Problem Endemic To Public Parks Management

Glenn Reynolds is writing about colleges, but he could just as easily be writing about public parks:

Full-time administrators now outnumber full-time faculty. And when times get tough, schools have a disturbing tendency to shrink faculty numbers while keeping administrators on the payroll. Teaching gets done by low-paid, nontenured adjuncts, but nobody ever heard of an "adjunct administrator."

Replace "faculty" with "people actually working in a park" and administrators with "headquarters staff" and he has described the management of public parks exactly.  Most parks agencies are suffering from administrative bloat, with more people in headquarters than out in the field actually running parks.  When they have layoffs, it is always of field staff and not headquarters administrators.   In the parks world they will even ignore major maintenance needs in favor of making sure they have the funds to keep paying headquarters staff.

It is just absurd.  Of course, in my case, we make a business out of this.  We run public parks, and have 300 field employees actually in the parks and 2 in headquarters.  It allows us to cut costs while simultaneously doing a better job.


  1. Harry:

    It is maddening, Coyote. I noticed you tagged this under management, and the problem is everywhere, not just in government, but also everywhere where people are removed from paying the bills themselves.

    I know this will expose me as an elitist bigot, but I am a dues paying member of a country club, but I am not a Country Club Republican. In this organization members have no equity, which is part of the problem.

    For many years, the whole place was run by two people (below the volunteer board): one person who ran the clubhouse, and one person who ran everything outside of the clubhouse, which was a bigger job since that included the shrubbery and the golf courses.

    Then we got a president who did not know much, and before long, bingo, we hired a general manager to supervised the two people running the place, and we got an assistant clubhouse manager to supervise the chef and the purchasing manager who bought the food, and another clubhouse manager who did weddings and special events. We got managers under the golf course superintendent who used to take of everybody. We got rid of the golf pro, who ran the golf lessons, and hired a director of golf to run the pro shop (no more contractors!). We got managers everywhere, everybody standing around with their teeth in their mouths, looking busy at times. And below every person below every supervisor, we got more people, all of whom were provided for in the next year's budget, which was assembled by lawyers, bankers, and insurance salesmen.

    So far, the club has not experienced adversity, but it has backed off from very heavy entrance fees a bit, so we have not have had to fire people who do the real work. But where I would start would be to fire the general manager and his subordinates, with the goal of getting back to one person running the clubhouse, one person running the other indoor facilities, and two steps from them and the waitresses and waiters, with perhaps a maître d who greets people and serves drinks somewhere in the food chain. This would make everything much more affordable, which would make the waiting list longer and let us fire the Membership Manager, the Membership Manager's secretary, and the secretary's staff.

    And this is just one example, Coyote. At one time when I was in the productivity business, I thought about selling the club a project, but at that time they were too small, I thought. Then they became much bigger. How does one persuade someone preventive medicine when the bill is, say, a half million dollars that will not save two million in a year and will provide positive cash flow two months into the project?

    Don't get me wrong, Coyote. Even though I have been trained to assume everywhere things are screwed up, there are good companies out there that have honorable management and honorable employees, nearly all of them trying to work and do the right thing. But to your general point, there is everywhere opportunity for improvement, and it would behoove every owner, or the owner's designated management team, to look closely to indirect labor and overhead.

  2. Old Dude:

    I have provided business services to both for profit and not-for-profit (government) organizations as well as hybrids like utilities that operate as monopolies. For profit companies face competition and competing for customers forces those companies to consider the cost/benefit of every position they fill or do not fill and every action they take or do not take. If a sales manager increases profits (after subtracting their costs) then they keep their job. If not, then they are gone. How does that compare to the job security provided by government?

    Monopolies, like the utility companies, are limited by government to some arbitrary profit on each transaction and so seek to increase their volume of transactions.

    And government agencies in California (at least) are forbidden from using labor savings in their purchase evaluations. So a time clock solution that eliminates 20,000 hours of manual data entry of time card information provides no demonstrable benefit over a solution that requires 10 full time data entry employees and two managers. And in my experience, when budgets allow, you are more likely to sell more costly solutions than less costly ones.

  3. MingoV:

    Replace faculty with "doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and technologists", and you describe the management of veterans hospitals.

  4. Geoff:

    Straight out of C. Northcote Parkinson's Law book of 1957, where he said there would be more Admirals than ships in the British Navy. A situation which has now happened

  5. Keith_Indy:

    well, management makes the budget, doesn't it. How many managers are going to say their job is useless and should be eliminated?