Thanks to the Tennessee General Assembly, I am now well into my fourth year as your Secretary of State. During a recent visit to Smith County, I had an opportunity to reflect on the transformation of our department as a result of the efforts of my talented team of hard-working employees.
In January of 2009, I began my new job in a way that was similar to how I have begun my other public and private sector roles -- I asked a lot of questions. In particular I would simply ask, "Why? Why are we doing a particular function or process?” Unfortunately, I too often heard the most dangerous answer to be given in any organization: "We've just always done it that way."
This exercise resulted in some needed changes. Some changes were easy, such as making sure that I received e-mails addressed to the secretary of state rather than having them filtered through staff who determined what was important enough for me to see. I reasoned that I should be accountable to the taxpayers for e-mails directed to me. Other decisions were hard, such as recognizing that some long-time state employees did not share my sense of urgency to provide taxpayers the best customer service in state government.
For three-plus years, we've been challenging the status quo and unleashing the creativity and enthusiasm of our staff members, who share the same vision I spoke of during my time in the legislature. I still remember a hot Wilson County night in 2009 when I told a crowd of approximately 200 about the new customer-centered government we were beginning to deliver. Then, as now, we are focused on creating value in each and every transaction for our customers – the taxpayers.
It has been my privilege to share this message with thousands of citizens in civic and community groups in all parts of our state, and I have been overwhelmed by the positive response. You can take heart at the pride our employees take in setting a new standard for state government. They are more productive than ever. When I took office, our departmental funded positions totaled 444. By this time next year, that total will be 387 – but instead of using these numbers as an excuse to do less, we are never complacent in our efforts to meet the highest standards of accuracy, customer service, and accountability.
In fact, when I served in the legislature, I often spoke of a state government that treats every tax dollar as a sacrifice on the part of the taxpayer. I am pleased to have the opportunity to put those words into practice now as I lead the Department of State. Our 2013 budget, currently pending in the legislature, will be down to just over $26 million with an additional $500,000 to be returned to the general fund! This is a $4 million decrease from our 2009 budget of $30.6 million. You can rest assured that we understand your hard-earned taxpayer dollars are not Monopoly money. Our employees are committed to good stewardship of these resources -- after all, they are taxpayers as well.
We have been willing to make a lot of hard decisions; we have enjoyed many successes and have learned from our setbacks. I am proud of the “can do” attitude our people demonstrate. They are engaged, they are tearing down walls, and they are setting a new, higher standard for state employees.
Often people will call, e-mail, or tell me in person when I see them at their civic group, “I know you don't hear good news very much, but let me tell you about my experience...” Usually I smile and thank them, knowing that in our department compliments easily outnumber complaints and that our people are shattering long-standing stereotypes about state employees.
While this is a brief overview of the last three-plus years, I am even more excited when I think of what is left to accomplish as we build a culture that will be the envy of any organization, public or private.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you and our fellow Tennesseans – you are my customers. If I can ever be of assistance, please contact me at (615) 741-2819 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.