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Are the structure and governance advisory committees irrelevant?

Are the structure and governance advisory committees irrelevant?
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A convincing argument can be made that a small group of anti-government, pro-business activists with their hearts set on centralizing the local political power structure seized upon the deaths of two commissioners as an opportunity to, amongst other things. install a county administrator. Two citizen advisory committees proposed by self professed “sidewinder” and interim commissioner, Fred Messerle, each set about the task of finding justification to hire a public administrator to take over duties from the commissioners while at the same time diminishing the scope, involvement and commitment of the board by filling it with part time volunteers.

Both the structure and governance advisory committees have prepared a list of specious if not downright spurious arguments to convince the public hiring an administrator will move the county into the 21st century, or “move forward” as is the oft repeated phrase. The commissioners cannot speak to one another about county business outside of public view. While each department functions independently and liaises with a commissioner public meetings law requiring the commissioners to hold all discussions before the public somehow interferes with day to day efficiencies within the departments. Specifics as to how an administrator will fix whatever is broken are not provided. The reader must accept on faith that hiring an administrator is a guaranteed way to lower costs and raise revenues.

At the most recent governance advisory committee meeting held last week in North Bend the committee finalized a draft report released earlier to the press along with some minor changes. The report recommends a significant change in county government that includes hiring an administrator and electing five commissioners representing individual wards but who are voted on by the entire county electorate and making these positions unpaid volunteer positions.

Members of both committees have listed various assumptions as to why Coos County should move away from a council form of government to council manager form that include better communication between departments, more continuity for employees who would be buffered from changes on the board and cost saving efficiencies. These are specious arguments because there is nothing about the current system of government that prevents these and other changes being made if they are really suitable.

The other argument made by certain committee members is that Coos County is broken and cannot simply be tweaked or adjusted but must be completely disposed of in favor of a new “cost neutral” governance model. We are to believe that the county is on the verge of economic ruin, that the Beaver Hill Disposal Site was mismanaged because of commissioner incompetence and not external corporate pressures and that a professional public administrator would have prevented all these things from happening in the first place. The country is rife with examples of council/manager municipalities or counties that have managed there assets and services well and rife with those that have not, (think Birmingham, Alabama for one).

In truth, Coos County is in pretty good shape compared to its neighbors Curry, Josephine and Lane counties thanks in no small part to previous commissioners, then county forester Bob LaPort and CBWR historian and candidate for commissioner, Don Gurney who established the county timber fund. Curiously, Lane County has the almost identical setup with five commissioners and an administrator being proposed by the governance committee, although it pays its commissioners and provides them with a staff, and yet despite having a professional administrator Coos County is in healthier financial condition. These committees are suggesting a move to a new model of governance when there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that the form of governance has any real impact on economic health or efficiency or on the delivery of essential services. None. The committee is effectively suggesting we swap an admittedly troubled but nonetheless functioning system for a system that is failing other counties.

Despite Al Pettit’s doom and gloom presentation last week about rampant vandalism, uncollected rotting corpses, declining services, lost mushroom pickers and all volunteer deputies and, oh my gosh, raising taxes*, he once again fails to connect the dots between his handpicked news articles and hiring an administrator as a way to save people lost in the woods. [Watch it here beginning at about 1:10:30]

Members of these committees are clearly convinced that dispensing with paid full time commissioners and centralizing control by hiring an administrator is in their best interests but they clearly are not telling us the truth about why and whether those benefits extend to the rest of the county. As the committees continue to obfuscate their real motivations with specious arguments the more suspicious the public will become. Until they fess up** why they really want an administrator, as someone on the governance committee rightly proclaimed, if the employees and the public don’t buy in to these changes the attempt will fail. For this reason even though at least two of our sitting commissioners give these committees more credence than they deserve, the product of these committees is really irrelevant without real public hearings and support. In other words, it ain’t gonna fly.

In the end it is all about the people you have in office and even the smartest administrator, with the wrong personality or temperament would be disastrous. Look at Lakeside or all the turmoil in Coos Bay with its city administrators as local examples of potential problems. Neither report addresses the potential downside of enacting these sweeping changes.

* Pettit reports that Curry County would have to raise its taxes by more than 200% to make a dent in its budget deficit. Curry County has the lowest property tax rate in the state at .60 per $1,000 or approximately 240% lower than the state average of $2.48 per $1,000
**Jon Barton of the structure advisory committee let it slip during a radio interview that ORC would have a lease by now if the county had an administrator.

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Avatar of magix When my oldest son, a Marine, left for war and crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq in March 2003 I started writing my conscience. After two tours that young combat veteran’s mother is now an ardent peace activist and advocate for social, environmental and economic justice. MGx has matured since those early vents and ramblings and now covers relevant and important local and regional matters in addition to national and global affairs.

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9 Responses to "Are the structure and governance advisory committees irrelevant?"

  1. Rickey Wiley  May 7, 2012 at 6:55 AM

    remember that both of these committees relay on thier opinions that this will save money. One goverence member compared deferred maintince of coos county to the deferred maintence of Myrtle Point school district as to why we need change. MP schools uses the CEO form of goverment so why would we want to change to that since that system is also broken. these committees have not come up with facts on how this will save money. they compare to other counties with the manager form but always leave out what the managers office really cost by leaving out supporting staff. they said they are proposing hiring just a manager with no staff. how many people will apply for a job without a staff to work with. All of compairisom countys have mutiple staff in thier department. The facts support that a county manager will cost the county more dollars then the current system.
    Rickey Wiley

    Reply
  2. themguys  May 7, 2012 at 8:58 AM

    “uncollected rotting corpses????”

    You talkin to me??????

    Don’t git personal Little Al.

    Reply
  3. al  May 7, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    To be accurate, I stated the following: “A 267% increase would generate $2.3 million in additional revenue, leaving a $700 thousand gap if services were to remain at current levels. 30% of Curry County residents are 65 years or older – most on fixed incomes – and that percentage is rising as younger families exit the county as evidenced by the falling school enrollment.”

    I would also note that Curry County taxpayers overwhelmingly shot down a property tax increase in 2010. I think what we can ascertain is that Curry County residents, whose average income is 24% below the Oregon median, don’t feel they’re in a position to absorb those levels of tax increases.

    The assertion that Coos County is “in healthier financial condition” than Lane County is like saying that Ireland is healthier than Greece because they don’t have as much red ink. Are you implying that we shouldn’t be concerned about out finances? Are we all wasting our time discussing this “perceived” problem?

    The claim that an administrator structure is “failing” other counties is hardly comparing apples to apples. Lane County is losing $100 million in budget. Tell me what structure would compensate for such a monumental cut. And what kind words would you have for the citizens of Curry County who just recommended that their BOC move to a model of unpaid commissioners and a paid administrator? They’re obviously in worse shape than either Lane or Coos, yet they deemed it necessary to “immediately” move to such a model.

    What claims did the Structure Committee make that you deem “spurious”? It seems to me that if sucha list ever existed it’s getting smaller with each passing month. Let’s inventory: 20% employee response rate? IT is secure? Solid Waste facility is fine and making money? ORCAT? Helion? County Corrections? Collections? Parks? Payroll?

    The fact is, no one has been successful in discrediting the committee’s conclusions. Even Commissioner Main won’t go near his self-penned “Minority Report” anymore, and our Sheriff is back on the fence with regards to an administrator.

    The fact that uncollected property taxes are sitting in boxes is not someone’s “opinion”. And the only thing “specious” about the Solid Waste facility is that the taxpayer’s will led to believe that all was well out there for the past 18 years. These and the other issues identified are costing the county money that the county can ill-afford and they’re causing the employees grief. And to continue the argument that the current model is working “just fine” is denial of the obvious.

    – Al Pettit

    Reply
  4. Avatar of magix
    magix  May 7, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    No credible source has validated either report and Al’s diatribe above still doesn’t explain how only hiring an administrator will cure these ills or what his real reason for wanting to centralize the county. No one is buying the stated excuses.

    Reply
  5. al  May 7, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    And, apparently, you’re not going to answer any of my questions.

    Reply
  6. themguys  May 7, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    Al wants answers, I’ve always found M quite ready to answer relevant questions from relevant posters.

    Reply
  7. RUGullible  May 8, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    “Self penned”? The sheriff claims this week that he is opposed to administrator. He also claims to be author of minority report. Maybe he is just another slippery politician saying all things to all people. Yo, Sheriff, time to tell it like it is. Is you is, or is you isn’t, on the fence?

    Reply
  8. Avatar of magix
    magix  May 8, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    There is a big difference between willingness to consider an administrator and believing that an administrator is the solution to the county’s ills. No one has even defined what this theoretical administrator will do.
    Curious that Al appears to believe that our Sheriff is not capable of writing his own report….

    Reply
  9. themguys  May 8, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    “The fact is, no one has been successful in discrediting the committee’s conclusions. Even Commissioner Main won’t go near his self-penned “Minority Report” anymore, and our Sheriff is back on the fence with regards to an administrator.”

    Woah there Al, you calling the Sheriff a liar? A phony? Are you serious? Wow Al, you keep this up, you’ll have to let that ther a belt out a couple notches. Did you bother to watch the Sheriff deliver his Minority Report? And you claim, Al Pettit that the Sheriff did not write it? Really?

    Reply

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