Innovators in Action: Carrollton, Texas City Manager Leonard Martin and Director of Competition Tom Guilfoy

In the latest installment of Reason Foundation’s Innovators in Action series, I interview the Dynamic Duo of Carrollton, Texas: city manager Leonard Martin and director of competition Tom Guilfoy. Trust me—you don’t want to miss this. There’s a reason I call them the Dynamic Duo.

Ten years ago, Carrollton’s city leaders charted a new direction for how the city would operate, directing administrators to transform the bureaucracy from a government culture to a competitive, business-like culture. Officials hired Martin to lead this change, and he created a new Director of Competition—the first both for the city and nation—whose sole purpose was to drive the city’s culture to become competitive, either using in-house or external service providers to provide services to residents “cheaper, faster, better, and friendlier.”

Martin and Guilfoy developed a robust managed competition program where all government service costs are fully burdened with overhead costs just like private businesses, and government compares their fully loaded cost of service delivery against private sector costs to seek the best provider. In some cases, this has led to re-engineering of city services, and in others, like solid waste collection and vehicle fleet maintenance, the city has turned to private service providers.

Overall, Martin and Guilfoy estimate that managed competition has saved the city $30 million over the last decade (and they add that it’s a conservative estimate). Moreover, despite an increase of over 40,000 residents, the city still operates with about the same number of employees on the payroll in 1990, a testament to both the results of competition and the city’s fiscal stewardship.

In the interview—available here—Martin and Guilfoy discuss the first decade of managed competition in Carrollton, the process used, and what it takes to create a culture of competition in city government. Here’s a small excerpt:

Martin: […] Government has been taught that there are only two options: raise taxes or cut services. You hear it in Washington. You hear it in the states and cities. No, there’s another option: run it like a business and make it efficient. We don’t try to be everything to all people.

[…] Our exercise wasn’t really fancy. We took legal pads, put a line down the middle, and on the left side put essential services and on the right, non-essential. We listed out every service we did. The things we learned that we were doing were things we didn’t previously have a clue on, like the movies. We don’t need to go out and undercut businesses, so we just stopped doing some things. Another example is karate, where you can’t drive down the street and not see a school on every other corner. Yet city government was offering karate classes. And you’re out there with your black belt, paying your lease, paying taxes on your business that I get to keep to undercut you at the rec center.

I had an employee that defended it to me once, saying that there were people that couldn’t afford to go take karate. So I told him that was an excellent point that I hadn’t thought of. At the time George Bush was president, and I said, “I’m quite sure that President Bush had to know karate under the Constitution in order to run for president.” Because obviously if you’re going to be President then you have to know karate. I wanted to be an astronaut, and my town didn’t provide me astronaut training. It’s amazing I was able to become a city manager since my town let me down on astronaut training.

So that guy quit. I respect that person because they lived up to their principles. And I assure you that there were lots of places in government he could go that had that same philosophy: that anyone who wants something gets it. Not here. The council has stayed firm to our policies. We’ve known other places where the staff want to do managed competition, but the council doesn’t want to push on employees because the employees are viewed as a strong voting base. You see that especially at the state levels, where politicians cater to that state bureaucracy.

Our councils have not gotten into that, and they’ve stayed on firm ground and done what’s right for the taxpayer. You got people on the council that have been there for years and understand the culture and are proud of it. All of that takes some courage.

Read the rest of the article here. All I can say is that it’s a must-read for anyone interested in what cutting edge city management looks like. One of the more interesting takeaways from the interview is that implementing tools like managed competition is necessary but not sufficient. To really streamline government and keep it lean, you need to change the culture of the bureaucracy. Martin and Guilfoy’s insights on that subject alone are fascinating and, frankly, should be internalized by every public administrator (and politician) in the country.

With policymakers at all levels of government seeking ways to reduce spending and improve services delivered to taxpayers, Reason Foundation’s Innovators in Action series highlights good government efforts that are delivering real results and value for taxpayers. It is our hope that that the examples and experiences offered by innovators like Martin and Guilfoy will inspire reform-minded mayors and administrators elsewhere to provide better, leaner and cheaper government to taxpayers.

[Note to readers: In previous years, we have published Innovators in Action in an annual report format, the last edition having been released in early 2010. The publication has been on a temporary hiatus since then, but we have resumed publication in a slightly different format. In order to deliver timely content to our readers on a more frequent schedule, we’re publishing one Innovators article per month on Other articles featured in the Innovators in Action 2012 series are available here.]