by Mel Griffith
A committee is currently studying the structure of local county and city government to see if duplication or inefficiencies can be eliminated. This is a good thing to do, we should occasionally look at how we do things to see if we could do them better. But we should consider carefully any recommendations for consolidating governments or functions. Proposals to make government better do not always work out as well as hoped.
Some years ago when I was living in another state, a candidate for government promised to streamline state government by reducing 60-something departments and agencies into eighteen or something like that. After he was elected he carried out his promise, though not exactly in the way most people expected. All the 60- something agencies continued doing what they had been doing with the same people who had been doing it and with the same budget. The eighteen or so new departments were simply superimposed to supervise three or four of the existing agencies. Naturally, the new department heads had to be paid more than the agency heads they supervised and each needed his clan of assistants, supervisors, inspectors, planners and other paper shufflers. By sheer coincidence, all the people found best qualified to be the well-paid heads of the new departments happened to be cohorts of the governor. Far from making government more efficient, the "streamlining" program added a needless layer of bureaucracy and turned into a high-priced jobs program for hangers-on of the governor at taxpayers expense.
Some years ago it was decided that something ought to be done about the way that the University of Tennessee system and the state university system acted as though the other didn't exist, often to the detriment of students who tried to transfer between them. Instead of doing the logical thing and combining the two boards into one, the legislature in its wisdom created still another board to coordinate the two existing boards. Now instead of duplication in managing higher education in this state, we have triplication. It isn't a very efficient way to manage things, but it's a great way to create jobs for highly paid paper pushers.
A previous Bradley County effort to consolidate fire protection by putting the city in charge of county fire protection did not work out well and was changed the next contract.
If proposals for consolidation are made, we should ask some specific questions about their benefits. How many jobs will be eliminated? How many vehicles will no longer be needed? How much office space can be given up? What other savings will occur? If new proposals are supposed to provide better service, what exactly is government going to start doing for us that it isn't doing now?
We should not be content with the vague promises that government will be "more efficient" or "provide better service" or "save money." Let's be sure there are specific facts to back up any promises.