices due to fees and penalties resulting from operational changes on your end. The end result negates all the great work done on the front end.

Don’t let your process become bogged down like this. Be prepared to address – and then negotiate – these key terms to your benefit. But remember, it is a balancing act: If you negotiate the terms too much in your favor, premiums will be added to your price, thereby jeopardizing your savings. By striking an optimal compromise that is fair to both the energy supplier and you as the buyer, you’ll achieve both the right contract terms and the right price.

Bob Wooten, C.P.M., CEP, is Director of National Accounts for Tradition Energy, and has over 20 years of experience managing commercial, industrial and governmental procurement programs for a wide variety of clients. Bob holds professional certifications from the Association of Energy Engineers and the Institute for Supply Management, as well as a B.A. from Texas A&M University, and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Houston.

 

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What lessons can we learn from the disrupted supply of medical equipment and supplies? https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/what-lessons-can-we-learn-from-the-disrupted-supply-of-medical-equipment-and-supplies/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/19/what-lessons-can-we-learn-from-the-disrupted-supply-of-medical-equipment-and-supplies/#respond Tue, 19 May 2020 17:09:32 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57595 Virtually everyone in North America knows that state and local governments and healthcare institutions are experiencing difficulty and frustration as they seek to acquire tests, respirators, gowns, gloves, ventilators, and other sorely needed medical equipment and supplies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, few, if any, members of the general public are aware that the people who will be around for the next pandemic will benefit from the notes that professional procurement officers are taking about the issues they are encountering and pondering how the effects of such issues can be eliminated or at least mitigated the next time a similar situation arises.

To capture the notes that public procurement professionals are taking and the solutions they are pondering, the author of this column asked two small samples of public procurement thought leaders one simple question. The question was: Knowing what you know now, what lessons can public procurement professionals learn from the supply chain failures related to masks, ventilators, and other items needed to address the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic? The two samples of thought leaders were surveyed nine days apart in the second half of March 2020. Nine informative responses were received.

Here is a synopsis of all the responses received:

  • Assure that as many processes related to procurement, logistics, and payment as possible are automated, reliable, user friendly, and secure.
  • Be flexible with regard to standard procedure; and when you deviate, document why and how.
  • Be resourceful; there is an urgent need to be met. People’s lives are at stake.
  • Bite your lip when you have to work with brokers who are opportunistic and unreliable.
  • Always be the calm person in the conversation.
  • Put laws and policies in-place (if they do not already exist) that will authorize flexibility and prompt action during crises.
  • Apply Value Analysis. Consider alternative products and approaches that perform the same functions as that the items you find unavailable. (Examples include procuring “hive”-manufactured masks, using newly available sterilizers that permit multiple healthy uses of masks, and providing healthcare professionals with oxygen helmets when a ventilator is not needed. Calling on prison industries to fill supply gaps, as the State of New York did with hand sanitizer, may also be a viable option for you, depending on your particular need.)
  • Maintain the best possible relationships with suppliers, during and between crises. Suppliers with whom you have done business previously may not be able to provide you what you need now, but they likely will want to do business with you when this storm is over.
  • Maintain the best possible relationships at all times with your peers in other organizations.
    Help your colleagues who are operating in a crisis when you are not, or are not yet. This will increase the likelihood that they will help you, if they can, when the situation is reversed. (This goes for both suppliers as well as procurement officials.)
  • Recognize that you can never totally prepare for the unknown, but strive to be prepared as well as you can be when the adverse impacts of a crisis reach you (e.g., with IDIQ and other contingency contracts based on open communication and mutual trust).
  • Do not allow contracts for certain items to expire. (Remember the recent discovery of hundreds of ventilators in a federal warehouse. Most of them, when found, were not in operating condition, because the maintenance contract for them had expired and not been replaced.)
  • Be vigilant, and when you see a crisis that could adversely impact the supply of needed goods and services headed your way, do not procrastinate. Do not wait for others to sound the alarm.
    Unless the master agreements available through the “cooperative” procurement groups are formed and written correctly, you may find the well dry when you go to use them.
  • Consider true cooperative procurement as an alternative to riding “cooperative” master agreements. Aggregated, committed volume speaks loudly, even when the only available sources for needed items are profiteers and there is a very real possibility that the federal government, another state or local government, or another buyer will outbid you.
  • Leverage the communications channels of NIGP and other organizations to stay in contact with your peers, suppliers, and other resources.

The above list is undoubtedly incomplete, but hopefully, helpful. The author expresses his gratitude to the procurement professionals who took the time during this busy period to share their experiences and thoughts for the future. As the late John Short, CPPO, used to say: “The only thing worse than reinventing the wheel is reinventing the flat tire.”
P.S. NASPO has published a new post, “Supply Change Fragility and Disruption and Recovery.” It can be found on their website.

Stephen Gordon, PhD, FNIGP, CPPO, is an experienced public procurement professional with 45 years of experience in the field. He has devoted his career to advancing the contribution of public procurement to public organizations and society as a whole. He was the 2002 president of NIGP.

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Cooperative contracts help Denver stay ahead of the pandemic curve https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/18/cooperative-contracts-help-denver-stay-ahead-of-the-pandemic-curve/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/18/cooperative-contracts-help-denver-stay-ahead-of-the-pandemic-curve/#respond Mon, 18 May 2020 19:57:35 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57585 Lance Jay, Chief Procurement Officer at the City and County of Denver in Colorado, says local governments are facing market and workforce challenges in COVID-19. “Goods and services are not readily available, and as a city we are seeing price inflation as demand across the globe far exceeds the supply.”

Jay notes that under normal circumstances, the global market regulates itself. “But we are now in an unprecedented situation, where there is neither an automatic correction of the markets nor global regulations in place to address market failures. And as COVID-19 is progressing very rapidly, new cases are being reported in many countries across the world, which makes the assessment of needs very difficult.”

Jay explains that cooperative procurement contracts have helped his procurement team efficiently leverage its limited available time. “Through maximizing the use of already solicited contracts rather than always going out to bid, our team can be more responsive and shorten the delivery time of obtaining products and services for the agencies of the City and County of Denver.”

Jay says cooperative contracts, like those offered through OMNIA Partners, have helped the Denver government meet its sourcing needs in these challenging times. “Contracts like these allow us as a city to identify and gather data on our agencies’ spend. This enabled us to gain visibility and deeper understanding into how they operate day in and day out, resulting in decreased procurement costs, improved efficiencies and the ability to forecast their needs.”

Cooperative agreements have yielded a variety advantages, Jay says. “By leveraging these agreements, it allows us to maximize best value procurements through suppliers we are already using such as Safeware, Graybar and The Home Depot Pro. In the cooperative agreements, suppliers must agree to specific terms and conditions before the contract is awarded.”

Jay notes that a key commitment in these contracts is that the supplier provides their best overall government pricing. “A city such as ours will not get better pricing from the supplier through our own contract or another cooperative and that is a huge advantage for us. As a city we purchase approximately $700 million in goods and related services annually, so any opportunity to maximize savings is a value-add for our stakeholders, which in turn benefits the residents of the City and County of Denver.”

It doesn’t take a whole lot to measure the value of using a cooperative contract, Jay explains. “It’s a simple equation. Time equals money. Vendors are bidding to provide goods and services to many instead of just one; they can afford to offer steeper discounts to the end-users of a contract.” Cooperative contracts, Jay believes, can also save metro governments such as Denver’s from having to maintain a large warehouse of supplies and parts. “Since the bid has already been completed for the products and services, many cooperative contracts offer next-day delivery terms, which enables our city agencies to keep less stock on-site and buy on a just-in-time basis. This allows the agencies to be more nimble, as most of the cooperative agreements we use do not require us to commit to exclusivity or to purchase a certain amount through the agreement.”

Cooperative purchasing allows local governments such as Denver’s to save precious time, Jay adds. He notes that it takes a lot of time and effort for local government procurement departments to develop and solicit a bid. “By using cooperative contracts, our City and County of Denver procurement professionals can focus on the execution of a contract rather than the process of writing it. Overall, cooperative contracts can save time and money.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic is upon us, Jay urges his fellow procurement directors to continue to make progress on digital procurement. “The world of purchasing in all facets has historically been paper- and in-person heavy. Yet during this pandemic, everyone from the largest cities to the smallest counties and everything in between has been forced to move things online, like vendor pre-bid conferences, online bid submissions and proposal review and scoring.”

He also advises directors to focus on the value and importance of their procurement teams. “All of this can’t be done without a strong team, so don’t forget them! Many leaders believe they have strong relationships with their people, but when push comes to shove, the quality of that relationship is average at best. Make the most of the relationships with your direct reports. It comes down to one simple four letter word: TIME.”

Jay explains: “Your willingness to carve valuable time out of your schedule and spend it with team members is the only way to create a real bond that shows your people you care about them through actions and not just words. We are fortunate to have strong team members in Denver, and it’s made a real difference in our ability to respond to this pandemic.”

He urges directors: “Take some time now and leverage technology. You should do a virtual team-building session or have a roundtable potluck. Make it fun and not all about work. You will be surprised at how engaged and more productive your team will become when they see you care about the human side of the business.”


Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County and the GPN web site. Contact: michael.keating@informa.com

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Cincinnati passes historic transportation bill https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/18/cincinnati-passes-historic-transportation-bill/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/18/cincinnati-passes-historic-transportation-bill/#respond Mon, 18 May 2020 19:43:27 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57584 Cincinnati’s “too close to call” transportation ballot initiative from March’s primary election is now final, securing substantial new funding for transportation and infrastructure in Hamilton County, Ohio, where Cincinnati is located.

“Cincinnati’s business leaders have a rich history of stepping to the plate to solve the big, seemingly intractable problems in our community,” Cincinnati Chamber President & CEO Jill Meyer said in a statement. “Passing Issue 22 and Issue 7 is yet another example of that civic leadership on display.”

The ballot initiative was the fifth attempt in 50 years to transfer the funding burden The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) from the city to the county. Unlike most public transit agencies which are primarily funded by sales tax, SORTA is largely funded by the City of Cincinnati’s earnings tax. This funding model has been in place since 1970, according to city materials.

In November 2019, city voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure that initiated a rollback of 0.3 percent of the city’s 2.1 percent earnings tax if a second measure were to be approved in the coming spring. The argument was that by reducing the city’s earnings tax, the city would be more competitive in attracting businesses.

The second measure introduced both the decrease in Cincinnati’s earnings tax and an increase in the county sales tax by 0.8 percent with the new funds dedicated to expanding and operating the Cincinnati Metro bus system with more routes, higher frequencies, longer service hours and a new bus rapid transit system, Source Cincinnati reports. Infrastructure improvements such as bridge repair and safer roads are also included in the measure.

After the March 17th election was postponed for public health reasons, the unofficial count in April showed a margin of victory of only 625 votes – too close to call – and the levy’s fate rested in the outstanding absentee ballots and provisional ballots.

With all votes now counted, the measure officially passed.

“The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is appreciative of the confidence voters have placed in us by investing in the services we provide,” Kreg Keesee, Chair of the SORTA Board, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the community to implement the Reinventing Metro plan and to partner with local governments to fix critical infrastructure in Hamilton County.”

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The 10 cities worst positioned for coronavirus recovery https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/18/the-10-cities-worst-positioned-for-coronavirus-recovery/ https://www.americancityandcounty.com/2020/05/18/the-10-cities-worst-positioned-for-coronavirus-recovery/#respond Mon, 18 May 2020 19:29:04 +0000 https://www.americancityandcounty.com/?p=57581 While the novel coronavirus has swept the entire country (and the world), it has hit some cities harder than others. As economies begin to reopen and social distancing guidelines are relaxed, cities across the U.S. will undoubtedly recover at different rates.

Moody’s Analytics, a subsidiary of the company that also owns Moody’s Investors Service, has issued a report that analyzes the top 100 metro areas in the U.S. and names which ones are best and worst poised for coronavirus recovery.

To determine the rankings, Moody’s Analytics compared each metro area’s population density to two measures of workforce quality, Forbes reports.

“The most dynamic recoveries may well bypass traditional powerhouses and take place instead in areas that either were or were poised to lead the way in 2020 before everything changed,” wrote Adam Kamins, senior regional economist at Moody’s Analytics and the author of the report, according to Forbes.

We’ve included the 10 cities worst poised for coronavirus recovery here. Moody’s Analytics did not rank the 10 cities, so they are presented here in alphabetical order. Is your city on the list?

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