Privatization Leader Sandy Springs, GA Continues to Innovate

Regular readers of this blog are certainly familiar with the young city of Sandy Springs, Georgia, which seceded from Fulton County in late 2005 and, rather than creating a traditional city government, hired a contractor to manage all of the city’s administrative functions and perform all of the hands-on, non-safety-related parts of the government. Sandy Springs’ successes have even inspired four other nearby communities to incorporate since 2006 and follow its contract city model, as discussed in Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2008.

Last Saturday, an article by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter April Hunt shows that Sandy Springs continues to break ground, as evidenced by a new program to offer cash incentives for employee innovation. An excerpt (emphasis mine):

Sandy Springs, whose existence is a model of municipal privatization, has adopted a policy it hopes will keep it in the forefront of the movement to deliver local government services in new ways.

The city’s recently adopted innovation and visioning policy sets up a formal quarterly process for city workers to offer, and be rewarded for, new ideas and suggestions on how to best serve the 87,000 people in the northern Fulton County city.

That most of those workers are actually employees of a private firm the city contracts with for its basic functions is exactly the point. “We started with a blank sheet of paper starting this government, and I don’t ever want to throw that blank sheet away,” said Councilman Rusty Paul, who fashioned the policy. “We must continually look at how else we can do things.”

Voters carved the suburban city out of Fulton County nearly four years ago in large part out of a belief that the taxes they paid subsidized emergency services and infrastructure needs in the southern part of the county. Elected officials, all of whom actively pushed for cityhood, immediately recognized those needs as priorities when Sandy Springs incorporated on Dec. 1, 2005.

The city has since spent about $15 million to pave 63 miles of roads and $2 million to put sidewalks on all main roads and around schools. Another $4 million will be spent in the coming year for both programs and, for the first time, to begin rebuilding the city’s worst streets. […]

The policy calls for more than just ideas, though. A review process will be set up, to test ideas and allow for feedback to perfect, for example, how the city will partner with nonprofits to further develop parks.

The employee who offers up the idea will receive a one-time merit bump of a few hundred dollars in his or her paycheck. That bonus program is already included in the budget. “This says a lot about us,” said Councilman Tibby DeJulio. “We have a vision for vision.”

Incentives like these are critical for facilitating dynamic government by offering a formal mechanism that effectively creates continual tension in the system. If other “traditional” cities were as fiscally responsible as Sandy Springs, they too might be in a position to appropriate funds for similar programs. Unfortunately, right now, many local governments are just trying to stop the fiscal bleeding.

More on Sandy Springs here, here, here and here.