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Friday, June 07, 2013

2013 State of the City: Presentation of Mayor Decker at Common Council, May 2013

2013 State of the City I am a believer in continuous learning. Over the past decade I have used the UW-Extension Certified Public Manager Program many times, taking seminars in areas that would increase my leadership knowledge and capabilities. A year ago I spent a spring day in a Madison campus classroom attending a session entitled “Managing in Permanent Whitewater.” The presenter was Jeff Russell of Russell Consulting. I had previously taken a number of really good classes lead by Jeff. The time I spent last April dissecting “Whitewater” with Jeff and the other students was exceptional. There was quick consensus that governmental turbulence at all levels is here to stay. As I pondered the content for this State of the City report, the words transformation and resilience were the first to come to mind. As I jotted down recent city efforts, challenges, and accomplishments and noted likely work projects for the coming year, I thought about “Whitewater.” I pulled out and re-read the course materials and my notes. I had forgotten there was an exercise to determine a person’s “resilience quotient.” This quotient indicates an individual’s ability to deal with change. Working to enhance resilience dimensions will positively affect one’s response to uncertainty. My personal quotient showed strengths in vision and problem-solving dimensions of resilience and room for improvement in the dimension of adaptability to turmoil. Our city staff have been called upon to be resilient for the past several years. There have been transformational changes, including retirements, departmental realignments, political uncertainty, frugal budgets, and new methods of job performance. Some individuals thrived on change and were extremely resilient. For others it was challenging. In a “Whitewater” course reading, Dee Hock, former CEO of VISA International, pointed out that “An organization, no matter how well designed, is only as good as the people who live and work in it.” Our staff members, as a team, provide the local government services expected by our residents. I want to recognize and thank our city team for their hard work and dedication in challenging times. As we proceed with transformation, resiliency and effort will continue to be necessary to successfully accomplish change. Across the country local elected officials are being frequently faced with complex issues that require significant effort and detailed understanding. The learning curve for public officials is steep and necessarily fast. Citizens have high expectations, desiring quality service while maximizing value and minimizing cost. Our common council and city department heads worked on cohesive team building and explored the importance of constructive debate and conflict at Committee of the Whole meetings last spring and summer. We discussed that consistently hearing all viewpoints and engaging in healthy, spirited debate as a team will result in trust development and better decision-making. Trust in fellow team members and process consistency will also lead to more timely and effective decision-making. Productive teamwork requires continuous effort. An exercise at a Committee of the Whole meeting meant to identify the purpose of our local government yielded top-notch service, quality of life, and drive for excellence as citizen expectations for our organization. We have discussed how these expectations translate into action. Some of our accomplishments this past year have organization-wide ramifications. Some were years in the making. Other efforts were more project-specific. It was a good year! At tonight’s meeting you saw a demonstration of our new GIS mapping system. After decades of oversized paper maps for zoning, water system, sewer, and electrical lines located in related offices throughout the city, the on-line GIS system integrates this information. It will be available on-site at construction projects. Over time we can populate the system with detailed parcel information, include the historic districts as layers, and add further customization. GIS mapping is a leap forward in city efficiency. An extensive city hall effort was upgrading our accounting process. We previously maintained two sets of books, one for Evansville Water & Light and a separate one for the remaining city operations. A new accounting software installation allowed for the integration of both; the city now has one system. Monumental effort by city hall employees was necessary. Transferring of account information and data always involves fine-tuning and eliminating a lot of “bugs.” This project is another huge jump in efficiency. Tomorrow, two new employees begin work in city hall. The office has been shorthanded for a number of months. Current staff has carried a heavy load and deserves special thanks for their commitment to providing quality customer service while being stretched thin. I applaud their tenacity as short-term disruption during long-term changes made efforts more challenging. A long-identified need in our community was a designated economic development entity or person to direct local business development. This need was identified in the economic development summit held in January 2008. The timing of several events allowed the city to consider different futures. By realigning some city functions and looking for additional skill sets for replacement employees we were able to find funding for a new city position that would include dedicated economic development activities. Nicole Sidoff became our first Community Development Director in January. We are already reaping benefits from this enhancement of local service. The city now offers one-stop service to current and prospective businesses since in-house planning is a component of the new position. An outcome of common council re-dedication to top-notch service for our customers is a concerted effort to determine and adopt best practices. City staff again deserves accolades for their efforts. Evansville Water & Light received RP3 (Reliable Public Power Provider) designation. RP3 is an American Public Power Association recognition program. This spring our electric utility was recognized as being in the top 10% of the more than 2,000 public power utilities in the United States for using best practices in safety and electric reliability. The application process was extensive and time-consuming. Evaluation comments will be used as benchmarks to further improve our utility. Our police department has worked hundreds of hours on preliminary steps for accreditation. Required policy review and proofing have been completed. On-site evaluation will occur in November. Best practices in local public safety are being strengthened through this process, accomplishing top-notch service and a drive for excellence. Other city employees have taken classes in customer service, leadership, and computer software training. Continuous learning improves our organizational capacity and provides better service to our community. Our city has benefitted from collaborations. Evansville EMS, Evansville Police Department, Evansville Community School District, Evansville Community Partnership, and other community organizations, leaders and representatives, tackled underage drinking and drug abuse. Establishing the BASE coalition, Building A Safer Evansville, undertaking programming, and developing the local strategic prevention framework, led to our receipt of a 5-year Drug Free Community Grant totaling $625,000. The police department worked with BASE to install a drug drop-off box and recently participated in the National Take Back Day collection. EMS and the police are assisting in the coordination of an August Evansville Night Out to celebrate safe, healthy families and community. In a collaboration of the city, school district, local businesses, and students, bathrooms at West Side Park will soon be a reality. This is an obvious win-win-win-win project for the community. Pooled resources will be necessary to accomplish a number of community improvements in the future. Recently, stronger internal cooperation among city departments has resulted in better project planning and better capital budgeting. We will continue to improve these efforts going forward. We are working to break down department silos to enhance teamwork. It is in the best interest of our residents. During the recession and the period of trickle-down budget impacts of federal and state political and financial decisions, our council and city team worked diligently to build frugal city policies and budgets that would not reduce services, except in dire circumstances. In 2005 the city government property tax rate was $6.83 per $1000. In 2012 it was $6.81 per $1000. The city absorbed the cost of the Lake Leota dredging into the rate within this period. There were some increases in user fees during this time. It is appropriate that certain costs are more fairly allocated to actual use. The net assets of the city as reported in audit reports grew from $17,280,437 in 2005 to $25,395,916 in 2011. According to city audits, the unreserved general fund balance grew from $634,124 in 2005 to $1,267,041 in 2011, essentially doubling. Our financial success culminated in securing our first city bond rating this January. The A+ rating by Standard and Poors resulted in an outstanding 1.1049% interest rate on the bond issue. Our council has been increasing its advocacy efforts. Erosion of local control with resultant loss of flexibility impedes our ability to provide excellent service. Likewise, unfunded mandates have deleterious effects on our budget. A strong, collective voice is necessary to punch through the din. The coming year will be eventful, with a number of significant projects and efforts. City union contracts end in December. With respect and appreciation of our city team at the forefront, the common council will need to forge a new path for employee relations as Act 10 requirements are implemented locally. We will continue to encourage staff skills development. The drive for excellence is a win-win for Evansville. The updated 5-year Park and Outdoor Recreation Plan will be completed this summer. The Plan will incorporate results of the community survey, guide future recreational decisions, and provide material for the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update. The city is required to undertake a complete update to the Smart Growth Comprehensive Plan by June 2015. The common council determined that this project would be spearheaded by the Community Development Director. Work will need to commence in the coming year. Committee of the Whole discussion identified interest in a community customer service survey. We will discuss integration of 2010 Census information with other desired resident information to frame development of a likely survey. To incorporate survey results into the updated comprehensive plan by June 2015, a survey would need to be completed no later than early 2014. The 2013 budget includes funding for a rail study. Rail is an asset in our community with potential to boost business development in Evansville and throughout the region. We will collaborate with key partners to acquire needed information to foster development utilizing rail. In Committee of the Whole discussions, there was interest in building and improving collaborative relationships with a number of entities, including the school district, nearby towns, county, and regional groups. We will develop a plan for initiating collaborative efforts and begin implementation. The common council has voiced its intention to find resolution to the long-running issue of appropriate, fair representation in the Fire District. Serious attention will be focused on this issue going forward. The police department will continue steps to complete the accreditation process. This year’s Water & Light projects are the Old 92 Rebuild and West Loop, identified in the six-year work plan. The Garfield Avenue street project will begin later this month. A stormwater improvement project was just approved at Main and Court Streets. Additional restoration of the creek walls in Leonard-Leota Park will occur in the area of the spillways. A water tower inspection will determine the scope of cleaning and painting the water tower. There will be improvements and new landscaping in front of City Hall. Municipal advocacy will continue. It is essential to voice local issues, challenges, and needs. At the “Whitewater” seminar we discussed a variety of organizational research. A July 2003 article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “What Really Works,” provided the following summary of research---sustainable, enduring organizations have these fundamental characteristics: • A compelling vision of who they are and their purpose. • Are adaptive and flexible in a changing world. • Create an integrated work environment, where people feel connected and included. • Driving commitment to innovation, learning, new ideas, and continuous improvement. • Free-flow sharing of divergent ideas, information, and knowledge. Great ideas can come from anywhere in the organization. • Empower employees with problem-solving and decision-making. Job ownership positively correlates with customer satisfaction. • Reward innovation, risk taking, and quality. • Are conservative with financial and other resources. Managing resources effectively provides positive benefits. I invite you to consider the common council and city team efforts and activities I have outlined tonight through the lens of these characteristics. I submit that we are in the midst of transformation. We are building local government capacity by utilizing these characteristics to provide top-notch service and quality of life in Evansville. It is hard work. It is also exciting and filled with opportunity. We are a can-do community, so success is assured.

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