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Podcast: Budgeting During COVID-19 with Gregory Patrick, Norfolk, VA

Posted on April 24, 2020


Gregory Patrick GovLove

Gregory Patrick Budget and Brews

Gregory Patrick
Budget Director
City of Norfolk, Virginia
LinkedIn | Twitter


Strategic planning and managing resources during a crisis. Gregory Patrick, the Budget Director for the City of Norfolk, Virginia, joined the podcast to talk about how his office is putting together an annual budget during COVID-19. He shared how their process has changed and what the financial impacts of the crisis may be. Gregory also talked about budget engagement and his department’s telework policy, which was in place before the pandemic and allowed their office to keep talented employees.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Episode Transcript

Kirsten Wyatt

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co-founder and executive director. And today I’m excited to welcome Greg Patrick, the Budget and Strategic Planning Director for the City of Norfolk, Virginia, to GovLove. Greg, welcome to GovLove.

 

Greg Patrick

Well, thank you very much Kirsten. I’m excited to be here.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

So ELGL members were scheduled to hear from Greg at ELGL 20. As one of the national leaders in ELGL’s opinion, on work from home policies to ensure that local governments can hire and retain the best talent. And that was scheduled pre-COVID. Now our conference has been delayed and so we’ve asked Greg to join us on today’s episode to talk about what’s happening with Norfolk’s budget and strategic planning efforts, and we’ll also get into his thoughts about how the pandemic is changing now and into the future, the ways that we do local government work. But first, let’s get started with a lightning round. Greg, what is a food that everybody likes but you do not?

 

Greg Patrick

Food that everyone likes that I don’t, I’d have to go with, with watermelon. And not only do I not like it, I absolutely hate watermelon. It’s finally stringy, seedy, gives you sticky hands. When you put them in the trunk on the way home from the grocery store, they roll around, crush your eggs and your bread and they end up rotting on your counter top because after you get them home, they are such a pain to actually prepare. And at that point, it’s just a useless, worthless fruit with an undeserved all American reputation in my mind.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

[Laughter] Well, okay, what about like cantaloupes and honeydews like other, other types of melon?

 

Greg Patrick

So if you buy it prepared, I’m good with that, right? [Laughter] But again, I don’t want to have to prepare a cantaloupe. I don’t have a cantaloupe scooper at the house. [Laughter] Not gonna go to that amount of effort.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

That is not a food that we’ve ever heard mentioned to this question before. So you’ve already set yourself apart.

 

Greg Patrick

I think it’s always good to be unique.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

[Laughter] What is your favorite font?

 

Greg Patrick

Alright, so this one’s a little boring. But it’s Calibri. I have become so used to Calibri that anything else that I see just sort of looks wrong. As a budget guy, there’s a there’s a story out there of a science fair project that actually proved that the federal government of the United States could save about 150 million dollars a year if it switched to Garamond font. Turns out it’s not quite true. But boy, I wish I wished it was. I thought that was really cool.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Have you thought about changing Norfolk’s budget to get them on just to kind of like liven things up and see if you had any printing savings?

 

Greg Patrick

[Laughter] No, unfortunately, the way our printing contract works, it wouldn’t save us any money. And I’m just fine with Calibri.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Alright and what is your best self care tip in the time of quarantine and work from home?

 

Greg Patrick

Alright, so, right now I have been working from home I think, since Friday the 20th of March. And my wife, Maureen is a full time work from home employee, even when we’re not in the midst of the pandemic. And we also have an 11 month old son, Jack. So I found that I’m spending you know, at least half my day on the phone, whether it’s a conference call or just on a phone call. So I have been loading Jack into his stroller and just walking him around the neighborhood, as I, as I listen and talk on conference calls. I think my neighbors wonder what the heck is going on and see so much of me just walking in circles, but it certainly keeps Jack happy and I get my steps in that way.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

I was gonna say you probably have some really good step counts every week. So there’s that.

 

Greg Patrick

I do. It’s it’s going to be in a way depressing to go back to the office, from that perspective.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

So let’s shift gears and talk about your work. But first, share with our audience more about your background and your current career path to where you are right now.

 

Greg Patrick

Well, I feel like some, some folks know exactly where they’re going. That, that wasn’t me. I sort of ended up here through a series of fortunate events. After graduating from college, I actually started for about 10 years a fairly successful career, managing modular home sale centers in South Carolina. That job was nothing, could be further from local government really. That, that job was 50% retail sales, 50% construction management, and I absolutely, I absolutely loved it. But the Great Recession hits and there’s just no financing available, right. So the whole industry sort of dried up. So at that point, it was you know, we had a I had a conversation with myself to try to figure out what the heck I was going to do next. I ended up going back to school, getting a master’s in accounting, and worked in public accounting for a couple of years, and then joined the City of Norfolk as a Management Analyst – III in 2013. From there, Senior Budget Analyst in 2015, Budget team leader 2016, Interim Budget Director and then Director in 2017. So it was clear from the start when I, when I landed in, in the budget office and in local government that it really was the right place for me. So it’s still excited to be here. Still excited to go to work every day. But you know, it’s been it’s been a great almost seven years now, a little more than seven years now.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

So what is the biggest similarity between running a modular home sales center and being a budget director?

 

Greg Patrick

[Laughter] There are very few. I would say management is management. People are, people are people. You know, at the end of the day, you’ve got, you know, no matter what you’re doing, you have team goals and objectives. And you have resources in order to help you achieve them, people being the most important resource. So figuring out how to work with the, with the resources, you have to get the best possible outcomes, I mean, I think that that is a that’s a that that concept exists across just about any business.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I would think that, that construction management skill set would help with some Capital Planning perhaps?

 

Greg Patrick

A little bit. I will say, when I when I started talking with our, with our engineers in public works, I thought I had some, some level of experience or something that I could add that would be useful. I learned really quickly that what I knew about construction would, pales in comparison to the, to the scale and the knowledge of what we’re doing at a, at a municipal level. So at that point, I kind of I let what, what I thought was my experience, take a backseat and learn to listen. So I could, so I could add more useful content to the conversations.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, that makes sense. So share with us the timeline that you’ve been operating under for these last couple of months. I mean, normally you would kind of be in the thick of budget and strategic plan updates, correct?

 

Greg Patrick

Yeah. So we work on a, on a July to June fiscal year. We were scheduled to, to propose our budget on March, I believe it was March 17th and then adopt the budget in, in the middle of May. I think it can’t be overstated just how, how kind of quickly everything changed with our time frame. So if we go back in time, the first time kind of officially, I heard anything about Coronavirus or COVID-19 was February 12, where we had a senior executive team meeting and our Director of Public Health provided a briefing on, on the Coronavirus. Basically said, hey, you know, this thing’s happening in China right now. We should be a little bit more worried about the flu. It’s a little bit more immediate damage or a little bit more immediate danger. So I left there feeling, you know, okay, everything’s everything seems pretty normal A few weeks later in early March, I had a mid-year budget update, to give to our city council, where I tell them hey, everything looks great. Everything’s going to plan, next year looks okay. And no one on council asked any questions about, about the Coronavirus. A couple days after that, I booked my travel to Portland for the ELGL 20 not knowing how naive that move might be. And then….

 

Kirsten Wyatt

We appreciate that. Thank you. [Laughter]

 

Greg Patrick

Yeah, absolutely. Literally 13 days later, our governor has declared a state of emergency, the city has declared a state of emergency and all non-essential city staff are working from home. So in those 13 days, essentially, our whole world changed. We ended up pushing our budget presentation back to actually two days ago. We just proposed the budget on April 21st. And we are working extraordinarily hard on putting together a budget that essentially looks absolutely nothing like the budget we spent nine months working on.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Wow! And so share with us what the budget you just presented on the 21st looked like?

 

Greg Patrick

Well, so it’s interesting. We had, the budget we actually presented was, was the budget that, or the budget we posted online, I should say is the budget that we were planning on presenting on originally on in March. But the presentation itself and the transmittal letter attached to the budget made it clear that that the budget that the council had received is basically dead on arrival, right. So that budget was built in an environment that is absolutely nothing like the environment that we’re working that we’re working in now. And it took us that time, that time that we delayed the budget presentation to really get a sense of what the scale of this issue might be from a financial standpoint. And quite frankly, I’m not sure that we’ve got our hands wrapped around it even at this point. As you know, revenue data is a has a built in delay before we really see how we’re how we’re doing. But basically, the message to Council was that we think, we think we are looking at a, at a budget gap compared to what we were going to present of about $40 million a year, and then kind of walked through some of the strategies that we might use to, to fill that gap. But to say it’s unlike any budget that I’ve ever seen, to say it was unlike any budget presentation that I’ve ever seen, would be an absolute understatement. I have a lot of sympathy for other budget directors, budget analysts out there who are working through the same issues we’re working through. It is going to be a slog between now and budget adoptions.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Absolutely. And so for your current year estimates, you know, are you just kind of taking it week by week or, you know, how are you forming that just kind of in the here and now, you know, any, any guidance or perspective that has been helpful to you that might be helpful to other listeners?

 

Greg Patrick

Well, for us, the first thing we did is kind of break down where we thought we had the most risk financially. You know, every city’s, every city’s income stream is going to look a little bit different. But for us, we have about $90 million a year that comes in, in the form of what we call consumption taxes. So sales tax, meals tax, which is a tax on prepared food, hotel tax, admissions tax. So we’re looking at those areas as really tremendous, as having tremendous weakness. And take admissions tax, for instance, you know, the governor’s stay at home order basically makes it illegal for crowds of more than 10 people to assemble anywhere, which essentially precludes us from capturing any admissions tax whatsoever during this period of time. We’re also looking at weakness in obviously fees for service you know, most of our city facilities are, are closed at this point. So obviously, you know, any after school program or you know, dance classes or you know, any other service that we provided for a fee in the city, we’re not collecting any of that revenue. We’ll get a better sense of what our revenue collections might look like, at the, in the first part of next week, when we expect to get a first look at what March consumption tax collections, and filings are going to look like. But in one area that we’re lucky, our city manager is actually a PhD economist and worked with a staff, a staff or our data scientists in the budget office to build a a forecasting model that I can’t possibly give you the details around because I’m not smart enough to. That is going to help us kind of predict where we think, where we think we’re going to or where we think we’re going to end up. Right now, kind of anecdotally and looking, looking at the information that we have, we’re going to be, you know, at least 15 to $20 million short just in the fourth quarter of this of this budget year.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And so talk to us about on the expenditure side, what limits have you put in place, you know, immediately, you know, in this current fiscal year, and what do you anticipate will be built into the actual budget that’s adopted for FY 21?

 

Greg Patrick

Well, for this year, it’s kind of a combination of, of two items, of two paths. You know, one is we do have some reserves set aside for, for economic downturns like this. But on the operation side, you know, we immediately implemented a hiring freeze. Going back I think until the 17th of March, we’ve halted any discretionary spending on the operating side. And we did, we did furlough, all of our part time employees which is a 550 employees across, across the city, most of whom, most of whom worked at, at facilities that are that are no longer open at this point. So those were, you know, especially the furloughing part time employees really tough decisions. But it really is an unprecedented time, financially right now. And then next year, you know, similar thinking, conceptually, and the plan that we’ve presented to our city council is, what we really want to do is make sure you know, we are planning for the worst, but hoping for them hoping for the hoping for the best. You know, a lot of what we’re going to be able to do early in the year especially is going to be driven by health considerations rather than financial considerations. So our plan is to start the year in a worst case scenario stance. What, and what that really means is we are going to be operating at a core service level, and then monitor revenues as they begin to come in and, and hope that they recover and we’re able to re-instate service throughout the year. One of the things that our Council asked our city manager to do, is put us in a situation where throughout the year, we are making the decision, we are making a decision around what service to bring back online, rather than being in a position to have to make decisions around you know, what else to reduce at that point. I think Council really wanted to avoid a series of municipal Sophie’s Choice options.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Right, right. Wow! And so what is your budget calendar or timeline, you know, look like based on some of the delays, imposed at the state level for public meetings, public hearings, public gatherings, that type of thing? And how does that change the way that your Council’s approaching looking at the budget and then planning it for the upcoming fiscal year?

 

Greg Patrick

We, you know, I think every, every municipality, even in our region, it’s got a slightly different a slightly different plan for the public hearing requirements that we have as part of the budget, as part of the budget process. We have, we are going with a completely virtual public hearings, it’s two completely virtual public hearings for, for our budget process, which will be unique obviously, this is something that we have that we have never done before. We’re also going to give our residents an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers from, from city staff in other ways throughout the process, but the formal legal public hearings, we will do essentially through, through WebEx. We have, we have last week, we received HUD entitlement dollars from the CDBG program, the Home program and the ESG program. So we tested out a WebEx public hearing for our annual plan. And it went it went really, really well. So we’re hopeful. We’re hopeful that the same will be true for our for our public hearings. We are scheduled to adopt the budget, Council is scheduled to adopt the budget on the 19th of May. In Virginia, we have to, we have to have the budget adopted 30 days prior to the beginning of the next fiscal year. So the budget staff have a lot of work to do between now and what is a little less than four weeks away. But we’re up to it.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And how do you put together a budget with so much uncertainty, you know, six to nine months out? I mean, are you do you, does the Council know they’re going to have to revisit this budget? You know, are you just using that that model that your City Manager and your data scientist to put together, or is it kind  of a combination of all of those things?

 

Greg Patrick

It’s kind of a combination of all of those things. One of the things that I that that we are going to do this year that is kind of that is completely unprecedented that we’ve never even contemplated is, we are only going to appropriate as part of the budget process, the first six months of general fund spending for those items that aren’t, you know, legal, legally required expenditures like debt service, or you know, any retirement or health care costs that we would owe, which essentially is going to create a second budget process sort of in the middle of the year. That, that’s the time when we’re going to give our Council an update on exactly where we stand from a revenue standpoint based on our projections, and hopefully give them the opportunity to begin adding services back to, back to the budget and back to our residents.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

You know, you mentioned how hard you’re working and I can only imagine, you know, with your team, having to make all of these adjustments and pivots and changes, you know, based on how fast everything is changing. Who do you look to for support, camaraderie, or even just kind of a helpful ear that you can talk to, to get through times like this? I mean, cuz you’re really shouldering a heavy load of information that affects your entire organization right now.

 

Greg Patrick

Yeah, I’ve I feel lucky. I’ve got a really great support network. I’ve developed really good industry relationships regionally. And we’ve got a great network of City of Norfolk Budget Office alums. So for example, one of one of my, one of my good friends, Ryan Bergman’s the budget director for the City of Charlotte, and he and I talk, you know, a couple of times a week, about the difficulties that that we’re that we’re both facing. You know, we’ve got probably 10 or 15, former Budget Office staffers that are in leadership positions around the city that I have an opportunity to talk with, really got a great team at the city kind of up and down the organization. And, you know, I’ve also, I put together a conference call a couple of weeks ago with all the region’s budget directors, where we got together and sort of celebrated the problem and talked about what each of us had, had in mind for plans going forward. And the nice thing to hear was, you know, basically everyone’s going through the same thing. And there’s, there’s a, there’s a great degree of uncertainty for everybody. I think sometimes, sometimes I have a tendency to start feeling that everyone’s everyone’s got it together, but me, right, everyone’s got it all figured out with me. But so sometimes it’s nice to hear that everyone is just as, as, as confused. And as, as I’m trying to find the right word here. But, you know, as full of uncertainty as, as we are, in this process. It is just really unprecedented from that standpoint.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, along those lines, I mean, has anything really in your prior experience or your education or just you know, your life prepared you for how professionally, you’re expected to deal with this?

 

Greg Patrick

[Laughter] No, not really, this is this is a an incredibly unique event. You know, the one thing that I’ve found, it’s really important that you be sort of mentally flexible, and don’t get locked into specific beliefs on the right way to do things right now, because there’s a lot of right ways. But the most important thing is just commit to a path, believe in the path you’re going down and then get there and then get there quickly. It’s also important at this point that we get fairly comfortable with being roughly right. I think, budget folks at some level, really like when the answer ties out to a to the penny. Well, this is not the time where that’s going to be the case and we just have to get comfortable with some uncertainty. And then you know, it’s always important to remember things are never as good or bad as they seem. And, and remember, you know why we’re doing what we’re doing, which at the end of the day comes down to, to public service. So it, but no, there has been there’s really been nothing that’s prepared me for this very unique event.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Yeah, absolutely. Well, and so what has this done to your strategic planning efforts? I mean, just given that, again, there’s uncertainty and you’re planning basically a six month budget, and then you’re going to have to reevaluate, how has that affected your ability to do that long range planning that, you know, it seems that your office does so well, in partnership with your budget?

 

Greg Patrick

It’s really, it’s really difficult right now. So you know, we have a strategic plan that we put in place a couple of years ago, and at this point, I wouldn’t say that the plan is on hold. But I think we need to get to a point where we begin to understand what our reality is going to look like, going forward. And then we’re going to have to, we’re going to have to think through the plans, how it aligns with that new reality, and make any changes to it that we, that we need to make. I think the most important aspect of a strategic plan is that it’s is that it is it is able to be changed, right? Because any plan is only as good as the assumptions that it was built on. And I can tell you, the assumptions that our plan was built on are not reflective of the reality that we are seeing right now. So I think we need to figure out where we’re going and get some confidence around the direction we’re headed, remove some of the uncertainty and re-visit the plan and make the, make the changes we’ll need to make.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And if you could go back in time, if you could, like wave a magic wand and have learned to do one thing better, or to do one thing differently to prepare you for right now, do you know what that might be?

 

Greg Patrick

[Laughter] If I think it would definitely be spend more time learning how to make sure my son took two naps a day and went to bed at night at 7:45. [Laughter]

 

Kirsten Wyatt

So work related.

 

Greg Patrick

Right. Fair enough. If I could go back in time and, and do one thing to better prepare, it would really, when you’re putting together a long range plan, in the back of your mind you, you acknowledge that an event like we are seeing now could possibly occur. But I think this is going to teach all of us that, that stress testing our plans against events like this are really important. It would have been nice to have some instruction on or thought put into you know how we might proactively react to, to an event like this. Because we have been, and I think most governments have been more reactive than proactive with this event.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

So I do want to talk about some happier and more progressive things that the City of Norfolk has done in recent years before COVID. And I know sometimes that seems hard to do right now, you know, to look back then to where we are now, but I do think some of the programs you put in place our listeners need to hear about. So I I’d like you to speak more about some of the work you’ve done around budget outreach and engagement and getting your community involved with your financial planning.

 

Greg Patrick

Great thanks. And I and I appreciate it. And it is great to talk about. A couple days ago, I had a healthcare executive committee meeting. And it is a meeting I have been to probably 50 times. And I gotta tell you sitting in that meeting, and talking about the city’s health care plan and the plan for the future, there was a certain level of comfort in the normality of that. So, so talking about, talking about some of the cool stuff that we’ve done, I’m really excited to do so. Around budget engagement, I think we’ve really done some, some cool things over the last couple of years. You know, a couple of budget cycles ago, we started using like a lot of communities, Balancing Act and taxpayer receipts to give residents tools to kind of understand the budget and make and then make recommendations as to you know, changes that they would like to see in the budget. We actually set a balancing act so that it showed the budget gap that we were facing. And we had, jeez, I think, almost 800 folks that submitted balanced budgets. One, obviously, a libertarian actually balanced the budget while removing all property tax, which in our budget is about 450 million dollars. There wasn’t much left for services. I don’t think there was a budget office, but it was very impressive that he or she was actually able to close the gap. [Laughter]. We also created a, a March Madness style city programs activity, where we matched up 16 City programs against one another and it would randomly generate matchups every time that you’d, you’d run the simulation and we took it on the road, for what we call our Civic League Roadshow, and we went to 15 or 20 civic leagues a couple of years ago, and we’d show up with, we had a presentation around, really, how do you as a resident get involved in the budget process. That was the message we were trying to deliver. But then we would break out. Everywhere we went, I had a giant portable screen, a portable projector, and then we brought the voting clickers. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that connect, to connect to PowerPoint. And we would start to set this up and we would tell the residents that we have an activity for them to do. And, you know, depending on the community you were in, you’d get high roles. They’d think, uh activity, what kind of activity are they going to have us do? And we set up this March Madness style simulation, and we would run it for the civically, and we would have them vote on, you know, if you had another dollar to put into one of these city programs, which one would you which one would you put that dollar into? And it got really, really heated at times and these folks that thought they were too cool for school and weren’t going to enjoy the activity, you know, by the end, they were really into it. And then of course, we would, you know, every Civic League, we went to, we would, we would record the results from that Civic League, and we’d make sure that their Council people got a copy of it. So that was two years ago. This year, we, we also did balancing act and taxpayer receipt. But we had two new items that we we put on the on the engagement agenda. One, I think is an absolutely brilliant idea and the credit has to go to Michelle Washington in our communications office, but it was called Budget and Bruise. So essentially, it was me, the budget director, and some of the events for theme, would show up with one or two other city directors at either a brewery or a coffee shop. And we would sit down at about six o’clock at night, and order a beer or a cup of coffee, and just invite residents to come and ask any questions that they might have. And I I’ll tell you, I was not convinced that this was going to be a good idea at first. [Laughter] But, but I’ll tell you, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The response from residents was great. We had tons of folks show up. I think we had seven events overall, six or seven events, with a ton of folks show up. I think people were really appreciative just to be able to have the opportunity to talk, to talk to city leaders. Most of the issues they wanted to talk about had nothing to do with the budget. But they, you know, felt heard. And, you know, the response was was really was really great. And then on our Civic League roadshow this year, we did budget trivia, which I don’t know if you’ve ever done bar trivia, but three, three rounds of five questions and we teamed everyone up and we broke everyone into five teams. And we gave each team leader, one of the voting clickers and we we kept live scoring so everyone could see how they were doing against one another and, and then gave away fabulous prizes to the to the winners at the end of the trivia and by fabulous prizes, I mean City of Norfolk pens. But so those are, those are some of the outreach events we’ve done for, for public engagement. And it’s been really fun. And the response has been has been really has been has been great. And I think our city council really appreciates the fact that, you know, we will go anywhere, anytime and talk about the budget and talk about how residents can, can become involved in the budget process.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I think anytime you’re introducing that creativity, and you know, it just it welcomes a whole new type of person to get involved in financial planning.

 

Greg Patrick

Absolutely. And it’s a show we track. We’re all budget nerds, right? So we like this stuff. But our goal is to get everyone who, everyone who has any interest exposed to the budget and in thinking about how their city spends their tax dollars, and really just give them a voice in the process.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And so I have to know in the in the bracket was there consistently kind of like a Carolina Duke match-up, like something that was always really heated, always really close. Didn’t matter where you went. Something that emerged like that.

 

Greg Patrick

Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. So there were two match-ups that were always fun. And one is very Norfolk specific and one is kind of universal. And it was ever it was whenever police patrol services matched up with Fire Rescue Services.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Oh wow, yes. [Laughter]

 

Greg Patrick

And you would have heated debates and what was fun is, if we ever had a tie, we would ask one person from each team or each side of the argument to stand up and give us 15 seconds on why they voted the way they voted. And it was always amazing to watch. Sometimes it came down to being a good public speaker, but people get swayed. Sometimes you know, it would be 10 – 10 and after the, after the the defense of the positions, it was a, you know, a landslide one way or another. And, and then in Norfolk the match-up that was really contentious was stormwater versus Norfolk public schools. So we fund our public schools through our budget. And Norfolk is probably outside of New Orleans, the second most flood, flood prone or flood at risk city in the nation. So when those two services were posed against one another, lots of, there was lots of contention around where that next dollar should go.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Interesting. Well, again, that creativity, I think, is something we’re starting to see more and more, ELGL cities start to use in budget process. You know, it might take a backseat for another year or so here, but hopefully some of our listeners can take some of these great ideas back to their communities. As I mentioned at the top, I think ELGL really became a Greg Patrick fan when we learned about your very progressive work from home policies, and the approach that you take to building out your staff. And all of this was pre COVID. And so now that we’re all living in this world, I’d love to hear more about how you approach your staff, your workforce, and how you’ve empowered them to work almost anywhere.

 

Greg Patrick

Yeah, so Norfolk is a is a unique city in that we are home to the world’s largest naval installation. And with that, surrounding that tons of DOD jobs, and what that means is oftentimes, we have a really transient workforce as people are transferred in and transferred out. So the one thing that became apparent in my time here is no we were losing at times, really good folks because their, their spouse was reassigned to a different area or some event like that. So I started thinking, you know, how can we, how can we keep that from happening, and the idea to implement a teleworking policy. When, when, when one of our one of our employees, actually the first teleworker was someone that we worked with, at the Virginia Department of Education. When she became available to us to recruit to the City of Norfolk, she was ultimately living in Colorado at the time, and worked with HR, developed a policy for work from home. At this point, it was really spearheaded by Sabrina Joy-Hogg who was our previous Chief Deputy City Manager, built a work from home policy for this employee. And she came on board and worked for two years extremely successfully you know, from Colorado, and we were just amazed. I was just amazed at how, how well it worked. And then about three years ago, one of my absolute star employees, two and a half years ago, one of our absolute star employees came to me and said, hey, my husband’s been reassigned, he’s in the Coast Guard, to Philadelphia. And I was, hell no! This is right when I had taken over as the as the budget director and this is someone I, I really needed to be on, to be on staff. And you know, we again, made it work. We set up a work from home arrangement with her, and, you know, three weeks out of the month essentially, she works from Philadelphia and about once a month will spend four days with us in Norfolk and then just last year, last year and a half our data scientist who had been working as I mentioned earlier with our city manager on the, on the forecasting model, her husband also in the also in the Navy was reassigned to to California. And, again, you know, built a work from home teleworking program for for her, and really everything has just worked out great. And these are very senior people in the organization. So I’ve got, you know, a data scientist who supervises staff, I’ve got a Budget and Policy Manager who supervises the entire budget process, budget development process, working from California and Philadelphia. And I think the initial, the initial fears that, that this wouldn’t work perfectly were just, were just unfounded. So it has been, it’s been something that we’re really proud of. And it really prepared us for this event, right. So we had already developed, we’d already developed a work from home culture. We had been Zoom users for many years now. So we knew how to, how to use the best backgrounds already, before the rest of the folks figured it out. But that’s something that you know, at the end of the day, what we figured out is work from home, teleworking has to be because it’s the best decision for the organization, right? And when it’s the best decision for the organization, and it is to keep the best people in the organization, well, it really becomes a no brainer. And I think if nothing else, this event is going to, is going to, you know, open local governments eyes to the possibility.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, I want to get into that in a minute but first I do want to I want to hear more about your data scientist and then also your Civic Labs Norfolk program. Again, something I think our listeners will be interested in, if not right now but into the future.

 

Greg Patrick

Yeah, absolutely. We, last year, we actually founded a, or organized what we call Civic Lab Norfolk within the budget office. And this is sort of a, this is a group that was very much a, an aspirational part of the organization for for me, and, and for our Deputy City Manager that I work for, Kathleen Weitzel, who is a long term local government employee. And we, what we brought together was a team that would do open data, data governance, data science, data analytics, storytelling with data, you know consult with departments on data, and then strategic plan and then manage our strategic planning and performance management process. And we introduced through this team, a citywide process improvement, innovation strategy, around the Agile process that’s been used in software development for years and years and years. And it’s been, it’s been great. I mean, we’ve made a really big impact on the organization in a short period of time. And so I’ll plug, I’ll plug the, the tagline here. But this is, the organization was created to perform what we call the three things, you know, catalyze a culture change in the city towards collaboration, transparency and trust, connect staff and residents with the right data to make informed decisions and create tools and training to encourage data analysis, efficient processes and, and measurable progress. So that’s our goal. And we’ve got we’ve got just great folks in this, in this, in this, on this team that are working hard every day to make local government work better.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And do their jobs change significantly now, with COVID? You know, have they already shifted focus on what they’re reporting, what they’re collecting, what they’re sharing, or is it still too early to tell?

 

Greg Patrick

Yeah, so we actually, we’ve got them working on two COVID related projects. The first, so actually, it’s three. So our data scientist whose background is in computer science, and artificial intelligence is working with our city manager to program this, the forecasting model that we have built in our which is, I didn’t know what it was two years ago, but now I know it’s a statistical package. So that is that is something that’s going to be very high profile. And that’s really going to allow us to be kind of ahead of the game with respect to understanding kind of some of the impacts of, of the pandemic on our, on our revenue projections. The next, we put together a dashboard, we use Power BI as our sort of our modeling and business intelligence platform around the impacts of COVID 19 in the city. And it’s really interesting some of the information that’s that you’ll find, you know, traffic accidents are way down, police calls are way down. So you can start to see some of this stuff fairly quickly, with good data. And then, then of course, we’ve started working with our EOC, to, to dashboard some important decision making metrics. So first around, just managing the response, right? So if you’re looking at, you want to know what PPE, how many masks do you have, how many gloves do you have, you know, where are you distributing these things, and how many of each does each functional area need? What’s the burn rate? You know, when do you need to order more, these types of things, and then around making sure that we understand our plan for reopening. We put metrics around what that might look like, and then a way to visualize kind of how close we get to to some of those metrics. So they’ve been absolutely essential in the response. And it’s been it is, it is a, it’s, it’s proving the theory that this is a group that would really benefit a group like this any local government.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Sure. So this next question has become one that I’ve been asking in all of our COVID interviews, because I think it’s, it’s interesting, but it also requires you to kind of predict the future. And that’s, what are the bells that can’t be unrung after COVID, meaning you know, what’s never going to go back to the same way it was done before? And you mentioned a little bit of this with, with work from home, and what absolutely will go right back to the way it’s always been done, from where you sit in the budget office?

 

Greg Patrick

All right. So I’m not sure if this is meant to be a philosophical question, but I think to some extent it is, right. So I think social behavior like sharing a meal, an experience, a concert, a sporting event, those types of things are existential aspects to humanity, you know. These are saying we are social creatures, and we will figure out how to get back to a society where these things are the norm. And we’re going to learn to cope with whatever threat COVID-19 eventually retains going forward. I think it’s the society, and its societal and cultural conventions around how we have structured all of our personal lives and work lives that may change. So I’m certain that local governments use of work from home and telework will quickly evolve, if for no other reason, then you know, the cost of office space is massive, right? And if you can develop work from home strategies for folks that can be a 100% telework or 100% work from home, that’s a cost saving strategy. If you can develop work share, office share programs for staff that needs to spend some, but not all of their time in the office. that’s a cost saving strategy. And I think work from home for us has been an absolute success. And something you know, from an IT standpoint, we had never tested we weren’t prepared for. But our IT folks have made it happen and made it happen in a way that, you know, I think we’ve been super successful, super successful there. I also think you’re gonna continue to see the blurring of traditional gender roles, right? So for a lot of families, the home at this point has become, you know, the home, the office, the school, daycare and my wife and I have shared the responsibility of trying to work and, you know, keep our, you know, raise and keep our 11 month old son safe and happy. And I think, you know, you know, as we emerge from this, a lot of that will, will stay around and I you know, I think the question around who goes back to work and what do, what do family and economic dynamics look like going forward? Are people going to make decisions that are different than they would have before this, before this event? I’m sure there’s many others, but those are the ones that I have at least spend some time thinking about.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Right. No, those are great. And I think these are going to continue to be topics that we explore both on GovLove and then also on ELGL. But I do want to ask you our traditional last question. If you could be the GovLove DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music?

 

Greg Patrick

So I knew this question was was coming in. I have not thought of anything all that great. So, as an homage to the 80s – 90s kids out there, I think it would be Hangin’ Tough by New Kids on the Block.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Are you a big NKOTB fan?

 

Greg Patrick

I would not say that. But it is the first song that popped into my head. And I was trying to think of a song that was about hangin’ in there. And you know, everything’s gonna be okay in the long run. It is a terrible song though.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

It really is. And, and again, I think it’s the first, the first New Kid song on GovLove, but I also think it’s a song that’s so bad, it can’t help but make you smile, which hopefully, you know, through talking about all of the tough times, but then also learning about some of Norfolk’s really progressive and interesting programs, this episode has been able to do. So I want to thank you for coming on GovLove today.

 

Greg Patrick

Well, thank you very much for having me. I was really excited to be able to join. It’s a podcast I listen to and you’re an organization that I really appreciate, you do a great thing. So I’m really, really happy to be able to participate like this. Thank you very much for the opportunity.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, thank you. And as a reminder, GovLove is produced by a rotating cast of awesome ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. Our vision is to amplify the good in local government, and we do this by engaging the brightest minds in local government. A reminder that our full suite of COVID information and resources is online at elgl.org/COVID-19. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove or on Twitter @Govlovepodcast. And if you have a story idea for GovLove, we want to hear it and you can send us a message on Twitter or email [email protected] Thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.

 

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