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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.         Vol. 32, No. 15 * August 14, 2000

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Free Refills

A great county labor relations manager, Kevin B. Kelleher, recently spoke of having lunch at a fairly expensive restaurant only to find that he was charged for refills of his beloved diet soda. This led to a discussion of quality of service and offering more than the customer might expect.

This “exceed expectations” way of thinking has great merit in public administration, especially since many of the “customers” of government agencies would rather not be required to have a building inspection, be incarcerated in the county jail, be a “guest” of the county court system, etc.

On the other hand, most county customers represent a wide cross section of the community who use 9-1-1 emergency dispatch, parks, libraries, animal care, and a whole lot more even if they may not appreciate or understand the complexity of delivering these services.

There are many opportunities to provide “free refills” in the way county business is conducted. Free refills represent a synergy among services, increasing their value to the citizens and helping build a stronger community. Local governments can do this far better than the more distant state or federal levels. However, examples such as those that follow will not surface without an administrative environment that supports suggestions and innovations. They will not surface in an environment presided over by “Godzilla The Manager” (see the “HR Doctor,” June 7, 1999). They will not develop in an environment that does not recognize and appreciate the contribution of employees.

Here are some free refills for readers to consume and think about:

  1. Why not station a firefighter/paramedic at a school to serve as a resource officer? Not only might these employees be a bit less foreboding to children than police officers; they may also be able to provide health information, immunizations and basic first aid as well as immediate acute emergency intervention.

    They could also speak of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, driving without a seatbelt or simply not taking good care of oneself with more authority than a teacher. This is an opportunity for partnership and shared funding with school districts.
  2. What about using the thousands of senior citizen contacts through Area Agencies on Aging to serve as a volunteer clearinghouse to put mentors, reading tutors and story tellers into libraries or recreation programs?
  3. Day care licensing programs could expand to provide a database matching senior citizens interested and able to provide one-on-one after-school companionship to a lonely latchkey child.
  4. The experience and knowledge of the medical examiner can help educate first offender drunk drivers or drug users to better appreciate the pain and suffering their actions cause. This could be done with training programs, lectures or supervised viewing of an autopsy. The medical examiner can also do as Broward County’s Dr. Joshua Perper has done, and create anti-smoking information for students, focusing on how lung cancer destroys healthy tissue.
  5. Law enforcement or human services can identify frail and infirm senior citizens and arrange for regular phone calls to check up on them and demonstrate that someone cares.
  6. Recreation employees are naturals for encouraging health and wellness and can spread this positive message by programs that leave the confines of a park and are delivered in a manner similar to Meals On Wheels to retirement homes and shelters for abused children or domestic violence victims.
  7. Engineers can adopt a school science club and develop internships to encourage students from the community to consider public service as a career.

These are only a few examples of doing little things at little or no cost that improve the services we provide (i.e., “free refills”).

The reality is that every county employee can be a positive role model for public service. When we step back from day-to-day administration and problem solving, we can see what a difference county services, in partnership with other agencies, have on the lives of individuals and the community at large. By offering and creating “free refills, value-added services” built on existing county functions, the result can be spectacular!

Kevin, I owe you a lunch–with refills.

The HR Doctor wishes you all the best. Visit the “office” at Sincerely,

(Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)


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