Fletcher: Time to change with changing times

Last week I wrote about flaws in health care and the disconnect between seller and buyer in that marketplace. There is no incentive to be healthy, as under the current system, we’ll still pay the same for health care regardless of our condition.

We have structural flaws from an economic viewpoint with government also. There is an old design rule which states that “form follows function.” This means the design of a building, or car, or anything should mirror the optimal way by which the product meets its most efficient function. There are certain key aspects to the usefulness of a design for a particular purpose. With drugs we use pills, cars have doors, and buildings have kitchens or bedrooms.

I have trouble with the current form of local governments.

We have to look historically at the design to see how it came about. Back in the 1800s as people were moving into the wild west of what is now Michigan, government had to be set up to be representative and efficient.

Our forbearers set up a state with counties, townships, cities, towns, and villages. This design was predicated on horse and buggy, a trail transportation infrastructure, and no telegraph. In other words, form followed function and the technology of the time.

There is a family story of one of my relatives undertaking the perilous winter journey by land to Cheboygan for a meeting with a business associate. The travel was by sleigh and very closely planned as to stops to avoid death by freezing. Upon his arrival in Cheboygan, my great-great-grandfather stayed in a boarding house for three weeks before his contact showed up.

My point is that today I send an associate an email and get a reply within minutes. The second derivative, the rate of change, is always accelerating. We do business faster and easier and more of it than ever before. It is the same for some parts of government.

Back in 1837 when the state was established, it was important for the various governments to be accessible to the people who traveled by sled, foot, or horseback and communicated on simple items using a system which took weeks or months to deliver a reply. I’m not saying that counties, townships, cities, and villages are obsolete but rather that today we have enough innovations to allow us to consolidate units and not lose touch with the constituents. We are doing government in a non-centralized way not to serve the people because “we always did it that way.” In the five county area around Thunder Bay we have over 350 chiefs, or elected officials. That’s about one for every 200 citizens. We have dozens of appointed officials, all of whom get a stipend from us.

I’m saying “let’s consolidate.” I don’t want to undergo the observation of the almost always futile discussions about sharing people between political jurisdictions any longer. I want to consolidate political subdivisions (counties, cities, townships, and villages) and cut down on the expense of too many elected officials. There are only 70,000 people in the five county area and, in my estimation, a single board or commission could take care of all the citizens’ interests. I believe this to be true because there are many political subdivisions which have 70,000 or more in their units of government which seem to do just fine.

My motivation is purely economic. With a new consolidated structure, I believe we could get the job done for a great deal less money. Imagine the savings from fewer millages and elected officials’ per diem charges.

This never will happen, however, without you. When you are sitting with a friend over coffee, bring up the subject and get their opinion.

As a caveat, under no circumstances should a high cost unit of government be the successor in a merger with a lower cost unit. The lower cost guys already know how to serve their constituents more effectively. We should embrace that efficiency.