Rancho Cordova’s Annual Corporate Report Educates the Community And Builds Trust

The City of Rancho Cordova won the Award for Excellence for this project in the Internal Administration category of the 2010 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the program, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

Rancho Cordova is a long-established community about 12 miles east of Sacramento in Northern California. The city incorporated in 2003, and its current population of 62,899 is expected to exceed 200,000 at build-out. Since incorporation, the city council and staff have worked to not only “get the job done” but to continually do it in a way that benefits the community and builds trust in local government.

All cities understand being faced with diminishing resources and how this can contribute to a negative perception of local government. “One way to restore trust in government is to act in a more businesslike manner,” says Ted Gaebler, Rancho Cordova city manager and co-author of the best-selling book, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector. The city works to improve the public’s trust by operating transparently and demonstrating prudent management of resources and responsible stewardship of finances.

Gaebler believes that the best approach is to present results in a businesslike manner while continually educating the community. Every February for the past four years, staff has highlighted results with an Annual Corporate Report, an event built on the previous year’s audited financial data and designed to educate the participants — elected officials, staff, the business community and residents. The program presents information about the city’s fiscal condition and sets the stage for future financial decisions. Gaebler brought the idea from his previous experiences in the City of Visalia.

A Proactive Format

Under the direction of Assistant City Manager Joe Chinn and Finance Director Donna Silva, staff brings in expert speakers who frame the national, state and regional economic conditions and forecasts, and then the team presents the city’s results in the context of those pictures. “The Annual Corporate Report reflects a realistic fiscal environment, and brings the city council and community up to date on the city’s financial condition and accomplishments,” explains Silva. “Staff gives three years of financial history and a three-year projection and concludes by asking elected officials, ‘What are you hearing in the community?’ This leads to discussion about community priorities. It’s proactive rather than reactive.”

The Annual Corporate Report is a nontraditional approach to laying groundwork for enhancing trust and communicating the city’s financial condition. Each year, staff has improved both the content and delivery of information. In 2007, the inaugural workshop showcased local experts and city staff. The next year, speakers from the League of California Cities highlighted the state’s fiscal outlook and its impact on local government. Staff created the city’s first Citizens’ Financial Report that displayed audited data in an easy-to-read format.

The city continued the successful format in 2009 and partnered with the local chamber of commerce to add presentations by a nationally renowned economist and a regional real estate expert. More than 100 new participants from the business sector and other public agencies gave positive feedback, and sponsorships covered the event’s costs.

This year, staff added a public education video titled “Connecting the Dots: Your Taxes at Work in Rancho Cordova.” Produced in-house, the video is also available on the city’s website, Facebook page and local library. It is given to local high-school government classes and community groups as well.

Gaebler believes these efforts not only pay dividends to the city and community through actual results seen in financial acumen, but that they fundamentally work to increase public confidence.

Measures of Success

Due to the city’s strong financial management, in March 2009 its bond rating increased two grades when other public agencies were being downgraded. As a result, The Sacramento Bee editorialized that the City of Rancho Cordova is “one city that gets it right” and suggested that others, such as the State of California, should follow suit.

In Rancho Cordova’s 2009-10 biennial public opinion survey, 81 percent of respondents reported they are satisfied with their quality of life, the services provided by the city and the direction the city is going.

The Annual Corporate Report helps elected officials become better equipped at interpreting the public will in the context of the world around them, rather than just balancing a budget. Rancho Cordova’s Annual Corporate Report is easy to adapt. Its businesslike approach moves public trust in the right direction, a much needed and welcome change.

Contact: Donna Silva, finance director, City of Rancho Cordova; phone: (916) 851-8735; e-mail: dsilva@cityofranchocordova.org

A Remarkable Transformation

Read how Rancho Cordova’s grassroots efforts resulted in the creation of a city and a renewed sense of community in an area with an extremely diverse population. Visit www.westerncity.com and click on “Web Exclusive” to read this compelling story.

Don’t Miss This Exclusive Western City Interview With Ted Gaebler

Ted Gaebler, co-author of the best-selling book Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector and city manager of Rancho Cordova, answers questions about the current fiscal issues facing cities. Read this exclusive interview at www.westerncity.com.

This article appears in the November 2010 issue of Western City
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