Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Row of Reform

Allegheny County Council has turned the issue of row office reform over to the voters in the form of a referendum -- or, as we call it around here, a "question". For those unfamiliar with the term, "row offices" are a slew of elected county posts usually involving some sort of clerical duties. What are some of these offices?

If you could collect a dollar from every person who is clueless about the role of the prothonotary, you would become the county's next millionaire. Yet voters are expected to elect the prothonotary -- plus the clerk of courts, register of wills, recorder of deeds, coroner and jury commissioner -- every four years.
How necessary are row offices? Many of them are redundant, and could effectively be combined into one office that doesn't even need to be headed by an elected official. Once upon a time, when filing systems consisted entirely of large volumes, overstuffed files, and reams of paper, several offices may have been needed to handle the workload. Today, even with so much clerical work being performed electronically, each office seems to be overstaffed. Why is that?
Although these offices deliver essential county services, many of them record-keeping, they are not typically headed by a veteran office manager, but rather an active official in the Democratic Party. History shows, as a result, that some of the offices have become dens of patronage, where jobs can be found for the party faithful. But don't blame the Democrats -- we have no doubt that the same would happen if Republicans were in charge.
Let's be philosophical: When a party has been in charge for a long time, the organizational structure gets bloated like Jabba the Hutt. Republicans should be more responsible than Democrats when it comes to use of taxpayer money, but you never know. Power corrupts.

Now let's be realistic: The Democrats have been running Pittsburgh for over seventy years, and have been in control of countywide offices during most of that period. All of those row office employees are Democrats. They were hired because of who they know, and what political party they belong to. The only way that anyone knows is the Democrat way. The Post-Gazette editorial writers certainly know no other way. "Don't blame the Democrats"? Damn right we will.

The time has come to eliminate the redundant row offices, and the Democrats have made our case by loading the payroll with friends and relations who serve no useful purpose except to provide carbon dioxide to the office plants. How much will we save if we get rid of them?
...a recent study by the county controller concluded that Allegheny County would save at least $770,000 a year by having the court and the county executive take over the six functions.
If that is an accurate figure, we need to eliminate those row offices as soon as possible. In fact, considering that Allegheny has had home rule since 2000, we should have done this five years ago. The PG urges voters to say YES to this ballot question, and -- "Republicans would do it too" rhetoric aside -- I agree. It might be the only time this year that I agree with the PG editorial page on anything, so don't get used to another post like this anytime soon.

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