BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


A Call for Change
June 8, 2011, 7:19 PM
Filed under: City Staff

June 8, 2011

Staffing Problems — And The Fear To Name Them — Hold Our City Back

Do we expect our elected officials to be proficient in the complexities of union negotiating, municipal budgeting, business development, communications technology, or property standards, for example? If we did, who would we find to run for office? We don’t hold this expectation because our City Commission is meant to rely on professional staff to perform analyses and make recommendations based on their technical knowledge.

City Commission: Staff Hiring Limited

Hollywood’s elected officials must be able to rely on the City’s professional staff in order to make the many complex decisions required to run a successful city. Yet the City Charter grants most hiring authority to the City Manager. The Commission has authority to hire only two city staff members: the City Manager and the City Attorney.

It is the City Commission’s duty to hire the most competent professional available for the job of City Manager. Our current City Manager has been in charge for nine years now. Other than the beach, which has benefited from CRA dollars, and the ArtsPark, has the rest of Hollywood improved significantly in the last decade? Many of us don’t think so.

What has gone wrong? Shall we blame the economy and other forces beyond our control (the State, the County, the Feds)? Do our leaders think Hollywood is inherently inferior and this is the best we can do? Why not raise our expectations and start by looking inside our own house to see what is not operating properly?

A review of the record demonstrates success at the ArtsPark but significant failure in other areas crucial to our city’s well-being:

Collective Bargaining

The City Manager has been in charge of union contract negotiation for almost a decade. He thus bears heavy responsibility for not developing a plan to right the systemic city budget imbalance that has been building all these years. Back in 2008, a City-hired consultant stated the problem bluntly:

“Benefits will now approach 85% to 100% of pay, on average. This is more than double the private sector package. Most of this additional cost comes from overly generous retirement benefits and city provided retiree health insurance, but some of it comes in the form of collective bargaining agreements that have become bloated with individual benefits that cumulatively cost the City dearly.”

The City Commission is also responsible for neglecting to heed such warnings. However, the Commissioners rely to a great extent on the City Manager who year after year praised the union negotiators and presented for Commission approval what he described as a “good contract.” Even now, with the City having declared “financial urgency” because of past negotiated promises we can no longer afford, some Commissioners continue to view the City Manager as an indispensable negotiator. Yet each negotiated contract from years past has led the City inexorably toward the financial crisis we face today. Isn’t it time to connect the dots?

Budget Crisis

It was eight months into the current fiscal year before the City Manager notified the City Commission of a dangerous free fall in the General Fund balance from over $9 million in October 2010 to about $600,000 last month. Suddenly, without notice, City budget staff raided departmental budgets to create a $2 million reserve, transfers the Commission had no choice but to approve. Although budget and finance staff tried to explain the shortfall at the May 18 Commission meeting, we heard no explanation as to why they didn’t catch the downward trend much earlier in the fiscal year, or if they did catch it, why such a delayed notice to the elected officials.

There is a further problem here. We have learned from elected officials that the City Manager has isolated the Assistant City Manager from budget deliberations. This behavior has resulted in under-utilization of valuable staff ability and left the City with insufficient management depth. Lack of such depth is well-known to be a risky and potentially costly management practice in both the private and public sectors.

The status of the current budget is so precarious, with next year looking even worse, that suddenly the City Manager announced the hiring of two budget consultants to assist the troubled Budget Department in performing its job.

The Budget Director reported directly to the City Manager until the dire budget condition was revealed to the City Commission. He subsequently divested himself of direct budget supervision, assigning that role to the Finance Director.

Business Development

Hollywood’s general business climate, and our boarded storefronts and vacant mall space, cry out for an experienced business development professional. Business retention and business recruitment skills are vital to the future of our City. Both are lacking in Hollywood’s Department of Business and International Trade. Staff expertise in these areas does exist outside the Business and International Trade Department but it remains largely unused. This Department tends to busy itself with administrative tasks that have yet to achieve significant result. A recent presentation (RealPlayer) to the City Commission by the Director of Business and International Trade illustrates the lack of gravitas that pervades this Department.

The City Manager has continued to stand behind the performance of this Department.

Technology Fiasco

The City Commission’s decision to spend almost $15 million on a citywide Wi-Fi system that has proved unworkable is well-known by now. The City Commission relied entirely on staff recommendations in adopting this failed program.

The City Manager supervised the technology director until it became clear to City Hall that the Wi-Fi program was a failure. Now he has transferred responsibility for technology to the Finance Director.

Property Standards, Crime Suppression, Social Service Concentration

For years residents and business owners in Royal Poinciana have begged the City for help in combatting deterioration and crime in their neighborhood. The excessive number of agencies serving the homeless, drug-addicted, and other extremely needy persons has exacerbated the problems there. The City has demonstrated an ongoing inability to limit the social service concentration, enforce city property standards or mount a successful operation to curb the high incidence of crime. Creative leadership has been lacking. Best practices followed in more successful cities have been undiscovered or ignored. When these issues are raised today, the City’s response is that “Crime has gone down,” “Our hands are tied,’ or “Things are not so bad.” The residents along both sides of Dixie Hwy and U.S. 1 know better.

So long as the highest-level staff continue to believe they have done all they can, nothing much will change. A blighted crime-ridden neighborhood like Royal Poinciana requires creative attention from the top, not business as usual year after year after year.

What Next?

In speaking of these failures, we want to emphasize that Hollywood has many dedicated employees who try their best to improve our city. The two recent development successes (despite the economy), Margaritaville and Barry University, are examples of dedicated creative staff work at a level we haven’t seen before. Yet we can’t help but notice that many talented high-level staff have left the city, and we observe that the heavy hand of management is stifling many who remain, causing our city to seriously underperform.

The pressing question today is how much longer the City Commission will be content for the city to languish. As long as they fail to face the fact that Hollywood is operating below its potential, and as long as they fail to address the root cause, our city will continue much as it has for the last decade, and the more gifted and talented staff will continue to seek opportunities elsewhere. The losers will be all Hollywood residents and businesses.

Your Role – VERY IMPORTANT

If you are satisfied with how our City operates, there is nothing you need do. If you are not satisfied, you must notify your elected officials immediately, but, please, not with an angry, nasty blast. A rude comment is easy to ignore. Be civil and be clear. And please understand that fear to speak out publicly is precisely what has dogged our city for years. It holds us back.

We would like feedback on this article which has been difficult to write. We have tried be factual and fair, while recognizing the necessity to speak what until now has been unspeakable in Hollywood. Please let us hear from you and let us know, too, if we can post your letter.

Comments from Readers:

June 10, 2011

Some of the comments we received in response to our recent post Call for Change are provided below. Feel free to add your own on our Facebook page.

Editors Opinion: Hollywood needs a new set of eyes at the helm.

Readers’ opinions follow.

Sue Gunzburger, Broward County Mayor

This article says it all. I have already spoken to several of the commissioners and the mayor about this. However, they do not want to recognize who is responsible for this slide. I would hate to see Hollywood end up like Lauderdale Lakes, which was also lulled into a false sense of security for years. They need to wake up and do what is necessary to right this sinking ship.

Paul Klein

Certainly, the city manager is responsible. His job is to manage the city. There is no one to whom he can pass the buck. Let’s start with his immediate resignation and go from there. Are there people currently working for the city who are capable? I don’t know, but let’s find out. A talent hunt is in order.

Sally Wolfer

It is clear the person you [the Commission] rely on to assure the City is running properly has missed the mark too many times.

June Clarkson

Everything that was stated in this article is true and accurate, and it is a shame for all of us. Besides contacting our officials, who are not really listening, what else can we do?

Richard Vest

It may be the most difficult article you’ve written but it’s the best. Excellent job, way to stay objective and on point. Delicate subject that you framed well and delivered on. Hope it makes people think and causes a call to action. Hope the media catches on and does an analysis. With the current high unemployment rate and low real estate prices the city is in a great position to do a national talent search and find someone who would like to move to paradise and help tackle some of the problems down there.

Lynn Cantrell

Thank you for a great, informative, well organized article – and especially for the call to action…if this doesn’t light a fire then I am afraid nothing will.

Ken Brown

Sara and Laurie –

Sadly, your ill-motivated campaign against one of the better city managers in Florida is a real shame. I would have expected better of you, Sara.

This kind of diatribe is the last thing our city needs.

Sincerely, Ken Brown

Charlotte Greenbarg

Thank you for your well-researched, well-reasoned editorial. You are correct; if the Hollywood City Commission doesn’t admit the obvious, the City will become insolvent. I attended the County Workshop on the Lauderdale Lakes situation, and that is exactly what is happening here; Commissioners admittedly relying on staff, in spite of longstanding, consistent warning and danger signs that they ignored.

Attacking the messenger is a specious tactic. This situation requires honesty, not denial.

It’s time to find a new City Manager. I can think of no one who would be better than the present Ass’t. City Manager. The Commission can save the taxpayers’ dollars by simply making this appointment without paying for “searches.”

Mardi Podesta

I just wanted to let you know that your in-depth thoughtful analysis of the dismaying mismanagement situation here in our beloved City of Hollywood is very much appreciated. A calm, collected yet focused on the reality of the actual issues approach is just what is needed and I fully support the call for change. We must hold those whose actions have helped to create our fiscal emergency responsible and begin to initiate the necessary, albeit painful, steps to correct the dangerous downward spiral we find ourselves in.

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