Monday, June 1, 2009

Blurring Departmental Lines

One of the truisms in local government is that to be successful in the future we must learn to be able to accomplish more with less. Rising costs and limited resources force all communities to continuously evaluate the costs of providing services.

A particular strength of the City of Fontana is that we have adopted a policy of blurring departmental lines. This means that we approach issues as a community not as independent departments trying to protect our various turfs. Two successful examples of this philosophy are our “Area Commander Program” and our “Outside/In Housing Investment Strategy”.

The Area Commander Program is a community oriented Police Department program that assigns a Police Lieutenant as an Area Commander for a geographic area of the City. The Lieutenant acts in the capacity of Police Chief for the area and is given a large breath of responsibility in dealing with issues that arise. Area Commanders know that they are able to “reach” into any department in the City and pull together the resources necessary to deal with community issues. Such issues may certainly involve public safety, but may also involve transportation, graffiti, recreation, parking, school districts, communication, parks, potholes, etc. The Area Commander holds several quarterly community meetings throughout Fontana to enable them both to provide information as well as receive information from the citizens of Fontana. The meetings are well attended by citizens and City Council members often attend the meetings to enable them to hear about issues of importance to the residents. It is not uncommon to have representatives from nearly every City department in attendance at those meetings. A secondary and equally important component of this program is that it gives concerned residents with one point of contact in dealing with an issue, even though those issues may cross many different departmental responsibilities.

The Outside/In Housing Investment Strategy involves accumulating housing monies that are generated within the City’s Redevelopment Project Areas and reinvesting those funds into the core if this community to address Low/Mod Housing, public safety, and educational development needs. In accordance with this City Council policy, the Police Department identifies multi-family housing complexes that have a significant number of police calls for service in the year. The Housing Authority of the City of Fontana then negotiates for the purchase of those properties, renovates them and puts them under new management contracts to improve the ongoing maintenance and aesthetics of the facility. Facility renovations often include the creation of learning centers and computer labs that stress an educational component for the development as well. With new management in place, we have seen police calls for services drop by as much as 95% and the quality of life for the surrounding community improves dramatically. Because the Housing Authority owns the property, we provide ongoing oversight to the management of the facility. This program has been very successful and uses housing monies to not only address housing issues but also to address public safety concerns and to assist the school district with educational goals.

Each year the City department heads sit with me and plan for the upcoming budget. On several occasions, I have had one department head suggest the best investment of resources to assist them in accomplishing their goals is to put the money into a different City departmental program. This attitude of the Fontana management team is certainly not the way most government organizations operate, but it is one of the primary keys to success for the many accomplishments of this community. The City of Fontana is blessed to have a very dedicated and talented management team, headed by a Mayor and City Council that is not afraid to try new things. I believe the benefits can be seen in every area of the City.