The Augusta Commission set some goals and agreed on the scope of an outside efficiency study during a Monday retreat.
After much discussion about which departments to have consultant Malik Watkins analyze, the group determined that Watkins will begin with the city’s beleaguered Human Resources Department.
The department has been without a director and other key personnel for months and has been a target for outsourcing to Automatic Data Processing by the mayor and several commissioners. ADP has an Augusta call center.
Watkins said he’ll meet with city administrators and return with a proposal for the study at a meeting of the commission’s Administrative Services Committee next month.
In performing the study on any city department, Watkins said he examines aspects such as the prioritization of objectives, the charter, information flows, revenues versus costs, perceived benefits, time constraints and service goals. He begins the process by interviewing managers and measuring controls, then determines where improvements can be made based on best practices, industry data, studies and other sources.
Watkins stressed the importance of control mechanisms and standards in evaluating efficiency. “How do you know something is efficient if you can’t measure it?” he said.
“I’m like your personal investigator,” Watkins added. “I go as deep as you determine.”
The group of six that attended the retreat initially considered starting with the city’s procurement, recreation and engineering departments. Recreation and engineering were selected because they took on the functions split from Public Services last year when it was dismantled. City Administrator Fred Russell said he would like to know if the city’s internal reorganization effort had been effective.
Commissioner Corey Johnson said he would like Watkins to return with the pros and cons of alternatives for each department.
“We don’t want you to tell us what to do,” Johnson said.
The study of human resources will include several payroll staffers who work for the city’s Finance Department.
The group also agreed loosely to some broad goals for the city. Each commissioner presented ideas, Watkins compiled them on a chart, and then the group prioritized them.
Commissioners J.R. Hatney, Grady Smith and Joe Jackson did not attend the retreat. Several commissioners who did either arrived late or left early.
The top-ranked goal was improved “communications and connectivity,” from increased Internet access to gateway beautification. The next ranked goal was improving the commission’s ability to govern and create a livable, business-friendly “premiere designation” for growth and development.
Next was increasing public safety, followed by community and neighborhood development. Last was public transportation.
Each of the goals included specific points raised by commissioners, such as Johnson’s aspiration to make the lower end of Walton Way a “college district” and Lockett’s desire to deal with long-vacant Regency Mall.
Watkins encouraged the group to maintain broad goals by which to measure staff’s ability to deliver. Talk of specific projects was “getting too narrow,” he said.