Study identifies Milford’s government as healthy with room for improvement

MILFORD — Before the start of last week’s Milford City Council meeting, the members gathered virtually for a public presentation on the status of the city’s government.

“As part of the budget last year, we included money for a staffing analysis … (as) we brought forward to council a number of requests for additional staff,” City Manager Mark Whitfield said of the research carried out by Pinnacle Change Inc., a talent management consulting firm.

Mark Whitfield

“This is not meant to be anything cast in stone,” he said, “but it does give us a point of reference as to where to start from, where we should be looking initially and then where we should be moving forward.”

The report analyzed every department of Milford’s municipal government except for the police force, which opted out of the study.

While Jeff Smith, a managing director at Pinnacle Change, called Milford “a very impressive city (that fits into) the high-performing government category,” his firm’s research identified two main weaknesses: a small, dated information technology department and isolated understaffing.

“I’d say a major area to consider funding in pretty big ways is your IT,” Mr. Smith said. “They’re pretty far behind there.”

He described technology as “a two-way sword.”

“It costs a lot of money, it takes a lot of effort to put it in, but it’s unparalleled in its ability to sustain productivity and growth.”

Mr. Smith said there is a need for a more detailed assessment of the city’s needed technology improvements.

Once technology is upgraded, he said Milford will have “the ability to make more objective and metric-based decisions. That right now would be pretty hard to do because you just don’t have enough technology support in place.”

John Davis, a senior manager at Pinnacle Change, identified “the visioning, as far as where it should go, and the leadership” for the city’s IT department as lacking. “They’re kind of an orphaned area right now.”

This is not something that has gone unnoticed by council members.

“In my own observations of city operations, I feel like our IT technology is a bit antiquated,” Councilman Todd Culotta said during the presentation. “What were the glaring things that made that obvious to you?”

Mr. Davis said the city has “been operating with a real bare-bones staff there, (and) there’s definitely a need to do a further assessment.”

Councilman Andrew Fulton asked a more specific question about how the IT department tracks the ways it supports different areas of the city government.

“When I was getting my walk-through, I asked about that,” he said, “and there wasn’t a methodology that they had developed within the city yet to track how the IT department was supporting the different departments.”

Mr. Davis said getting that information would require “a secondary step to do a further analysis to dig into those details.”

IT was not the only department that Pinnacle Change described as understaffed.

“I think what’s being done with planning and development seems like a lot with the staff they have,” Mr. Davis said.

“It’s a similar situation to Parks & Rec,” Mr. Smith added. “A lot of municipalities have to combine certain functions because there’s a lack of resources1 and they need to share resources, but it also puts handcuffs on you.”

Mr. Davis summarized this element of Pinnacle Change’s methodology in an all-encompassing query.

“One question that always has to be asked is, do we have the right people doing the right job with the right tools?” he said.

In Milford, Mr. Davis found various instances of “a leader of an area doing administrative work when you should have a resource there to help assist them.”

Mr. Smith said, “We wouldn’t want to see your high-performing capabilities get dragged down by just not having the proper support to get the day-to-day or routine things done.”

He identified Mr. Whitfield as one of these leaders in need of more administrative support.

“The city can’t afford for Mark to get bogged down in housekeeping work,” he said. “He’s way too talented for that.”

Rob Pierce, Milford’s city planning and economic development director, was a second leadership figure identified in that way.

“When looking at the planning department, you’re speaking about the work that Rob does and the potential need for some other staffing to let everyone function at the proper level,” Councilman Jason James said. “In other cities, do you see the planning director and the economic development director as one function, or do you see those two things as separate functions?”

In answering Councilman James’ question, Mr. Davis reiterated the need for additional administrative support to take work off the plates of key leadership figures.

“I think the overarching thing there is, what isn’t getting done on maybe the economic or development side because you’re focusing on the transactional piece of serving the community in terms of the amount of growth you’re having as far as building and such?” he said. “What’s the support that’s needed there?”

Overall, Mr. Smith said Milford’s municipal government is doing well.

“We put you in the high-performing category, and we’ve seen a lot of high-performing governments,” he said. “That’s a pretty big testament.”

Mr. Smith said that within the town’s “very passionate workforce, … collaboration is extremely well-done. (That’s) huge for budget-constrained municipalities, (enabling) more sharing of resources and ideas and best practices.”

He said maintaining this high-quality workforce is key to Milford’s continued success.

“Succession planning is probably another area we would push and pay more attention to, because it’s great when you have talented people, but it’s bad when it’s time for them to move on and retire,” Mr. Smith said.