Marc Elrich made restructuring government a central part of his county executive campaign, arguing that better management could save Montgomery County money and help avoid a tax increase. To implement his vision, the county executive-elect has chosen Andrew Kleine to be his next chief administrative officer (CAO), replacing Tim Firestine, who is retiring after 12 years. Kleine’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the County Council.
Kleine served as Baltimore’s budget director from 2008 to 2017. In October, Kleine published a book called City on the Line, in which he discusses how cities can implement a budget strategy that is tailored to specific objectives that government officials hope to achieve. Bethesda Beat caught up with Kleine last week over email.
How long have you known Marc Elrich?
Thirteen years or so.
When did he contact you about joining his team?
We first talked about the possibility last fall.
What will be your top priorities as chief administrative officer?
Putting together a diverse and talented leadership team that collaborates to achieve Marc’s vision of a more equitable and inclusive Montgomery County, and his priority outcomes [such as] thriving youth and families, a growing economy, a greener county and effective, sustainable government. Implementing Marc’s first 90 days financial to-do list, which includes initiating a 10-year financial plan. Fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, so that county government can deliver more results per dollar spent.
You recently wrote the book City on the Line, which I understand focuses on outcome budgeting. Can you explain what this is, and how it might apply in Montgomery County?
Outcome budgeting turns traditional government budgeting on its head, on the premise that budgeting should be about purchasing results, not line items. It shifts the starting point for budgeting from how money was spent the year before to the outcomes residents want for the future. By allocating dollars to outcomes instead of departments, it requires that every dollar be justified based on the value it delivers.
In a budget as large as Montgomery County’s, it is easy for low priority, underperforming services to fly under the radar screen and continue being funded as part of the “base” budget year after year. Marc has outlined his priority outcomes, and they will guide us as we develop and review budget proposals for each and every service. This process can’t be fully implemented in the few months we have to finalize the fiscal 2020 budget, but will be our goal for future budgets.
Elrich has said he will not raise taxes as county executive. How exactly can this be accomplished?
Use outcome budgeting to prioritize spending. Develop a long-term financial plan. Make county government more efficient through business process improvement, restructuring and innovation. Grow the local economy by incubating the next generation of businesses, doing away with unnecessary regulations, and training our workforce for the jobs of the future.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your previous role as Baltimore’s budget director?
I’m proud of the role I played in putting Baltimore on a more sustainable fiscal path. The financial plan I led has cut the city’s structural budget deficit by more than half, reduced the property tax rate for homeowners by nearly 10 percent, shrunk unfunded pension and health care liabilities by 25 percent, generated $250 million in new capital investment, made possible a $1 billion school modernization plan, and boosted the city’s bond rating to AA.
A former county government employee was recently charged with embezzling almost $7 million in public funds over a six-year period. What steps do you plan to take to ensure better oversight and demand more accountability?
[Montgomery] County government has already taken steps to prevent this kind of fraud, including a new compliance unit in the Department of Finance and use of forensic software to detect irregular transactions.
My performance agreements with department heads will include an emphasis on financial vigilance. That said, I want to make sure we don’t create so much bureaucracy to prevent bad things from happening that it gets in the way of making good things happen.
Have you met with outgoing CAO Tim Firestine, or do you plan to in the future?
Yes, Tim and I have met multiple times and he has gone out of his way to ensure a smooth transition. We have known each other for many years and have a good relationship. He has offered to be a resource for me as I get up to speed in the job.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org