Thu, Aug

Wanted: A Conservator for DONE

PERSPECTIVE - It is an understatement to say I have harshly criticized the management of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

It’s not a personal issue.  I am acquainted with a handful of the department’s employees, past and present, and have respect for most of them.  There is a desire to do the right thing; what is lacking is the ability. That’s a management problem.

While there is talk of training programs for NC board members, no one is addressing the serious lack of skills downtown.  It is naive to assume that DONE can help implement system improvements when the staff is incapable of administering basic processes.

Failure is rarely more fundamental than what occurred last week.

An E-Blast was sent by the department to its NC distribution on July 25th. The blast contained a link to a budget template NCs should use to submit their budgets.

Fine, but the budgets were due ten days earlier on July 15th. What’s more, the link did not work.  When it was finally fixed, it brought you to a sign-on screen asking for a user ID and password.  Few were aware of a user ID or password to access the template.

An accountant, who serves as the  treasurer for a neighborhood council, did gain access and put the template through the paces.  He found some serious flaws that would significantly limit its usefulness even if in the hands of trained personnel.

Rolling out a new feature requires a few basic steps anyone should be able to figure out. This includes pre implementation testing performed by users. DONE just threw it out there hoping it would stick.

This event is not the end of the world.  Budgets will eventually be loaded (to the extent they are submitted), but the lack of planning and even less understanding of the  objective is par for the course when it comes to DONE’s management. Expect confusion when the department tries to integrate actual NC spending with the budget data.

When the mayor’s office proposed to move DONE under the Community Development Department [link] over a year ago, I was adamantly against it, as were almost all NC board members.  I am now having second thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not want DONE to lose its stand-alone departmental status, but what good is it if the department is incapable of standing alone? Its record of failure is documented by two separate audits, quite possibly the two worst back-to-back audit reports any department has received in the history of the city.  The same team is still largely in charge.  Expecting a different result in the years to come meets the classic definition of insanity.

CDD could have supervised and offered training and structure until such time DONE could walk by itself.  Just as courts appoint a conservator for those with diminished capacity and Major League Baseball stepped in to assist the Dodgers, it sometimes takes intervention by a third-party to right the course.

In the case of DONE, a partnership between the CDD and NC Board Members might have been the best solution for restructuring.

It would be worth reading my article [link]  about a conversation I had with former City Controller Laura Chick over a year ago. Her thoughts about DONE and the role of the City Council in the chaos surrounding the poorly managed department echo my concerns.

Council Member Krekorian should have read it, too.  Better yet, he should have placed a call to Ms. Chick. He might have gained appreciation for the futility of dealing with the dysfunctional organization before issuing his weak package of motions.  [link]

I have been involved with the NC system since 2005 when I was first elected to the Board of NC Valley Village.  I have had the pleasure of working with many dedicated board members and stakeholders from around the city.  These are people who have sacrificed extensive personal time only to be largely ignored by City Hall.

We have reached a point where further reliance on DONE will bring the NC system down within a few short years. Board members and stakeholders need to unite and fight for autonomy rather than trust our elected officials and department bureaucrats to do what is right.  A conservatorship of sorts over DONE jointly managed by the CDD and the neighborhood councils might be the best compromise.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as Treasurer for the Neighborhood Council Valley Village.  He blogs at Village to Village and can be reached at:  [email protected] )

Tags: Conservator, DONE, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, board members, Community Development Department, Councilman Krekorian, treasurer, NC treasurer

Vol 9 Issue 61
Pub: Aug 2, 2011