Municipal Governments Bring Decision Making Home
One of the main frustrations that citizens have with federal and state governments is related to the feelings of lack of influence on the very people the politicians and agencies are meant to serve. It may seem as if elected and appointed officials are making decisions without really understanding the needs and problems of the people they represent. It is a different story with municipal government because it represents local government. In other words, municipal government operates where the people live and work and enjoy recreational activities and is much more accessible, which means quality standards for staff and operations must be set high.
The larger the United States grows in terms of population size and diversity, the less connected average citizens feel to Washington, DC and their state governments. The federal and state politicians spend hours debating issues like foreign trade and federal taxes, while people in neighborhoods are concerned with issues like police protection, sidewalks and public park accessibility. Municipal governments are truly the government “…of the people, by the people, and for the people…” in every sense of the word.
When Sheriff Andy Taylor strolled the streets of the fictional town of Mayberry in the popular television show named the Andy Griffith Show, he would stop and visit with the barber, storekeepers, Mayor and County Clerk. As entertaining as the old show was and as affable as the sheriff could be, it was not always apparent that the show was as much a lesson on municipal government as it was on hometown folks. Local government was well represented by County Clerk Howard Sprague, Mayor Pike and others. The representation of municipal government on that show is greatly over-simplified, but it gets right to the heart of the main purpose of municipal government – to protect the interests and quality of day-to-day life of the people it represents and serves.
Municipal governments are general purpose governments that bring government home to the people. Serving a defined group of citizens, they can take a number of forms that include counties, municipalities and special districts. There are also school districts that function autonomously. Municipal governments handle a diverse set of functions, and in some ways the municipal government people who are elected, appointed and hired have a more difficult job than their state and federal counterparts. Municipal government politicians and employees are the frontline people who deal with residents on a routine bases, while state and federal officials are largely insulated from direct contact except at main desks in agency offices.
Municipal employees in particular are assigned the jobs that ordinary people witness getting done day-in and day-out. They are paving the streets, fighting house fires, processing car tag renewals, maintaining parks and so many other duties. One of the greatest challenges municipal governments have is maintaining effectiveness on limited budgets. It is critical that employees exhibit the highest standards of performance, and that means recruiting and hiring the highest quality of staff even when budgets are tight.
Sheriff Andy had it pretty easy when it came to maintaining peace in the town. However, it just may be it was easy because he was so perfectly suited for his job, as was County Clerk Howard Sprague. Some principles will always apply to municipal government recruitment and hiring, and one of those principles is this: quality performance requires quality people.
Recruiting and Hiring top Performers
Municipal government employees tend to come from the local citizenry. Some people are recruited from outside the governed area if a particular skill set is needed. Sometimes, local governments have difficult hiring locally if there is no one local who has the required experience, training, education and/or skills. Given the broad range of municipal government responsibilities, that is a likely scenario on a fairly regular basis. For example, a county government may decide to install a new sewer system which requires specific technical and construction skills. Converting an old property tax software system to a new updated software version requires specific technology skills to implement and then to maintain.
In any case, the goal is to find the best person for the job based on competency and skills. If the right people cannot be found locally, recruitment needs to be expanded to outside the area. The internet has made it easy to post open positions online and request applications using online job sites. There are multiple benefits to this approach:
- Enables local and non-local people to apply
- Gives greater access to particular skillsets
- Makes it more likely that top quality people will apply
- Increases opportunities to increase staff diversity
- Easier to process and assess applications to find most qualified
Municipal governments should also follow the hiring reforms instituted by the federal government to better ensure talented people are hired who will provide quality services. One of the important requirements in a 2010 Presidential Memorandum directs hiring managers to become fully involved in the process of workforce planning, skills identification and recruiting and hiring accountability.
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