Whatcom County approves scorecard to track performance

Whatcom County government plans to start grading its own performance next year, taking a strategy from the business world in an effort to better serve its customers: county residents.

A resolution, passed unanimously by the County Council on Wednesday, Nov. 12, calls for county departments to keep track of what they are accomplishing and reporting it in a way that’s easy for the public to understand. The author of the resolution, freshman council member Rud Browne, held up as an example the city of Tacoma’s online performance reports.

For the past two years, Tacoma has been posting response times on medical and fire calls, crime rates, and how long it takes to go from pothole complaint to fix, among other measurements. Tacoma compares its current performance to past measurements and other cities.

The measurements to be tracked by Whatcom County will be decided sometime in the next year. The first quarterly report to council is due in February 2016.

Council member Carl Weimer, who led a discussion of the proposal on Wednesday, said passing the resolution would be the easy part. What will be more interesting, he said, will be deciding what measurements to track.

County Executive Jack Louws and at least four department heads support the proposal.

“I have no problem with the resolution and the goals identified in it,” Louws said. “We are moving towards that, and I think it’s good business.”

The administration might be able to get the work done without spending additional money, Louws said. The county is already updating the separate systems that keep track of properties and crimes. Also, a full rebuild of the county website is scheduled for next year, so the timing is right for incorporating new performance measures, Louws said.

Extra money won’t be needed for the program if department heads “embrace this with enthusiasm,” Browne said in an interview on Monday, Nov. 17.

“The intent is to not try and find failure, and not beat people up,” said Browne, whose company, Ryzex, used a similar program. “It was a positive thing within our company. I won’t say everyone embraced it equally when we first started.”

Department heads emailed by a reporter on Monday afternoon, Nov. 17, yielded favorable comments on Browne’s resolution.

Auditor Debbie Adelstein said her department has used performance measures for years.

“I was always supportive of drafting these for my department and working to attain them. I have found them to be very helpful,” Adelstein said.

Planning and Development Services has already streamlined permitting through so-called “Lean” techniques, said Planning Director Sam Ryan, who supports Browne’s resolution. The Public Works Department also is on board, Director Frank Abart said.

County Treasurer Steve Oliver said the program would be valuable to the county taxpayer.

“I think having an easy-to-understand performance dashboard for taxpayers is a great idea,” Oliver said. “People want to know what they are getting for their tax dollars from local government.”