Brooklyn Park City Council will vote next week on a reorganization plan that would eliminate four department director jobs and hire two top managers. Backers say it’s an effort to save money and improve service. Others have their doubts.

The proposal, studied for several years, would create two deputy city managers who would head community and administrative service units, with 13 division managers reporting to them. Division managers would be asked to increase their duties by making more management decisions while delegating some daily work to subordinates.

“We have been working toward how to make people operate more efficiently. We have been driving toward this moment,” Mayor Jeff Lunde told a divided council last week. “We have an old city government structure with new-age challenges,” Lunde said later.

The net impact would be cutting two full-time department head positions and eventually saving more than $200,000 a year in pay and benefits, City Manager Jamie Verbrugge told the council. He asked for direction and the split council agreed to vote Dec. 2 on the plan.

Two of the seven City Council members, Lunde and Rich Gates, said they’re for the plan, which wouldn’t affect police or fire management, while three are against it: Mike Trepanier, John Jordan and Bob Mata. The other two — Peter Crema and Liz Knight — said at last week’s meeting that they need more time to consider the idea after hearing from resident leaders who oppose the plan because it would eliminate the position of Recreation and Parks Director Jon Oyanagi.

City staff members have been trained in teamwork processes and the plan has been partly implemented since it was suggested in 2009 by a consultant, the Global Synergy Group. The city sought Global’s advice in an effort to streamline management, improve service and save money in the face of $1.6 million in expected cuts in state aid and homestead credit reimbursements to cities.

‘Extra layer’ questioned

To council member Trepanier, the proposal looks like “fewer people on the ground to do the work and an extra layer of people” that would create more bureaucracy and “insulate the city manager.”

The reorganization wouldn’t reduce front-line workers and “focuses almost exclusively on streamlining the executive management, ” Verbrugge said in a memo to the council. “The impact will be felt most by the current department directors and division managers.”

The managers would be asked to take on more leadership duties and pass some of their work to subordinates, Verbrugge said.

Council Member Peter Crema asked whether managers would be paid more for their new duties. Verbrugge replied that division manager jobs would be evaluated and that could result in pay adjustments. A recruiting firm also would be hired to search for candidates for the new deputy city manager jobs, he said. Verbrugge said it was unclear how much the net savings would be during early transition years.

Looking at other models

Crema asked if any other area cities had tried this approach. Verbrugge said using deputy city managers is more common in Western states. He said he knew of two metro cities, Blaine and Burnsville, that had tried it but later reverted to previous management models. He said he didn’t know the reasons for that.

Council Member Bob Mata said he counted 13 division managers reporting to the new deputy managers on the proposed organization chart. “Where are we going to get cost savings if we need to give them all pay adjustments?” he asked.

Lunde said that pay adjustments were factored into the $200,000 savings estimate.

Eliminating 2 positions

The staff changes would most affect Oyanagi and Finance Director Cory Kampf, whose positions would be eliminated. Two other departments heads, for community development plus operations and maintenance, have left the city. The two acting directors at those posts would resume previous duties. Lunde said Kampf could become the chief financial officer, and Kampf and Oyanagi would be encouraged to apply for the new deputy city manager jobs.

The operations central services superintendent also would be cut, although the incumbent would remain for a year or so to oversee large expansions to the police headquarters and an operations and maintenance building, Verbrugge said.

Waiting for outcome

Oyanagi, parks director for six years, declined to comment on his prospects or the reorganization until the council decides whether to approve it.

Losing Oyanagi could shrink the pool of volunteers working with park programs, said Brian Rogers, chairman of the recreation and parks advisory commission. He told the council that Oyanagi had won grants for park projects and oversaw the building of many new facilities.

Dan Williams, president of the Brooklyn Park Athletic Association, said Oyanagi had eliminated city bureaucracy for him. He said that Oyanagi is always available to discuss association needs and that his group, representing 5,000 kids, has donated money for park programs.

Verbrugge said later that he has discussed “potential landing spots” with Kampf and Oyanagi, but noted they would need to compete with other applicants.

Improving efficiencies

“I know people are concerned with individuals and so am I. But in a larger sense, we are talking about improving the overall efficiency of the organization,” he said. “We are not adding a layer of management. We are consolidating from four people [department directors] to two [deputy managers].”

The streamlining would reduce the number of people reporting to Verbrugge from 13 to seven. The two deputy city managers each also would oversee about seven supervisors and handle most day-to-day operations. That would free Verbrugge to work more closely with the City Council and to focus on organizational development and on improving ties to legislators, county officials and other key players outside City Hall, he said.

Verbrugge said the reorganization would “not affect front-line services,” although front line workers likely will have more to do. “I am confident in our division managers’ ability to make assignments and manage the workflow. We have strong leaders who know how to utilize their staff.”

“In the future,” he added, “more residents will be expecting government to identify more opportunities for efficiency. This a step in that direction.”