IMPROVED SERVICE DELIVERY
If Montgomery County were a city, it would be the tenth largest in America. Once a suburban bedroom community, the county now wrestles with complex problems like income inequality, health disparities, immigration, homelessness, urbanization, and more. As county executive, I will set ambitious goals for expanding economic opportunity, promoting racial equity, reducing opioid addiction, and improving the quality of life for everyone in our diverse population. I will also set ambitious goals for delivering basic services better, faster and cheaper than ever before.
Our residents rely on county government for many essential services, which are often taken for granted until something goes wrong. These include collecting trash, paving streets, managing traffic, enforcing laws, and responding to emergencies.
Sometimes service failures are annoying, like the spate of missed recycling and yard trim pickups in Bethesda and Silver Spring last year. Other times they can be deadly. After the 2016 explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments that killed three people, we learned that the complex had hundreds of code violations. While investigators have not directly linked the explosion to lax code enforcement, I sponsored a bill that has toughened code enforcement and repair requirements for multi-family housing.
In 2017, County government surveyed residents about their satisfaction with services (a new survey is currently underway), the first such survey since 2009. The survey results and recent 311 performance data and management reports show that while the county does many things well, there is room for improvement in several service areas. Here are four services that will get my immediate attention as county executive:
Street repair and maintenance – This was one of the lowest rated services in 2009 and 2017, and current data show that fewer than half our roadways are in good condition and that response times for road and pothole repair requests are not meeting standards.
Code enforcement – Enforcement of housing codes – such as illegal dumping, high grass and weeds, and overcrowding – got positive ratings from barely more than half of residents in 2017. 311 data indicate that response to housing complaints is not meeting performance standards, and the Housing Department reports that repeat code violations are too high. My bill to strengthen code enforcement is helping, but we need a comprehensive plan to boost code compliance.
Traffic management – The 2017 survey found dissatisfaction with car, bicycle, pedestrian, and public transportation mobility in the county, and performance data show that bus ridership is falling. Improving traffic flow will require a whole host of solutions, including my Bus Rapid Transit plan, new reversible lanes on I-270, smarter traffic signals, and strategies to get more people living closer to work, working from home, carpooling, and shifting their commuting times.
Trash Collection – Trash collection has been a strong performer, but we saw a spike in missed pickups last year due to contract management issues, and the 2017 survey found that customer satisfaction is slipping. I want to make sure we are able to detect and correct performance problems right away, and that our contracts are written to ensure outstanding service.
The reality of Montgomery County’s fiscal situation is that we can’t make these services better by throwing more money at them. In fact, we need to find ways to deliver better service at lower cost. Here are some of my ideas for making that happen:
Empower the Customer – I will give residents more ways to report service problems and give feedback on service quality. A 311 mobile app will put county government at your fingertips, wherever you are. Imagine being able to snap a photo of a pothole and alert DOT at the press of a button. The app will also let residents give letter grades to services, and all county departments will strive for straight As. I will also give residents more online self-service options and enable residents to create their own online “dashboards” to monitor the county’s performance for the services they care about.
Empower Employees – Front-line employees should be trained to provide world class customer service and be able to use their best judgment to make customers happy. When service delivery breaks down, it is almost always a process problem, not a people problem. I will bring employees to the table to fix broken service delivery systems and reward them for continuous improvement. I will also make employees full partners in achieving more cost-effective service delivery, including sharing the savings.
Hold Department Heads Accountable – I will hire department heads who are committed to making services more cost-effective. They will each have annual performance agreements with targets for service improvement. I will help them cut through bureaucracy that gets in the way, and only renew their contracts if they are demonstrating good results.
Use Data to Get More Value for Every Tax Dollar – We are used to using data to simply track performance. Now we have the tools to do much more. I want to build on the early data analytics work of CountyStat to unlock the power of data to solve our thorniest problems. Data can help the county target its limited resources where they will have the biggest impact; predict when and where code violations and fires are most likely to occur; prevent traffic bottlenecks; and much more. By linking data analysis to the budget process, I will make sure we are making the best use of tax dollars.
Write Contracts That Get Results – Montgomery County contracts with private vendors for many services, including basic ones like trash collection, street repair and tree maintenance. Results-driven contracting tells vendors what the county wants to accomplish and lets vendors propose the most efficient and effective way to get the job done. It holds the vendors accountable for meeting performance targets, rewards them when they do better and penalizes them when they fall short. I will hire a cutting-edge procurement director, eliminate the red tape that slows down the purchasing process and strangles innovation, and turn contract managers from paper pushers to performance partners.