Richard Greene

‘What Works’ label shows Arlington well-run and who’s responsible

Star-Telegram file photo

Arlington has again found itself in the national spotlight as one of only seven cities, and the only one in Texas, receiving recognition from the What Works Cities Certification program for 2019.

The announcement made last Wednesday comes from the Bloomberg Philanthropies organization that determines which cities meet, according to their news release, “the national standard of excellence for well-managed, data-driven local government.”

An extensive evaluation is conducted by the institution’s personnel based on the program’s 45 criteria, described on its website, that outline the people, processes and policies foundational to a well-managed city.

In receiving the silver level certification, Arlington is credited as a “Can-Do City” that connects and communicates effectively with its citizens.

Among the highlights of the city’s recognition was the focus on the city’s commitment to provide extensive information to the public that is vital to linking residents to the services they depend upon to support their daily lives.

From the announcement:

“Look across nearly any of Arlington’s efforts, and you’ll notice a similar trend: Fostering transparency and building an effective local government only scratch the surface of the City’s goals for using data and evidence.

“Beneath that is a desire for helping residents find and use publicly available information to ask questions, understand, and engage. Arlington’s open data progress goes beyond both policy and portal to people, and the key to making that leap has been the City’s extensive communications efforts.”

One of the highlighted areas of the evaluation was taking a look at how well the city is doing in breaking down its annual budget.

“One thing practically every resident relates to is how their tax dollars are being spent. As a well-managed city, Arlington makes budget allocations based on whether data show there’s ‘a business case for the investment,’ as Mayor Jeff Williams puts it.

“He knows that’s fundamental for building the community’s confidence in City Hall. ‘In a world where citizens have a built-in mistrust for government, data is great evidence of what we are doing,’ he says.”

Another focus area in the report was recognition of the city having identified a “creative way” to meet the need of public transportation through the Via ride share program.

The acknowledgment documented that Arlington is one of the only cities in the country receiving Federal Transportation Administration grant funding to support the Via public transit alternative.

I’ve room here for only these few highlights in the extensive study that included on-site visits from the evaluators under the direction of the 14-person What Works Cities Standard Committee. Their review takes an average of three to five weeks resulting in a comprehensive report complete with benchmarking data, resources and a customized road map to improve data-driven decision making.

This report should be useful to voters currently headed to the polls to select a mayor and four city council members.

It would seem obvious that those who have identified themselves as committed to keeping the city on the right track of supporting small and large businesses, ensuring quality neighborhoods, controlling the property tax burden and providing solid support for police and fire protection would win the favor of informed voters.

Such recognition as provided by the What Works Cities Certification would serve to separate reality from some of the mythical characterizations we are hearing from some candidates. Especially those who are spreading conspiracy theories and nonsense such as Arlington being a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, and bogus claims of building a bullet train or something.

This latest study is just one of several independent recognitions the city has received in recent years for advancing the quality of life for its residents.

As this new one confirms, the city is on a historic ascendency and the challenge for voters is to ensure the continuation of the current momentum.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.