'Data Trumps Politics'
City Manager Michael Levinson at Coral Springs’ splash park, which residents suggested building. [Photo: Diane Bradford]
As the recession of the early 1990s ended, Coral Springs was poised for explosive residential growth. The city, however, lacked proper infrastructure, and city leaders clashed on visions for the future. Some projected that paying for the needed improvements would require increasing property taxes 25% to 30%.
The city took the first step toward changing the way it delivered services in 1993, focusing on quality and the needs of its “customers” — the citizens. In 1995, a newly elected group of officials hired a city manager, Michael Levinson, who integrated a new strategic planning system. Input from citizens and city employees became essential parts of anticipating, delivering and evaluating services. Hard data were used both in the planning process — and then to assess government’s performance in delivering the service.
A key part of the change was empowering city employees to have input into decisions that affected them. By including maintenance employees as part of the team that purchased police cars, for example, the police department was able to keep the cars in operation for an average of seven years. Previously, the cars had lasted only three years.
An important indicator of the city’s success was buy-in from local business leaders — several even persuaded colleagues outside the city to relocate their firms, giving Coral Springs a broader economic base and leading to the construction of a conference center hotel.
What started as a quest to hold down property taxes and attract more businesses is now an ongoing process that produces a 97% customer service satisfaction rating from businesses and 94% from households. The city’s bonds are rated AAA from three credit rating agencies, says Levinson.
The city’s efforts won it a Florida Governor’s Sterling Award in 1997. In April, the city, which now has 132,000 residents, became the first local government in the nation to win the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
“This is a very different approach to running government,” says Levinson, who studied economics as a Yale graduate student. “We’ve shown that data trumps politics, and when you make data-driven decisions, your customers will be better off.”