Scene in Passing: Gory glory: City pairing of pay, efficiency |

Scene in Passing: Gory glory: City pairing of pay, efficiency

John Barrette

Representative democracy received a recent Carson City workout displaying its glorious and goriest trait.

No one should be surprised those modifiers can encompass one trait. Molly Ivins, the late Texas commentator, saw democracy as messy. Her message on messy follows.

“The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly or quiet,” Ivins said. “It requires a certain relish for confusion.”

Democracy’s glorious trait is working to in even-handed fashion to seek fairness, yet still be cost effective in using tax dollars. So kudos go to the Board of Supervisors for not wasting the money spent for a Pontifex consultancy study on city compensation while seeking another study on efficiency in city government employment.

Supervisor Brad Bonkowski sought the second study to determine whether city staff is top-heavy with management and light on worker bees. He said otherwise the board was missing evidence needed in the mix before completely scrapping an outdated compensation system for one more geared to market forces and pay-for-performance.

Many private-sector folks believe government is bloated and pays too much. The new study could address the former, perhaps even the latter, but the issues are knotty. This isn’t a shot at Carson City public employees; the problem pervades the American system. This nation gives lip service to fairness, but too many managers and overcompensation aren’t unusual. The opposite exists as well, certainly regarding undercompensation.

The 80/20 principle first observed by Italian Vilfredo Pareto explains why. Pareto, a 20th century thinker, determined that 80 percent of Italian land was owned by 20 percent of the populace. The principle is more widely applicable.

In organizations and society, 20 percent shoulder 80 percent of the load and vice versa. Check your closet. Some 20 percent of your clothes get worn 80 percent of the time and vice versa. The world works in 80/20 ways.

City government’s workload-efficiency study won’t rely on Pareto’s principle, yet could at least help divert the board from flying blindly into a new compensation format without checking for efficiency as well.

Representative democracy’s more gory side also was on display. The board cobbled together this Pontifex/efficiency studies pairing after lengthy debate, with the Pontifex compensation study’s fate in the balance. Several staff people weighed in, clearly showing they had a dog in the hunt. It wasn’t always pretty, though Thursday’s bottom line looks well groomed. More later.

A somewhat messy situation, indeed, yet 20th century British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had a pertinent observation even before the one from Ivins: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”