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Pittsfield Awaits National Resource Network Efficiency Study

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts is awaiting the results of a study organized by the National Resource Network nonprofit on city efficiency. 

The National Resource Network was created with the Obama administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative in mind – to teach cities to address economic challenges through innovation.

“The National Resource Network is a very elite coalition of experienced evaluators within state and local governments,” Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer says.

Mayor Linda Tyer says Pittsfield is next on the list to get a performance review.

“What is being called an efficiency study,” Tyer says, “and is specifically related to municipal operations and finance. And the purpose of the efficiency study is to test the city of Pittsfield’s operations and finance against best practices – to see how we stack up.”

The national program is funded with $10 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Network works closely with the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities. Under the Trump administration, the Obama-era initiative has been removed from the HUD webpage.

Leading the study in Pittsfield is Seth Williams. He says funding is complicated, but there.

“This is one of the initiatives that I think on Capitol Hill that has bipartisan support. We’ve done work across the country as diverse from Waco, Texas to Providence, Rhode Island,” Williams says. “We’re hopeful that there is more to come from the federal government side on that for the future.”

The Network works with the state’s economic development arm MassDevelopment to help cities like Pittsfield that don’t meet the federal criteria, including population size, for participation. The state takes on the lion’s share of the report’s $50,000 cost.

“We recently received a multimillion grant dollar from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to continue work with economically challenged cities across the nation and also expand the type of work that we are doing in Massachusetts,” Williams says.

It’s a $4 million grant. The application process for all other states to take advantage of the group’s State Resource Network partnership went live Thursday. 

Williams says what he looks for in a local government is different from city to city.

“You know, cities don’t just struggle from one issue,” Williams says. “Different cities have different challenges, but the challenges tend to be cross-cutting in nature – not just a siloed issue.”

But the rule of thumb, Williams says, is:

“A commitment on our side to making sure these are not just ideas that sit on the shelf that they actually get implemented that’s something that’s actually driven a lot of participation,” Williams says.

Tyer, a first-term Democrat, says her office will use the report to generate possible solutions to the city’s economic struggles.

“Where we might find additional resources for economic development strategies, because that really is one of the key strategies to overcoming what is our current fiscal challenge with this levy ceiling issue that we have,” Tyer says.

Pittsfield has already begun upgrading its long-overdue technology sector.

“This is one of those examples of where government tends to always fall behind business in terms of being on the cutting edge of so many things around management and finances,” Tyer says. “Information technology is a key component to any organization in this, this digital era. And we have, you know, sort of muddling along with some old models of managing technology and it was really time for us to be serious about it because technology is so much a part of every single department in the city of Pittsfield does.” 

In September, just before the National Resource Network came to collect data for its report, Tyer created the new role of chief information officer. That’s Mike Steben, who has said IT is vital to make government work efficiently.

“So the very first thing we are tackling is the consolidation of public safety and the municipal-side technology network coordination and integration. So that is going to save us money on equipment and licenses. It’s going to make the flow of information efficient – up until now, we have separate networks and we haven’t been able to share information easily and communicate seamlessly.”

Williams says if the Network needs to return to Pittsfield for additional data, it could delay the report’s release until mid-January.

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