A news headline in Chattanooga, Tennessee caught my eye as a headline I would like to see in Buffalo:

“Council members ask for clarity on desired outcomes of Mayor’s budget”

Most local governments do not have identified goals and objectives that they are working towards. As a former Chief of Staff to the Buffalo Common Council and a close follower of Council actions, it is a rare event that the Council talks about goals and objectives.

To Chattanooga’s credit the city of 171,000, governed by a nine member city council and Mayor has adopted a new method of handling budgets called Budgeting for Outcomes. Budgeting for Outcomes attempts to align the city’s available resources with community priorities.

Chattanooga’s newly elected Mayor campaigned on four key issues:
—public safety, economic and community development, youth and family development, and openness and transparency in government. In his budget, the mayor describes the four goals as “having safer streets; strong neighborhoods and growing communities; smarter students and stronger families; and an innovative, effective and efficient government.”

One of the important roles of a city council or county legislature is to establish policy goals and to monitor the achievement of such goals. We need our elected leaders to look at the big picture and create a vision for a better future. Instead most city councils and county legislatures get bogged down with addressing individual constituent concerns, administrative minutia and the crisis of the day.

As a result goals and objectives don’t get set or if established they are never revisited to determine success or failure. Successful people set goals and measure their performance, organizations need to do the same.

Budgeting for Outcomes is being used in the cities of: New Orleans, Baltimore, Roanoke. Counties using Budgeting for Outcomes include: Broward (Miami), Fairfax, VA, Mecklenburg (Charlotte).

The City of Buffalo is one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the nation, yet every a budget that directs hundreds of millions of dollars is passed without any discussion as to goals and an overall strategy to improve the city. A few years ago the citizens of Erie County, NY voted to amend the county charter by approving the use of performance budgeting. Although required by the county charter, performance based budgeting is not happening in Erie County.

We need leaders who are not afraid to set goals and to hold people accountable for achieving them.

What do you think?