Oak Park wants culture of performance for village government

New budget and finance manager tasked with project

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

James Harris has checked off his first month as Oak Park's budget and finance manager, a newly created position in the village to address budget efficiencies and help implement cohesion among departments when it comes to implementing fiscal strategies.

Following discussions among staff and the village board's finance committee last year, Craig Lesner, the village's chief financial officer, said it was determined having an in-house consultant would be beneficial for developing and executing a performance management program. He also said for each individual department and for the public's benefit, it's important to focus on generating a budget document that's more accessible.

Harris will lead the charge in the first steps of the performance management program, expected to be developed over a seven month period starting this week. On Thursday, April 26, the finance committee got its first look at the draft of the technical approach behind the initiative that Harris expects will offer a strategic approach to improving village services and the use of village resources.

Three key points to implementing the plan were discussed, which consisted of analyzing how services are delivered in the community, identifying aspects of service activities needing improvement, and challenging the village to invest in improvement in those areas.

Harris, an Oak Park native, came from a California consulting firm for the opportunity. His base salary for this year will be 80,000. Lesner said his experience analyzing various successful and unsuccessful municipal programs implemented in towns across the country will allow Oak Park officials to learn without recreating the wheel.

"I think he brings a lot of that consultant history," Lesner said. "In his position he dealt with the public. He's seen a lot of different things from a lot of different places."

Starting next week, Harris will be diving into the first-quarter budget results with each department to communicate the immediate situation and determine if there are ways to mitigate any shortfalls. Although he's part of the finance department, Lesner said Harris will be able to offer department's a well-rounded perspective from a financial angle.

"While we are the money people in the finance department, they are our customers," Lesner said. "We are trying to help them get their job done."

He explained most departments must stay focused on their own daily operations and don't often have the time to dive into financial logistics, but that's where Harris can help.

"We are there trying to help understand their operations better. We function as internal consultants," he said. "It doesn't matter where it's coming from. You don't approach it as a top-down approach. It's very much a collaborative effort."

From an organizational standpoint, Lesner said it's good timing for the village since he thinks village board and staff have the same vision for improvement.

"I think that's where he's really going to help – with what our failures were in the past," he said.

Harris said during the meeting that organizations which invest in "improving service performance" typically perform more effectively than those that don't, according to market research. Overall, the report explains the program "promotes organizational alignment among impacted stakeholders, established service performance measures and performance targets that are accurate, meaningful and clearly understood; and that empowers departments with the tools and resources to manage and improve services."

The village will flow through an eight-step process that starts by conducting kick-off activities with review from village management staff and the finance committee; forming a program charter; conducting visioning sessions with key stakeholders; creating a program outline; conducting departmental interviews and focus groups; presenting findings and recommendations and reviewing and validating the program, according to the draft report.

Harris, who thinks his "outsider's perspective" will benefit the process, called the performance management program timeline "aggressive, but possible," and said it can becomes part of Oak Park's culture once implemented properly.

Harris said in local government there is often a strain between managers and departments, but this method encourages engagement from a grassroots effort, addressing all stakeholders in the process.

"This is going across the spectrum," he said. "Everyone is going to be touched by this."

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

4 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Kyle  

Posted: May 4th, 2012 7:13 AM

I laughed the 1st time I read this...the jargon & way our analysts have analysts. But kidding aside, I support at least the idea behind this if not the execution. This is a band-aid, but better than nothing. Lessening inefficiency & obfuscation still doesn't solve the basic problem of having bureaucracy wildly out of line with a city of 50,000. There needs to be less (not more) steps between resident money & the way it is spent.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 3rd, 2012 11:54 PM

PeopleSoft Redux - The new position of Budget and Finance Manager is probably and excellent idea as there is little question that the village's finance system is a mess. The position will probably improve the tedious and inefficient task of capturing financial transactions from the myriad of reporting departments. Essentially, the new system will address the business process problems that sabotaged the PeopleSoft (PS) system nearly a decade ago. Instead of replacing the PS system, the village chose to use some functions of PS with generic software (Excel, etc.) to keep the transactional data flowing to the reporting systems. That is, it was jerry-rigged. The modified system has inherent problem including data errors, slow processing, and few if any cross checking of data during processing. The Village Manager stated at the time that the jerry-rigged system was sustainable until 2010. The Budget and Finance Manager cannot resolve the most pressing problem - When will the village purchase or develop a new state of the art enterprise system? $35,000 was budgeted for 2012 for the cost of researching and developing an RFP (Request for Proposal) to replace the PeopleSoft system. There was no timeline on when the RFP would be released or a target for a new system. The board Financial Committee has been working on the financial data/information problem, but ultimately there are only limited short term system fixes or new financial hires available for a village that badly needs to get it financial house in order.

John Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 3rd, 2012 9:51 PM

Hi James - Welcome back to OP.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: May 2nd, 2012 12:20 AM

Interesting hire and welcome news that Village Hall is prepared to produce a budget that can be better understood or deciphered by taxpayers and staff. I would like to see a ninth step added to process that would seek input from residents and property owners. The fact that James Harris has roots in Oak Park should be an asset in that he will be familiar with the community's needs and expectations.

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