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November 05, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, November 05, 2004

Editorial Editorial (November 05, 2004)

Efficiency in eye of beholder

Every now and then the elected and appointed leaders of our government agencies make a decision that in itself is not noteworthy, but that when examined outside a council chamber or school board meeting room demands more discussion.

The most recent cases in point involve the use of consultants, a favorite tactic elected leaders sometimes employ to avoid making a decision that may backfire or ruffle some internal or external feathers. These well-meaning intentions often strike us as wasteful, and we wonder if they could be completed in-house for much less money.

Here are two examples of recent expenditures that in our opinion could have been put on the shelf.

District spending $29,500 to save money

The recent decision of the Mountain View-Whisman School District to spend nearly $30,000 on a long-delayed "efficiency study" is an eye-opening example of how money often disappears in a bureaucracy.

School board members sided with outgoing board president Rose Filicetti, who noted that the district has been wanting to do such a study ever since the Mountain View and Whisman districts merged in 2001. Superintendent Eleanor Yick supported the idea, saying the study could determine, for example, whether a payroll and personnel director should stand alone or be inside a business department as they are at many other schools.

These are good points but with the district having already spent $50,000 and facing the likelihood that it will shell out much more to fight a serious legal threat to the recently-passed $1.6-million parcel tax, it strikes us that board members should hang on to every spare dollar in sight.

$51,000 to find a parking garage tenant

Last week, in an effort to attract a new downtown business, the city council decided to hire a San Francisco consultant to find a tenant for the street level space under the new 405-space parking garage at Bryant and California Streets.

We are sure the $51,000 contract will be rolled into the cost of the parking garage, becoming a mere blip in the overall cost of the $16 million building.

And we know the council wants to get an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of subsidizing a desirable retail tenant like a drug or grocery store versus the higher rent they could expect from a restaurant. But why is it necessary to spend $51,000 for what seems to be a relatively simple information-gathering exercise?

Neither of these cases is likely to make a big difference in the multi-million dollar budgets of the school district or city council. But the message it sends to constituents is that the only way to get a true evaluation of a problem is to hire an expensive consultant.

There are times when a consultant is the only answer, but often, such as the cases cited here, it seems that officials are simply avoiding the tough work that goes with the territory.

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