here for PDF format
for participants' responses to this interview.
Randy Maluchnik, Carver
and Rhonda Pownell, Northfield City Council Member
The Civic Caucus
8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
of the discussion
Verne Johnson (chair), Janis Clay, Pat Davies,
Jim Hetland (phone), Ted Kolderie,
Loritz, Tim McDonald, Jim Olson (phone), Wayne Popham (phone), Clarence
Summary of discussion
- Randy Maluchnik, Carver County Commissioner, and Rhonda Pownell of the
Northfield Council describe the challenges and opportunities facing cities
and counties as they seek to innovate in the administration of public
services. They describe successful uses of the Joint Powers Act, which
enables units of government to work together - and argue that to innovate
within given resources administrators and workers on the front lines
should be given both room and incentive to try new ideas.
Introduction of interviewees-
Randy Maluchnik is Carver County Commissioner and president of the
Association of Minnesota Counties. Maluchnik is a resident of Chaska and
former member of the Chaska City Council, Carver County Planning
Commission, and Carver County Parks Commission.
is a member of the Northfield City Council, and a director of the League
of Minnesota Cities.Pownell is a graduate of St. Olaf College, and has
been involved in leadership in non-profit organizations. She is a member
of the Economic Development Authority in
There are barriers to innovation in public services
problem I see with the total cost of government is that there is a desire
to assign people to make government better," Maluchnik said. "So at
every desk in government there is someone that wants to add to the system,
and make it better - but in doing so also adding cost."
innovation can and should occur among those already in the government
system. However, there are several barriers to innovation, including
professional rivalries, fear of mistakes, and concern that constituents
may be resistant to changes.
Legislature is another barrier to innovation, he added, in its tendency to
micro-manage. "They try to do the executive's job by telling agencies what
to do down to the details; they essentially try to do the counties' job.
If you want to know why we have big, expensive government it's because the
Legislature tries to do everything in the way of controlling delivery of
Enable and incentivize innovation in state services
speakers argued that the best way to get innovation in state services is
to empower those within service delivery systems to be creative.
take a great deal of patience and cooperation," Pownell said. "It takes
time to develop relationships across government agencies necessary to
support innovative thinking."
Empower people on the front lines
Have a vision for where you want to go
Gillaspy, recently retired state demographer, talks about dramatic change
coming, the speakers said, in terms of state demographics. For example, by
2020 there will be more people over the age of 65 than we have in K-12
going to have to do things differently - it's not an option," Pownell
said. Change is mandatory. The Bush Foundation has been paying attention
to this, seeding projects on the issue, as has Representative Carol
McFarlane and the House Redesign Caucus.
possible to reform services, Maluchnik said: "At one time we had 35 people
reporting to the county administrator. Now we have five."
described the proposal called the MAGIC Act that last year passed through
the House with one dissenting vote. It has not yet had a hearing in the
House. "The proposal is important because it says that counties may
override rules in pursuit of reforms so they don't need to come to the
legislature and ask permission first."
Joint Exercise of Powers statute opens opportunity for innovation
The Joint Exercise of Powers statute (471.59) states that two units of
government may do something together that either is authorized to do
separately, Maluchnik said.
shared an example of innovation with the Joint Powers statute at the city
level. In the early 1990s the City of Northfield collaborated with four
other governmental entities to study the potential benefit of combining
their dispatch centers. One of the keys to the success of this model was
having a champion of the project.
were four or five different dispatch centers at the time. Technology was
changing and upgrades were prohibitively expensive. The cities entered
into a Joint Powers Agreement and built a new, more sophisticated center
to serve the area. Even with startup costs of consolidation they broke
even after three years. The collaboration was so successful officials put
together a guidebook in 2009 for dispatch consolidation.
another use of the Joint Powers Act, Maluchnik described the "SmartLink"
transit collaboration between Carver and Scott County Transit Systems.
This effort began in 2009 with a grant from the Metropolitan Council.
Counties established a Joint Powers Agreement for the partnership, and
today Carver and Scott county citizens' requests for rides are handled by
a combined customer service and dispatch staff. In addition to traditional
transit functions, SmartLink has also become the administrator of
non-emergency medical assistance transportation.
the collaboration and integration of the two transit systems ridership has
increased from 189,703 trips to 223,549, a 17.8% increase. Savings have
been significant as well. In 2008, before the joint effort, Carver County
contributed $56,000 in county tax levy to CART (Carver Area Rural
Transit). But since the collaboration
County's county tax levy contribution has been $0 for 2009, 2010 and 2012
and no tax levy dollars are budgeted for the current year.
model of relying on public transit first and then contracting with
transportation vendors has been very successful in providing
transportation to medical appointments at a substantial savings in overall
taxes," Maluchnik said. The funding for the medical rides comes from
Medical Assistance through the Department Human Services.
Metropolitan Council views SmartLink as a model of efficiency and
innovation in metro area transit operations, Maluchnik said.
Empower and incentivize workers to innovate
Incentives will work to spur innovation. When you look at the private
sector, Maluchnik said, to General Mills, for instance, and the "lean"
programs they have run to encourage creative new ways of doing things, you
will find that there is always a built-in incentive. For instance, they
will divide the increased revenue resulting from profitable innovations,
with 20 percent of savings going back to the corporation and 80 percent
staying with the innovating division.
Recalling her own time as a state employee one of the interviewers
commented that it was frustrating as a worker to see waste, because if you
brought ideas for improvement forward you felt you were vulnerable to
losing your job.
fear has to be alleviated," Pownell observed. Further, cities and counties
need to feel safe to innovate without worrying about losing autonomy. "You
don't need to consolidate," she added, "but you can still cooperate. You
may have cities that want to maintain autonomous entities, but they can
cooperate and share services."
closed the discussion by commenting on how today's workforce is unable to
meet the needs of future employers. "Jobs are going unfilled for want of
skilled workers. It's not that those positions aren't needed; they are in
fact sorely needed, but increasingly going unfilled. And we may not have
workers qualified to fill many of those positions in the future."
chair thanked the speakers for the informative meeting.