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New Ideas and Best Practices for Special District Leaders


Welcome to the latest issue of The Districts, where we chronicle the people, issues and activities impacting special districts across the U.S.

News Staff / March 21, 2019
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam shaking hands with a factory worker. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, left, directed his staff to go on an employee listening tour to hear ideas for how to recruit and retain the best workers. (FlickrCC/Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Check Out the Special Districts Webcast

If you missed our live Special Districts Program webcast on Feb. 28, you can catch up here with this on-demand recording. You’ll hear leaders from three special districts give the inside story on how their organizations are transforming customer experience. Here are some highlights:

Omar Sandoval, Director of Information Technology for the Naperville Park District in Illinois, explains how his district created a comprehensive mobile app -- which he describes as a “Swiss Army Knife” for park visitors -- and rolled out expanded WiFi coverage at park locations. These efforts strengthen vital engagement and connection with citizens, Sandoval says. “We're in a very competitive space. So it's these repeated, positive and quality experiences that will keep people coming back and supporting us as an organization.”

Dan Rainey, CIO for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, describes how his agency transformed itself following Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy. Turning around years of poor customer service, the department launched an assistance program to help residents pay their water and sewer bills and invested in a new web portal and kiosk network that give customers digital options for transacting with the utility. “Our focus was to hone in on service delivery, process improvement and system consolidation,” Rainey says. “But the big change for us is really about the culture.”

Aaron Hill, Director of Regional Data and Mapping at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, recounts how the commission surveyed clients across its 15-county service area and then developed seven different user personas, ranging from government technical staff members, to elected officials, to concerned citizens. The extensive customer research enables the commission to deliver more valuable data services to its diverse user base, says Hill. “We decided to take a step back and try to better understand our users’ needs. If we're going to reinvent the customer experience, we need to understand who our users are and how they want to interact with data resources.”

Make Your Plans for Special Districts Summit West

Join us May 30 in Anaheim, Calif., for the Special Districts Summit West, a full day of inspirational keynotes, leadership discussions, and insights into top trends and emerging technologies – all created specifically for special districts. Designed for both business and technology leaders, this important event will offer best practices and real-world advice on:

  • Implementing effective leadership 
  • Breaking down data silos 
  • Building your future workforce
  • Protecting sensitive information
  • Modernizing technology infrastructure

Submit Your Nomination: 2019 Special Districts Awards

Share your technology breakthroughs and best practices through our first-of-its-kind national awards program for special districts. The nomination period is open now for all regions. We’re looking for special districts that are using technology to improve delivery of citizen services and strengthen internal operations. We also want to recognize individual special district leaders who are championing innovative and visionary technology initiatives. Over the past two years, we’ve honored more than two-dozen districts and individuals for their efforts. View past winners and find out how to submit a 2019 nomination.

District Spotlight: Breathing Easier in LA

A new mobile app from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) in Los Angeles gives citizens quick access to current smog levels and air quality forecasts. Chief Information Officer Ron Moskowitz says the new tool responds to changes in the way citizens access information. “The public uses our website, they use our phone number, but most people have a mobile device,” he says. “This seemed like the easiest way for them to get this important information and to be a partner with us.” The new app – which currently is available for iPhone, with an Android version on the way – quickly proved popular. More than 3,500 users installed this app within four months of its release, according to SCAQMD. Read the rest of the story.

More Articles Worth a Read

Here are the latest stories from special districts around the country. Share your own news with us for inclusion in the next newsletter. 

  • A new report ranks the 20 worst cities in the nation for traffic congestion. Experts say the findings signal a need for smarter transportation policies and technologies.
  • The Metropolitan Transportation Commission in San Francisco is working with private partners to bring together data from more than 30 public transit operators serving the region. The partners say the initiative could provide information and services that will make transit more convenient

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