By Martin Couch
Two years ago, sitting comfortably behind the desk of her office in her family-owned business, Jill Dabbs[more] made a decision to run for Mayor of Bryant. In her campaign, she promised local government transparency.
Today, as Mayor, she’s working to try to get that done, to make Bryant city government more streamlined.
"We restructured the human resources and public works departments," said the city's second female mayor ever. "We cut human resources down to two people and operated for a long time like that with one position open. We made some simple changes to make it a more efficient process."
A receptionist was eventually hired with the primary functions of answering telephone calls, greeting the public and directing people to the proper meeting space.
"The phones would ring and our phone system was so fractured that even with just one person involved in taking calls and directing them where they needed to go, you couldn't transfer them," Dabbs said. "People were trying to get a hold of the local government and it was frustrating for them. That was a dynamic change in city hall."
Dabbs and her staff also undertook restructuring the public works department.
"We had an engineer, an assistant engineer and an administrative assistant whose salaries alone were taxing citizens about $16,000 a month, and then on top of that, there was 40 percent for each on benefits, cell phones, office equipment and computers," Dabbs said. "All of these things for each position was much more than $16,000 a month, but we eliminated that entire department and we outsourced the responsibilities, with request and approval of the Council."
Les Price of Crist Engineers took over the responsibilities of the former engineer.
"We went from well over $20,000 a month to $4,000 and were meeting the needs," Dabbs said. "Les is really excellent in stormwater management. It seems like as a city we were so worried we were growing so fast that we needed a full time engineer, so I wanted to test it out and it has really worked out well for us. He's only a phone call away and even though he has other clients, he is there when we need him. That was a huge cost-savings for the city and mostly from the administrative end."
Bryant has also streamlined the street department, putting Leon Black in charge.
"He's done a phenomenal job since he's taken over," Dabbs said. "We went from over 400 work orders over a year and half old to cleaning that up between January and May of 2011 to get it to a manageable level. There are 15 to 20 on that list at any given time now. I only get compliments about that office now and it makes my job easier."
Another area in need of improvement was in the IT department.
"We had a really difficult time when I came into office," Dabbs said. "I thought I would just fly in here with a new website and we would communicate better. The website is what the people see, but we got in here and brought a few IT people in to look at our network. They would shake their heads and charge us anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 a pop to accept the job and not give us solutions. Finally the right person came along who lives in the community and started tearing everything down."
The Council was uncomfortable with Dabbs’ request to outsource the IT department.
"Prior to that it was certainly not working and it wasn't cost effective of what was being suggested," Dabbs said. "The farther I got into it, the more I realized it was broken and there was a huge security issue, too.
"We had breaches of security all over the place. Basically we had the doors wide open and anyone could access the city network through a cell phone.
"I didn't have any knowledge of how to fix that," she added. "That is so far above my pay grade, so getting the right person in here to fix that and that the city could afford was it in a nutshell. Used to, if the city's software went down, everyone had to shut down their computers and reboot. That is so old school and it is fixed now."
The city has onsite and off-site IT backups and has a network that can also run from a battery.
In 2010, city hall also purchased a $4,000 telephone system but more than half of the equipment was never delivered. Since, Dabbs said, the city has prosecuted the individual responsible for non-delivery and now has a proper working system through Windstream.
"These have been huge cost savings," the mayor said. "With this elimination and savings, it has allowed us to build a police fleet without raising taxes.”