Comprehensive Operational Review of City Government: Public- and Private-Sector Cooperation in San Diego

By Anderson, Ernie | Government Finance Review, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Comprehensive Operational Review of City Government: Public- and Private-Sector Cooperation in San Diego


Anderson, Ernie, Government Finance Review


This article describes how the San Diego business community donated time and expertise to improve municipal efficiency and effectiveness.

Like many other cities in the United States, San Diego did not take full advantage of the expertise that existed in the private sector. Because of national trends toward privatization, relations between local government units and the private sector in the arena of service delivery had been competitive. That began to change in San Diego in 1993 when Mayor Susan Golding tapped a group of individuals from the business community to review and comment on the city's operations. Historically, San Diego business leaders have provided energy and creativity to the affairs of their city by serving on various city boards and commissions, but they had never been organized as one group focused solely on city operations.

After a full year of study, that group, known as [Change.sup.2], made more than 100 key findings, policy recommendations, and operational recommendations which had a significant impact on the city organization and operation.

A major recommendation of the [Change.sup.2] group was to institute regular programmatic reviews of all city operations every five years using citizen review teams. The purpose of these reviews of city functions was to ascertain if such functions:

* are within the scope of the city goals and purposes;

* should be done at all;

* should be done the way they are currently being done; and

* should be done where they are currently being done.

To implement the recommended programmatic reviews, officially designated as Zero-base Management Reviews (ZBMR), San Diego contracted with a local non-profit organization that specialized in providing comprehensive management assistance and consulting resources to public and non-profit organizations in the region. This group, the Support Center/Executive Service Corps (SC/ESC), was retained to recruit high-level talent to conduct the reviews and facilitate their work and produce the final reports.

The city pays SC/ESC for the cost of recruiting the volunteers, for the volunteers' mileage and meals when they are doing work related to the review, and for the cost of coordinating and producing the actual report. Those costs have been $100,000 annually.

Zero-base Management Reviews

The zero-base management review process has now been in place for nearly five years. During that time, the basic procedural steps have essentially remained the same, with some refinement.

The Work Program. Annually, the city manager presents a proposed work program encompassing 20 percent of the city's operational budget for the review teams to undertake. The proposal is presented to a working subcommittee of the city council appointed by the mayor and consisting of three council members and citizen appointees from each city council district. The committee, known as the Select Committee on Government Effectiveness and Efficiency, has approved the work program without exception each year.

Recruitment of Citizen Volunteers. SC/ESC has a strong relationship with the business community by virtue of its primary function to serve as a resource to the community. One of the original [Change.sup.2] members, who is also an SC/ESC board member, serves as the program coordinator and chief recruiter. He is a retired executive from a local company who volunteers his time.

While many of the citizen volunteers are retired executives, many others are active members of the business community who are willing to lend their time and expertise. The professional profile of these volunteers, both active and retired, varies depending on the particular operation being reviewed, but two characteristics have been constant: 1) expertise in at least one type of subject matter; and 2) a managerial or macro perspective. For example, the review of a major department with perceived morale issues had a review team consisting of a human resources director and a vice president of human resources from Fortune 500 companies. …

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