Category Archives: LocalGov Heroes

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LocalGov Hero: Tanisha Briley

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We’re excited to announce Tanisha Briley as the recipient of OpenGov’s LocalGov Hero Award for August! The designation honors innovative local government leaders, and Tanisha definitely deserves this recognition.

Tanisha serves as Cleveland Heights, Ohio’s City Manager. But her devotion to public service began long before she sat at her desk in Cleveland Heights’ City Hall. Tanisha’s humble beginnings gave her several experiences that instilled a deep appreciation for public service.

Tanisha’s interest in public service endured throughout college. What began as an aspiration to volunteer on weekends blossomed into a desire to serve in government. She wanted, and found, a career centered around “making sure the community is better off than it was yesterday.”

After completing a management fellowship, Tanisha decided to become a City Manager. When Cleveland Heights posted a job opening for a new City Manager, Tanisha got the job. At Cleveland Heights, Tanisha set out to combine human, capital, and financial resources to accomplish the City Council’s goals.

It wasn’t easy.

The city faced deficits when Tanisha arrived. These fiscal issues stemmed in part from Cleveland Heights’ data limitations. Financial data was siloed in green-screen systems from the 1990s. Department directors had system licenses, but few could get the information they needed to manage their budget requests, track performance, and foster accountability. Cleveland Heights had to centralize its budget process and minimize stakeholder involvement; even the finance team barely touched the budget.

Tanisha also needed a better picture of the financial situation. She wanted to understand which functions needed more resources, which were working well, and how to shore up spending or generate more revenue. And Cleveland Heights had issues communicating this information to citizens; the city hadn’t been publishing a budget book.

Cleveland Heights needed a process change and Tanisha and her team began searching for a solution.

While at ICMA’s annual conference, Tanisha encountered OpenGov – the leader in management reporting and transparency – and wanted to sign up for the platform. Her description of what happened next illustrates her skills as a manager. Instead of micromanaging implementation, Tanisha decided to empower her capable staff to install and manage OpenGov. “Without Finance Director Tom Raguz and IT Director Jim Lambdin,” she explains, “none of this would have been possible.”

Tom and Jim worked with OpenGov’s Customer Success Team to quickly deploy and launch Cleveland Heights’ OpenGov portal. Tom continues to run the city’s OpenGov operation. Tanisha recognized the power of collaboration and took advantage of it foster innovation in her administration.

The efforts paid off.

Cleveland Heights’ first achievement with OpenGov was revamping the budget process. Tom ensured department directors got access to interactive charts and tables that depicted the city’s financials and performance. Since OpenGov understands complex government financials, department managers could pivot across revenues and expenses.

This increased accountability and ownership. Department directors could now participate in the budget process, and felt better about decisions. They had a better feel for where budget dollars were going. And after budget adoption, Tanisha and Tom could hold department managers accountable for their results. The budget process also now begins and ends with the finance team, as it should.

Cleveland Heights also improved labor negotiations using OpenGov. Since data in OpenGov reflects the city’s financial accounting structure, it’s easier for unions to trust city-provided data. Tanisha describes how referring labor councils to OpenGov built trust between the two sides during difficult negotiations.

We’re proud to call Tanisha Briley a Local Government Hero. By recognizing a serious problem, working with her team to innovate toward a solution, and collaborating with stakeholders across the government, Tanisha helped position Cleveland Heights’ government for success. We look forward to working with Tanisha, Tom, Jim, and others in Cleveland Heights to build on their progress.

Congratulations Tanisha!

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LocalGov Hero: Tracy Jarvis

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Tracy Jarvis is the Treasurer for Xenia Community Schools. We interviewed Ms. Jarvis to ask her about her experience working with a school district.

OG: Where did you work before Xenia?

TJ:  Before joining Xenia, I worked for the Springboro School District. I joined Xenia in October 2013.

OG: What attracted you to working for a school district?

TJ: Xenia’s residents have unique pride in their school district. Parents engage with teachers, and work hard to ensure we can continue to serve their children.

OG: What is one of the biggest challenges facing school districts?

TJ: School districts have a massive number of services to provide, yet resources are finite. School districts must balance an unlimited set of requirements with a limited set of resources.

OG: What is the most rewarding part of your job?  

TJ: The most rewarding part of serving Xenia is going out to the school buildings and spending time with the students. It’s great to see who I work for.

OG: How did you first hear about OpenGov?

TJ: The State of Ohio Treasurer launched a statewide initiative to make OpenGov’s Checkbook available. We heard about OpenGov through this initiative, and opted for the transparency package.

OG: How have you used OpenGov?

TJ: We’ve used OpenGov to share our finances with the public. With the click of a button, Xenia’s residents can drill into our finances and answer questions they may have about our district.

OG: You mentioned you plan to use OpenGov to generate reports for the Board of Education and for other officials like principals. May you please talk a bit more about that?  

TJ: Every month, the board receives financial reports that take me some time to create. Once the monthly reports are uploaded, I can create these in OpenGov very easily. I will stop sending them copies of the report because the Board and the public will be able to get them on OpenGov. I also plan to create reports for each building so the principals can see how they are spending money.

OG: What advice do you have for other school districts looking to implement 21st-century technology in their organizations?

TJ: The information you provide is only as good as the 21st century technology that you use. It needs to be easy and user friendly to drive citizen engagement.

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Meet a hero of 21st Century LocalGov: Jason Loveland

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Since 2012, Jason Loveland has served the City of Northglenn, CO as its Finance Director. Mr. Loveland has earned a reputation as an innovator in government finance through his work in Northglenn.

We asked Mr. Loveland to discuss his career in government finance, his recent partnership with OpenGov, and his perspectives on the future of public finance. Here’s what he had to say.

OG: How long have you been in government service, and in particular, how long have you served as a Finance Director?

JL: I’ve worked in government service for the past ten years. For my first four years, I worked for a local school district as the Manager of Accounting & Reporting. I then moved to Northglenn, where I’ve worked for the past six years. Since 2012, I’ve served as Northglenn’s Finance Director.

OG: What attracted you to government service?

JL: I’m a former auditor and spent four years of my career collaborating with local governments. After years of traveling from client to client, I wanted to see if I could help governments for an extended period of time, not just a little over a week. I had great experiences working with department heads and other staff during my audits, and I decided I wanted to work more closely with these individuals to deliver value to constituents. Also, the variety of a government is unique; each department is almost like its own business.

OG: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the municipal finance profession? How do you anticipate municipal finance changing in the next ten years?

JL: There are a series of challenges the municipal finance profession will have to grapple with. First, we’re going to have to address infrastructure maintenance and replacement costs. Every jurisdiction is different, but we all need infrastructure that can fulfill the needs of a 21st century economy. In Northglenn we are currently making significant improvements to our wastewater facility and Justice Center. We’re also making significant road improvements to accommodate an influx of traffic expected from a regional commuter rail line coming to the City. These projects, coupled with on-going maintenance of the entire network of infrastructure, require a combination of significant project-specific financial planning and a long-term outlook on their future impacts. Municipal finance leaders will also need to figure out how to best use technology for decision-making.

I think in the next decade there will be continued desire for transparency in government. Society seems to be moving quickly in its desire for rapid access to information. This is a fun challenge, and municipal governments will have new opportunities to engage with their citizens.

OG: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

JL: As Finance Director, I get to work on a variety of projects that cover many disciplines. For example, I may meet with Public Works on a road or utility project then, an hour later, I may work with Economic Development on a mall project. After lunch, I’d get the chance to work with Parks and Recreation on a new program or park project.

OG: What do you wish the public knew about being a Finance Director?

JL: I want people to know I’m here to find ways to invest in the community. To me, this is why local government is here, and I like finding ways to fund improvements to a roadway or park, or find ways to partner with the private sector and redevelop a run-down shopping center.

OG: What has being a Finance Director taught you about management in general?

JL: Balancing the needs of the organization and community is a challenge. Resources are pulled in many directions (political, internal, community) so it’s necessary to understand the entire organization while making plans with limited resources. It’s important that I do a lot of listening and that I ask a lot of questions. This approach helps me gain insight and perspective into the City as a whole.

OG: When and how did you first hear about OpenGov?

JL: I first heard about OpenGov in March 2015 through a webinar of one of OpenGov’s partners, Springbook.

OG: How have you used OpenGov internally?

JL: We’ve used OpenGov internally for management reports for departments on financial matters specific to their needs. For example, the Recreation Department uses OpenGov to track various programs’ performance using Current Year reporting visualizations. We also use OpenGov to analyze water consumption and sales tax information.

OG: In a case study, you mentioned you use OpenGov for economic development. May you please talk a bit more about that?

JL: We’ve taken our sales tax data and used the dynamic reporting in OpenGov to track sales tax revenue by industry type and by geographic locations of sales within the City. The economic development staff and others city employees can use this information to guide decisions on redevelopment project prioritization. It’s also used to assist in identifying our tax base by industry and seeing if there are gaps in what we consider to be a sustainable tax base.

OG: How do you use OpenGov in your budget process?

JL: OpenGov allows departments to see where they spend their money. The visualization speeds up the internal process when departments determine how to allocate their budget dollars on an annual basis. Sometimes, you can get into a rut of budgeting X dollars per year on an item and not concerning yourself with actual spending. For example, the Police Department may budget for radio scanners, and it is important to track how the dollars allocated to scanners are actually spent.

OG: How do you plan to use OpenGov Comparisons in your operations?

JL: I’ll use the tool to benchmark how we measure up to other organizations.  There’s a level of comfort for decision-makers and the public knowing how you compare to others.

OG: What advice do you have for other governments looking to implement 21st century technology in their organizations?

JL: Advances in technology provide benefits across the organization and community, so it’s important to make the time to implement these tools. Find a “champion” for the project and get others excited about the benefits they will reap from the implementation.

Visit Northglenn’s budget platform at northglennco.opengov.com.

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Meet a hero of 21st Century LocalGov, Rodney Rhoades

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Rodney Rhoades has served his fellow Texans in various finance roles for more than 25 years. Since 2011, he has led the city of McKinney’s finance department as Finance Director. Under his leadership, the McKinney Finance Department has won an award for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) each year, an accomplishment the department has achieved for the past  thirty consecutive  years. Mr. Rhoades was also integral in Money Magazine’s designation of McKinney as the “#1 place to live in America” — an achievement made possible in large part because of strong economic planning, a balanced budget, and effective public services.

Before becoming McKinney’s Finance Director, Mr. Rhoades served as the Director of Budget, Finance and Operation for Collin County, TX between 2000 and 2008. Mr. Rhoades has also worked in the finance departments at the cities of Grand Prairie and Garland.

Mr. Rhoades earned his Master’s degree in Government Affairs from Southern Methodist University and a Bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics from the University of Texas at Dallas.  

We asked Mr. Rhoades to discuss his career in government finance, his recent partnership with OpenGov, and his perspectives on the future of public finance. Here’s what he had to say.

OG: You have over 25 years of experience in government finance at both the city and county level. What drives your passion for government finance?

RR: I think the thing that drives me the most is knowing that if the job is done well, the entire community benefits. The work we do is not visible to the citizens like Public Works or Police services. However, more visible departments couldn’t do their jobs without us behind the scenes. It is team effort.

OG: What are the main differences between working in a county finance office and working in a city finance office?

RR: City finances are all-inclusive in that, for Texas Counties, there is an Auditor that handles some of the finances. In municipalities, we handle everything from Purchasing to Budget and all the accounting and payroll functions. This enables us to better coordinate services to ensure that customers are getting the same information and services that achieve organizational goals.

OG: What is the most rewarding thing about being McKinney’s CFO?

RR: I think the most rewarding part of my job is witnessing the transformation of the Financial Services divisions since I came to McKinney in 2011. I often say that we are a well-oiled machine and find it rewarding when our constituents comment on the differences in the department’s services.

OG: What is the most challenging part of your job?

RR: Ensuring that all departments understand the goals of the organization and how we all must work toward accomplishing those goals.

OG: How did these efforts spark your interest in OpenGov?

RR: I had been looking for a platform that could present useful information in a way that people not trained in fund accounting can understand. It has been my experience that people tend to glaze over when presented with a lot of numbers. However, if you can put information in a graphical format that people can slice and dice, it becomes more useful.

OG: How has OpenGov enabled you and your finance team do your jobs better?

RR: We are now able to generate meaningful reports in a matter of hours versus days.

OG: What is one thing about working in municipal finance that people may not know but would find interesting?

RR: You get to see all facets of the organization’s operations. Unlike working for a corporation that produces things, municipal governments — especially municipal finance departments — can do public safety in the morning and economic development in the afternoon. You never get bored.

OG: You’ve been in the government finance for over 25 years. What has been the biggest transformation in the industry in that time period?

RR: I think the emphasis on transparency has transformed the industry. I have always been a big fan of performance budgeting as a means of resource allocation but transparency of both financial and statistical information is probably one of the most noticeable transformations.

OG: What do you think is going to be the next big transformation?

RR: I see the next big transformation as the recognition of how transparency and performance go hand in hand. I think once those who desire the information begin to dissect it and start asking even more questions, there will be a push to better justify expenditures.

Visit McKinney’s budget platform at mckinneytexas.opengov.com

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Meet a Hero of 21st Century Local Government: Charlie Francis

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Charlie Francis is the quintessential municipal finance guru.  He recites debt-to-asset ratios off the top of his head, finds solace in Excel pivot tables, and is never more satisfied than when the books balance—down to the penny—at month’s end.

Francis is also informally known as an OpenGov “super user.” And one need only to look at the online budget transparency platform for the City of Sausalito—where Francis serves as Administrative Services Director and Treasurer—to understand why. With eight reports spanning twenty three years of budget data, citizens, councilmembers, and government accounting students alike marvel at its beauty.

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Users can view historical budget trends going back to 2002, or look forward into the city’s budget projections through 2026. They can track all financial transaction made by the city since 2002, and can see the city’s 2015-2016 proposed budget. We recently spoke to Francis about why he chose OpenGov and how he uses it as a transparency and management tool. Here’s what he had to say.

OG: How did you learn about OpenGov?

CF: I learned about OpenGov in 2012 through one of its partners. As soon as I saw the demo, I fell in love.

OG: Why, exactly, was the platform so compelling?

CF: I had been looking for OpenGov since at least 2009. I had just come to Sausalito as a new finance director and the recession was setting in.  Cities were opening up their labor agreements, implementing furloughs, and cutting pay and benefits, all very serious stuff.

Some city council members were saying we should cut back our spending because all of our surrounding cities were doing so. I thought, that’s not a really good reason; we have the financial resources to last through the recession.  Even though the general fund was declining, we had stored away several special revenue funds. We could actually use them to carry out our own economic stimulus program. But the response I always got was “show me.”

OG: So, in the absence of a tool like OpenGov, what did you do?

CF: I had to do it all myself. I built my own excel models based on exports from my enterprise system (Springbrook). I wanted to be able to put it up on my website and drill down in the numbers to validate what I was saying, but it was impossible to build everything I wanted to by myself.  I couldn’t put it on our website, much less make it interactive and easy to use.

OG: How has having OpenGov helped with Council and citizen communications?

CF: To answer that, I’ll rewind again to 2009. At that time, I saw that expenses were growing faster than the rate of revenues and I forecasted an inflection point in 2012 when the city would be in trouble. I saw that our fire department expenses were driving the increase, outpacing inflation and revenue growth. I knew we couldn’t wait until 2012 to address it.

Long story short, we took action based on the projections, and negotiated with our fire department’s employee union and with the neighboring fire district to annex the department. We were able to come to an agreement to annex the department by 2012.  Fast forward now to 2012, and that’s exactly what we did. We were able to reign in costs and reverse the trend.  By that time, I had OpenGov and I could show very clearly to the public, using the platform, how that decision put the city’s finances back on a sustainable path. Ultimately, that helped me build trust with the public and show that we were doing the right things.

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OG: What other policy decisions has OpenGov helped you communicate to the public?

CF: Around the time Sausalito adopted OpenGov in 2012, there was a contentious debate about how to secure revenue to fund some new capital projects that were very popular among residents.  Some members of city council and I were advocating for a half cent sales tax increase to pay for the improvements, which I knew from polling data that the majority of citizens would support. However, a small but very vocal group of citizens came out against the tax increase.

I used OpenGov to show exactly how the revenues would be used and that we weren’t going to use it for pensions or operating expenses. It was money that would be devoted to capital projects.  In the end, the ballot measure passed by 63 percent of the vote. I think it did so in part because we could clearly illustrate exactly where the money would be going.

OG: It sounds like you use OpenGov for much more than financial transparency.

CF: My initial reason for buying OpenGov was for transparency. I had no idea or expectations that this could be a management or reporting tool but it has certainly become an indispensable management resource.

OG: Does OpenGov complement your ERP system?

CF: Yes, definitely. The process of uploading data from Springbrook, my accounting system, to OpenGov is really fast. I download the data, and, in seven clicks, the data is up on OpenGov.

OG: How do you use your platform as a management tool?

CF: Well, a good example is about a year ago, I got a call from a very influential citizen in the community. I was on my way to a meeting when I picked up my phone.  ‘Hi Charlie,’ he said, ‘I’d really like to get a look at Parking Lot 1 revenues.’

What normally would have happened is that I would have had to go back to my office after the meeting and pull that information. It would have taken me several hours. Instead I said, ‘Hi Bob, go to sausalitoca.opengov.com, on the top left, select Revenue, and then below that click on Revenue Type.’ In three clicks he could see all the revenue from Parking Lot 1. Now, he never needs to call me because it’s faster to just look at OpenGov.

Likewise, in managing the City’s finances, I have information at my fingertips to slice, dice and analyze multi-perspectively to provide factual and verifiable recommendations.

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OG: What’s the most common reason you need to consult OpenGov?

CF: Sometimes I’ll get asked five minutes before a council meeting a bunch of questions like, how much are pension expenses for the city as percent of total expenses? How much is spent on compensation, normalized for abnormal expenses? In 5 clicks, I can have the raw data downloaded, hammer out the formula and email it to the whole council.  It saves a tremendous amount of time.

OG: Has it changed the way you do reporting?

CF: Yes, I don’t do monthly-to-actual reports anymore. Instead, I send an email out to the community saying ‘go to the current-year view’ with a link to the site.  OpenGov also saves the city money on printing budgets and financial statements.  Overall, the tool allows me to focus more on adding value to information, rather than gathering the information itself.

OG: How does the city use the transaction report?

CF: A good example is when I got a call from the police chief recently who was drafting a memo to council and needed to know how much we spend on dispatch costs. I went into the transactions report, searched by vendor, and pulled up all of the transactions that had gone to the dispatch vendor, aggregated by fiscal year, for the past eleven years.  Without OpenGov, it would have taken me hours to find and calculate that data.

Visit Sausalito’s budget platform at sausalitoca.opengov.com.