Erie government becomes more efficient – Something good happened in Erie, 8/30/2019

A GIS can help cities gain efficiency by organizing the previously disjointed efforts of various departments into one map. | Image from

Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:

I’m so excited about this, I barely know where to begin. I guess I should begin with a confession of sorts: this story involves me, Ted Brogan, personally. Almost.

You see, I went to work for the City of Erie as a brand new college graduate. I will always remember my first day of work, just staring out the window in disbelief that I was being paid to stare out a window in disbelief. I was grateful for the opportunity, proud, and couldn’t wait to get to work.

The disillusion set in slowly. I wanted to believe I could make a difference in that job, and I worked at it very hard. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say I found myself in some difficult situations. When things didn’t go according to plan, there was no appetite to discuss where things went wrong in an attempt to prevent the problems from recurring. So the problems kept recurring.

What I began to realize is that there are two types of people in government: the workaholics and the walking dead.

The walking dead are the type of folks who act like their paycheck is for walking in the door, and every bit of work expected of them will cost extra. They’re content to slide by, never ask for more work to do, and rarely if ever take it upon themselves to improve. These aren’t necessarily bad people. Hell, most of them aren’t bad people. They just aren’t motivated.

The workaholics, then, do everything in their power to make up for the walking dead. These people are underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated. They’re workload leads to the kinds of mistakes that cause people to think they’re overpaid, which is quite an ironic way to become demoralized.

In the end, I decided that my staying there would either turn me into one of the zombies or drive me insane, so I left. But I never stopped thinking about that place.

What could have made our local government a better place to work? How are all the workaholics that I left behind holding up? How did the new person hired in my place react the first time he saw those two old guys sleeping at their desks in the middle of the workday?

Better communication would make places like the City of Erie a better place to work, and that’s where this week’s feature story comes in. First, they created an “Action Team,” which I hope they refer to internally as the A-Team. The Action Team sounds like a representative or two from each department who meet monthly to discuss the status of their projects.

How many times have you seen a road be paved, only to see the Water Authority come through a week later to dig right into the brand new pavement? Too many times. The Action Team should promote the kind of interdepartmental communication that can prevent those types of embarrassing mishaps.

More importantly, though, the Erie County government has established a GIS (geographic information system) that will put various data collected by all these disjointed departments onto a common map. This is one of those things that is so obviously a good idea, it’s hard to believe someone didn’t think of it two decades ago.

Well, someone probably did, but was denied because this type of database management and mapping software costs a lot of money for a government that can’t afford to pave enough of its roads.

The hard truth is that while a GIS is a cost saver in the long run, the politicians whom control budgets live in a short-term world. Even after purchasing the GIS software, it takes years of upfront data gathering to see any payoff. So politicians convince themselves there isn’t enough money in the budget to invest in something that will lock in savings forever after.

This week’s good news is that Erie’s government has – at least in this one area – made the leap from being reactive to proactive. It might not help bring the walking dead back to productive employee status, but it will provide a much-needed tool in the toolbox of those heroes who show up every day and toil away in obscurity trying to make our city a better place.

I encourage you to click the link at the top of the article for more info about this initiative, because it is something good to have happened in Erie. And if any of you workaholics happen to have found this blog, know that you’re something good in our city, too.

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