Mazzuca: No more pandering |

Mazzuca: No more pandering

“Successful crime-fighting strategies resulted in extra pay for some of Denver’s city workers last year while a failure to speed up processing of welfare applications meant other employees didn’t get the bonuses” read the first sentence of a front-page story appearing in Monday’s Denver Post.

Denver’s Mayor, John Hickenlooper, initiated “change” in how the city does business, with his out-of-the box incentive program for city workers. The mayor considers this bonus-pay program as one of his major achievements, and advertises it as one area where he has succeeded in reforming government.

The mayor’s program requires city departments to set out statistically measurable goals, which are then submitted to a committee and ultimately the mayor for approval. At the end of the year, one-time bonuses are paid in accordance with how that particular agency performed.

The mayor’s bonus program drives performance by encouraging a collaborative and measurable approach; more importantly, it also aligns compensation with output and performance. As a result, workers in five city agencies received all of the projected bonuses because they met all or most of their goals. Meanwhile, seven of the city’s agencies didn’t fare as well because they didn’t meet their performance goals.

Of course there are some naysayers, “I think it (the bonus program) probably needs some additional work to ensure fairness to the employees,” said David Ridenour, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local Chapter 158. But such comments are to be expected from a bureaucrat steeped in the traditions of the past. Ridenour went on to say “I would like to see the money directed to improving base pay as opposed to one-time bonuses.” (Author’s note: if the city acted upon Mr. Ridenour’s suggestion, it’s a pretty safe bet that all it would ensure is an equal spread of mediocre performance.)

While no compensation system is perfect, Mayor Hickenlooper should be applauded for being creative in his efforts to effect change in government. If the mayor of a large American city can effect change by modifying something as basic as compensation, why haven’t we heard specifics from our presidential candidates who are intent to run on a platform of change? Unfortunately, within the presidential context, I’m reminded of comedian/political satirist, Bill Maher’s comment, “If I hear the word change one more time from the presidential candidates the only thing I’m going to change is the channel.”

I find it disturbing that the candidates who talk about change without escaping from the current political paradigm do little more than pander. America is faced with enormous challenges both at home and abroad, but while our presidential candidates preach “change” in reality they are stuck in a pathology of negative ads, short attention spans, gridlocked partisanship and lack of effective solutions.

If only the politicians who claim to profess the need for change listened to the American people their assertions wouldn’t sound so obviously pedestrian. For example, 85 percent of Americans feel that English should be the official language of government, yet fully a third of our current crop of presidential candidates, including the self-proclaimed agent of change, Barack Obama, obstinately reject that notion.

Denver’s mayor obviously realizes that change means thinking about and doing things differently. He understands that the majority of Americans don’t expect government to solve all of their problems, but rather they want government to create a level playing field. And to that end, surveys reveal that the vast majority of Americans prefer private sector solutions with an emphasis on innovation, incentives, and individuals to re-hashed government solutions.

When asked if the government or the private sector had the greatest ability to change with the times, five times more Americans said the private sector. When asked about reducing waste, the results were the same ” 5-to-1 in favor of the private sector. Americans also felt the private sector was three times more likely to be accountable than the federal government. When asked who provides better quality of products and services, again Americans believe that the private sector was five times more likely to provide them.

Americans also said the private sector was twice as likely to be better organized as government, and when questioned about which was more adept at innovative thinking, Americans voted 6-to-1 in favor of private enterprise.

Vis-à-vis the aforementioned survey results, which by the way can be found at, why aren’t the “candidates of change” plumbing the depths of this resource?

America needs innovative solutions to education, energy, more effective homeland and national security, a new model of retirement savings, a renewed sense of American civilization and citizenship, creating efficient, information age government and more.

While some pols profess change, they refuse to tap into the real concerns and wishes of the American people. And that tells me the word “change” is little more than a platitude and code for “Government always knows best, and I’ll use whatever buzz words necessary to get myself elected.”

Quote of the day: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” ” Albert Einstein.

Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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