Contracting for department management? Four tips to smooth the transition

By Dave Scurto

When municipal leaders think about ways to deliver services more efficiently and economically, they often consider contract services. While reducing dollar costs they also must take care to manage the human costs.

The public staff understandably fears a total takeover. They need to be reassured. At the same time, the contracting firm needs to move quickly and decisively.

My career has spanned greater than a quarter century. During this time, especially over the past 10 years, I’ve stepped into contract positions in cities and townships or led a team that took over management of a department. I’ve seen that acceptance and trust must be quick for positive results to happen. The city manager, township supervisor or department director play a key role.

Here are some small steps that go a long way to easing the transition to a department managed by a private company.

  1.  Alleviate fears of a total city takeover early on. Send an e-mail describing who the contractors are and their responsibilities. Give them a personality with names and brief background description.
  2. Invite the director of the contract staff to department director meetings. This may jump-start the familiarization process.
  3.  Invite the contract staff to informal celebrations and lunches. Municipal staff can see that they are human with kids, hobbies and activities.
  4.  A manager, supervisor or former department director must stay vigilant that a former municipal employee rehired by the new company answers to that company’s rules and procedures.  Interference may confuse that person resulting in a challenge and slowing progress.

Here’s a link from a newspaper article painting a picture of success when a private company and municipality, the City of Riverview, closely work together.

For more information, contact Dave Scurto at dscurto@cwaplan.com.

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