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Time for CitiStat-Stat

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake answers questions at City Hall as CitiStat Director Mark Grimes, center, and Fire Chief Niles Ford look on.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake answers questions at City Hall as CitiStat Director Mark Grimes, center, and Fire Chief Niles Ford look on. (Mark Puente, Baltimore Sun)

Perhaps Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ascribes to the theory that if you want to get a job done, you should ask a busy person. The man she hired to revamp Baltimore's vaunted CitiStat program, as it turns out, is awfully busy. In addition to his cabinet-level position in city government, Mark H. Grimes has a substantial private law practice, is teaching a class at Baltimore City Community College and grades bar exams. But whether he's getting his $124,000-a-year job done is an open question.

The Sun's Doug Donovan and Mark Puente have documented, with CitiStat-like precision, the extent to which an agency designed to hold municipal departments accountable for meeting performance goals is failing to meet its own performance goals. The mayor's budget says the agency should hold 240 meetings per year. Mr. Grimes scheduled 144 of them last year, but only 89 of them actually occurred. Not a single CitiStat report has been posted online since December 2013, and City Council members say they have been barred from meetings. Meanwhile, the agency's budget has doubled to $1 million a year since 2011, even though meetings are routinely canceled because of a lack of analysts on staff.

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Mr. Grimes says he is engaged in the process of stripping CitiStat down to the basics and building it up according to the mayor's vision, a process aided by a $133,400 contract with a consultant. He has been on the job since January 2014,and he told Messrs. Donovan and Puente that "It just takes time. It ain't because I'm not busting my tail."

Indeed, based on his disclosures of outside employment, Mr. Grimes would seem a particularly industrious fellow. He and his wife hold a contract with the state to represent disabled adults in guardianship cases that could be worth nearly $1 million over five years. How much work does that entail? In the first year of the contract, which included Mr. Grimes' first eight months as CitiStat director, he billed the state for 1,079 hours. A spokesman for the mayor insisted that the outside employment posed no problem because the work is done at night and on weekends.

Putting aside the question of how exactly it would be possible to provide so much legal representation entirely outside of normal business hours, that would amount to a pretty hefty side job. That number of hours would be the equivalent of working more than 10 hours a day on every Saturday and Sunday, or four hours after the end of every work day, for 52 weeks straight. Throwing in the bar exams and an eight-hour course at BCCC makes for a pretty full schedule of extra-curricular activities.

The mayor is right that what he does on his down time is his own business — if, that is, it's not affecting his real job. But the fact of the matter is that CitiStat is languishing. A well-regarded effort to prevent domestic violence that had been effective in improving the delivery of protective orders — an initiative of Mayor Rawlings-Blake, rather than one inherited from former Mayor Martin O'Malley — has gone dormant. So has one that evaluates felony gun arrests. Neither has met since October. City agencies are no longer subject to the kind of regular, rigorous high-level questioning they experienced under previous administrations.

Mr. Grimes has referred to the mayor's desire to make the process less confrontational and more collaborative. That's fine. But what the academic research has shown about CitiStat — and there has been a substantial amount — is that in order to be effective, the process must be regular and transparent. On both of those counts, it's failing. Not only has the pace of meetings declined precipitously, but whatever is coming out of the meetings it has is not being made public. Nor have the mayor or Mr. Grimes clearly articulated what their vision for the agency is. Research on CitiStat, and the experience of other cities that have replicated it, shows that it must involve relentless follow-up and must have the clear buy-in of the mayor and others in the top echelons of city government. The fact that Ms. Rawlings-Blake is evidently unconcerned about the pace of Mr. Grimes' reforms suggests that it doesn't.

CitiStat works, and that's not just a Martin O'Malley campaign commercial talking. Even under this mayor, it succeeded in boosting the resolution rate of 311 calls from 79 percent to 92 percent. But that was under a different director, Chad Kenney, a former CitiStat analyst who took over after a previous period in which the agency had gone dark. He immediately started posting reports and holding regular sessions on city agencies' performance, including his own. He resigned in 2014 after the mayor tried to transfer him to another department with no public explanation.

If Mayor Rawlings-Blake doesn't believe in CitiStat, she should say so and shut the agency down. If she believes she has a better idea for how to run it than the one that won an Innovations in American Government award from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, let's hear it. But spending $1 million a year on an agency that's not doing its job is no solution.

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