This year, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas will be celebrating its 25th anniversary since the public voted for its unification in 1997. Over the past two and a half decades, there has not been a comprehensive organizational assessment to understand how to best serve our community across Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS. Now, as we look beyond the global pandemic and accept federal recovery funds, it is more important than ever to ask and answer whether the Unified Government, its staff and customers are positioned for success. This is UG Forward.
Discover new ways to strengthen engagement among residents, local government, and the business community.
Over the first quarter of this year, the Unified Government has launched several successful outreach and engagement initiatives to bring more community members to the table, learn more about priorities, and understand the impact COVID has had on our neighborhoods. Some examples of this include:
- American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA): The American Rescue Plan Act has brought millions of dollars of recovery funds to the City of Kansas City, KS and Wyandotte County and we have developed a comprehensive webpage to support this ongoing process of prioritizing these investments. On March 29, 2022, the ARPA Subcommittee hosted a community workshop with 90 participants – weighing in on their priorities and providing important feedback about the impact of the pandemic on their households and neighborhoods. We are excited to bring this level of engagement and participation to many more of our efforts across the Unified Government.
- Appraisal Process: In addition to developing new content for our website that was broadly shared across social media, the Office of the Appraiser has developed several videos to provide information to our community, hosted a Facebook Live session to answer community questions, and developed an in-person Open House to invite residents and property owners to ask questions, learn about the appeal process, and so much more. Demystifying our work is important to building trust with our community.
- Budget 2023: In addition to developing new content for our website that was broadly shared across social media, the Office of the Appraiser has developed several videos to provide information to our community, hosted a Facebook Live session to answer community questions, and developed an in-person Open House to invite residents and property owners to ask questions, learn about the appeal process, and so much more. Demystifying our work is important to building trust with our community.
- Commission Priorities & Adaptive Leadership: County Administration has engaged the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) to work with our Board of Commissioners on strategic planning. The 2017-2022 commission priorities (see graphic) have provided the North Stars for the Unified Government over the past five years and, as the Unified Government navigates a post-pandemic reality, it is essential to evaluate what, if anything, has changed. The KLC model of adaptive leadership is about inspiring a collective purpose within an organization or team and creating a trustworthy process to carry out that purpose – transformation through collaboration. Ms. Harrison-Lee is incorporating this approach into strategic planning with the Board of Commissioners and will extend this through training and development opportunities across the organization.
- Committee Engagement: The administration has supported the launch of multiple community task forces and committees to engage a broader audience in critical issues facing our city and county. These efforts expand our capacity as an organization and invites new expertise to the table. County Administration is currently auditing our current boards and commissions, exploring process improvements and new communication strategies to ensure we are making the most of every volunteer hour in support of our civic engagement.
Evaluate the current organization and identify areas for improvement while highlighting and capitalizing on the strengths that will benefit our community.
In addition to meeting with department leadership and senior managers across the organization, County Administration has launched a thorough evaluation of the Unified Government as we are currently structured to ensure we are well-positioned to provide the best service, impactful programs, and supported by a strong, competitively compensated workforce. At no point in the history of the Unified Government has such an undertaking been initiated.
"Like many employers, the Unified Government is challenged with recruitment and retention of talent while meeting the needs of our community," said Ms. Harrison-Lee. "It is critical to our organizational health and sustainability for us to understand what has been working well as centers of excellence as well as what needs improvement."
As part of the EVALUATE portion of our framework, the following actions are underway:
- Organizational Assessment: The Unified Government has engaged a consultant to guide the organization through a self-assessment. By engaging a third party, this creates a safe space for staff to share what works and what needs improvement in a safe space as those closest to the work often have some of the greatest ideas for improvement. Change can be uncomfortable so it is important for Unified Government staff to be honest about what is needed to be a best-in-class, efficient, 21st century organization, as both an employer AND service provider. In the short-term, Ms. Harrison-Lee has made structural changes to more closely and efficiently align policies, processes, and technology as an organization. This work is ongoing and the public can expect an update later this summer.
- Human Resources Assessment: Additionally, the Unified Government has partnered with a consultant to work closely with our Human Resources Department on an assessment. This is the gateway into our organization and one of the most critical functions of our operations. By working with the HR team, County Administration hopes to better support this department in the efficiency of its service delivery which is well-timed with the launch of Workday, an enterprise technology service that will support many HR functions across the organization, later this year.
- Finance Department Assessment: The County Administration has also engaged a consultant to work with our Finance Department as we look to forward as an organization, identifying opportunities to optimize our financial sustainability as public stewards of taxpayer dollars. The pandemic has taught the Unified Government a lot about being resilient as an organization and we are charting a course to ensure we are making decisions today that will benefit our community for generations to come.
- Increased Minimum Wage: The Unified Government has raised the bar as an organization by moving our starting minimum wage to $15/hour across the board. This is important to making us more competitive as an employer but also recognizes the value our employees have to our success.
- Rapid Improvement Deployment: "We know that many departments have great ideas and a desire to improve their service delivery," said Ms. Harrison-Lee. "This will not only make our customers happy but improve our workforce satisfaction." To start, the Unified Government has launched a team within the Treasury to identify ways to streamline processes and improve customer service with many early wins already! This is the first of many interventions to foster a culture of excellence and customer service across the Unified Government while also making this a place that supports our workforce in our day-to-day operations.
- Understanding Our Measures of Success: The County Administration has been working with departments to understand what measures of success are used to evaluate operations, services and programs across the Unified Government. This evaluation will position us well for the FOCUS phase of our framework where we focus on superior customer service as a daily practice, both internally and externally.
Identify economic development opportunities that create access, equity and shared prosperity.
Over the past ten months, the Unified Government Board of Commissioners have been convening infrastructure committees to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the growing infrastructure maintenance and repairs across the community. To address these needs, in addition to pursuing federal and state grants, it is critical for the Unified Government to identify opportunities to reduce the number of assets and grow the population. By taking a holistic look at development policy and processes across the Unified Government, the County Administration has initiated a preliminary assessment and will work with the Mayor's task forces on economic development to establish more opportunity for projects that enhance our prosperity across the community.
"We have made significant strides in growing certain sectors across the community," said Ms. Harrison-Lee. "Moving forward, we must take an aggressive approach to attracting the type of development that brings true community benefit and amenities across Wyandotte County, addresses infill development, and creates accessible opportunity for all residents. We seek to support more homegrown small businesses and entrepreneurs and our neighborhoods in the restoration of vacant and underutilized land for a more equitable future."
This work will take a broad collaboration between the public and private sector, government and neighborhoods, elected officials and Unified Government staff over the coming months and years. Stay tuned for more details and opportunities to get involved.
Focus on superior customer service as a daily practice.
COVID-19 has impacted how we work as well as the needs of our community over the past two years. County Administration is actively working to target our greatest barriers to high quality customer service - whether it is the realignment of people and technology to improve operational efficiency, to examining our policies and processes, or restoring in-person access to our local government.
Late last month, the Unified Government reopened its Commission Chambers to the public for Commission meetings and, starting on June 6, standing committees will also be held in-person. To maintain accessibility, the Unified Government will still offer a hybrid option for residents and community members interested in listening in and participating without having to come to the Municipal Building (701 N. 7th Street, Kansas City, KS 66101).
There are three assessments underway: an organizational-wide assessment and analysis of our Human Resources and Finance Department, the functional backbone of our organization. Outlined below are a a few upcoming milestones over the next few months.