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County Council August 18

County is doing a "superb" job
But M.A.P Commission recommends some major changes
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

The final report of the Charleston County Commission on Management, Accountability and Performance (M.A.P) was presented to the Finance Committee last night. In a presentation, the Chairman of the Commission, Dr Mark Hartley said that overall the County is doing a "superb" job. But there were a number of areas where, in the opinion of the Commission, some improvements could be made. All of these were contained in the 308-page report placed before Committee members last night.

The M.A.P Commission was formed in January 2004 at the instigation of the County Council. It was modeled on the Commission formed by the Governor of SC in 2003 and for a similar purpose - to study government and make and recommend changes to improve effectiveness, efficiency, resource management and responsiveness to the community. Dr Mark Hartley is a professor at the College of Charleston who served on the State MAP Commission. Including the chairman, there were 12 M.A.P. commissioners, all serving on an honorary basis. They included businessmen, lawyers and a former Mayor. What the Commission did not have was a writer of concise English. This will be apparent to any reader of the report.

Thorough ground work
In preparing the report, the Commission mailed questionnaires to 15,000 households in the community seeking comments on services and desired changes. It met with elected officials and members of County staff. To facilitate more "in depth" reviews, it formed 7 task forces to review specific areas of government. Each of the task forces contained 2 or 3 Commissioners.

Committee members were very praising of the efforts of the Commission. Obviously the contents of the report could not be discussed last night as no member had a chance to read it fully. But there were promises of further meetings with the Commission and the Committee members to discuss the findings and recommendations. And one Committee member warned, there could be hostility on the part of some of the municpalites of the County to implementing some recommendations.

Recommendations broken down by category not importance
The Commission did give a long summary of it recommendations in the report but they were broken down within each category of study rather than in order of importance. In an effort to summarize the summary, we will stick with the approach of the Commission. But in most cases we have tightened up the recommendations to more readable English and noted only the top 4 or 5 recommendations in each category. The discussion after the recommendations is a précis of that in the report though we have interspersed some comments of our own.

Government Organization and Structure
Recommendations

1 Elect the Chairman of the County Council County-wide to be the spokesperson and point of contact for Council. Pay him at a rate commensurate with duties. Separate further the legislative and executive functions giving the County Administrator freedom to act independently
2 Consolidate the supervisory function into as few personnel as possible.
3 Focus on county-wide functions and look more to other local jurisdictions to provide services and thereby eliminate duplication
4 Eliminate funding of a service to a specific local area through County funding. These services should be funded by special local taxes.

We doubt that the first recommendation will sit well with new Council members considering the introduction of single member districts. But there is no doubt the role of Chairman is a hard one and should be more than a part-time job. The second recommendation flows from the finding that there is a lack of clarity in the primary function of management and supervision. Many are managers are performing service functions as well. There are too many supervisors relative to the number of employees. The third recommendation reflects the fact that many services are provided by both the cities and the County, particularly for fire and police departments. There could also be synergies by merging some operations such as the management of parks, business licenses, and procurement and purchasing The Commission observed that many county residents are being taxed twice. They are paying for county services that are also being provided by municipalities. They are being taxed by the municipality and the County for the same service.

Human resources
Recommendations

1 A merit pay system should be considered
2 A comprehensive salary and job classification study should be made
3 Unnecessary layers of management should be eliminated
4 Diversity should be fostered

The reason for the first recommendation is obvious. Good people need to be rewarded otherwise their morale will suffer and or they will to take a job somewhere else. The second recommendation has the same reasoning. Employees need to be paid on a competitive basis other wise they too will leave. The County already has moved to have a pay study, independent of this recommendation. Too many layers of management was an observation of some employees. If a reduction can be achieved, it would reduce costs and probably increase efficiency. Diversity is already an issue for Council and should be addressed by the initiatives now underway.

Public Safety
Recommendations

1 Identify areas where coordination and cooperation are possible between the various law enforcement and fire agencies within the County.
2 Update and integrate the 800MZ communications system so all public safety entities can communicate with each other in the County
3 Create a uniform countywide system of core inspection and enforcement procedures through the Building Services Department.
4 Increase the funding of the Building Services Department to allow a marshal to enforce and prosecute offenders in PSD and other areas that presently are not well served.

With each city and municipality maintaining an independent police and fire department, all with similar tasks, it follows that there will be opportunities for better coordination. The Commission cited as an example the problems in the pursuit of a criminal through municipal boundaries. The creation of a more modern system to replace the current County radio network and the sharing by all county entities would be a step toward greater efficiency and coordination. Fire codes and degrees of enforcement differ within the entities of the County. It would be more efficient to have only one standard. The final recommendation is simply a need for more funding.

Transportation and Public Works
Recommendations

1 CARTA should submit annually a detailed budget to Council County.
2 County Vehicles should be placed in the Commercial Vendor Repair Program (CVRP).
3 The County Maintenance facility should become a member of the CVRP network.
4 Work with county entities to implement federal regulations relating to storm water.

The County has the major responsibility for funding CARTA through the allocation of the half-cent sales tax funds. To assist its oversight and governance, it needs more detailed budgets. The budget report for 2006 was confined essentially to 2 pages. The CVRP was created by the State and designed to bring some flexibility and cost savings for repairs for vehicles in the program. Membership of the program does not mandate use. But the County would have access to 44 more repair facilities in the area. As well, if it added its own repair facilities to the program, it could garner revenue. The Public Works recommendation reflects new Federal regulations that tighten up on storm water disposal. The County and its entities are committed to this program and presently it remains unfunded. It would be best if the County and its entities cooperated in the endeavor.

Budgeting Financing and Accounting
Recommendations

1 Project annual expenditure and revenue for 3-year periods
2 Include the Procurement Department as part of the budget process
3 Break down further the tax bills of citizens to show the allocation of funds for expenditure
4 Review budgets of departments under countywide elected officials

The County is required to prepare 3-year forecast but for some reason does not do so. So do it, the Commission says. It is needed for planning. The budget process is largely a summation of estimates. It would be helpful for more accurate forecasting if the Procurement Department were included in the review process. And to make departments and Boards more accountable, citizens should get a more detailed breakdown as to where there taxes are going. As for departments run by elected officials, the Commission feels they are not being sufficiently scrutinized.

Procurement, Outsourcing, Privatization
Recommendations

1 Introduce the use of purchase cards
2 Increase the maximum for a single use of a purchasing card to $2500, the Federal government limit
3 Raise the threshold for the formal bidding process to $25,000 from $10,000
4 Consider leasing vehicles if they are to be driven over 9000 miles a year.

The Commission was full of compliments for the Procurement Division. One gets the impression that the Division wanted to implement changes but was held back by Council of the Administrator. The recommendations are designed to boost efficiency and reduce paper work. The last recommendation is simply a possible way to reduce costs.

Facilities and Capital Management
Recommendations

1 Implement the Structural Maintenance and Repair Team (SMART) concept.
2 Increase the bid limit from $1000 to $2500 before 3 quotes are required.
3 Find other methods besides money or rewarding low paid employees.

The SMART concept involves a small team of tradesmen for maintenance. Presently the maintenance system is cumbersome with paper work and not well coordinated. Under SMART the tradesman team would visit facilities on a formalized and regular basis to determine together the maintenance that is likely or necessary

Readers might also like to see the responses to the questionaires that were sent out to citizens. Press here

Very good value
The cost of the Commission report was $10,000 and little has to flow from it to make it a very worthwhile exercise. Overall, the report is thorough, provocative and oozing common sense. But it is hard to properly judge the merits of many of the observations and recommendations. Council and the administration are in the position to do this. And they have promised to do so and to implement those recommendations that have merit. We hope that they do so.

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