Rich Negrin: City Managing Director running 311, PhillyStat and city IT on the future of Philly open gov [Q&A] - Technical.ly Philly

Apr. 8, 2011 1:00 pm

Rich Negrin: City Managing Director running 311, PhillyStat and city IT on the future of Philly open gov [Q&A]

He's taken an active role in some of Philadelphia's most innovative programs.

Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin during a meeting with the Mayor ahead of a November 2010 appearance on NBC's Meet The Press.

(Photograph by Mitchell Leff.)

Rich Negrin promised no football analogies. Except this one.

“You have to get the blocking and tackling right before you do the double reverse flea flicker Hail Mary pass,” says Mayor Nutter’s Managing Director Negrin, who played a season in the NFL after a storied Division III football career. “So you got to start with the basics and make sure we’re doing it well.”

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In that moment, Negrin, who became managing director in June 2010 after a stint leading the shake up of the city’s Board of Revision of Taxes, was speaking about the future of releasing city data, but the concern lies across much of his responsibility.

Negrin has a big 14th floor office in the Municipal Services Building at 15th and JFK, decorated warmly and personally, including a framed program from the Cleveland Browns with Negrin in the depth chart, alongside a young Vinny Testaverde and Marty Schottenheimer.

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He is in that class of hulking big men who has a forcible nature when speaking softly. His default expression seems to be of seriousness, but he has a warm practiced smile.

In addition to his role as Managing Director, he is the Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination, which puts him directly in charge of just about every good government and technology issue under the sun: the Dept. of Technology, Philly 311, PhillyStat performance management, contract Procurement and the like. [Download a city government organizational leadership chart here PDF]

Below, Negrin talks to Technically Philly about those good government issues, the future of open data and, yes, he testifies that Michael Nutter is really tweeting on his own.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, Managing Director Richard Negrin, Attorney General Seth Williams and Mayor Nutter. Photograph by Mitchell Leff.

As always, edited for length and clarity.

The most high profile initiative under you is 311. Is it succeeding?

First, let’s say, the one thing we have proven over the past year and half is that the conversation around whether you have 311 or not is over. I think that as you look around the country, no modern city that provides essential services to their citizens doesn’t include a robust 311 as the linchpin to provide those services.

It’s important to remember where we are. Two years ago, this thing was a figment of the imagination for a number of people, including Michael Nutter and [the City Councilman who first pushed for 311’s creation here] Jim Kenney and these folks and [311 Managing Director Rosetta Lue]. From  nothing, they built something. You see the caliber of the accomplishment that [this month] 311 will hit three million calls.

Cuban roots to public service, with the grid iron in between

Negrin is the child of Cuban immigrants, growing up in the ‘Havana on the Hudson’ in 1970s Union City, N.J.

His father was active in local Cuban politics. In 1979, during a tense, on-going dispute regarding negotiations with the Castro administration, young Negrin watched his father die from semi-automatic gunfire.

“Football was a huge outlet for me,” Negrin told ABC Visions in 2010. As team captain and an All-American, Negrin led Division III Wagner College in Staten Island to a national championship. Negrin went on to be drafted and join the Cleveland Browns for a season.

As his NFL career failed to take flight, Negrin went to law school at Rutgers, later becoming a litigator with Morgan Lewis and then serving as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

More than two-thirds of calls are not service complaints or requests, they are ‘hey how do I get there,’ like directory assistance calls, so that’s something we’re working on, with the help of the website and a mobile app that has been prototyped [and has been talked about since spring 2010, though still no firm release deadline is et].

…You look at a model like SeeClickFix, that’s somewhere where we’re going in the next year or two.

When we spoke to Councilman Kenney in February, he was critical of your predecessor Camille Barnett and the axing of the PhillyStat program, which was meant to analyze 311 data and make recommendations for city agencies to do what they do better. What is your vision for the program?

PhillyStat is very different than what it was. I thought the model was good. I thought it established some important, core concepts in performance management in city government. That’s the big heavy lift that Camile Barnett and the Mayor did with the first version of PhillyStat. It created a reporting mechanism around some key metrics and brought that in here to the Managing Director’s office where it was reported out publicly for the first time ever. It was an important accomplishment.

My vision, I think, is taking that to the next level. While that was a reporting-out structure around a handful of key metrics, what I hope to accomplish is a comprehensive, performance management system that is really focused on the management side. It’s a tool that is about a different way of running organizations, not just in the reporting out, like PhillyStat did, but changing performances throughout the city.

Below watch an ABC VISIONS feature on Rich Negrin’s childhood.

What does that mean?

We’re doing things differently within the departments, not just a presentation to the public but also managing the folks differently. We’re looking at what we do and in some ways acting in different behaviors around efficiencies around key metrics and broad areas in a way we haven’t done before.

It’s similar to what I’ve done in the private sector, the traditional corporate ops review. So that’s on the operational side. That’s what we call PhillyStat Ops.

There’s another model: PhillyStat Outcomes.

They’re both going to work hand in hand. It’s the nuts and bolts of operations, but not lose sight of the broader outcomes that may touch multiple departments.
There was an a-ha moment when we realized you can’t do one without the other. There were people who supported  the outcome piece, those who supported the operational piece. We got everyone in the same place, which is no small piece.

If you want to move the levers on the big outcomes — like obesity or public safety — a number of different departments and programs need to operate better and more efficiently, so these models go hand in hand.

The PhilyStat Ops piece is a departmental snapshot around the broad areas, and the Outcomes piece is really how we ensure that we’re getting the right outcomes and are in it for the right reasons.

It is a philosophy and management style that happens not just here in Room 1450, it’s something that other city agencies take back home.

Where is PhillyStat now, is it still on hiatus?

Well, yes and no. For you, yes.

But for the operational side of things, we’ve been running since November, particularly the ops side because I don’t have to coordinate across other managing directors or across multiple departments.

For the outcomes, there is no simple way to not only make people safer but make them feel safer, so we have to think about that and coordinate across different departments to get that accomplished.

In my mind, there is a simple way to make sure this business is running better, this department is running better. We’ve been holding operational reviews across the key administrative groups in the city since November and we’re making the city run and manage better.

What’s an example?

311, Procurement, Public Property, Fleet, we’re starting the process with [Dept. of] Technology, and there’s HR and Records, those core administrative groups that touch the entire city [and are under me].

So if i can focus on those, we get interest from others like L&I and Public Safety, but in the next year, I’m focused on the administrative groups directly underneath me, so I have operational authority. If I can get the backbone of the city fixed, it’ll be a lot easier to do a heavy lift with a stronger back and those departments are the backbone.

Is there movement in transparency with these efforts?

Some of those will be broadcast on [public access] TV. Some of those meetings with the Ops side of things, once we talk to the communications staff and get the process done, we’ll look at what the people want to see. I think the public is going to want to see 311, if not on a quarterly basis then a bianually or annually basis. The public will want to hear from public safety and maybe the technology community will want to hear from technology.

We have three types of meetings: the personnel issues that will be private, then there willl be meetings that can be sat it on and then there will be ones on TV, like a shareholders call, where we report out to the world in a public fashion.

Below, watch Mayor Nutter talk about appointing Negrin as his Deputy mayor.

Public access TV is a hoot, but what about tools online?

It’s an important part of the conversation that we’re having at Office of Property Assessment [formerly Board of Revision of Taxes], where we have a broken system.

You can create the most pristine property assessment system, but if you’re not putting everything on the web where people can see their property values and exactly what you’re doing and what characteristics get you there and what you’re basing it on, you’re screwing it up.

The critical part of making this work is to make sure we’re communicating the way some other cities do, and we’re not doing that well. If you go on to the BRT website, it’s horrible. Montgomery County does a decent job. If you look at their property data and the sales data and look at the pictures there, the fact that you know it’s your house…

You can bicker with the assessment somewhat and obviously with the millage rate, but if you know they’re measuring  it right and using the right characteristics, it’s harder to argue with your assessment over time, and we’re not there.

Who is responsible for pushing forward conversation on sharing and exposing city data?

That’s a tough question. I think it touches on something we don’t do all that well at yet and that’s coordinate. That’s why the Mayor created this new Deputy Mayor of Administration and Coordination who is sitting right here, me. I think ultimately responsibility lies here, right here in this office, but really it lies everywhere. We all need to be thinking about that piece.

So are we going to see movement forward with data while coordination is still developing?

It’s a delicate balance. Here’s the thing that [interim Chief Technology Officer Tommy Jones] and I talk about all the time: something we need to do better with technology is do the basics well. We’re asked to do more with less, and they have an excess of 400 projects, active projects. No one is going to succeed in the next two years with 400 projects.

So we’re going to do less with less and do it better. That being said, we need to do some strategic innovative decisions around technology while we’re making sure our infrastructure is sound, and updating our bandwidth and making sure email is secure and updated. Everybody wants to do the sexy stuff, the cutting edge and show how clever we are [but there are things that need to be done first].

We’re trying that with consolidation [of IT services across city agencies]. We’re not going to put the 311 app on hold. I’ll say that the iPhone project was done with some help from LiquidHub, but the Blackberry Torch version is the first major IT project in the Department of Technology done all in-house. They’re incredibly proud of where this prototype is as a result of that work, and they have done this in about two months of working hard together.

We need to continue to do things like this and work with your community to do issues that matter to us, [while doing the basics right].

Below, watch Al Dia’s coverage of Negrin taking the oath of deputy mayoral office.

What does that mean specifically for the release of more city data?

That’s the new normal. People want to see what their public officials are doing, and they have a right to see their government at work and with some obvious restrictions and not including confidential or HR-sensitive data or inappropriate from a legal side, yes, it’s something we want to move to. It’s why we spend a lot of capital on the Right to Know issue. We get a lot of those requests and it keeps a lot of people busy. But it’s the right thing to do.

As a former member of the ethics board [named vice-chair in November 2006 of the then-new entity], one of the most important types of data we do share is financial disclosure, and we’re proud of the bill that put that on the web.

The reason why data is so important is because it takes that transparency further. We’re trying that, you see it with me being on Twitter (@richnegrin), like Mayor Nutter.

Well, we haven’t always been sure it’s really Mayor Nutter tweeting.

Oh, no it’s him. You can tell. I can tell you that he’s doing that. Sometimes it’s Luke [Butler, the mayor’s special assistant], but it is him. Michael Nutter does tweet. I can tell you it is him just because, well, the mayor has a voice and you can tell and not even Luke could duplicate it. It might be a fun challenge to see if you could guess which is the Mayor and which is Luke.

What do you want of this community of coders who want action?

We’re looking at DOT and doing a prioritization project. As we get that list and figure out true priorities out of the 400 for the next two years, then I think we can start to have this conversation. We can no longer do these things just coming out my chair, it has to be a client-facing mission that collaborates across city functions….

We need your help.

Below, watch Mayor Nutter introduce Negrin as the new Executive Director of the BRT in December 2009.

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