City using new tool to go about its business

NASHUA – Consider the following data compiled by the city:

From July 1, 2008, to Jan. 26, 2009 – roughly a seven-month period – there were 62 work orders filed to remove graffiti from city property.

In 2006 to 2008, citizen requests to prune trees towered above all other requests, including park maintenance and repair, picking up litter, repairing vandalism, planting trees, bushes and flowers, and installing or replacing signs.

The number of potholes residents asked to be repaired soared from 826 in fiscal year 2007 to 1,078 in fiscal year 2008 – a 30 percent increase.

However, most of the potholes emerge in spring after cycles of freezing, thawing and refreezing.

Overwhelmingly, the number of citizen calls for patching potholes came from Ward 4, the downtown area that includes the Tree Streets neighborhood. But Ward 3, which includes the North End, led for the most work orders behind schedule.

What’s as interesting as the statistics themselves is how they’re being collected and used to measure and improve the efficiency of city services.

This and other data were collected through the new CitiStat program, an initiative Mayor Donnalee Lozeau started during her first months in office, and which began to be implemented in October, first with the public works department.

“It’s primarily a management tool. It is giving managers the opportunity to be able to look at their departments in a way they hadn’t before to measure what they’re doing,” Lozeau said.

Measuring effectiveness

Part of the program is new software called Intelligov. The software has allowed managers to generate a work-order system that measures if they’re hitting targets, and how quickly, Lozeau said.

The software is being used in five or six departments now and it’s still being tweaked, Lozeau said.

“It’s self-serving for me to tell you that we’ve accomplished a lot, but I think we have,” said Dean Giftos, the CitiStat director.

Before, work orders were tallied in a very low-tech way – via sticky notes. Now, they’re computerized and tracked, he said.

“Until CitiStat, nothing was measured except for money, and even that was hard to track,” Giftos said.

CitiStat is a system developed in the private sector. Its first widespread municipal use was in Baltimore, and it now is employed in more than a dozen cities nationwide, including Somerville, Mass., which became the model for Nashua.

“When I came on in May, CitiStat was a recipe nobody understood,” said Giftos, who described the system as a way to provide checks and balances on how the city operates.

When the mayor brought forward the request to create the department, buy the software and hire two new workers, including Giftos at a $70,000 salary, some aldermen questioned if the money would be worth it.

The aldermen ultimately voted to try it out. Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom said it would be interesting to hear back in a year how CitiStat was progressing and how much money it saved the city.

That discussion and vote was back in June. The board of aldermen is scheduled to get a report on CitiStat soon, perhaps during a meeting this month.

“I remain skeptical,” Teeboom said.

Showing the money

As for what would sway Teeboom’s opinion on CitiStat – show him the money, he said.

Teeboom said he’d like to know much money the system has saved the city, and where.

It’s been hard for CitiStat to collect data, at least in part because it’s the nature of people in government to be insular and to set up protective barriers, Teeboom said.
However, CitiStat might prove to be an effective tool for keeping spending in check, he said.

“We are up against the spending cap,” Teeboom said.

The city confines spending increases to within the cap, which is defined by the Consumer Price Index for urban areas in the Northeast. The cap this year is 3.4 percent, though Lozeau has asked departments to hold increases to 1 percent.
With a new contract approved, the school district won’t be able to meet the mayor’s guideline with cutting personnel or services, Teeboom said.

However, he said the mayor would have the flexibility to allow a little more spending in one department and less in others, determining where spending can be reduced.
“Maybe that’s what CitiStat should help her decide,” Teeboom said.

Giftos said Friday he’s now preparing what he anticipates to be a lengthy presentation on CitiStat and the data collected so far. No date has been set for when the board of aldermen will hear the presentation, but Giftos suspects that will happen after the mayor presents her budget.

Lozeau expects CitiStat to benefit managers at all levels, from foremen to department heads to senior managers to the mayor.

Data the system collects “are the things that will help me manage differently. But first I’m trying to give hands-on managers information,” and then feed that information to senior managers, Lozeau said.

Is data painting a clearer picture of Nashua?

“Not yet. I think we’ll get there, but not yet,” the mayor said.

As she starts her second year in the corner office, Lozeau hopes to engage in more strategic planning.

“CitiStat is playing a role there. I can ask CitiStat, for instance, to give me information about sewer lines. We’re looking at how many miles of sewer lines we have. CitiStat is working with the GIS system to map that out.”

Data will be collected on such things as how many sewer lines were built during certain time periods, what types of materials were used. That will help with a replacement and repair schedule, Lozeau said.

Also, during 2009 CitiStat will collect data on each quadrant of the city, Lozeau said, giving greater detail on different areas, she said.