So when you hear the start of the phrase, “typical government….,” what do you think of? Typically, I’ll bet, something not so good. It’s a negative image, right? Particularly during campaign season, it’s difficult to find anyone of any party who will say something positive about government.
But today, I’ve got something positive to say about government. Not about the policy side of government, but about the management side.
Stewardship is an important cultural value in the city government organization in Eden Prairie. I would hope that it’s an important cultural value in any organization, but it’s certainly easier to preach than it is to practice. There were three relatively uninteresesting run-of-the-mill items on our City Council agenda last night, however, that I think are good examples of what I mean when I say that city staff takes its stewardship obligation seriously.
There were two Council actions last night where the City Council, at the recommendation of our Facilities Manager Paul Sticha, did what a lot of people think government never does: We did not buy something when the bids came in higher than what we had budgeted. We budgeted $100,000 for a roof repair project at the City Center. We received two bids: $149,000 and $160,417. We looked at the project again, in light of the bids, and decided to implement a short run solution and then bid the project again next year when we might get better (i.e. – lower) bids in a different bidding climate. We budgeted $150,000 for a new generator at the Community Center. We got two bids: $191,489 and $224,440. Again, we rejected both bids. The consequence to this decision is that we will risk occasional power outages at the Community Center that can be quite disruptive to the activities in the building, most notably, the maintenance of the three sheets of ice. But, we did the risk vs. cost analysis, and decided to risk it for another season. We’ll try to bid the generator again next year.
Another thing on last night’s Council agenda that I think would surprise many people is that we modified an action by the Council that approved the purchase of a new phone console. The modification lowered the price of the console by $3,500. Staff prepared the initial contract last week in order to get it on to the Council’s September 21 agenda. The staff member who was negotiating the purchase, our IT Manager Lisa Wu, could have said “good enough” on the deal last Thursday. But she didn’t. She kept talking to the vendor and working the sale, which resulted in a decrease in the cost of the equipment by $3,500 from last Thursday until yesterday. To Lisa, stewardship means that you keep talking and negotiating with a vendor until you’ve squeezed every possible concession from them – for the good of the City. And that’s exactly what she did.
For people who think government is on a constant campaign to spend money on anything at any cost, or for those who think we just pay whatever we’re charged and that we don’t care about costs, these actions might come as a bit of surprise. But actually, these kinds of things happen quite often around here. True, they don’t happen that often on a Council agenda, so they don’t get much public exposure. But every week City staff members are making decisions not to do something or not to buy something because doing or buying is not the right stewardship decision at that time.
Do those City staff members deserve a parade for making the smart decision? Of course not, and they wouldn’t want one either. But I think it is important for taxpayers to know that we take our stewardship obligations seriously here, even when those stewardship decisions aren’t easily seen by those outside of city government.