Stephen Goldsmith, May 2020
Despite robust economies, many local officials entered 2020 already worried about budget balances that looked fragile in the short term and problematic in the long term due to enormous pension and health-care issues. Today, in the wake of COVID-19, clearly federal support is necessary, but it is also apparent that it cannot alleviate all the pressures on communities as responsibilities related to the pandemic skyrocket while revenues plummet.
While many public managers will rightly deploy a host of tactical cost-cutting measures, the most creative among them will explore deeper and more strategic changes, such as those presented herein, which will help address the current crisis while preparing their cities for the future. This paper suggests a transition to a culture deeply focused on data, incentives for city workers to produce internal reforms, public-private partnerships that monetize operational excellence, and rapid adoption of both new technologies and good ideas borrowed from other jurisdictions. These more deliberate and strategic approaches may be harder to implement but those offered here need not harm incumbent public employees nor negatively impact cities’ efforts to ensure access and equity. Rather, the strategies we outline should strengthen the efficiency and mandates of existing government offices while helping make cities more resilient and better prepared for tomorrow’s challenges.