Cary Africk: Don’t Gut Departments

Today’s Montclair Times on line edition contains an article regarding the budget.  It quotes Marc Dashield on the necessity of rebuilding the organization.  What it doesn’t say is that I was the one grilling the manager and Council on the unwise “gutting” of departments in order to just “hold” expense increases to 3 percent or so each year over the last four.

We’ve LOST forty people and as a result INCREASED expenses by millions of dollars?
The planning department lost a crucial assistant planner.  And their ability to do their “real” job which is to plan for the future of Montclair, to consider the “big” steps, has been compromised by the necessity of their doing the administrative part of their job.  There are huge projects being considered, or that should be considered.  There are many areas not being addressed, including issues in housing, that have been starved of resource.

Last night we also heard from the Municipal Court, and their trying to catch up with collecting fines, as well as updating important legal databases, including expungement of records, under conditions of understaffing.

I am not asking that we increase spending needlessly.  I am asking that we prioritize our spending.  And consider trade offs.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. It seems to me that Cary is raising/mixing two separate (though related) issues.

    The first is straightforward: Why are we spending so much more while making significant reductions in headcount? Something seems off in this regard. Why isn’t that detail receiving deeper examination by the local media?

    The second is more complex. Reducing headcount does offer the risk of reduced services, and Cary seems to be stating that service reductions have been occurring. However, one must consider the other side. For example, when a set of functions was removed from the municipal staff’s responsibility by the creation of the Parking Authority, there was no corresponding headcount reduction (or so Cary has stated elsewhere). That suggests that we’ve let the staff “bloat” beyond our needs.

    What’s needed is a fine-grained mechanism for accountability that lets both management and the overseeing politicians determine the quality and quantity of service provided by the town, which employees are providing those services, and how well those services are being received. Are tasks backed up because they’re being done too slowly or because there are too few people? Are completed tasks done well, or is the work of poor quality (possibly requiring that it be repeated)? W/o some decent task tracking, there’s no way to know.

    I agree completely with Cary on the need to prioritize and the need to understand the trade-offs we make when we add/remove staff. But how can we be expected to be smart about our staffing needs if we haven’t good information about our staffing needs?

    …Andrew

  2. What needed is an inquisition into the budget. The current style of presentations of department heads is obviously not sufficient.

    The council and public is being denied detail information and without information you can not make informed decisions.

    Call it inquisition, call it investigation or whatever, but without detailed information we are all guessing

  3. It seems Mr. Africk thinks township government exists as an employment program.
    He simultaneously laments the departure of Kadus and Franco and praises their money-saving replacement. And he makes no mention of any “critical work” in planning going undone. So, as is so often the case, his complaint amounts to general bellyaching.
    It’s also hard to take seriously the difficulties in record expungement. Is this really a huge problem? How many criminal records per week can there be needing erasing? Did you ask them Mr. Africk? Any inkling as to the scope of the problem? Or is this just a drastic sounding “consequence” brought to light by a department head seeking restoration of his budget?
    Times are tough. If people with criminal records are not getting the promptness of service they desire from the taxpayer, they may have to be a little more patient.

  4. The existing council and BOE should do the honorable thing and acknowledge that a new town council will be in place after the May elections. The new council will have to live with these decisions, and we don’t need to commit to these expenses now.

  5. I suppose the Baristas are not going to take up my suggestion that ROC interview each of the mayoral candidates. That’s too bad. It would really have created quite a stir. Who knows, maybe this would have been the innovation that would have catapulted Baristanet to the next level… Or sunk it like the Titanic.

  6. “Times are tough. If people with criminal records are not getting the promptness of service they desire from the taxpayer, they may have to be a little more patient.”

    What kind of mean spirited attitude is that? Rule of law or due process means nothing as long as it not affects you? Underfunding important functions and then claiming that the government is not working worked for the Republicans for the last 30 years with the known consequences, but we should be smarter than that.
    Anyhow, money is misspent in this township but the information to improve the situation is missing. The council which in theory has the power and responsibility to oversee the mess is not doing its job and is shying away from confrontations with township manager, unions or any other stake holder which benefits from the current mess of graft and convenience.

  7. mean spirited? it’s just practical. in tough times we all have to accept delayed and poorer quality services from local government. I see no reason why convicted criminals should be exempt from that reality.

  8. RoC, there is a fundamental difference between not getting a job or not being able to vote and not getting the garbage hauled away *twice* a week.

    You make it too easy for yourself…

  9. “Andrew, I keep telling you this: YOU are the local media!”

    I hope not. I assume that “local media” includes people paid to to spend their time on analysis and reporting of local news. It’s one thing to post something about which we may have some information, but it’s a very different thing to spend the time and effort to seek out that information.

    …Andrew

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