Thursday, June 23, 2011

Initial thoughts - report on restructuring Lucas County government

Well, the whole idea of a county council is now down in paper thanks to the hard work of some dedicated volunteers.

While I appreciate their efforts and commitment to helping make the area better, I'm not sure the information in the news reports so far has convinced me that changing our form of government will give us any different results.

I do intend to read the entire 88-page report and will document my comments and concerns here. The most important thing I'm going to look for is how they prove that changing the form of government - including giving the county more authority to implement law - will give us a 'better' county.

Under the current structure, county elected officials have no ability to pass laws - the commissioners are administrative offices, not legislative ones. They are, technically, the arm of the state - implementing, on a local level, the duties and responsibilities of the state government. That is why they oversee/appoint such agencies and offices as job and family services (welfare and food stamps), child support, mental health board, etc...

As such, their duties are specifically limited in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) and, because they have no independent rule-making authority, they can only do what is required or permitted by law. For instance, the ORC mandates a dog warden but is silent on the issue of cats. As a result, the commissioners must have a person to address the duties and responsibilities of the dog warden, but cannot order him to deal with cats.

A 'home-rule' county council, however, would have such authority and could, by virtue of the new structure, expand the scope of county government far beyond what it is now.

This is a serious issue, as the last thing an economically-depressed area needs is more government, and none of our communities want to have more laws and regulations they have to deal with.

The initial news coverage by our local paper, long a supporter of uni-gov and such a restructuring, contains information about how Summit County (Akron/Canton area) has a lower cost per person for their county government. But it's critical to note this key statement:

The study said it didn't have enough information to attribute the lower costs to the difference in government structure, but didn't rule it out.

This, too, is critical - citing the difference in costs is a red herring designed to get us to think that we'll save money if we change our form of government. However, even the study said they cannot attribute the lower costs to the structure, so no conclusion is possible and this is an 'educational item' that the public must learn if it is to make a good decision on the matter.

It's also been claimed, so far, that a new structure will give us more accountability. But accountability isn't a matter of structure so much as it's a matter of an involved electorate who holds the power over the elected officials. But no change in structure can address the strong-publisher form of government and the strong and unequal influence of public-sector unions, so 'accountability' cannot be assured.

Besides, that's the line we were given in 1993 when we changed from a city-manager to strong-mayor form of government in Toledo. That change in structure did not give us the promised benefits - but a string of the same names/same families and same-old perspectives as we had all along. Even with a mayor like Mike Bell, we've got a city council that couldn't get out of its own way when it came to an important economic development deal (see here and here on how they almost lost the Dashing Pacific/Marina District deal).

There are a lot of unanswered questions and I don't really think that the document I'll be reading will answer them all.

If you'd like some background, here are some earlier posts I did on the issue of a charter county government:

Asking the wrong questions about a county charter form of government for Lucas County

The Blade is wrong about charter county government

Next public meeting on county council issue scheduled (this post contains some specific questions that should be asked in terms of how a structural change addresses the economic problems in the county)

Konop admits that I am right

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