Monday, February 29, 2016

What if everything we know is wrong?

For the vast majority of people, government is boring.  A blog by a veteran city/county administrator about nuts of bolts of local government is probably coma inducing and should come with a warning label about driving or operating heavy equipment.

While painfully dull, the work we do as administrators can be important.  Getting it right supports representative democracy at its highest ambitions.  Getting it wrong means we're managing Cleveland, or worse, Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson is a good starting point for this blog.  To quote the lede from Mike Maciag's August 22, 2014, article in "Governing,"

"Some say Ferguson's increasing reliance on court fines to fund its municipal operations may have contributed to its residents' distrust in law enforcement and government."

In truth, it was worse than Maciag's tempered characterization.  A well-written account of the system was written by Arch City Defenders in the form of a white paper.

The question for our profession--local government administrators--is, "Where were we"?  It doesn't take a Master's in Public Administration to foresee trouble from a system that incentivizes civil citations, excessive fees, and snowballing charges.  Many jurisdictions face the same situation with the abuse of civil forfeiture laws.

Instead of the seemingly endless parade of discussions about "sustainability" or "citizen engagement," we should spent more time talking about how the methods we use to raise revenues shape or harm our communities.

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