How A City of 65,000 Gets By With Only 9 Employees

Weston Florida is an affluent suburb 25 miles northwest of Miami. When Weston was incorporated in 1996, its residents approved a charter that states the city must use contractors as opposed to city employees to perform traditional government services, unless four out of five councilmembers vote to make an exception.

As a Governing article reports “Since its inception, the city has used contractors to fulfill virtually every city function. Today, the city of 65,000 has a budget of $121 million — and just nine of its own employees. All total, the city has about 35 contracts for services such as parks maintenance, engineering, code enforcement, building permits, public works and custodial service. Fire and police service has been contracted out to Broward County.”

Weston’s nine employees include the city manager and two assistants city managers; the directors of parks and recreation, public works and landscaping; the city clerk; the city treasurer; and a communications director.

The benefit to contracting out all city services according to the Governing article is that “…City leaders don’t have to deal with labor disputes or union negotiations; they aren’t struck with ballooning pension obligations; and they aren’t dealing with painful and politically unpopular layoffs”.

Not having to spend considerable time on labor issues City Manager John Flint says allows him to “… spend more time with residents. I can spend more time with the city commission and my senior executives crafting the direction of the city … rather than having to deal with human resource issues.”

Mayor Eric Hersh, who’s led the city for over 10 years said that when the move to incorporate the city started “We were not looking to create a political dynasty, we were looking to create an efficient city.”

Meanwhile in cities like Buffalo (the third poorest city in the nation), politicians spend their time soliciting campaign cash, filling jobs with patronage hires and building political dynastys that they hope will propel them to higher office, where the power and perks are even better.


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Corey McCarren

Interesting, I’d love to know what some local government employees on this site think of this model.

Rob Carty

Sandy Springs, GA (pop. ~93,000) is another community that has a large portion of services outsourced to contractors. “Managed Competition” may not be right for every community, but going through the process alone can produce significant results and jump-start culture change. From what I understand there’s a lot of watching going on to these models; if they’re successful there will be more data to encourage others to break resistance to change. If there’s one statement that drives me nuts it’s, “but/because we’ve always done it this way.”

William Lim

What is the strength of local pay-to-play laws, how often do contracts come up for renewal, what are the metrics of contractor performance (besides cost), and what is the extent of public participation in contract awards? Just because you’ve outsourced most services doesn’t mean there isn’t room for patronage and pork.

Matthew Harline

Please note, it says up front that this is a wealthy suburb. I’d be interested to see what their annual legal bill is. The one big savings NOT mentioned would be insurance, although you would have a huge burden shifting the risk. I read the article and found this part to be interesting: Jonas Prager, an economic professor at NYU who has studied the city, says Weston is “a curious example, rather than an example that can be easily emulated.” It would be politically challenging — and in some cases legally difficult as well — for a long-standing city to replace public workers on a large-scale basis with contract employees.

Peter Sperry

Why are they a city at all rather than an unincorprated area of Broward County? I can undestand why small communities in rural areas incorporated pre WWII when support from their parent jurisdiction was distant and slow in arriving. But to incorporate in 1996 when the county seat is a 20 minute drive down the highway seems like adding an unecessary level of beauracracy. Are they being fiscally responsible by only operating with 9 public employees (and a host of contracts) or fiscally irresponsible for not simply supporting and relying on their county government?

Eric Erickson

They may have such a large budget because they overpay for contractors. Contractors are an expensive luxury, and core government functions should be done in house, not outsourced to people whose primary loyalty is to someone else.

Keena Cauthen

My question is even more fundamental. They are saying they’ve done this and saved a lot of money, but I’d be curious to know what their budget would be without the contracts. 65,000 folks and a budget of 121 million? Compared to…???? My husband is a contractor to the government (now) and from what I’ve seen, they are not saving any money this way at all. Contracts are renegotiated each year, if the budget doesn’t pass timely, then the duties that are on contracts aren’t being done until they can solidify the contract– after the budget is passed– and with sometimes hefty fees for late payments and such. I guess I just don’t see a lot of savings from going to Contractors, though I’m all for leaning down the government. Lots of organizations are top heavy, with too many chiefs and not enough indians.

Carol Davison

I keep reading that contractors are more expensive than employees. As a Training Officer that frequently contracted out, I found that to be true.

What proof does the author have that cities like Buffalo spends their time politicing and that Weston doesn’t do the same with contractors?

Rohn Brown

I agree with Mr. Lim’s concern regarding “pay-to-play”… I think it’s more than a little naive to believe that in such a contract-rich ‘organization’ there is any less chance that “politicians spend their time soliciting campaign cash, filling jobs with patronage hires and building political dynastys that they hope will propel them to higher office, where power and perks are even better.” It’s just that it’s done with the lights dimmed even lower than through the current campaign finance optics (although it’s hard to conceive!).

I’m not saying that’s the case in Weston… but the hiring of contractors rather than the traditional civil servant doesn’t preclude more rampant hanky-panky. In fact… some might argue that it can foster it.

Brian Hoxie

Interesting idea and clearly a lot of details missing from the post that are necessary to make a better evaluation, but still an innovative idea that should be explored.

My immediate concern is cost of contractors, especially where there is no/little competition for services. Contractors are, as far as I know, for-profit institutions. To me that conflicts with public goods and services that should be allocated as equally as possible, which is a responsibility of government.

Anyway, interesting but more data is really needed to judge its effectiveness. Things like cost comparisions to an equally sized town with a typcial sized government, tax rates, details of the population, etc.

Paul Wolf

I agree that more information is needed to evaluate the cost and effectiveness of operating government with contractors instead of employees. I put the post up simply to share the information I came across.

I also realize that politics will still exist if one utilizes contractors instead of employees. Weston has policies in place, which I believe lessen the amount of politics such as:

– non partisan elections

– 4 year terms instead of 2 years

– part time council members

– Term limits in that one is limited to two 4 year terms

– Operating with a Council Manager form of government where a professional City Manager is hired to do the day to day work.

I think all of the above, while it will not completely eliminate politics will have far less politics then a city like Buffalo, which does not follow any of the items mentioned above.

Daniel Daughtry-Weiss

Like others posting here and the NYU econ professor , I question the inherent efficiency of outsourcing. And public and private organizations can both be run well/poorly. Efficient deployment of equipment and personnel is something that can be benchmarked and achieved in any motivated organization.

As for tax rates being low as a metric for efficiency, that ignores the fact that the cost of services relative to tax base is a HUGE factor. It takes just as much to clean a street with $100,000 homes as $1M homes. They can get more services at a lower tax rate and STILL be paying much more for those services than the neighboring town that has a lower tax base.

However, I’m interested in the idea of organizational/management focus. We know it is so important to performance–have any thoughts about opportunity cost/ future return on investment for insource/outsource decisions?

Carol Davison

We would need to compare apples with apples and not oranges.

For example I know supervisors that offers 20 training courses attended by 2 students in order to develop a a total of 80 customers. They could do the same thing more effectively and efficiently by conducting 3 classes of 26 each. The 20 classes are offered so the supervisor can brag about how much training they offer. It discounts that students learn more in highly populated classes, and that trainers get burned out teaching 20 classes needlessly.

How about defining the service required by the city and comparing cost per hour with public and private organizations; such a providing a clean street.

Dale S. Brown

I think the blog title is misleading. I clicked on “How A City of 65,000 Gets by with only 9 employees” expecting information on how the roles were structured and how each person was inspired to greater efficiency. A more accurate title would have used a word such as “civil servant” instead of employees. Last I heard people who work for contractors are also employees.