DENIS LAW: Refocusing government on results that matter

At the start of my administration, I set a goal for our city — to garner public confidence and trust in government through accountability and performance. Accountability is the norm in the private sector where failing to satisfy customers may mean going out of business. In the public sector, city governments can be accountable and lead the way with a results-oriented approach. We need to refocus government on the results that matter to citizens, provide these services cost effectively, measure our success and be willing to abandon unsatisfactory programs or activities. Here are some of the steps we have taken recently to focus on results and demonstrate positive impact:

Innovation — discarding old solutions that haven’t worked and finding creative new ways to get results.

Our graffiti program is a great example. Previously, the city’s response to graffiti included writing to property owners who had been tagged, ordering them to clean-up the damage, and spending thousands of dollars every year to clean up graffiti on public property. The new “Wipe-Out Graffiti” program takes an innovative and comprehensive approach to assist victims of graffiti and provides for tougher penalties, partnership with businesses and the community, cameras, and a comprehensive outreach campaign. It’s working. The public has helped us catch taggers, parents of taggers have paid restitution, and the business community and volunteers have worked with the city to help keep our neighborhoods free of graffiti.

Better results don’t mean increased costs. The initiatives are not expensive programs — they are practical steps to maintain and improve service in a time of tightening budgets. Our photo enforcement program is an example where we have been able to keep our streets safer and rein in reckless drivers. Plus, we are using revenues over the cost of the program for additional police presence in our neighborhoods and parks, something our citizens have requested for years.

Performance and results often require making hard and unpopular decisions, and having the courage to tell the public the unvarnished truth–the downsides as well as the upsides. Earlier this month we celebrated the grand re-opening of Duvall Avenue. Choosing to close the entire street for a whole year rather than a partial closure for a shorter period was a very hard decision to make. While the public had to adjust during the closure, the end results have saved taxpayers $4 million and 15 months of construction time, and provided additional lanes, underground power lines, and quality sidewalks for one of our major roadways.

Similarly, we had to make tough decisions when we rolled out the new solid waste contract last year. While our primary goal was to provide our citizens the most cost-effective option, we also looked at expanded benefits and ways to respond to our community’s need for better and more recycling. I am pleased to report that Renton residents are already recycling 18,000 tons of materials per year that used to go to the landfills.

There are many more examples but the most important point is that we’ve done all this and more with significantly reduced budgets and fewer employees.

The economic challenges we face today are an opportunity for us to reinvent ourselves and focus on providing results-oriented services expected by our taxpayers in the most efficient way. As we work on our 2010 budget, our department heads and employees are striving to identify these priorities while doing a better job of linking public spending with performance. This is an essential prerequisite to developing a results-oriented government and a key component to building trust with our citizens.

Mayor Denis Law can be reached at

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