Does SF Government work?

Phil Ting's picture

How do we know if government works?  Every day we rely on SF government to transport us to work, ensure we have streets and stoplights to keep transit flowing, keep us safe through our police and firefighters.  But yet, how do we judge if government is working.  We know when it doesnt work - the MUNI driver is rude or closes the door on us, rude public service or confusing bysantine permit rules.  So we know where it doesnt work - how do we know when it works.  We have hundreds of performance measures - but are they real indicators of government working?  How would you communicate to San Franciscans where governments to help restore their faith in governement?  How would we measure government to figure out where it doesnt work to improve government?  In the Assessor's office, we are judged by the amount of appraisals and audits we do and how much money that brings into the city.  That's a simple measurement, but how do we measure healtha and human services, public works, rec and park?

Lucy in the sky's picture

Difficult question.

 I truly believe that to measure governments effectiveness will require a thinking out of the box approach.   Most people will complain and request that their complaint be resolved immediately.  But what happens when it is taken care of immediately, what then?  

When I watch the news and they run stories about an unhappy viewer with a product they purchased or being billed exorbitantly by PG&E they run a story of how it was resolved.  Why not partner up with news outlets and give them a day in office.  This way they can see that there are stories that are not being told in the media, and that are being resolved.  Stories run on the news outlets scaring residents but we rarely hear of the good stories with the happy resident having their problem resolved. 

gcotter's picture

You'd Need an Audit to Find Out

Interestingly enough a partial set of answers are already listed under "Creative Solutions for the Growing Deficit" discussion.  That thread almost immediately started in on "Audits" and I opine that good audits would reveal whether or not the SF government works.

My initial response was one word:  "No."  But that's because I think many departments are inefficient, money is wasted, overtime is out of control, etc.  But the only way to determine whether I am right or wrong is to audit all the different departments.  Keep in mind that an audit isn't just an accounting process.  An audit can check processes and procedures - are they being followed?  Are they necessary?  What is the value added to the city by performing this process?  Could it be done more effectively by transferring it to a different department or, conversely, separating it out into a new department?

Unless you have had to interface with auditors on a regular basis in a large for-profit company you may not be aware of the scope of responsibility an auditing department can have.  They don't just balance checkbooks and look at profit/loss statements.  They can and should look at all aspects of a business from hiring policies and procedures through employee perks and office supply expenses and telephone bills.  For example, getting rid of free cell phones for employees can be a big cost saving.  Paying for employee cell phones made sense 10 years ago, but it doesn't today when everyone has a personal phone with unlimited minutes.  An Audit should identify the annual cost of such line items.  Auditing can't force or mandate a change, but they can identify expenses and forward them to management (voters/BOS/Department managers) for action.


Break the "Progessive Stranglehold"!

Years ago, the Sierra Club had a motto, "We are not blindly opposed to progress; we are opposed to blind progress".  Today, we have a city run by people who have named themselves "Progressives" (reminds me of the personal ads where people described themselves as stunningly beautiful).  But attaching the word progress or progressive doesn't automatically mean that it is forward thinking or that it extends human kindness.  As we have now experienced, being "Progressive" has turned into a nightmare.

  Specifically, the "Progressives" look at the problem areas, such as, the drug addicts and the homeless, and see some kind of social debt or mandate.  I look at the same people and see individual failures.  The result has been a city budget that includes about $187 million for homeless programs, (not including the millions spent on the ER room, etc), while ignoring a school system that can't even provide instruments for the orchestra.  Some may be offended by my depiction of these problem people, but before retirement, I worked the streets of this city as a State Parole Agent.  Everyday, I was eye to eye with the drug addicts and the felons, and I can tell you for a fact that many of them came to this city for the purpose of being homeless here.  I have heard addicts and criminals, with out-of-state warrants, tell me directly that they came here because, "San Francisco is soo nice to the homeless".  And at budget time, I have heard the Mayor's office state that although we spend $187 million a year on the homeless, "nobody questions the need for that".

    Well, I must be nobody, because I certainly question it.  Now, I have no problem helping the untreated mentally ill, which we do have or helping the unlucky workers that have lost their income.  But most of the homeless you see hanging around the City and all of the drug addicts are just plain old, irresponsible bums.  And if you think I sound harsh, talk to the real experts, the drug counselors at the various programs.  Almost all of them are long term 'recovering addicts' (I'm talking 10 to 20 years in recovery).  These counselors were in fact the people who taught me long ago to never accept or never to listen to the excuses of an addict.  God knows, addicts have more excuses than you have time.  The experts will also tell you that the only person that can break away from the addiction lifestyle, is the person that really wants to do this.  Unfortunately, there are very few of those type of addicts in the programs.  You will also hear the real experts (long term recovering addicts) tell you that providing for the failures of addicts and criminals only makes you an "enabler".

  So, rather than continuing to help the City expand its base of addicts and criminals, I want to change the focus to helping those that are working within the system, such as the school kids, and leaving the personal failures to tend to their own problems.  If and when these failures make a personal decision to reach out for help, then we can extend that helping hand.  But that is not what we do now.


Mike Mitchell, San Francisco.

Maria Balilo's picture

Audits are inadequate

I'm suspicious of the accuracy of statistics and surveys as a way of quantifying government efficiency, or audits as a way of gauging government effectiveness, but they're still necessary to understand which parts of the bureaucracy need thorough streamlining. I'm tempted to say that one good way of gaining feedback on how the government impacts the average San Franciscan's quality of life is opening up more avenues for public discourse, i.e. the successful Solutions Palooza, but even that, while highly productive, isn't fully representative of the city's diverse population, thus the entire spectrum of discontent isn't heard or acknowledged.  In theory, the government is first and foremost for the people, thus the most pragmatic way to see the impact of public policy is from the people themselves.

Phil Ting's picture

Audits are good idea but dont tell the whole story

Audits are a great idea but we need more.  Audits will give us an idea what's wrong, but we also need an idea of what's right.  Too often we just criticize government without acknowledging what we can improve and how we can make things better.  We need better performance measures which can really measure how effective our city services are.

bobbyh's picture

City Survey

I totally agree with those saying that the people are the ultimate judge of how well government is working--performance measures are important and should be how government rates ITSELF, but the people should also have their own say because ultimately it is how we the customers (taxpayers) percieve/experience the quality of government that really matters.  

The San Francisco Controller used to do a "City Survey" annually, but seems like they stopped it after the 2009 survey--not sure why.  Not only do I think that needs to be brought back, but perhaps expanded!  Get more people to have their say (through sites like Reset San Francisco) and we will get a much better idea of where government is falling down, and as Phil mentioned, where it is doing well.

And another idea is to potentially have those departments that are falling down (per the people), undergo a mandatory audit/review of their service delivery!  How about that for people having a real direct say in reforming their own government!?

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137