Steve Barwick: Guest Opinion
Legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey made a career with his fascinating series, The Rest of the Story. Its time the Aspen public hears the rest of the food purchasing story. First some facts about 2008 food expenses: $36,517 was spent on meals for City Council, P&Z, HPC and various task forces. $22,329 was spent on food for the public in special events, programs and awards. $9,529 was spent on food during internal employee trainings. $8,174 was spent on awards and recognition programs. $829 was spent on Wheeler Opera House backstage food for artists.So what were left with is $56,787 spent on the types of food purchases called out by The Aspen Times. This amounts to approximately one-fourteenth of 1 percent of the citys expenses. Is this acceptable? My short take is that while most of the individual expenses fall within the purchasing policy, there were some questionable decisions. The total volume seems excessive, and were working on ways to fix that.Now for the rest of the story The city of Aspen has purposely moved away from the traditional form of government management which focuses exclusively on controlling every detail of each departments operation. This type of bureaucracy almost always fails to accomplish much with the mindset, Keep the systems as tight as humanly possible, so we dont incur any abuse. The resulting centralized, bureaucratic controls stifle innovation and lead to static government organizations. Ask yourself: Was your last visit to get a drivers license any different than it was 30 years ago?The city of Aspen has shrunk centralized, bureaucratic controls and replaced them with performance goals and measures the organizations new DNA. All city departments have specific, measurable performance goals and are held accountable for meeting those goals. We have given greater autonomy to our departments to manage their budgets and create results. Our decentralized purchasing system also saves thousands of dollars in transaction fees, hours of paperwork and wasted time. Were certainly not perfect, but we make consistent progress in meeting our customer service goals.We are also a highly innovative organization. Within the past few years we have: Created an electric supply system with 75 percent renewable energy and at lower costs than most other Colorado providers. Reduced our organizations greenhouse gas production by 23 percent in just three years. Created a home energy conservation program capable of saving Aspen homeowners millions of dollars (to be announced soon!). Built an incredible system of trails, parks, playgrounds and playing fields. Launched the worlds first municipal carbon offset program. Used innovative public input methods such as the Clicker Sessions. Become the only non-metropolitan area in the U.S. with dedicated bus lanes. Designed an affordable housing system studied and copied by visitors from around the world.These successes and many others have been made possible by our engaged, well-trained and highly effective city of Aspen employees.Ill stack our proven performance up against that of any similar municipality in the country. The inventiveness of the Aspen community is alive and well in the city of Aspen.The populace never seems to tire of the joy of flogging a public bureaucracy. Thats fine; its healthy in a variety of ways. Those of us in the business of creating effective public institutions learn to accept our floggings as the price for creating freedom to perform. Yes, a few individuals in our organization spent too much on food well fix that. But we remain a very effective, innovative organization which strives to live up to the goals of this incredible community.And thats The Rest of the Story.
Steve Barwick is the city manager for the city of Aspen.
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