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Needless move to the wrong place

Published January 14, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The debate over reorganizing the Utah Department of Community and Culture includes finding a new location for the Division of Housing and Community Development. Relocating the division appears to be an attempt by Gov. Gary Herbert to make a change without a sense of how to improve services or reduce costs.

Since the Division of Housing and Community Development is a well-run agency and Utah is widely recognized as the nation's best-managed state, there is little to suggest an urgent need for change.

Moving the Division of Housing and Community Development is mandated by physical considerations, as the state lease on the existing location is ending. The relocation to a state-owned building makes sense and will, no doubt, save money. However, last year the Utah Legislature passed House Bill 287 that required a study of the restructuring of the Utah Department of Community and Culture with the goal to "improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve customer service."

While the study evaluates three scenarios for the divisions housed in Community and Culture, there appears to be no analysis of the value of the synergistic efficiencies that have evolved through program development and administrative consolidations that have already taken place.

The need to move the division to a new location, combined with the HB287 study and, possibly, an internal power play, have led to a decision to place the division of Housing and Community Development under the Department of Workforce Services.

I heard someone base this bizarre placement on the rationale that Workforce Services and the Housing Division serve the same clientele. The two agencies actually have distinct missions and very little overlapping clientele. If having similar clientele is important, why not place Housing in the Department of Transportation, or under the Utah Tax Commission, or maybe even the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control?

The culture of an agency is always related to its major function. To place Housing and Community Development under the roof of an agency with significantly different functions would be very disruptive and have a negative impact on morale and productivity.

It would result in a clash between the cultures of Workforce Services and Housing. The lead agency would find the need to change the culture of the agency it must now oversee. That would be too bad. Housing and Community Development is a top-performing agency and highly respected by its private and federal funding partners. Utah's community development professionals, local governments and housing agencies all give the division high marks.

The housing and community development functions in the Department of Community and Culture form a productive working relationship with the department's cultural programs. The Division of Indian Affairs, for example, has worked with the housing program to find funding and other resources to improve housing on reservations. By working together, Indian Affairs and Housing are implementing housing finance opportunities, technical assistance and training that are improving Indian housing and creating new economic opportunity for some of Utah's poorest communities.

There is no need to move Housing and Community Development to another department and there is certainly no value in dismantling the highly successful Department of Community and Culture.

The only change in organizational structure that may improve Housing and Community Development would be to raise it to independent department status. Even though Housing and Community Development's staff and management are fully capable of functioning as an independent department, we do not want to sacrifice the synergy that results from relationships among the divisions within the Department of Community and Culture.

Dave Conine is the state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Salt Lake City.