Bay's administration trains to trim the fat

The members of Bay's administration who participated in the LeanOhio Boot Camp – (from left) Service/Safety Director Scott Thomas, Finance Director Renee Mahoney, Fire Chief Chris Lyons, Mayor Debbie Sutherland, Police Chief Mark Spaetzel and Assistant Finance Director Ruth Popovich – stand in front of a process they streamlined during the training. Photo by Tara Wendell

Bay Village’s mayor and several department directors spent a week at the end of July attending a boot camp focused on getting lean. No, it wasn’t a warmup for the healthy-city initiative that is expected to launch next January. This was an intensive, practical training session aimed at helping public sector employees streamline their operations and reduce wasted time, effort and resources.

The LeanOhio Boot Camp, conducted by Cleveland State’s Levin College of Urban Affairs, offers government-specific examples and exercises to illustrate the principles of “Lean” and “Six Sigma.” These continuous-improvement methods focus on cutting red tape, improving efficiency and eliminating “non-value added activities.” The goal is to make government processes “simpler, faster, better and less costly,” according to the state’s LeanOhio office website.

Mayor Deborah Sutherland said she first heard of the program, which kicked off this summer, in a conversation with former Senator George Voinovich.

“He reached out to us [to be among the handful of cities to participate in the program] because of Bay’s history and reputation for being innovative and collaborative,” Sutherland said. “Our goal is to provide even better service – faster and more value added – to our customers, the residents.”

Mayor Sutherland and the department heads in attendance – Scott Thomas, service and safety director; Renee Mahoney, finance director; Fire Chief Chris Lyons; Police Chief Mark Spaetzel; and Ruth Popovich, assistant finance director – took part in a collaborative exercise based on a real-world scenario. The example was the State of Ohio’s grant review process, where they were told to first use the state’s original methods and then see if they could identify and eliminate issues of waste to increase efficiency.

Using the directions given, the group was tasked with handling 16 sample applications in six minutes. The state’s past procedures were so cumbersome, they couldn’t finish a single one in the allotted time. After learning some tools and reworking the approach, they were able to complete the entire 16-count assignment in under one minute.

“The program is teaching us to evaluate processes and look for waste,” Sutherland said during a break on the last day of the boot camp. “We will be able to come away with a toolkit we can use to examine our own processes. After this ends, we will go back as a team and do some brainstorming.”

The mayor stressed that no employees will lose their jobs as the result of the administration’s search for inefficiencies. Residents may not notice big changes, maybe some updated city forms, but the benefits will come from refining internal processes – departmental and citywide.

The LeanOhio Boot Camp costs $2,000 per participant, but the city’s portion was covered in full by scholarships from the state’s Local Government Efficiency Program.

As cities face declining revenues from the state, finding ways to do more with less becomes imperative. The city of Westlake is also adopting the practice of eliminating duplication and waste in providing services. At Mayor Dennis Clough’s annual retreat for council members and department directors last November, the administration set an objective to initiate “lean” government methods.

In June, two continuous-improvement training sessions were held at City Hall. The first weeklong session focused on the service department, the second on the building department. They were conducted by a hired firm, Quality and Productivity Improvement Center, based in Connecticut.

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Volume 6, Issue 16, Posted 9:32 AM, 08.05.2014