New Government Structure
Kevin Gaughan speaks of public service with reverence.
Heís more concerned with the substance, quality, and utility of ideas than with the person presenting them. Heís learned from his study of International Relations that itís not always the individual, or the party they represent, thatís important. Itís the fitness of the idea that matters.
His study at TheCost.org doesnít name, or blame, individuals. It presents a workable idea to reduce the size and expense of all governments in Erie County.
Individuals who questioned the efficiency of his proposal at Monday nightís meeting are well-intentioned people. They are concerned about depriving their Village of the manpower needed to provide necessary services.
In keeping with the spirit of Gaughanís method, individuals will not be named in this article. Only the substance of their concerns and the essence of Gaughanís response will be conveyed.
QUESTION: There is less government in the comparable areas. Is this through decisions to get rid of officials or due to centralization?
GAUGHANíS RESPONSE: Indianapolis is a dramatic example of consolidation. Their system of UNIGOV includes eight counties. Towns and villages all came together to form one government.
In Mecklenburg County (Greater Charlotte) a different type of public servant emerged. They voluntarily reduced the number of elected officials. They consolidated services. They have one school district.
Communities that embraced regionalism became know for innovations.
Whatís happening in the most dynamic communities is - your colleagues (politicians) recognized that local government is not about political or ideological fights.
The idea of governments creating jobs Ė if it ever was reality Ė is no longer a reality today.
So they (innovative governments) focused on public safety, transportation, health, education, and supporting cultural institutions. They recognized one powerful idea. A healthy, well educated, dynamic, diverse, population attracts others.
QUESTION: New York State imposes mandates. It takes a lot of time and effort to study them, learn what they mean, and figure out what needs to be done. Did you compare this situation with other areas?
GAUGHANíS RESPONSE: Respectfully, I disagree with the premise of your question. You are suggesting that (four Trustees and one Mayor) cannot do the work of (six Trustees and one Mayor).
New York State is not the only State in the Country thatís faced with mandates. I acknowledge the problem is certainly worse in New York State. But Iím suggesting the work can be done by employees in the field. The actual public employees who monitor compliance, they do the work.
The Village of Williamsville accomplishes the same work with (four Trustees and one Mayor) and in Lancaster, there are (six Trustees and one Mayor).
Of equal importance, the days of having this conversation about this shell game Ė the State causing this, the County causing that Ė are over. To the average citizen, we are all the same. They donít distinguish between the State person, the County person, and the Local person. They just know - whatever we are doing - itís not working and itís not leading where they want to go. They are looking for some kind of dramatic change.
Weíve been lamenting whatís been happening in Albany for years, but we havenít changed it. Maybe weíll be more successful if we vest ourselves with the moral authority of being able to go to Albany and say Ė ďLook, we sacrificed, we changed, and now, you have to do the sameĒ.
QUESTION: Itís misguided; going after the local (politicians) of a community Ė which in my opinion provides the people in that community the closest thing to having a representative voice in their own government. It is the most basic feature of this Democracy. If we cut at the base Ė where some of the hardest working and most dedicated people are Ė instead of going after the top, where the greatest waste is Ė we cut off a lot of the young leadership we have growing at the grassroots level.
GAUGHANíS RESPONSE: I wouldnít go after any public servant. Iím recommending a solution that doesnít take away anything from anyone.
When they (the local legislators) retire, thatís the time to make a change (reduce the size of local governments). Eighty percent of all government reduction has been done this way.
What Iím suggesting is; at what point in the economy of scale (the benefit) are their too many (legislators)?
When you look at the ratio in the study, we have more politicians in the County of Erie, than the entire nation in the United States Congress. There are only 435 Congressmen. (Erie County has 439 elected politicians.)
QUESTION: What proportions of those people (politicians in the comparable areas) are part-time? The majority of those people (politicians in Erie County) are part-time. How much staff do they have? We (in Lancaster) have no staff.
We do what we do because we love this community. Weíve reduced taxes, consolidated our police department, consolidated our water department, and we are looking into consolidating our sewer department.
We do this as a part-time job. We love this community.
If you think that people in our position do this for the money, youíre sadly mistaken. We get a salary. We donít get benefits. We donít get much of anything else.
Quite personally, itís our turn. I have four generations here.
Again, itís my turn. My grandparents lived here, my parents live here. Thatís how it is.
Looking at all these other communities Ė are they full-time, are they part-time, do they believe in the community like we do? You canít answer that question.
GAUGHANíS RESPONSE: Sure I can.
QUESTIONER: You canít tell me that everybody believes in their community like we do. You donít know that. You donít know them. You donít know us.
GAUGHANíS RESPONSE: I appreciate all the powerful sentiments you expressed.
With respect to the study, we compared apples to apples. Indianapolis has the same proportion of part-time and full-time people.
We did very thorough work and we stand by it. You canít argue with those numbers. We have more elected officials than any community in America.
The (comparable) major areas have villages just like Lancaster, that are equally bucolic, equally as beautiful, with unique settings, rich in history, and they do it with no government. Not one Trustee, not one Mayor. And it works just as well.
Baltimore County is surrounded by beautiful villages that look just like Lancaster. But the difference is that they donít have any incorporated municipality.
Iím not recommending we eliminate the government. Iím saying that we should consider a step where we would better align ourselves with other areas.
QUESTION: Why not eliminate Village government.
GAUGHANíS RESPONSE: My sense is, in this journey of change, we have to take one step at a time.
Gaughanís study is available at TheCost.org
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