The Importance of Competent IT (and everything else)

Clackamas County’s tech woes lead to crashed server, e-mail slowdown and website overloads

The headline above came from a recent article in The Oregonian that detailed problems with the county’s information technology (IT) infrastructure and electronic records retention policies.  Government problems make headlines even when, as the article explains, the slowdown was short-lived and steps were being taken to correct it.   I know the county manager in Clackamas County, and he is a very competent and dedicated public employee who will insure that the issue is addressed.

Being in the public eye is part of the job when you work for government, and I think the knowledge that our performance is being monitored by the press and public makes us better at what we do.  If, however, we are only judged by our problems and mistakes, the public runs the risk of exchanging good service for something worse.

The latest issue of Governing magazine highlights the problem of term limits for Michigan legislators in an article entitled, “Termed Out.”  It points to a 12-year university study finding “…that term limits have dissolved important checks and balances and increased lobbyists’ influence.”  Constantly pointing the finger at state legislators led voters to adopt policies that apparently have reduced the competence of their policy-making body.

While I’m sure most people can think of a number of media outlets that specialize in attacking government, I can’t think of many dedicated to defending it or the people who make it work every day.  Many newspapers and some radio and television shows do provide balanced reporting, but there is a long-standing and increasing emphasis on the negative.  Important stories that describe how jobs are performed every day often do not get told.

I received a letter this morning, originally directed to Police Chief Ed Boyd, telling a story about local government service that most of the community will never hear.  Brian Rosenberger, with Fred Meyer’s Loss Prevention program, wrote to compliment Officer John Trantham for his help in successfully resolving a theft case and apprehending the thief.  He added, “A little over a year ago, I transferred to Albany and was pleasantly surprised to see case after case being worked and solved by Albany officers.”  I routinely see examples of City employees doing their jobs well and, in many cases, going beyond what might be expected.

I would also like to commend our IT Department for what I believe is the extraordinary service we receive every day.  Our folks quickly resolve individual problems and also think ahead to prevent issues like those occurring in Clackamas County.  The collaboration among several departments to implement a legal and practical electronic records retention policy is a great example of addressing an issue before most of us were aware it could become a problem.

Competence and good service is not the result of an alignment of the planets.  It comes from hiring and retaining people with good training, experience, and values.  Recognizing these attributes by appropriately compensating and occasionally commending deserving public employees is a wise investment.