Friday, June 24, 2011

Detailed look at report on changing Lucas County government

I've begun my review of the Lucas County Citizen Review report and their recommendation that Lucas County change to a home-rule, charter county form of government with an elected county executive and legislative county council. Below are my initial thoughts on what I've read so far.

The first glaring issue that hits you in the executive summary is the fact that they start with an incorrect premise:

“Simply put, we believe government must lead.”

They write:

The Committee recognizes that renewal of this region is not solely dependent on the public sector. The business, educational, arts, and social service constituencies of the region are equally responsible. However, the focus of this study is the structure of Lucas County government. We leave the remaining arenas for other citizens and other studies.

So why must government lead? Why don't we let businesses lead with government reacting to the needs of the job creators? Why do they assume that a single leader needs to be a government official rather than, say, a chamber of commerce? If the issue is truly economic standing, there is nothing government can do, by itself, to 'give' us that. They can provide an environment for job growth, but that environment is determined by the businesses located here - or considering us - and what THEY need to succeed, rather than some bureaucrat's idea of what's good for business even when business is telling them differently.

They don’t start with what the problems are and how government can help in solving them – they are looking at the structure of county government – and they haven’t yet concluded that there is anything wrong with what 86 other counties are doing with their structure.

They state that they interviewed elected county officials, but I wasn’t interviewed. I know that I've been vocal in the past about the fact that changing our structure isn't going to give us different decisions, but as the only Republican commissioner in the last 20 years with a dedication to limited government and ideas on reducing the cost of county government (which never got a proper hearing due to my minority status on the 3-member board), you'd think this bi-partisan, objective committee would have like to know my thoughts on what I saw and observed while in county government.

***Side Note:

In fact, I wonder if any of them remembered when I suggested that if we wanted to reduce our sales tax, making us more attractive to companies, we had to start immediately to identify ways to reduce the cost of government so we could live with less revenue? I was crucified for even suggesting such a thing! That idea went nowhere fast, but taxation, including sales tax, is certainly a factor in our economic condition. I mention this because you would think that having input from someone who thought there were things we could do to address the problem without having to change county government structure might be valuable for the committee to hear.

End Side Note***

Lest you think I'm somehow 'offended' at not being interviewed, it's not just me. They also don't say anything about interviewing former candidates for the county public offices. As campaigns are all about drawing a contrast, it would seem that candidates who had ideas about how to improve the office they were seeking would have had valuable input as well.

They say they didn’t conduct an efficiency study of the various offices and departments – that such a review was beyond the scope. So they don’t know if county government can be more efficient and more responsive under the current structure.

They incorrectly summarize that there is a leadership problem because no single person is in charge of the entire county. They conclude that the county needs a single unifying leader without first having identified the problems that are leading to our current economic condition.

The leadership problem is easy to see but not so simple to correct in the current governmental structure. For example, economic leadership in Lucas County is presently shared by eleven elected county officials, four elected city mayors, six elected village mayors and the elected trustees of eleven townships. Each of these is independent and can affect some aspect of Lucas County’s economic performance. The committee recognized that each jurisdiction possesses its own sense of pride in its community. But all of this begs the question, “who is in charge?”

The Committee reached this major conclusion:

Lucas County needs a single unifying leader. The absence of such an office and such a person makes reversing our condition more difficult and perpetuates a fragmented decision-making environment.

They also don’t ask if the various jurisdictions agree that they need to subordinate their economic development efforts to a single leader.

Furthermore, they don’t compare Lucas to Wood County which is having remarkable economic success without changing its structure.

So, because they go into the ‘study’ with the idea that the problem is the government structure, they come out with a new structure.

They also conclude:

Armed with this knowledge, the Committee believes the County needs to embrace a political structure that can contribute to reversing our economic decline – a structure that facilitates concerted, collaborative efforts to reduce costs, eliminate duplication, and encourage regional cooperation.

But they fail to acknowledge the regional cooperation that already exists in multiple areas – from the jail, the correctional facility, the courts, purchasing and yes, even economic development – efforts which also reduce costs for all the jurisdictions participating.

Funny, though, they even admit that they cannot attribute cost savings in Summit County, the other Ohio county that instituted a similar change years ago, to the restructuring – so they don’t even know that their claim of ‘reducing costs’ will be achieved through the restructuring they recommend.

As part of the report, they even tell us the type of ‘leader’ we’re supposed to elect:

…a visionary individual with the ability to lead and bring divergent groups together.

As if the majority of Lucas County voters would recognize such an individual and actually put them in office.

One of the biggest problems immediately with the study and the suggestion that we move to a county council is the fact that doing so would give us a new legislative body.

Right now, the county elected officials (commissioners) are administrative offices carrying out the state mandated functions at a local level. Making this change means that the council has the ability to write laws – something the current commissioners cannot do. Can you imagine Toledo’s living wage law applied to the county as a whole? How about the county’s disastrous Project Labor Agreement mandate applied to everyone?

They suggest that the sheriff be appointed – but who will be the responsible party for investigating the appointers? The same goes for the Clerk of Court. There’s a reason why municipal clerks in large population centers are elected and not appointed by the judges – and I can tell you that independence is a requirement as a check and balance on tomfoolery in the courthouse.

They claim that citizens will be able to elect their own representatives on the council – but that just leads to the balkanization of the county. Look at how it works in Toledo: my district council member ‘fights’ for her district to get a larger piece of the pie – as do all the other district people. They’re not looking out for what’s in the best interest of the city as a whole – but what’s in the best interest of the district they represent. How, exactly, will that give us ‘better leadership’??? That ‘theory’ hasn’t proven true in Toledo.

They also say:

A County Executive can develop enhanced financial and performance measures to further reduce expenses to taxpayers.

But such measures can be put into place by the commissioners today if they wanted. There is nothing to prohibit the commissioners from instituting financial measures on the various county offices as part of the budgetary process. As the controller of the budget, commisioners can certainly require the other elected officials to detail certain performance measures and how those are reflected in the budget requested and modify funding accordingly. If there is the will to do so.

The study also cites other areas that have made such changes - they included:

Review of, and comparison to, regions outside of Lucas County that have undertaken structural change.

But they fail to recognize that copying the governmental structure of other areas isn’t going to give us the same results. Too many seem to think that if we just copy some of the things other areas have done, we’ll be successful. What they fail to realize is that our area has its own unique problems and the solutions to our problems aren’t necessarily the same solutions that other communities found.

Additionally, by their own admission, they didn’t look at other counties (in Ohio and outside) that HAVEN’T changed their structure, yet do well. Again, can you say Wood County?

Since the study doesn’t look at WHY we’re having a hard time economically, they cannot come up with solutions that will put us on the path to economic prosperity. What they won’t find out, as a result of this failure, is that many of the economic problems are CAUSED by government – and that has nothing whatsoever to do with the structure.

They limited themselves:

(The) goal of the study was to assess and determine whether changes in the structure of Lucas County government might afford opportunities to improve economic conditions in Lucas County.

Note the use of the term ‘might.’

But think about it – since they don’t know what barriers to economic development the government is causing, they cannot even create a structure that prohibits or inhibits such problems from happening in the future, thereby forcing us into the likelihood that a structural change won’t give us the desired results we’re seeking.

Bottom line – which even Ben Konop agreed with me on – changing the structure will not give us different people, different philosophies or different decisions. If they are successful in promoting such a change, we’ll find we’ve gone through all the work and effort only to have the same names/same approaches in charge and we’ll still be doomed.


Kadim said...

As if the majority of Lucas County voters would recognize such an individual and actually put them in office.

I got a hearty laugh when I first read this. It's quite a true problem though and it bedevils every level of government. In fact, I have become enamored with the Swiss Federal Council because I've come to the conclusion that:

a.) most executive offices, particularly President of the United States, are simply too large for one person

b.) the process for selecting them is more akin to an election for a monarch than the selection of someone for a job

c.) government is at the mercy of the single executive, which, as we know, is a craps shoot in regards to competence.

One thing I'd like you to comment on...I heard one disadvantage of the 3 county commissioners is that two of them can't have an informal chat (about one idea or another) because that constitute a meeting since there's a quorum. However, say, two members of a city council with five or seven members can have such a chat, because that's not a quorum.

Maggie said...

Kadim - since you asked, it's technically correct that two commissioners cannot meet and plan action on behalf of the county as that does constitute a quorum and then violates the state's sunshine laws requiring all business to be conducted in public.

The way most boards handle this issue legally is through their county administrator. The admin. can meet individually with each commissioner on various issues, share information and receive input/feedback and also share their understanding of other commissioners' positions. This is important for the creation of various resolutions (BCCs don't have ordinances - they have resolutions) and the meeting agenda.

Of course, this goes back to your conclusions and my comment that performing the job of the administrator in such a way as to not violate the sunshine laws requires a person of 'good standing.' We've had such people in Lucas County - Ed Cieka who was the administrator when I was first elected and John Alexander whom we made administrator, but whom Pete and Tina got rid of for Mike Beazley.

And there is nothing to prohibit a commissioner from going to another and saying, 'my position on this is....' especially if the commissioner states that opinion in other public forums or in the media.

The prohibition is against conducting business. When Pete Gerken was first elected, but not yet sworn in, he met with Tina and then mayor Jack Ford and planned to create a a new economic development committee. He knew that was his only opportunity to get around the law that should have hampered him during his term.

So even with the prohibition, individuals intent on getting around it will find a way to do so...and that brings us back to your conclusions and my statement.

skeeter1107 said...

The ultimate problem with any governmental system is the quality of the politician.

So if this "new" system simply recycles the current crop of politicians, we will still come to the same inept results that we have enjoyed for sooooo long.

It's my belief that as long as we provide financial incentives for politicians to be career politicians, we will continue to have career politicians.

Mad Jack said...

Are there any groups opposing this? Seriously Maggie, this is the worst news I've read in a long while - it ranks right up there with the Sylvania 'merger' that the [insert slanderous phrase here] tried a short time back.

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