Editors note: This is a part of a series the Pekin Daily Times is producing focused on an efficiency study conducted by GovHR USA, which was hired by the city of Pekin to investigate the city’s efficiencies. This section deals with administration.
A third-party, in-depth look into Pekin’s city government and operations suggests that many of the administrative positions that have in some cases been vacant for years be filled, so that citizens receive the services they are paying for in an efficient manner.
In September, GovHR released the results of a Pekin City Council commissioned efficiency study that identified current conditions and operations, as well as recommendations for operating efficiently and economically over the next several years.
The Administration Department budget for 2016-17 consists of 13 positions in human resources, finance, economic development, community development and information technology. The city clerk and city treasurer were included in the administration portion of the study because some cities have these functions in an administration department, rather than appointed by the city council, according to the study.
The vacant assistant city manager position, director of finance position and technology manager position are not currently funded in the 2016-17 budget. The 2016-17 budget does include funding for the economic development director and another management position for the second half of the year. The study recommends that the decision of which positions to fill be based on the expertise of the new city manager, who is yet to be hired, said Sarah Newcomb, interim city manager.
The finance operations department has 5 1/2 positions, according to the study, however, Newcomb said the city actually has 4 1/2 positions in the department including a part-time treasurer, and full-time assistant finance director, and accounts receivable, accounts payable and utility billing employees. One way or the other, said Newcomb, the city’s 4 1/2 finance employees is below the 7.48 average of similar communities compared in the study.
The director of finance position has been open for many years and GovHR recommends that it be filled soon. The city currently has a part-time treasurer and relies on an auditor to produce the annual financial statement. The city doesn’t produce an annual Comprehensive Annual Finance Report. The lack of a CAFR limits information for citizens on the financial condition of the city and the direction of the city is going, the study states. A financial director would also be beneficial for preparation and monitoring of the city’s budget, the study said.
Newcomb said a CAFR contains budget, audit and performance measurements, each intricately interwoven. She said typically, a CAFR would take a year to put together because of its in-depth nature. The study recommends the city start doing a CAFR.
“It’s something we have talked about here, but we just do not have the staff to do something like that right now,” she said. “As (the study says), these people in our finance department are in the day to day operations.
“They don’t have the time to step back and do a huge (project like a CAFR). A CAFR is similar to a private sector financial report. It puts all of the information in one place. ... A CAFR threads it all together — tons of (references), ties everything to your comprehensive plan, to your strategic planning and in order to have performance measurements you have to have those.”
The study recommends that the city use its home rule powers to combine the treasurer/finance director position. The treasurer currently handles investments and revenues. At one time, the city had a finance director and treasurer combination. The combined position was removed in June 2006 when bank statements were found that had not been opened for lengthy periods of time and appeared that money had been stollen, which it had not. The city created a part-time treasurer’s position to assure checks and balances.
“The chance for impropriety is obviously greater when there’s only one doing that type of position,” said Newcomb. “In light of things like Dixon, Ill., I think it’s a good idea to separate the duties of the two.”
The city’s economic development position is not filled. The position’s responsibilities includes traditional economic development and tourism promotion. The study said it recommends that the city have an organization similar to a chamber of commerce do tourism work and have the city manager focus on economic development. Newcomb said the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce is doing that for Pekin.
“That arrangement has been working out really, really well and I think it would behoove the city for sure to take a harder look at that and probably just turn that over to the chamber,” she said. “We advertised (in late August) for a planning and development director, which kind of combines economic development and urban planning, inspections and planning all rolled into one.”
The study says the city does not have any planners on the administrative roster. It does have a community development director, who deals mostly with the city’s Community Development Block Grant. The director is the only one in the department. There are no planning positions in the administration, which the study says is unusual for a city the size of Pekin. The study recommends that some planning duties be placed with the community development director. Newcomb is doing those duties now.
“The urban planner looks at the comprehensive overall city and develops plans for infrastructure and development based on the long term best interest of the city,” said Newcomb. “I would see a planner being a part of community development.
“But, I also see planners in relation to economic development. If somebody wants to come in and build a new subdivision somewhere — maybe that’s not the best place for it, based on our comprehensive and long-term goals. A planner would be able to work with that person. They do lots of comprehensive planning, strategic planning and infrastructure studies.”
The city’s comprehensive plan dates back to 2006. Such a plan is the job of the Council.
“It is the Council’s job to plan, organize and strategize,” said Newcomb. “The staff’s job is to operate and execute those plans.
Human resources, legal council
The study says that 13 comparable cities have an average two-employee human resources department. Pekin has only one person, Human Resources Director Newcomb, serving also as interim city manager
“It would certainly be helpful to have at least an (administrative) assistant or some kind of clerk,” said Newcomb. “I would love to focus on some training opportunities and tying some things across all departments. We need to do some succession planning, but we need to have people to have a succession plan.”
Newcomb has prepared a request for proposal for corporation counsel services at the request of the Council, and evaluation of the cost of the current services versus an in house counsel. The study says the long-term tenure of the current counsel is of benefit to the city, but evaluating the best practices to continue operations, while considering the benefits of retaining current counsel is always a good direction for a city.
The current corporation counsel is Elliff Dancey & Bosich. A request for proposals has been prepared to determine if the city could get the work done for less by bringing in house or hiring a different firm.
The city also employs Miller, Hall & Triggs for union contract negotiations and other sources for lawsuits.
Elliff Dancey & Bosich has served as corporation counsel since the 1970s, with the exception of the Don Williams administration from 1991-95, said Corporation Counsel member Burt Dancey. The firm does all of the legal work except union negotiations and lawsuits. It is paid $8,500 per month for a retainer, which covers three attorneys and the law firm staff that includes two legal assistants. The firm is paid an hourly fee for prosecuting traffic tickets, ordinance violations, zoning violations, animal control issues and liquor code violations. The attorneys are available 24/7.
“I’m just speaking from what other people have told me in the past when we did switch firms for a while, from one attorney to another — the amount of institutional knowledge, as they say, that we lost during that four-year time frame was significant,” Newcomb said. “It is nice to be able to pick up the phone and ask the attorneys about something that happened 15 or 20 years ago and they have the information.”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin