Spend any time around Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden, and you’re likely to hear him describe his administrative philosophy as, “If it ain’t broke, improve it.”
He used the term again Wednesday when accepting the Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award from the Hillsborough County Commission.
It is a catchy phrase, but Belden has made it a meaningful one at the Tax Collector’s Office.
Customer satisfaction at his office consistently ranks above 95 percent, and that’s not because people enjoy paying taxes.
It is because Belden and his team consistently seek to improve service and efficiency.
Belden, elected in 1998, took over an office known for long waits, confusion and public frustration, and promptly made customer service the priority.
Adopting new technology, more efficient processes and better training, Belden quickly dropped waiting times from more than an hour to less than 15 minutes.
He has continued to strive for improvement, establishing scorecards that measure performance in every part of the operation.
It is instructive that Belden’s workers, rather than resisting the performance measures, embraced them. That’s likely because he empowered his 320 employees to solve problems — and actively sought their counsel.
The clear expectations and sense of purpose Belden advocates obviously have been good for office morale. Surveys show employee satisfaction is 91 percent. He never fails to credit his workers for the office’s success.
It was characteristic of Belden that he entered the competition for the Florida Governor’s Sterling Award, which requires a detailed evaluation of every office function.
Not many leaders — in the public or private sectors — welcome that kind of scrutiny. But Belden used it to drive innovation and improvement that led to his office winning a Governor’s Sterling Award in 2008 for performance excellence.
During his remarks to the commission on Wednesday, Belden, a Republican, thoughtfully lamented the bitter partisanship that mars so much of the political debate today and praised county commissioners and his fellow Hillsborough constitutional officers for “putting people before politics.”
Belden’s well-deserved honor is a reminder of what can be accomplished when elected leaders put people and performance above politics.