Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession should quickly make changes recommended in a $260,000 efficiency study that calls for cutting as many as 100 jobs across city government, City Council members said Monday.
The fact that the mayor and four council positions are up for election this year should not be an excuse for not taking action, said Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, whose seat is not up for election until 2009.
“I don’t care that this happens to be an election year,” she said. “Let’s get something done and hopefully restore a little trust.”
Councilman Bob Apple said he was “very impressed” with the depth of the report and the fact that consultants listened to council members’ suggestions. His council seat is on the ballot this year.
Acting Deputy Mayor John Pilcher assured the council that Hession and his top staff are taking the study seriously and have already started evaluating 251 separate recommendations from Matrix Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Calif.
“We are going to be pushing on this as hard as we can,” Pilcher told the council.
Richard Brady, president of Matrix, appeared before the council, saying that the city has been making steady progress at becoming more efficient, but needs to reverse a tendency in public works to provide too much maintenance in utility operations, including sewer maintenance.
He also said the city’s decentralized purchasing and accounting operations could be made more efficient by bringing employees under closer City Hall supervision.
Brady has recommended that the city set more performance standards to ensure services are efficient.
The Matrix report was made public on Jan. 17 after a copy was leaked to The Spokesman-Review. Hession had sought to keep it confidential until the week of Jan. 22 so that factual errors could be corrected.
Meeting with the news media on Monday, Brady said that only one recommendation was taken out of the report as a result of factual changes. Otherwise, he defended recommendations to cut staff and increase work schedules for firefighters. Any job cuts likely would come through attrition such as retirements or resignations, he said.
Brady said the draft of the Spokane study had fewer factual errors than studies done for other cities.
Typically, cities will implement between 75 percent and 80 percent of recommendations, he said.
“This is about coming up with hundreds of ideas for the city to entertain and, hopefully, implement,” Brady told reporters.
In other business, the City Council voted 5-2 to increase funding for grants to human services agencies by $132,000, above the $695,000 that was budgeted at the start of the year.
Initially, the council in a 4-3 vote said no to a proposal by Councilman Rob Crow to add $218,000 to the grant program. It takes five yes votes to adopt a budget change. Crow sought the $218,000 to bring the human services grants up to the same amount as in 2006.
The program benefits agencies serving low-income residents and homeless people.
Councilman Brad Stark voted against the larger figure, and then moved to make the lesser amount available from the city’s cash balance.
Council members were deliberating on the initial $695,000 in grant recommendations from the Human Services Advisory Board late Monday.
The board will be asked to consider how to divide the additional $132,000, then make those recommendations to the council at a future meeting, Stark said in a phone message.
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