How's Your Accountability
NWCCOG programs with state or federal funding just closed out a fiscal year and began a new year July 1. From my town and county experience, closing out a fiscal year is primarily a bookkeeping exercise followed by a fiscal audit. So, it was eye-opening to see the parade of state agency representatives setting up shop at the NWCCOG office this past month to interview staff, review files as well as our written Policies & Procedures and assess alignment of practice with P&P. Some actually spent time in the field observing personnel perform their duties, basically checking under the hood of nearly every department as a function of annual closeout. As a new ED, I see these visits as an invaluable opportunity for input towards system improvements. A program review with consequences raises anxiety, especially if the agency reviewing holds the programs purse strings and ability to do business. If viewed as more than a compliance visit to endure, such an exercise is an opportunity for rare insider feedback and perspective. Many of our public-sector departments don’t have such an established vehicle for that kind of valuable feedback. With all due respect to the many public works, planning & building, IT, clerk, marketing, HR or other outstanding public department heads I’ve known and highly respected; frankly, this outside agency accountability is a different level of oversight – in the content– than the generalist manager town or county manager often can provide. With our young elevator inspectors, spending a day being observed by a state employee with over 30 years of experience in that content area and getting feedback, provided a level of peer review input that was invaluable. The head of that state department spent close to two hours with me providing perspective and feedback. I don’t recall, say, a county community development department inviting that kind of assessment exercise just to for the heck of it– unless there was a crisis. At the town of Eagle, in my 10 years as a board member and 3 as a manager, no less than three times town leadership called in outside experts to reset the mysterious inter-workings of the local Police Department. Talking to Heather Coogan, of True to Course, who is a retired Police Chief from Littleton who audits and investigates departments across Colorado—local town police departments going south for lack of accountability is hardly unusual. By the way, the binder of recommendations Coogan built for the Eagle Police Department, is still the road-map for department improvement three years later. At NWCCOG, I’ve sought to leverage the input from these state agency reviews to improve our processes. For Council members, one result of this oversight is that a number of NWCCOG policies and procedures are being updated in July and August packets. Most of our general P&Ps were last updated in 2011. I admit that reviewing and updating systems, processes and policies at NWCCOG was “on my radar screen,” though it was unlikely this would have occurred without the prompt of outside oversight—or a crisis. A few of our local jurisdictions with the means have gone so far as to hire systems analysts to help departments self-evaluate. NWCCOG doesn’t have pockets that deep. So as a new ED, these visits by professionals in each of these fields, their verbal feedback and written reports have provided a welcome and unexpected deep dive of accountability which my nascent knowledge base as a general manager to these programs could not. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for a crisis to tell us things are broken – and probably you don’t either.