Bad Information

We frequently receive requests for information from citizens, and we generally do our best to respond promptly and accurately.  Our task is complicated not so much by the size of our organization, but by the diversity and complexity of the many things we do.

Most organizations do not operate critical utilities, provide social services, regulate development and construction, respond to medical emergencies, arrest people, operate a court, investigate and resolve public nuisances, lend out books, make computers available for public use, put out fires (literally and figuratively), maintain parks, provide entertainment, protect the environment, run a transit system, keep up streets, and assist businesses.  Providing these services also requires support activities and people to do things like recruiting new employees, maintaining communication and information systems, negotiating contracts, budgeting, paying the bills, purchasing, answering phones, and, of course, making sure everyone gets paid the appropriate amount.

Last Wednesday, our Budget Committee met for the first time this year and heard from a citizen who claimed that another local government in our area was able to issue a paycheck for $7 per check while the same activity cost $35 at the City of Albany.  I was curious about the source of this information because it seemed implausible on its face.  I called Linn County and learned that this citizen had indeed visited their administrator where he was told that, like the City, most county employees do not receive checks.  Most of us are paid through direct deposit into our bank accounts.  The cost of doing payroll in both the City and County appears to be very similar.  The $7 number, according to the county administrator, is the cost of issuing an accounts payable check and that number is, again, very similar to the City’s cost.

Comparing one jurisdiction to another is always complicated.  The City participates in a nationally recognized performance measurement program developed by the International City/County Management Association Center for Performance Measurement.  The Center has worked for years to standardize reporting of data so that cities can accurately compare everything from the cost of providing services to emergency response times.  Much of this information is available to anyone on the City’s website.  Additionally, the City makes comprehensive information available through its annual budget document, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), utility master plans, and a large number of reports and plans available online or, in some cases, at the library.  Most importantly, City employees routinely respond to requests for information and answer questions from interested citizens. 

Those of us who work for the City are bound by ethical standards to be as accurate and honest as we can be when we provide information to the public.  Like everyone else, we sometimes make mistakes, but we have a strong record of maintaining high reporting standards that is backed up by numerous awards, accreditation programs, and independent audits.  The scope and complexity of City services requires reporting standards to avoid the kinds of inaccurate information that leads to conclusions that are simply wrong.