Let’s Stay with Messy & Inefficient
By Evelyn Pyburn
No. No. No.
In passing—while talking about engaging a private company to manage MetraPark, Commissioner Don Jones briefly pondered that maybe they should hire an administrator for county government.
It was just a quick remark and how serious he was is unclear, but the idea is a very bad one. Appointing an administrator is sort of like appointing a dictator. Be assured there is a world of difference in the decisions that are made by someone who has to face re-election and someone who does not.
The justification usually made for a manager or administrator is to improve efficiency of government. Let me be clear – government is not meant to be efficient. Government is messy and slow to make changes. While government is commonly compared to business in the private sector, and the points of difference are usually valid, it doesn’t mean that government should be run like a business. If you want efficiency, then start a business. Businesses can in most cases do all the things that government thinks it should do. Businesses just don’t like the unfair competition of government.
As is commonly heard said, the most efficient kind of government is a dictatorship. Efficient government does not deliver justice or representative democracy.
The dilemma faced by MetraPark is a very good example that public and private are two different things and never the twain should meet.
Even though MetraPark is a county-owned facility, MetraPark is not a government. It is actually more of a business that must be considered a governmental entity because it is subsidized by the taxpayers. Government “enterprises” like MetraPark exist in an impossible realm, neither one nor the other.
Having heard for years the arguments about whether MetraPark should be run as a public service or to pay for itself – the debate on either side is about equally balanced. Getting agreement about how it should be managed will never happen.
There is a very good reason that government and the private sector were meant to be separate arenas in this country.
For a public entity to make a profit is extremely difficult. It will always face questionable practices in terms of violating laws that govern public entities, and having to obey those laws will always impose extraneous costs that make being efficient and profitable impossible.
One is an organization dedicated to process and the other is focused on goals. Process is never-ending and complicated and unruly, the worst thing possible for business. A business is only interested in consensus to the degree to which it can please customers, and it doesn’t even have to please all customers, just enough to turn a profit and stay in business. For a business, process is laden with costs – to minimize process is what is called efficiency — and by law, government is not supposed to minimize process. It exists to facilitate process – and the point of that process in the US is supposed to allow for as much freedom as possible for each individual citizen – an administrator’s nightmare.
A public –private partnership is an oxymoron, and they never function as they are commonly represented. They don’t improve the efficiency of an operation and they don’t serve the public in terms of providing a product or service any better than a business or non-profit organization could – if there is a market demand for it (which is usually the rub). Their popularity stems from business people seeking a government handout funded by taxpayers, and by politicians seeking the power to pick winners and losers and to gain political influence from the private sector.
If you want to minimize due process then indeed a public administrator can do that – it is the very purpose of a public administrator to cut through and to minimize process – to clean up the messiness. Representative government is greatly diminished when issues get funneled through an administrator who has control of the information and a paid staff to advocate for one side of any issue, who controls the time line, and stands as a buffer for the elected body.
The effectiveness of elected representation is hugely neutered when the government is run by an administrator. More than one city council person over the years told me that as soon as they were elected they were told that they should not interact with the citizens – they should not serve as a representative – they were immediately neutered, as much as possible. They were told they should direct all complaints and information to the administrator and their staff. After all, so many different voices and conflicting ideas are messy and not efficient at all – an administrator minimizes such impacts.
With a public administrator leading the way decision making is always skewed to make things easier for “staff” and the bureaucracy. What a citizen wants is an irritant.
Who knows, a public administrator might view imposing an illegal sales tax for ten years as a good idea. Since they will never have to answer to the public in an election, there is no downside even if it isn’t such a good idea.
No, no, no. For the county to hire a public administrator is not a good idea. Let’s keep our inefficient and messy democracy.