O’Leary: Update On Communication Improvements

By SUSAN O’LEARY
Los Alamos County Councilor

In March, 2015, the County Council unanimously passed a motion to improve communications outreach with an aim of improving the Council’s structured engagement with the community. 

The objective is simple – to more fully involve the public in the Council’s decision making so that its decisions best reflect the interests and aspirations of the community. 

The actions planned include updating and expanding the Council’s strategic goals, making them more clear and actionable, and increasing efforts to link day-to-day decisions with these goals to produce more consistent and better outcomes. 

We’re also working to communicate county financial information to the public in easy-to-understand and accessible formats; and we’re working to provide citizens with performance measures that provide better insights into County operations. 

Each aspect of this initiative is geared toward improving the Council’s own performance as a governing body, as well as improving opportunities for informed, constructive public engagement. These actions are common practices for many local, state and federal governments.

Since the Council approved this motion, and because it involves both policy and operating decisions, I’ve volunteered to work with County Manager Harry Burgess to draw up a plan to meet these objectives. Here’s an update on our proposed next steps as well as a heads up about opportunities for you to provide input as we move forward.

Strategic Goals

Beginning in July, we’ll start to prepare drafts of expanded strategic goals. We’ll begin with the County’s ten existing strategic focus areas and then expand or amend to reflect new conditions or opportunities like the Manhattan Project National Historic Park. We’ll draft the revised goals in an easy-to-read format and incorporate sections that explain why the goals are relevant. We’ll also take a next step in describing what the County is currently doing or aspires to do in order to achieve the identified goals; an approach that will help us measure our effectiveness as time passes.

In August, ideally at the Aug. 4 Council work session, we’ll present samples of this work to the public and the Council for feedback. Specifically, we’ll be looking for feedback about the content and presentation of the strategic goals. 

The Council will need to agree on an approval process that incorporates public input and final Council approval. The process of coming to agreement may well be cumbersome, but those full discussions and an ultimate agreement on priorities going forward can pay big dividends in the future as the community considers alternative ideas and opportunities. This is particularly significant because the County staff uses the strategic goals as a primary source of management direction from the Council, and by extension, Los Alamos citizens.

As the Council approves individual strategic goals at subsequent meetings over the coming months, the goals can be added to the County’s website and incorporated into the County Public Information Plan.

Financial Information

The County will produce a Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) for the public to use as a tool during the next budget season. PAFRs turn the hundreds of pages prepared by the County’s Budget Department into an easy-to-read document that allows all of us (even those without a CPA) to understand the County’s budget request. The PAFR focuses on the things you probably care most about in terms of the County operation — how spending relates to county services, and the general financial stability of the operation.

The PAFR will be available to citizens in January, 2016 for the 2017 budget season. It’ll be accessible on the County website and on other online venues. It won’t be distributed in print format since electronic distribution is so much more cost effective. The County’s Public Information Office plans to create a citizen guide prior to the next budget season explaining the budgeting process, describing how recommendations relate to strategic goals, and identifying opportunities for public involvement. The goal is to increase public involvement in the annual budgeting process.

Performance Dashboard

In July, ideally at the July 21 Council work session, the Council will hold a discussion about appropriate performance measures for the County’s high priority and higher cost services. We’ll review existing measures and explore opportunities to add other measures that can help all of us clearly understand how the County is performing as a cost-efficient service provider; with special emphasis on high priority services.

At the August discussion, the Council will consider ideas for public outreach on performance measures. Once a public outreach plan is determined, the County will get started on sharing this information with all of you.

I encourage those of you who have ideas to share to attend these public meetings to provide feedback and improve these processes. Your suggestions for how we provide information are very important. You can also contact me directly at my email: susan.oleary@lacnm.us.

My gratitude goes to the Council members for their support of this endeavor and Harry Burgess, Julie Habiger, Steve Lynne, and all the county staff who are working with the Council to make improvements in this important area.

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