Streamlining bureaucracy


There is one specifically for aging and another for gang prevention work. Some are for planning and preservation issues. Yet another plans for the annual celebration of George Washingtons birthday.

In all, some 75 different citizen boards and commissions exist to advise the citys elected officials on all things Alexandria. Foreseeing difficulty in aligning more than six dozen groups efforts with their emerging strategic plan, two City Council members tendered an idea last month to rein in the panels, which take up city staff time and sometimes compete with one another.

In their April 21 memo to the rest of the City Council and top city officials, councilmen Rob Krupicka and Paul Smedberg, both Democrats, outlined a two-part plan to improve and streamline coordinated efforts of a city government that has receded to 2005 staffing levels.

To avoid a chronic, inefficient thinning of city staff resources and man-hours, they proposed requiring an annual report from each board and commission that details the accomplishments of the previous year and a plan of action for the short-term future.

The yearly report, which Smedberg said could be as succinct as a page or two, would require ties to the citys strategic plan and Council approval to move forward. The organized marching orders would allow city staff to build their own calendar and allocate resources accordingly, according to the memo.

To the extent a board or commission cant bring forward a meaningful work plan, Krupicka said, I think that sends a message to the Council to ask the question of whether or not that board should exist any more.

Councilman Frank Fannon, a Republican, said hes supportive of the idea and would look to identify and weed out inefficiencies in the way the boards and commissions operate.

The boards and commissions that we have in the city theres no need to have them in place if theyre not actively contributing to the needs that are there, Fannon said. He also agreed with the idea for an end-of-year report, but offered to go a step further and call for a mid-year report, too.

Currently, Council approves the members of its advisory groups, but the boards and commissions set off largely on their own from there.

The proposal closely resembles the Alexandria School Boards process of approving the scope of work for its advisory groups each school year.

Both Krupicka and Smedberg said the main goal is not to cut down on the number of boards and commissions, though it is a likely consequence over time. According to the memo, state and federal laws require less than 15 of the current roll.

The work Ive been doing over the last year to consolidate a number of our youth-oriented boards and commissions into one has demonstrated to me there is a lot of opportunity for better collaboration in the organization, Krupicka said. 

Considering the groups varied nature, questions have come up relating to their necessity. Smedberg hopes the proposal would help them remain viable and relevant.

Some people look at the boards and commissions and ask openly, Well, what do they really do? Why do they even exist? Smedberg said. If we are going to have all of these groups, lets make sure theyre being proactive.

Its a natural progression in terms of boards and commissions that their work reflects the needs of the city currently, he said.

The second half of the memo sought to eliminate conflicts of interest for commission members and Council members.

Board and commission members who represent an organization that receives money through their commission would be prohibited from becoming voting members in the advisory group. A similar corollary was included for Council members that would preclude them from serving as voting members of boards or organizations that receive city funds.

Both authors said the restriction would be, first and foremost, a preventative measure.

Im not claiming anyones acted in an improper way, but Id rather err on the side of clear fiscal responsibility than put anybody in a position where theyre conflicted between two organizations when theyre making decisions about money, Krupicka said.

The proposal was sent to the city attorneys office to draft an ordinance that could come before the Council at its next legislative meeting.