Over the last two days, the city commission, and various interested partners, met with facilitators to attempt the herculean task of charting the direction of the city. Direction used to mean beautiful visions like, “Lakeland – a vibrant culturally inclusive world-class community” or stirring missions such as “A community working together to provide an exceptional quality of life.”
The reality, however, is Lakeland Police Department owns a helicopter, but can only afford a part-time pilot. Lakeland Electric had a downtown payment office — that they needed to close. And those are but two of the services Lakeland taxpayers have seen slip away. The city, like most of us, has been forced to tighten its collective belt.
It would be easy to sit back and complain that “government is bloated, wasteful, and etc.” It’s a free shot to claim the city can make do with less. The can, and they will. The problem is what must go and what must get reduced. Where does the city improve, and where does it surrender?
Those aren’t easily answered questions. You can’t fault the city leaders for trying first to figure out what you want to eliminate, or what you feel must stay. Of course, voters elected City Commissioners to make those big decisions. And they did. They decided to:
But first, remember that the city commissioners aren’t directors on a board. They’re representatives of a population. They have spent many days listening to the community.* They tallied and pondered exactly what does the community* want.
So, what did the City Commissioners decide?
You can’t expect they’d look at every job duty and eliminate, rearrange, or bring forward duties like a green grocer rearranges bell peppers.
No, the commissioners took the five goals set for the Strategic Operating Plan and ranked them.
What then are the goals the Lakeland City Commissioners hold as most dear?
• “Provide quality public spaces; deliver superior municipal services, and support arts, education, recreation, and wellness.”
• “Create and encourage inclusive, lasting environments that grow, attract and retain a creative, talented, educated and technically qualified workforce.”
Those two goals ranked so close together as to be statistically tied.
What of the other three?
• “Ensure planning and infrastructure results in quality development and safe attractive neighborhoods.”
• “Develop and effectively manage financial resources.”
• “Develop an informed and engaged community.**”
Those three also finished at almost a statistical dead heat. But not near the level of the first two.
The title of this article is a quote from Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas. He was speaking of the work his staff must now perform. What kind of work? Decide how to make do with less.
It would be very easy for Thomas to simply send out a memo:
To all departments:
The economy sucks. We can’t afford to do everything we did last year. Cut your department’s budget 10%
Instead, Thomas and his staff will take a month or so to turn the goals of the City Commission into measurable outcomes. They’ll use the process taught by the facilitators of the retreat. They’ll look at job expectations and see how they fit the goals set by the commissioners.
Each job, every duty, traditional departments, and innovative ideas all must come under the scrutiny of “Show how this meets our goals.”
What would you do?
Now try that again without using softball answers like “cut waste,” “decrease spending.” or “sell Lakeland Electric.”
Pick your favorite Lakeland City activity and explain how it meets one of the goals above. And more points if it meets one the goals ranked highest by the City Commissioners. Ask your neighbors to do the same. After you’ve measured every activity, decide which ones to fund and which to eliminate.
Or, throughout the year, you can occasionally call City Hall and let them know which programs you feel are important. Or work with a volunteer group to take over a function the city can no longer afford.
Yeah, we have a lot of work to do.
*- “Community” — Those people smart enough to button-hole a commissioner and tell him or her what they want. — Antonym: “non-voter”
** – In this case “Community” means everyone. Most everyone.