The following article is an opinion piece by the author and contains editorialized content. The opinions reflected below reflect the views of only the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.
At first glance of the headline, you probably think I’m talking about the government, but I am actually talking about residents. Just this once.
I spend many hours a week traveling to different city and county government meetings and have the opportunity to see what they are all doing wrong and evaluating what could be done better. It keeps me busy. But I also have the opportunity to see when a municipality or county does something right, or good, or creative, and I feel I would be doing a disservice if that creativity was not shared when a new move is not only in the best interest of the citizens, but proven to be of benefit.
One city that has taken an innovative approach to government services with a small staff that wear many hats is the City of Brooklet. The idea isn’t revolutionary and it, like any idea, has probably rubbed a few people the wrong way, but it is has shown to increase efficientcy and that’s really the basic foundation of any government entity. The City of Brooklet now closes their offices for a few hours a week so staff have the opportunity to work uninterrupted for those hours each week. They actually lock the doors and tell citizens ‘You cannot come in.’
The City still operates for 40 hours per week, they’re just not open to the public for a few of those hours. They open later in the morning and sometimes even stay open later in the evening, depending on need. The hours are set in stone and posted on the door, after gaining approval by the council, so citizens know what to expect.
The employees are still working the same hours, you just can’t stop in with a check or a question or a work order…or an Open Records Request. You can still call, but you’ll have to leave a message. Just for a few hours per week.
I think Evans County should consider doing something similar, mostly because Evans County, like many other small counties, has a small staf, a small population, and a limited budget. Something as simple as closing at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays would likely change the office tremendously. And you could even put into place a policy that says time-off and doctors appointments cannot be taken during those ‘closed hours’ to ensure they’re not abused.
One of the great things about a small town is that you can stop in anywhere whenever you need to or you can visit and chat. It’s part of what makes small communities great. But it’s also crushing productivity. It’s true that, at the local level, the number one function of government is to serve the public, but our governments do much behind the scenes or without us. I criticize them immensely, but a simple Open Records Request on nearly any topic will reveal 10 line items of tasks for every one you hear about. Staff need time to do those things you don’t hear about and the things you do.
Consider how much more productive you are in your own job when you don’t answer the phone or have people ringing the doorbell. I’ve never been in the Evans County Commissioners Office (or any government building, for that matter) when someone else isn’t in there, many times just to “stop by.” It is a real problem in Evans County, one that seems to be worse than many of the other places I frequent.
But in other places, like the City of Claxton, they have a locked door and a receptionist that fields everyone who comes in and Emanuel and Bulloch counties require appointments to sit down with any member of staff other than a secretary directing proverbial traffic. In Statesboro, you leave a message at the front desk and then you’ll be waiting to work around their schedules. The “My door is always open” policy is not always best, regardless of location, and hurts other places like Portal, Reidsville, and Screven. Evans County doesn’t currently have any buffer between the public demands and government employees – and that’s an observation coming from an advocate of accessible government. That’s because it isn’t always as mal-intentioned as we all like to think…sometimes they just have deadlines and things to do.
The truth is that you do not need access to your government 40 hours per week. Some days, it may feel like you do, but you really don’t. It may be an inconvenience a time or two if you show up to find the they’re not open, but after a small adjustment in habit, it would benefit everyone and make sure your county employees make the most of their time, giving you the most bang for your buck.
It’s a symptom of a small, rural community that has few resources working in its favor and state legislators who are constantly passing down state mandates that further burden small towns by regulations and by finances. When a city or county is short-staffed, sacrifices have to be made.
The City of Brooklet noticed that personnel needed more time to “work” and a little less public interaction to make sure more gets done. The elected officials took action and it is already working.
Citizens who love their small town lives are going to have to ‘give’ somewhere and start understanding that smaller counties are ‘do or die’ right now. Evans County is not decades away from deciding between a few open office hours or whether or not to continue being a county. It is facing just as many problems as other rural communities with stalled growth and a shrinking tax base. It’s high time citizens brainstorm and bring their own ideas to the table for the sake of their county – not just in Evans – and recognize how much can be learned from the trial and error of other areas. This could be an efficiency solution or, at a minimum, a component.
So, I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of tax dollars, especially for salaries, being used efficiently.