The City of Salem Facebook page was all proud about Salem supposedly being one of the best-run cities in America. Not surprisingly, Mayor Bennett said it showed how wonderfully the folks at City Hall are doing.
I'm not nearly as excited, for reasons I'll describe below.
First, this isn't a scholarly bit of research conducted by an organization with impeccable credentials. It's a report by WalletHub designed to drive clicks to their web site, where I assume they do something involving being a hub for people with wallets.
Second, it might make sense to speak of the "best-run city government," but the idea of a "best-run city" is absurd, since a city is too complex for any single entity to run it.
The methodology used in the report makes this clear.
But I bet nobody at the City of Salem paid much attention to the methodology. Instead, they rushed to get some P.R. benefit from the report. I'm geeky enough to enjoy looking at methodologies, though. Here it is.
Each category is weighted equally, 16.67 of the total, so one-third of the criteria for determining a well-run city has virtually nothing to do with what the City of Salem and City Council are doing.
In fact, Financial Stability is the only category that is entirely under the control of city government, since it has to do with the Moody's City Credit Rating and Long-Term Debt Per Capita.
What about the other three categories?
Well, the most important scores in the Safety category have to do with crime rates, which are only loosely connected with how policing is done in a city, and motor vehicle fatalities per capita, which also has little to do with city government.
Economy has more to do with what transpires at the City of Salem, but not a whole lot, being primarily a private sector matter.
Infrastructure and Pollution involves roads, public transit, walking/biking, parks, air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions per capita, and traffic congestion. I'd say roughly half of this category is under the control of city government.
So my rough estimate is that only about a third of the scores that gave Salem a ranking of 18 out of 150 cities actually had to do with how well city government is performing. Thus this report is pretty much meaningless when it comes to assessing how well the folks at City Hall are doing.
A last methodological problem is that the overall ranking of a city was calculated by dividing the Quality of City Services (which we've seen mostly has nothing to do with city government) by the Total Budget Per Capita (which has everything to do with city government).
Thus the ranking was basically, an apples divided by oranges thing -- essentially meaningless.