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City Changes Its Culture To Become Cheaper, Faster, Better and Friendlier

Over the past ten years the City of Carrollton Texas has grown in population from 80,000 residents to 120,000 residents. The City of Carrollton has also implemented a culture of managed competition estimated to have saved the city $30 million over the last decade. Despite an increase of over 40,000 residents, the city still operates with the same number of employees on the payroll as it did in 1990.

The Reason Foundation interviewed Carrollton’s City Manager and Director of Competition who indicated the following key steps were taken in an effort to change the culture of how Carrollton city government operated:

  • A professional City Manager was hired who was not a traditional manager but a change agent who had experience in turning around operations;
  • The City Council held a planning retreat with a facilitator to help the Council articulate a vision inwhich the Council stated they were tired of traditional government;
  • The City tried to instill in their employees a value system that assumes the world is changing;
  • City officials discussed what services they needed to provide and what services they needed to get away from . Officials took legal pads, put a line down the middle, and on the left side put essential services that had to be provided either legally or to make the city work. On the right side of the pad, non-essential services were listed.
  • A new Director of Competition position was created whose purpose was to drive the city’s culture to become competitive using in-house or outsourced service providers to provide services to residents that are “cheaper, faster, better and friendlier.
  • Departments were provided the chance to compete for business. If the departments were unsuccessful, then a competitor would be hired to do the job.

The city has outsourced solid waste services, water and wastewater operations and vehicle maintenance.

This quote from City Manager Leonard Martin says it all: “Government is very tradition-bound, and we still like to do things the way we’ve always done it. So this culture change is getting people out of that mindset. Anyone can do more with more. It takes a leader and manager to do more with less. And that’s where our people are, and we have not had to do wholesale personnel changes. People just needed to be educated and motivated to a new way of doing things, and they’ve bought in. Some of the people who didn’t have a clue of what we wanted early on are today our biggest advocates.”

One final quote from City Manager Martin: “The downfall of many want-to-be leaders in the public or private sector is an overpowering need to be liked. That’s what’s wrong with parenting very often, where parents that want to be liked by their children will not take the steps that are in the best interest of their child. And managers do not take the appropriate actions that are in the best interest of the sustainability of the business. So if you want to do what we’ve done, you have to understand that anytime you start forcing change—and initially you have to force this change—you’re going to upset people. They’re going to be angry and they’re not going to like you. But the longer it goes, the more the employees respect me and what I’ve done with these philosophies.”

Do you think the leadership exercised in Carrollton Texas can serve as a good model for other communities?


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Ken Stockman


This is a great study on the power of local politicians empowering themselves and those that work with them to change the dynamics of their city to become more growth oriented and open minded. As cities across the country (and abroad) struggle to stay solvent and relevant, discovering this new “mix of ingredients” for addressing critical (and foundational) problems in a creative and innovative ways should be looked at as a model. Communities coming together in unique and innovative fashion will, in my mind, be one of the key paths to salvation for state and local governments over the coming decades as the “new urbanization” phenomenon continues to reverse the flow of populations to the suburbs and back to cities. I appreciate you bringing this case to the community!