Making government more efficient

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This is not an endorsement or a criticism of the three sitting Kootenai County commissioners.

It is simply an observation and a recommendation.

The observation: Our form of county government is inefficient.

The recommendation: Look again at a more efficient form of county government.

Both the observation and recommendation are nothing new. But sticking with an old system that falls further and further behind in effectiveness isn’t getting county residents anywhere. So at the very least, let’s shed some new light on this somewhat familiar topic.

Kootenai County residents elect three commissioners whose primary responsibilities are serving as the county’s taxing authority, as the county’s contracting body and as chief administrators of public funds. They oversee a budget that is approaching $90 million annually. The reality is, a preponderance of meetings, getting bogged down in daily administrative tasks and coping with interdepartmental issues prevent the three commissioners from operating as efficiently and effectively as they could — and as citizens deserve.

Let’s take just a quick look at meetings. According to county records, commissioners attended 232 clerked meetings, 21 indigent hearings, 77 executive sessions and 47 community development meetings through August this year, with meetings generally lasting one to three hours. That doesn’t include individual commissioner meetings with citizens, department personnel or various advisory boards. A fair estimate is that each commissioner attends 20 meetings a week — or 1,000 a year. That simply can’t be the best way to manage.

Twenty years ago, an in-depth study recommended a commissioner-manager form of government, with all six department heads being appointed rather than elected. In 2005, an appointed citizens committee dug deeply into county government and came away with a detailed, thoughtful proposal: Move to a five-member, part-time board with a full-time professional administrator. Continue citizens’ electing sheriff and prosecuting attorney but appoint the other department heads (treasurer, assessor, clerk and coroner). And finally, in 2012, a ballot measure to streamline Kootenai County’s form of government went before voters and failed. The status quo remains today.

But should it? If a more efficient form of government could be introduced at no additional cost to taxpayers, would that be worth considering in light of strong population growth and increasingly complex challenges? Or is this issue simply a non-starter?

Sound off. Write a letter to the editor or comment on cdapress.com.

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