Hiring an outside, unbiased “efficiency expert” to examine Augusta departments gained traction on the second day of a mayor and commission retreat Friday.
The mayor and commission again expressed willingness to hire Malik Watkins, one of the retreat facilitators, to perform an efficiency study of Augusta government.
While the commission has authorized – and shelved – numerous studies over the years, hiring Watkins could “head us in the right direction of better government, and more satisfaction from our government,” Commissioner Bill Lockett said.
Watkins, who helped commissioners focus on “solutions” rather than the problems themselves when they broke into small groups at the retreat, said he’d performed a similar efficiency study of departments in Brunswick, Ga.
He begins the study by examining the mission of each and how it contributes to the city’s overall mission, then looks at the types of management controls in place.
The study is entirely data-driven, allowing departments to “dig deeply” into long-held assumptions, Watkins said.
Bill Weeks, the city manager in Brunswick, said he’d been pleased with Watkins’ work.
While Watkins initially quoted the city about $30,000 to study all city departments, Brunswick opted, due to its own budgetary constraints, to hire him to conduct only a first phase of the study for approximately $13,000, Weeks said.
Phase 1 included a financial analysis and profit-loss statements of Brunswick’s recreation, police, and public works departments, Weeks said.
It helped Brunswick determine whether it needed to increase revenues and fees, as well as identify the potential for “alternatives or partnerships” for how the city provides services, Weeks said.
“We asked him to sort of dissect our financials,” Weeks said, and Watkins got in deep over a period of about six months with everyone from department heads to low-level staff, Weeks said.
“It worked out very well for us and Malik is a very good guy for the job,” he said. “The interpersonal relationships he can have with supervisors and managers make them feel at ease, like we’re not after your job.”
City Administrator Fred Russell said he was researching Watkins’ background Friday. Watkins, an employee of Carl Vinson Institute of Government, has a Ph.D. from Ohio State University and prior experience as director of survey research at Savannah State University with expertise in planning, program and policy evaluation and operational audits, according to his staff bio.
The mayor and commission agreed at the retreat to hold regular goal-setting meetings with the administrator, ensure consistency and thoroughness in interpersonal as well as public communications and generally try to get along.