Over the 200-plus years of our nation’s existence, we have evolved as a great democracy because of our ability to examine and improve our processes of government, ultimately emerging as a more humane and progressive society. There are people living today who recall a time when American women were not allowed to vote. And many of us were alive when buses, schools and restrooms were segregated. As a nation we eventually got around to doing the right thing.
In short, government is a reflection of social structure. As people’s attitudes, interests, education and available technology change, so do the processes by which they govern themselves. We adapt, we evolve, and we respond to the community conditions that impact our lives, both personally and collectively.
A significant portion of my life has been spent in government, both as an elective and appointed public official (I prefer the old-fashioned "public servant"). In my experience, I have come to admire the wisdom and benefits of separating the "legislative" from the "executive." And I arrive at this having served in both capacities, observing their strengths and weaknesses.
In business, the board of directors sets policy, develops long-range plans, monitors performance and, most important, represents all of the shareholders. The executive manages the day-to-day operations and is responsible to the board. This is also the model that has worked so well in local government for more than a hundred years throughout the United States. The council is the board of directors; they represent the citizens, and the manager carries out their directives and serves at their discretion.
Summit County will have an opportunity to adopt this form of government when they go to the polls on Nov. 7. The ballot proposition calls for us to move from a three-person, part-time county commission that is both the "legislative" and the "executive," to a five-person, part-time county council that will employ a professional county manager. It will create a separation of powers and improve efficiency in government operations.
Overall, the cost of moving to this form will be about the same as our current mode. The budget for the three commissioner’s salaries would be divided among the five council members; and a manager would not impact taxes, since our county has run a surplus for some years. From my experience, I know that this proposed form of governance will produce efficiencies and could save taxpayers money by reducing the duplication of effort and responsibility gaps that sometimes occur.
Summit County government is a $40-million-per-year operation with hundreds of employees, and is forecast to grow significantly in the next decade. Such a large enterprise requires that we evolve into a more modern and efficient system, if we are to respond to all of the pressures of a dynamic, diverse and complex community. The list of issues is significant:
Traffic congestion, water demands, waste disposal, recreation needs, open-space preservation, agricultural and commercial well being, tourism, health care services, law enforcement, growth, and all of the complexities of a multi-cultural society.
Times change, needs change. All of Summit County will benefit from this step forward in governance. It will give us broader, diverse and direct representation, with five council members and a full-time manager serving us. It will help all of us respond to the challenges of creating and maintaining the positive way of life we seek for our families.
If you care about our community and your lifestyle, you can have an influence on its nature. It simply takes a "yes" vote in favor of the change in governance on the Nov. 7 ballot.
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