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by Mark Reutter10:41 amOct 31, 20230

To hold the bureaucracy accountable, the City Council wants to resurrect CitiStat

A power struggle emerges as the Council seeks to remove CitiStat from the Baltimore mayor’s office and elevate it to a standalone agency

Above: The 15 members of the City Council. Mark Conway, chief sponsor of a reconstituted CitiStat, is at the far left. (baltimorecity.gov)

The City Council last night delayed – at literally the last minute – passage of a bill that would establish CitiStat as a standalone agency.

Until then, the measure, which would place an “Office of CitiStat” outside of the Mayor Brandon Scott’s Office of Performance and Innovation, had been steaming ahead, propelled by the promise of “better response times” for city services.

The same buzzwords of “accountability” and “efficiency” had led many a prior Baltimore mayor to announce performance management programs – some achieving a measure of success, but always sidelined when a new management theory made its appearance.

The latest initiative, backed by allies of City Council President Nick Mosby, would embed a “data driver” in each city agency and increase the city budget by nearly $2 million.

“Loose ends”

After sailing through a committee hearing on October 11, Bill 23-0372 was passed on first reader on October 16, backed by its lead sponsor, Councilman Mark Conway, and self-proclaimed budget hawks Eric Costello and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.

Scott’s budget director, Laura Larsen, made futile objections, warning that the bill would duplicate work already done by the Office of Performance and Innovation, not to speak of the Transformation Management Office currently envisioned by consultants Ernst & Young.

“The Scott administration aims to streamline data collection processes rather than adding an additional reporting requirement,” Larsen said.

Until last night’s meeting, there was no public sign about how the mayor would react to the legislation.

His chief of staff, Marvin James, was mum when asked by The Brew whether Scott would veto the bill.

But on the eve of final passage, Mosby interrupted the vote to announce that “the sponsor of the bill is asking that we hold off on third reader,” explaining that Conway “is still working with the administration on certain loose ends.”

The vote was postponed to the next Council meeting.

O’Malley Creation

Martin O’Malley popularized the word CitiStat in 1999, and later said the program, which crunched reams of data to measure the performance of police, fire and other agencies, was one of his proudest accomplishments as mayor of Baltimore.

But once he vacated City Hall for the governor’s mansion, the program lost its luster.

“Outcome budgeting” became the rage under Mayor Sheila Dixon (her budget director, Andrew Kleine, wrote a whole book about it), only to succumb to the “Ten-Year Plan” that consultants from Philadelphia devised for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

CitiStat continued to track day-to-day agency operations, but Rawlings-Blake wanted a more “holistic” approach, which led to a new (and short-lived) statistical platform known as OutcomeStat.

The Conway bill would restore CitiStat in a very pricey way

By 2016, CitiStat’s nine analysts had been whittled down to four, and its director, Mark Grimes, was splitting his time between his supposedly full-time city job and the law firm he ran with his wife.

Catherine Pugh kept the CitiStat brand going, but diverted the $1.5 million dangled by Michael Bloomberg to “reinvent government” to pay the salaries of new hires at her Office of Innovation.

That operation has since morphed into the Mayor’s Office of Performance and Innovation (OPI), tasked with powering Scott’s Action Plan that undergirds the “five core pillars” of his administration – Public Safety, Prioritizing Youth, Clean Communities, Equitable Neighborhood Development and Responsible Stewardship.

OutcomeStats was a short-lived experiment in studying multi-agency operations and processes by the Rawlings-Blake administration. (baltimorecity.gov)

OutcomeStat was a short-lived experiment in analyzing multi-agency operations by the Rawlings-Blake administration. (baltimorecity.gov)

$1.8 Million in Salaries

Conway spent nearly five years at CitStat, first as an analyst and then as acting director, before he was elected as 4th District councilman in 2020.

His bill would restore CitiStat in a very expensive way, according to Budget Director Larsen.

As a standalone agency, its current staff of one deputy and three analysts would be augmented by five new positions (a director, two analysts, an accountant and a human resources generalist), plus 10 “data-drivers” to be embedded in city agencies.

In salaries alone – 15 new positions averaging more than $100,000 each, with the director alone making $217,000 – the revamped program would cost $1.8 million in its first year in operation, Larsen estimated.

In addition, “the office will require $100,000 for supplies, equipment, software and rent,” she said in testimony filed with the Council.

This is what an independent CitiStat would be charged with doing. (Bill 23-0372)

What a standalone CitiStat would be tasked to do. (Bill 23-0372)

“Agile,” but not “cohesive”

Dan Hymowitz, director of OPI, offered other reasons of why Conway’s bill was flawed.

“The CitiStat model is highly tactical, agile and can drive immediate improvements to agency performance, ” Hymowitz explained in a memorandum to the Council.

“However, CitiStat cannot replace a comprehensive, coordinated, cohesive performance system that advances innovation and champions systemic improvements to agency performance.”

As a result, rather than advancing the Scott administration’s approach to performance, “Bill 23-0372 mandates meeting cadence,* agency engagement and other processes that limit the executive’s authority to strategically implement a performance management model.”

Boiled down to a few words, “the administration is not in support,” Hymowitz said.

* Meeting cadence is described as a team-building effort in which a leader “rhythmically,” or regularly, meets with staff and gives them an opportunity to share information and feedback.

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