O’Leary: Your Precious Tax Dollars

By SUSAN O’LEARY
County Council Candidate

As a candidate for the County Council, I’d like to share my thinking about one of the Council’s most important responsibilities – the stewardship of our precious tax dollars. This is something we all care about because we all contribute to the County coffers and we naturally want to know that our hard-earned contributions are being spent wisely. 

While the County’s day-to-day spending decisions are in the hands of the County staff, the ultimate responsibility for good stewardship of County money lies with the County Council. As I see it, there are two key areas where the Council needs to excel: making sure money is being spent on the right things; and then making sure the money is spent the right way to get the best value for the community.

In my experience, successful management isn’t just about making a series of good individual decisions. It requires a deliberate approach to planning (where are we going?), program execution (how are we getting there?), self-evaluation (how did we do?), and data-driven improvement (what can we do better next time?); with the Council playing some distinct roles and the County’s professional administrators playing others.

On a strategic level, the Council can add the most value to the process by having the discipline to drive tight alignment between the things the County is spending money on and the County’s high level priorities, as outlined in the County Strategic Leadership Plan. To do this, the Council has to employ a disciplined, priority-driven approach to financial oversight that provides the County’s full-time staff with clear direction. The Council also needs a structured evaluation process that accurately interprets results and informs future actions.  

For-profit organizations measure their success at being good stewards of resources through the achievement of profits, through stock price, or through market share growth. In County government, success can be measured in terms that are both qualitative and quantitative; through metrics focused on the reliability and quality of core public services, through cost and performance benchmarking against other best-in-class communities, and through broad customer feedback. Los Alamos County has a well-developed system of metrics tied to specific County objectives that support this approach.

The County Council has special roles in this system. First, the Council needs to decide how resources will be divided among competing priorities through the budget process. To successfully perform that role, the Council needs a strong understanding of the needs and desires of our community. Second, the Council needs to evaluate the effectiveness of ongoing County spending so that it can promote efficiency and adjust future decisions based on what’s delivering value and what’s not.  My training as an MBA and my experience as a senior executive in a large, successful for-profit company helped develop a skill set that will be valuable to the Council in fulfilling these key responsibilities.

As a vice president at The Washington Post, I was part of the senior management team leading the newspaper. The department I led had 500 employees, complex sales and production responsibilities, and generated $750 million a year; 85 percent of the company’s revenues. The biggest part of my job was making sure that those 500 people were pulling together with unity of purpose to achieve our high level goals. I did that by making sure that our team had clear guidance to inform and support their daily decisions and actions; and by making sure that as an organization we learned and improved based on both our successes and failures.

If elected, I’ll bring that experience and that structured approach to my work on the County Council to ensure that your hard-earned tax dollars are being spent on the right things, in an efficient manner. 

Learn more about my ideas at http://oleary4LAC.com.

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