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New book provides method to evaluate local government
New book provides method to evaluate local governmentJune 05, 2001Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu Despite much fanfare from academics and others about government performance measures, too few local governments use these tools, according to the authors of “Does Your Government Measure Up? Basic Tools for Local Officials and Citizens,” just published by the Maxwell Community Benchmarks Program at Syracuse University. In the book, William D. Coplin and Carol Dwyer, both of SU’s Maxwell School, provide readers with a list of standards for various local government departments, along with a primer on the use of benchmarks as the cornerstone of continuous improvement. Last fall’s presidential election exposed a lack of standardized voting procedures in Florida and throughout the country. According to the authors, this is just one way in which local governments fail to establish clear performance standards and provide adequate resources for the collection of systematic information necessary to assess these standards. “Businesses know they must pay attention to their customer base,” Coplin says. “But local elected leaders frequently dismiss suggestions to implement citizen surveys with the justification that the only survey they need occurs at election time.” What they fail to take into consideration, he says, is that in many small communities there is often little or no political opposition, which removes the incentive for government to improve. In an attempt to change attitudes, Coplin and Dwyer have written a brief, easy-to-use book that provides the essential tools that every government–no matter how small and strapped for cash–can use to improve government services. Presented in straightforward language, “Does Your Government Measure Up? Basic Tools for Local Officials and Citizens” introduces the bare essentials for good government in the areas of finance, public works, parks and recreation, police, assessment, building codes, emergency medical services, personnel and Web site development, as well as: – more than 255 guidelines that go beyond the bare essentials; – simple illustrations of how to use benchmarking to make decisions; and – user-ready surveys to obtain citizen feedback. The book was written at the conclusion of a four-year project establishing the Community Benchmarks Program (CBP), with funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and through extensive consultation with a wide variety of local government agencies and professional associations. It is published by the Maxwell Community Benchmarks Program. The book is supported by the CBP Web site (www.maxwell.syr.edu/benchmarks), which enables readers to view additional examples, forms and surveys, and provides a venue to communicate directly with the authors.
Coplin is a professor of public affairs and director of the Maxwell School’s Public Affairs Program. Prior to this new book, his most recent published work was “How You Can Help: An Easy Guide to Doing Good Deeds in Your Everyday Life.” (Routledge, 1999). Dwyer is director of the Community Benchmarks Program (CBP) of the Maxwell School. The CBP has published more than 20 studies benchmarking local governments in New York’s Onondaga County over the past four years. Dwyer is a former journalist and served as the liaison to local governments and citizens for the speaker of the New York State Assembly prior to joining SU in 1996.