Mayors Show Love for Data at Somerville Meeting

Data and number crunching are changing the way some cities and towns in Massachusetts do business, according to mayors and town administrators who gathered in Somerville.

Mayors, town administrators and city managers from 10 communities across the state, plus Massachusetts Secretary ofAdministration and Finance Glen Shor, congregated in Somerville Tuesday to spread the gospel of data.

The meeting, held at Somerville City Hall Tuesday morning, celebrated the state’s Municipal Performance Management Program, “works to help municipalities save taxpayer dollars by using performance management strategies to reduce redundancies and implement new efficiencies,” according to an announcement about the meeting. In short, the program uses data to run cities.

At the meeting, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone was joined by Shor, Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, Medway Town Administrator Suzanne Kennedy, Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin, Orange Town Administrator Dianna Schindler, Lowell City Manager Bernard Lynch, Arlington Assistant Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik and Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer.

“Many of the services by which tax payers judge us … are determined at the local level,” said Shor. He said city, town and state governments should be “results oriented, data driven and public facing.”

Kezer (Mayor of Amesbury) said when he took office in 2006 the city council had slashed the police budget by several hundred thousand dollars. Using data, Kezer and Amesbury’s chief of police were able to show that crime increased after the budget cuts and that crime fell once more officers were put on the streets. The city council soon restored the police budget, Kezer said.

Flanagan (from Arlington), said data has helped department heads in town government “stand before town meeting and justify what [they’re] requesting.”

Cutatone talked about “the power of data,” and spoke briefly about Somerville’s SomerStat program. “It helped solve problems and unlock opportunities,” he said.

Lynch (from Lowell), said data analysis uncovered some corruption in that city’s public works department.

Many of the data-loving municipal leaders said that department heads were often apprehensive about data-driven management, believing number crunching would lead to cuts.

That’s not always true, said Kennedy (from Medway). She said data that reflects something negative doesn’t mean a department head will be punished, it means there’s an opportunity to improve. “You won’t get anywhere if you don’t get acceptance from them,” she said of department heads.

“This is a major cultural overhaul,” said Shor.

Publication: Somerville Patch / By Chris Orchard