Government

Delabbio and colleague impress IBM

Communications giant publishes their service-sharing guide.

March 1, 2013
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Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio has become a bit of a celebrity recently, at least in IBM circles.

Delabbio and University of Maryland-Baltimore professor Eric Zeemering co-wrote “A County Manager’s Guide to Shared Services in Local Government” for the IBM Center for The Business of Government, an influential institution that ties research to practice.

In the publication, Delabbio and Zeemering used research and practical experience to show that county government officials throughout the country have a growing interest to share services, and not just for economic concerns. They also want to improve the quality of those services and enhance working relationships with officials in neighboring units.

But to be successful at sharing services, Delabbio and Zeemering felt officials have to possess leadership skills, be willing to trust others and be open to reciprocating when it’s their turn. They also wrote that a service-sharing venture must be transparent, have clear goals and offer measurable results that benefit all involved.

The 40-page guide makes recommendations on how county officials can meet their desired results and offers successful case studies as examples. One highlights the reverse auction procurement process that Kent County initiated several years ago. Now, roughly 20 local governments are combining their buying power to fill office needs for less. The reverse auction has become sort of a Sam’s Club for governments here; the county saved 16 percent on the first $1 million it spent with private suppliers through the completely electronic process.

Delabbio and Zeemering interviewed 26 county officials from Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Nevada, California, Virginia, Tennessee, Colorado, Washington and South Carolina for the guide. They also surveyed 69 public-sector executives and found 82 percent were improving their working relationships and informal cooperation with other local officials in their respective counties.

The two weren’t exactly strangers before they began working together on this project. Zeemering, too, is a local product. He graduated from Rockford High School in 1998, the same year as one of Delabbio’s daughters. After graduation, Zeemering earned a bachelor’s degree from Aquinas College and went on to get his Ph.D. from Indiana University.

“While at Aquinas, he was the youngest member of the Rockford City Council,” said Delabbio, who served as Rockford’s city manager from 1984 until 1995 when he joined the county.

“When he got a job as an assistant professor in San Francisco, he authored an article for the Public Administration Review, the premier academic journal in public administration. I e-mailed him and told him how much I enjoyed the article,” said Delabbio, who added they’ve stayed in touch.

At the end of 2010, Zeemering talked to Delabbio about getting involved in the writing project and then applied to IBM for a grant. He got the grant about a year later and they began working together.

“He did the bulk of the research and writing. I provided input and changes on the questions he asked and on the drafts, and did most of the writing on the section about the county’s reverse auction. I also edited the reports,” said Delabbio, who became county administrator in 1998.

“In late 2012, we went back and forth with drafts and with the two reviewers at IBM on changes. The report was published in mid-January.”

Like Zeemering, Delabbio has established a solid academic record. He has master’s degrees from Aquinas and Wayne State University, and a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University. Delabbio is also an adjunct faculty member at Davenport University and is on the Donald W. Maine College of Business Advisory Board at Davenport.

The IBM Center for The Business of Government in Washington, D.C., has been operating since 1998. Its mission is to link public management research with practice to help public-sector executives improve the effectiveness of government. The report Delabbio and Zeemering wrote can be found at businessofgovernment.org. It is part of the center’s Collaborating Across Boundaries Series.

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