Best Practices

Mayor James N. Muns

Governance Improvement: A Paradigm Shift

par-a-digm (n.) An example or model. An agreed upon manner of perceiving, thinking, valuing and doing.

The Mayor and Council's desire to maintain the city's quality of life in the face of continuing growth in an increasingly urban environment prompted a more comprehensive approach to city governance. The process developed is based on principles found in Boards that Make a Difference by Dr. John Carver, Ph.D. This process has been an element of Plano governance over the course of three mayoral and City Council terms.

The Governance Improvement Process provides a model to develop policies and programs that address varied community issues. The model also allows the Mayor and Council to articulate its structure, values, activities, and relationships to the community and city staff. The Process advocates a proactive, outcome-based approach to governance by linking policy, fiscal planning, service levels, and citizen communications. The linkages are achieved by the Council identifying government outputs or ends -- and holding staff accountable for developing programs and services (means) to achieve the ends. A Mission statement and Ends statements reflect favored community outcomes and form the crux of Governance Improvement. The Mission statement defines Council's responsibility as citizen representatives and reflects the manner in which they will govern. The Ends statements represent the desired government outputs.

Council has identified six policy areas: public safety, transportation and mobility, parks, citizen information, economic viability and (city) employees' service-orientation as being critical to maintaining and improving the community's quality of life. Sub-end statements were used to further define the favored outputs under each major policy area. For example, under the health and public safety area, Council determined 'a safe and secure environment' is an expected governmental product or End. Sub-ends of a 'low crime rate,' 'safe and durable structure,' and 'high emergency-natural disaster preparedness' further define policy making in the areas of public safety.

Much debate took place as Council worked to form a consensus on policy areas and the related Ends statements. The question, "Is Council willing to create a program or process to insure for the output?" was used to filter suggested policy areas and Ends.

The Ends are forwarded to staff for the "Means" or actions needed to achieve them. Plotting the Ends and Means on the Governance Improvement Grid visually depicts a comprehensive approach to addressing city issues. The Grid also demonstrates responsibility for outputs requiring cooperation across departmental lines.

Council expands and refines the Ends statements to address community issues. To date the Governance Improvement Process has been used to address issues ranging from Police Department staffing levels, to Parks and Recreation user fees, to a continuous improvement program for city employees.

As part of adopting the Process, a town hall meeting was held to discuss outcomes and the philosophical underpinnings of the Process. Later policies were adopted which outlined job products of the Mayor and Council members. Executive Limitations which describe the City Manager's, City Attorney's, and the Municipal Court Judges' administrative and programmatic responsibilities were also developed. Persons in these three positions are appointed by, and serve at the will of, the City Council. These Limitations also serve as a method of evaluating their annual performance.

The focus then turned to city boards and commissions, as Council looked for ways to increase meeting productivity, reduce duplication of boards' and staff efforts, and increase accountability at City Hall. As a result, City Council meetings have been streamlined, boards/commissions with overlapping responsibilities have been combined, and staff have assumed responsibility for routine approvals that previously required formal hearings.

A range of activities associated with Governance Improvement are underway. The City Council now holds joint meetings with the Chamber of Commerce and School Board, quarterly town hall meetings, and even attends informal meetings in citizens' homes to discuss neighborhood concerns. The results of these meetings have been twofold: Citizens have gained a broader perspective on city issues and the Council has gained greater insight into citizen concerns.

Contact: Thomas H. Muehlenbeck, Sheila J. Martin, (214) 424-6531

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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