Council briefed on city’s departmental goals and priorities: Concern raised over whether city manager’s plan is trackable, long-term

City Manager Jim Walton has made it clear that when he steps down in June, he wants to leave behind a city government that is streamlined and cost-effective.

He has spearheaded the Breakthrough Change Initiative — a long-term plan designed to reduce General Fund expenses by making structural changes in the way the city is organized and operated. Through that initiative, which has created committees to identify cost-saving opportunities in how the city operates, Walton hopes to save $3 to $5 million annually.

He has also created goals and priorities for 2005 that touch every department in city government and can be used to hold departments accountable for their performances.

Walton outlined these goals and priorities during Tuesday’s City Council study session. “We’re building the foundation for a performance-based organization,” he said. That plan calls for tracking performance in the following areas of responsibility: leadership; people management; community and customer relations; financial management; operations management; risk management; and inter-government relations. “We need to continue to try and improve city government and the public’s business. Each department, as they come before the city council with requests, should be able to reference their goals and priorities.”

Still, whether Walton’s successor will follow through on those goals and priorities is uncertain. It’s a concern that was raised this week by City Councilman Mike Lonergan.

“These goals and priorities are meaningful and important,” said Lonergan. “At the end of June, however, your duties as city manager will cease. How would you characterize the importance of this process beyond the Jim Walton era?”

Walton told councilmembers the plan would be part of a transition strategy for the incoming city manager. “It would be up to the council and city manager whether to move forward with the goals and priorities.”

Lonergan recommended that Walton’s work in this area be discussed during interviews with finalists.

Walton agreed. “It would give candidates a sense of what is currently going on in the city,” he said.

Councilman Kevin Phelps supported the idea for department-wide goals and priorities, but was concerned about how departmental performance would be tracked and, if needed, improved.

Walton said that he planned to use the documents that outline goals and priorities during regular department meetings. Departmental status reports could be shared with city council on a quarterly basis.

Walton, the former deputy city manager, took the job when the council fired Ray Corpuz in July 2003. Walton’s contract expires at the end of June. According to the city, interviews for semi-finalists will be completed April 8. Finalists will be interviewed in Tacoma beginning April 27. The city hopes to hire a new city manager in May.