By JEREMY REDMON www.ajc.com
A year and a half after they split from Fulton County hoping to deliver better services to taxpayers, the cities of Milton and Johns Creek have not yet tracked how well they're reaching that goal.
As Sandy Springs did before them, Milton and Johns Creek took a new approach and hired a private company to manage nearly all their government services, except their police and fire departments.
Milton and Johns Creek officials, as well as many city residents and businessmen interviewed, say they generally are happy with the performance of Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M Hill Inc. But city leaders say they have been too busy with other priorities to set benchmarks by which they can precisely measure the company's performance, a responsibility called for in their multimillion-dollar contracts.
City leaders say they are still months away from doing that. Both cities renewed their annual contracts with CH2M Hill last year without having the benchmarks in place.
Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood said he has been pleased with CH2M Hill's work compared with the way Fulton did things. However, turnover in Milton's city manager position has prevented the city from setting up a way to measure the company's performance, he said. Lockwood said the city is relying on the new city manager, Billy Beckett, to help draft those benchmarks.
"Now that we have got over a year under our belt with them, we have something to compare it to," Lockwood said.
Johns Creek officials say they also have been happy with CH2M Hill but have been preoccupied with establishing their own police and fire departments."It's high on the priority list," Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said.
Bodker, meanwhile, says he wants to ultimately make CH2M Hill's costs and profits transparent. For now, Johns Creek's budget offers little information about the city's payments to CH2M Hill.
Bodker said he would like to negotiate costs and profits with the company for future contracts, which could result in more detailed public budgets. For example, he is proposing that if the company comes in under budget, it would split its savings with Johns Creek.
Rick Hirsekorn, vice president of municipal services for CH2M Hill, declined to disclose the private company's profits running city services in North Georgia. But he said his company would consider Bodker's ideas. CH2M Hill says on its Web site that it has $5 billion in revenue and about 23,000 employees worldwide.
CH2M Hill officials said their company works closely with city officials and tracks performance with statistical reports. They said they stand ready to help the cities set benchmarks.
"Key performance measurements ... are very important to us," Hirsekorn said. "When it is a priority to them, our staff is anxious to develop the measures because we do have a lot of statistics and data."
Robert J. O'Neill Jr., executive director of the Washington-based International City/County Management Association, stressed the importance of these cities measuring how well CH2M Hill is doing.
CH2M Hill sees running city governments as a "growth area in the industry," Hirsekorn said. In addition to Milton and Johns Creek, CH2M Hill runs most government services forChattahoochee Hill Country, Sandy Springs and the Louisiana city of Central, a city that formed in 2005.
Hirsekorn said CH2M Hill is interested in doing work for Dunwoody should its residents vote for cityhood in a July 15 referendum and then decide to contract out their services. CH2M Hill recently contributed $2,500 to the Citizens for Dunwoody Inc., a nonprofit group that pushed for the cityhood referendum, to sponsor a "Dunwoody Right to Vote Celebration" on May 12.
Citizens for Dunwoody is now studying whether Dunwoody should hire a private company such as CH2M Hill to run its new government or go with a more traditional approach if residents vote for cityhood.