Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Whither County Government?

The best news to come out of yesterday's Allegheny County primary election was the overwhelming vote in favor of row office consolidation. The referendum was supported by major players of both parties. The opposition consisted primarily of Democrats who don't want to lose their jobs because they happen to be the individuals who were most recently elected to those offices, and some ordinary folks who make the point that the bureaucracy post-consolidation won't necessarily be any more accountable to the public that the one that exists under the current system. An excellent point, there; but as someone who has spent hours downtown looking over public records, I must say that I would rather have to visit one office in one building to deal with incompetent people while trying to find poorly kept records than to have to do it in three buildings. Plus, anything that saves county taxpayers an estimated $773,000 per year is worthy of consideration. And this was not only worthy of consideration, it was worth accomplishing -- which we did yesterday. Congratulations, Allegheny County.

But where does the county go from here? Getting rid of the row offices was a good first step, but there are some who want to go farther:

"This was supported by both Democratic and Republican voters because they understand we can't go on duplicating services," said county Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

He predicted yesterday's outcome, a 3-to-1 vote in favor of the measure, would fuel further moves to consolidate services in county and city government.

What you say?????

Onorato and other row office reform backers say appointing administrators instead of electing officers is the next evolution of local government after adoption of the home rule charter in 1998.

Onorato backs a complete merger of city and county governments, but such a move would require another referendum. Even holding the referendum would require a new state law allowing Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to merge.

Since Mr. Onorato has described yesterday's referendum as part of the "evolution of local government" in Allegheny County, please let me remind everyone that evolution is just a theory, and that I am a proponent of intelligent design -- especially when it comes to the way that we run our government.

The idea of merging Pittsburgh with Allegheny County is not in and of itself a bad idea. But Pittsburgh needs to straighten itself out before the rest of us get saddled with the mess that the city has been in for the last 5-50 years. If we were to merge operations right now, it would not make anything more efficient. If anything, it would be a bailout of the city at the expense of the rest of Allegheny.

It would be like overstuffing your toilet with tissue and natural substances, then flushing it and watching the contents spill over onto your nice clean floor tiles. And Dan the plumber is right there with a smile on his face telling you not to worry, since the toilet and the tiled floor have simply "merged operations".

Let's just hope that Onorato doesn't have enough influence in Harrisburg to get that merger law pushed through the state legislature.

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