City Manager, Wally Bobkiewicz, who officially began working for the City on Aug. 3, 2009, presented a report of his first 90 days to City Council on Nov. 9. He has already met with 19 employee groups and 90 citizens from a list of 197 provided to him by City Council. With an eye toward developing a work-plan for himself, Mr. Bobkiewicz said, he compiled responses to the following questions: What is good about the City? What is bad? What are obstacles the City faces? What opportunities are being missed? How can the City best recognize employee achievement?
On the positive side of the ledger, Mr. Bobkiewicz reported that he found a diverse staff that prides itself in that diversity. It’s a talented staff, said Mr. Bobkiewicz, and one that believes in service to the community. Employees consistently, and to his surprise, he said, find the City an exciting place to work, one that keeps them challenged and gives them good professional experience. “I heard that from all over,” he said. In addition, he said, staff members generally consider their salary and benefits to be good.
On the negative side, Mr. Bobkiewicz reported from staff a general feeling that it takes too long to get things done. Staff feels that facilities are inadequate, that technology and equipment need improvement, and that often they do not receive sufficient training for the task at hand. Mr. Bobkiewicz also reported that some staff members said they feel their work is not always supported and valued and that they are often micromanaged at every level, from the City Council on down. That said, staff members also reported that they felt that residents, staff, and perhaps even Council do not have a clear understanding of what each department in the City does. Although he did not provide concrete examples, Mr. Bobkiewicz said some staff members said staff is not treated equally, and some departments have little or no accountability.
Finally, the constant budget battle weighs on City employees, as they wonder about job cuts and furloughs, according to the City Manager’s report, as well as about smaller decisions that cost the City money.
The budget was also cited as the primary obstacle facing the City and staff. Bureaucracy, and having to go through the proper channels at all times, also impedes progress according to the City Manager’s report. Mr. Bobkiewicz also reported a general feeling that priorities have not been established, and that even task carries equal weight as a result.
In addition to the sense that they are being micromanaged, staff members said they believe the City does not take full advantage of volunteer skill and talent in the community, Mr. Bobkiewicz said. Although many residents volunteer on boards and commissions, said Mr. Bobkiewicz, there are many other opportunities to take advantage of a committed pool of volunteer talent in the City. Finally, Mr. Bobkiewicz reported that the staff believes the City can leverage the lakefront for better economic benefit for the City.
Opportunities for Improvement
The City Manager cited a better relationship with Northwestern University as the primary missed opportunity the City can correct going forward. In addition, he reported that staff members say they feel economic development activities present a further opportunity for the City.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said the City is “great” and the “quality and dedication of the staff is outstanding.” He also said the community as a whole is “passionate about the City” and “extraordinarily well-informed;” however, he added, the City is not very customer friendly at this time. He said the “format of City Council meetings does not make the best use of anyone’s time,” and noted, “The process of setting property tax rates is not in sync with the budget process, which provides confusion on many levels.”
Hitting upon a central nerve, Mr. Bobkiewicz said he felt parking meters and the City’s parking policy in general “engender bad will” in both residents and visitors. “I have had more communications from both City citizens and visitors on this issue than on any other issue since I came to the City,” he said. He called for a review of City parking policy that addresses the twin goals of generating revenue while at the same time generating good will.