Faculty help Newton restructure

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

The City of Newton is in the midst of a fundamental administrative restructuring based on a series of recommendations presented over the summer by a group of Boston College faculty members.

The changes will modernize the city's organization with the aim of providing more efficient service to the citizens of Newton and possibly saving the city money in the coming years.

A group of faculty and graduate students from the Carroll School of Management and the School of Education spent several months earlier this year studying the city's organizational structure and the way it provides services. While the group's report found that the city functions well and generally enjoys the satisfaction of taxpayers, it will need to adjust its administrative structure in order to meet the challenges a changing fiscal situation will impose in the coming years.

The group was led by Assoc. Prof. Judith Gordon (CSOM) and included Prof. Joseph Raelin (CSOM), Asst. Prof. Gil Manzon (CSOM), Asst. Prof. Gerald Smith (CSOM), Asst. Prof. Ralph Edwards (SOE) and CSOM doctoral candidate Karen Whelan.

The study found that while Newton is likely to face revenue restrictions in the coming years, taxpayers will expect a level of service equal to or better than what is now available. Reorganizing the city's bureaucracy in "clusters" that have the freedom to act entrepreneurially will help meet that challenge, the authors said, without forcing tax increases or layoffs.

Rather than have directors of the approximately two dozen major departments report directly to the mayor, as they have done, the report suggests grouping the departments into five clusters. The assessing, chief budget officer, comptroller, purchasing and treasurer/collector departments, for example, could be consolidated into a finance cluster. The report envisions the departments working in concert, sharing ideas and choosing the director of one member department to report to the mayor on behalf of the cluster.

The report was quickly endorsed by Newton Mayor Thomas Concannon, who set up a committee to implement many of the report's recommendations. The BC faculty consulting team, which provided its services to Newton at no cost, continues to advise the city as it makes the changes.

The report also suggests consolidating several separate support functions of City Hall and the School Department (such as purchasing), and instituting a city-wide performance management system for employees. The study also calls for the city to place a greater emphasis on treating taxpayers as customers.

"As faculty members, we are delighted to serve both Boston College and the City of Newton," said Gordon, a Newton resident. "It is a wonderful opportunity for Boston College to offer its intellectual resources to its host city and we are gratified by Newton's real enthusiasm for this project."

Gordon added that the relationship between the city and the faculty has paved the way for student research opportunities. Graduate students in particular will have opportunities to collect data for research projects, Gordon said, adding that several MBA and doctoral students helped gather data for this study.

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