City Mgr’s Outsourcing Initiative Likely More Smoke Than Fire


Recessions like the one this country recently experienced cause a lot of bad things.

The economy contracts. Unemployment increases. Wages stagnate. Savings are consumed by cash-strapped people and cash-strapped companies that can’t make ends meet on their reduced income or profits.

One good thing that can come out of a recession, however, is the belt-tightening that tends to make people and businesses more efficient. Sometimes it even causes outside-the-box thinking from executives who need to do more with less but can’t do so simply by continuing the same old same old.

On rare occasions that outside-the-box thinking even finds its way into the public sector, as we read about in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge city manager to look at outsourcing jobs,” Oct. 9) reporting on how City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton announced at the October 6 Council meeting that he and his staff would begin exploring possible outsourcing of some City jobs.

But before the needle on the Richter Scale could even begin to jiggle, Hamilton promptly began backsliding into an acknowledgement that he might decide not to go in that direction once his outsourcing analysis is completed over the next few months.

If you want to bet on how that will end up, the smart money is going with the “under.”

Outsourcing – or, more accurately, talking about outsourcing – is becoming the flavor-of-the-month management tool among government bureaucrats who are only now finally figuring out, more than five years since the recession official ended (according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of U.S. recessions) that their units of government can’t keep paying those escalating wages and benefits they’ve been giving out for decades. Or at least not without raising taxes higher than most taxpayers are willing to accept.

In Hamilton’s case, however, he has a built-in excuse that doesn’t require him to wear the jacket for the City’s wage and benefit largesse that has gone on during his relatively short watch:

The Uptown TIF.

Hamilton said the impetus for his outsourcing initiative was the increasing Uptown TIF bond payments, which were back-end loaded by those irresponsible City officials who saddled Park Ridge taxpayers with that financial boondoggle a decade ago. Cynics might suggest that back-end loading was intended to ensure that the perpetrators of the Uptown TIF would be long-gone from public office before any real pain might begin to be felt. And in the case of Uptown TIF ringleaders like former mayor Ron Wietecha and former city manager Tim Schuenke, they would be long-gone from our community entirely.

Mayor David Schmidt sounded receptive to the idea when he noted that “everything has to be on the table” when figuring out ways for providing City services more cost-effectively. According to the H-A article, the number of full-time City employees has decreased 10% since FY2009-10, although some of that reduced manpower has been replaced with an increased number of part-time employees.

From the hour or so of research we were able to do by Googling “municipal outsourcing,” we have concluded that outsourcing is far more talk than action. One reason is that it has not yet proved to be the magic/silver bullet bureaucrats and elected officials alike were hoping for. Another reason is that municipal employee unions and their members view it like the ebola virus.

And despite what they say, bureaucrats don’t really want outsourcing because it reduces the size of their fiefdoms. It’s a lot harder to argue for more money when you are seen as managing less people because 20 city/school/park jobs have been outsourced to a private vendor. In Hamilton’s case we also have to question the legitimacy of his outsourcing initiative when its announcement comes with a “we-might-not-do-any-of-it” qualifier.

Even more tellingly, despite promoting unspecified “outsourcing” out of one side of his mouth, Hamilton has been arguing for returning the city attorney functions to an in-house position – despite the fact that the in-house position was abolished around a decade ago because the total cost was too high – due to so much of the work still having to be outsourced to private law firms.

So we’ll be interested to see whether Hamilton is really serious about outsourcing, or whether he’s just another lemming bureaucrat.

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