Wednesday, September 23, 2009

County Government Reform on the Horizon

Last year, I suggested that David Pepper was asking some important questions. What should our county government look like? Which officials should be elected, and which should be appointed? Earlier this year, I wondered if our commissioners had gotten too busy protecting us from the sky--which seems to be falling at an alarming rate--to start answering these questions.

According to the Enquirer, the Commission today voted to form a task force to study and make proposals about County government. The idea is to look at alternate forms of government with the aim of reducing duplication and saving money, with a goal of a something on the November 2010 ballot for voters to consider.

Commissioner Portune is quoted as saying that the task force's goal isn't about metropolitan government. That probably makes sense, as the switch to a metropolitan government would (I assume) require the approval of any cities or townships whose operations would be merged into the "metro" government. Instead, I think the commissioners intend to look at County operations themselves. Are there redundancies? For instance, does it make sense to have a separate Treasurer and Auditor? Could fiscal stability be better achieved if there were fewer independent, elected officials each protecting his or her own slice of an increasingly smaller pie?

As I've written before, I hope that any reform comes with the de-aggrandizement of the county administrator. Our local governments have become too dependent on unelected, professional managers to make policy decisions that are better left in the hands of elected public servants. Permitting a city manager or county administrator to set budget priorities lets the people we elect wriggle out of difficult decisions and hide behind their own appointees.

There's no telling what the new task force will recommend, or whether HamCo voters will approve any proposal that is advanced. But I applaud the Commission for thinking about the bigger picture at a team when the details are all so frightening.

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