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Breaking bureaucratic chains
Manteca hopes to transform how it delivers services
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Budget realities plus a desire by Manteca municipal leaders to improve the delivery of services is spawning an effort to breakdown the walls of bureaucratic culture to change how the city interacts with its 67,000 residents.

What the city is trying to do is so cutting edge – for government agencies anyway – that fabled private sector management guru Ken Blanchard has agreed to drop by the Manteca Civic Center April 22 to offer advice au gratis on possible strategies.

Blanchard, whose book “One Minute Manager” has sold more than 13 million copies and has authored motivational hits such as “Gung Ho!” was intrigued about what Manteca is trying to do after meeting up with Manteca Police Public Information Officer Rex Osborn.

Osborn was tapped by City Manager Steve Pinkerton to work with staff from the front line employees to department heads to devise better and more efficient ways to do the public’s business. That means empowering workers to make decisions without going through the chain of command, to solve problems in a timely manner, and to increase the efficiency of reduced municipal staff.

Osborn shared a general overview of the effort during Tuesday’s meeting of the Manteca Noon Kiwanis at Prestige Senior Living.

There are 45 municipal workers ranging from custodians, park workers, street workers, water and garbage service – every aspect of municipal government – which Osborn is working with to put in place a municipal government culture that no longer makes people fearful of making decisions on the front line.

Osborn, who noted the effort is still in its infancy stages, pointed out that a city can’t run like a business because it must provide services to its “customers” regardless whether it is public safety, streets, sewer or water.

Part of the problem that blocks change, according to Osborn, is the fact cities are set up like military organizations with a chain of command from the City Council to the city manager and then on down. The goal, Osborn noted, is to put a culture in place that acts more like a tribe where everybody acts in the best interests of the group or – in this case – the city’s 67,000 residents without waiting to get permission for every task or being told to respond to every service request.

He noted when a business runs into revenue problems it can either retool, relocate, or close. None of those options are open to the city as they must provide what are basically essential services. The trick is to find ways to make the city more efficient with less staff due to the new economic realities that Pinkerton has previously noted, a strong belief that we are in a new era of government funding.

“It (government spending and income) will never go back to what it was before,” Pinkerton noted in an interview six months ago.

That is why Osborn said it is equally important to get the community involved with the solution as well.

“Manteca has been a full service gas station for years but we were charging self-service prices,” Osborn noted.

That means in order to get some things done residents will have to take a greater role of being involved in their own communities whether it is being alert to criminal activity and networking with neighbors and calling police or helping keep parks and streets clean.

The effort is similar to community-based government - a process in San Jose that Manteca has examined - that has given those city employees working closest with the neighborhoods decision-making authority. Osborn said, though, there isn’t a model for what Manteca is trying to do.
“It can be scary to a lot of people,” Osborn noted of changing how they go about doing their jobs.

At the same time the city needs to question how it is doing business with no sacred cows. Osborn pointed out that also ruffle feathers.