COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | CARL DEMAIO

City ignores voter-approved efficiency reforms

With the city of San Diego facing its worst financial crisis in its history, you would think that it would look for every way to save money through efficiency reforms -- particularly if those reforms were voted on and overwhelmingly approved by San Diego voters.

Sadly that is not the case. In fact, the city recently hit a milestone in marking the 1,000th day since San Diego voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition C directing the city of San Diego to use a powerful reform tool called Managed Competition to eliminate waste and inefficiency in city government. One thousand days has passed, but not one city program -- not even one single city position -- has been reviewed using this cost-saving tool.

The Managed Competition reform has been used by cities and counties across the country for many years with great success-saving taxpayers an average of 15 percent for each government program subjected to the reform.

The reform is simple. Using best management practices and benchmarks, city bureaucracies are asked to streamline their operations. The city employees working in a streamlined function would then submit a bid to the mayor outlining the new cost and quality of their services. That bid would be compared to bids received by outside providers to make sure the city bureaucracy did indeed achieve maximum efficiency.

San Diegans use this competitive bidding process everyday to reduce their own household or business costs. When replacing a roof, a typical family will seek multiple bids from contactors. When a business wants to print marketing materials, it may get a price quote from two to three print shops.

However, city government operates quite differently. City bureaucracies currently have a monopoly on the work they do -- with no outside competitive pressure to keep their costs low and quality high.

If Managed Competitions were implemented, the city of San Diego could go through city departments and compare their functions with services offered by businesses listed in the Yellow Pages. When a function can be bid with the outside market, there is a potential for taxpayers to save substantial money.

For example, the city maintains a print shop that manages all printing done by city departments. They set a rate and city departments must pay it. There is no second opinion or a competitive bid. As a result, the city print shop has run a deficit in each of the last five years.

Auto maintenance is another example of where a managed competition could save taxpayer dollars. The city of San Diego currently has more than 250 employees working on auto maintenance. These employees change oil, rotate tires and fix engines. In 2004 we calculated the cost of auto maintenance in the city's police department at a surprising $8,848 per vehicle per year -- not including gas and the cost of purchasing these vehicles.

Voters recognized the potential of Managed Competitions in streamlining government services and making them more efficient when they approved the measure by 60 percent of the vote in 2006. While the mayor has laid out a constructive and worthy plan for implementation, his plan as well as the will of the people has been stopped as labor negotiations drag on.

Consequently, these labor negotiations come at a cost.

The city of San Diego has granted more than 1,100 hours of "negotiation" leave for city employees with total costs of negotiations valued at $124,000. In some cases, city management has scheduled negotiations only to have those requests go unanswered or cancelled at the last minute.

I believe the delay in implementing this voter approved reform should rest squarely on the shoulders of some city politicians who behind the scenes are attempting to derail reform. This is why I am calling on the mayor and City Council to work cooperatively together to complete labor negotiations in a timely manner. No more games, no more delays.

To provide accountability for implementation, I'm also proposing that the city commit to subject at least 10 percent of the city budget to this reform over the next year. If the city achieves this goal, San Diego taxpayers stand to save $15 million to $20 million alone in the next year based on the experiences of other cities and counties.

You may have heard this well-known phrase before: justice delayed is justice denied. In this case, after more than 1,000 days, democracy delayed is democracy denied. It's time that city politicians implement Proposition C to respect the will of the people and save millions in taxpayer funds.


Councilmember DeMaio represents San Diego's fifth council district.

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