Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Luzerne County Home Rule

A guest post.


Luzerne County Home Rule


Gort has been writing about the Luzerne County Government Study Commission (GSC) since it was created by a referendum last November. I've been advocating for the separation of executive and legislative responsibilities in the new charter in the comments here, on Facebook, to my fellow LCCC students, to anyone who will listen at blogger meetups and elsewhere around the intertubes.


Everyone I have conversed with is in agreement that we need an executive, who would be elected at large and charged with vetoing or approving new policy that has been passed by the legislative body. Despite this consensus, the commission is "hell bent" on another idea that would be a slap in the face to all who believe in checks and balances.


Our current three-Commissioner-system is a consolidation of power because they are both the legislative and executive branches. If two or more of them agree they can do just about anything that does not violate Pennsylvania's law. Most of this system was set up by Harrisburg over 175 years ago and does not reflect the best thinking of our time, or even their time.


Counties, school boards and other local governments with similar consolidations of power also have persistent problems with corruption. The only way to alter this course is a fundamental change in our system, not a quick fix personal change. I am all about throwing out the bums but if we fail to strike at the root of the problem we will continue to fill our most important government positions with a disproportionate amount of bums.


Charmaine H. Maynard informed "Separation of Powers for LC", a new Facebook Page, that the commission is going with an appointed manager. This would be similar to how a school board picks their own executive, instead of voters, who is then a rubber stamp for the board or quickly out of a job. Insignia would not have been able to swindle 7 figures from our school districts if they had execs who would not be updating the resume if they decided to grow a spine. The immediate past President of LCCC asserts this as well in his allegations against their board. Conahan and Chiveralla would not have been able to privatize our juvenile detention system. That would take authorization from at least the executive.


Another way the commission is being used to consolidate power is to limit what the voters can accomplish with a referendum. According to this well written letter to the editor, voters will not be able to approve or deny expenditures for capital projects which is another common sense way we could have stopped the crooked judges and other problems. It is a means to increase the power of the people both directly by allowing them more direct control over their county and by increasing the opportunities for more of the electorate to become educated and involved.


No one system is perfect but the one we've been rocking fails in theory and practice and needs to be replaced, not augmented. As Gort has written, the 2003 charter, though I disagree with much of it, accomplished the very basic goal of some real checks and balances. If they wanted to help the people then their work was already done.


They will listen to popular demand so come out to the meetings held every Wednesday evening at the Stettler Learning Center at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston at 7 PM because they have a time for citizen comments. You could also leave a comment on the GSC Website, email them, Facebook them or join the Separation of Powers page here.


Thanks
Austin Smith Ford

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

One group of corrupt people will take over for another group thats how it goes. People love power. "Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and the king ain't satisfied until rules everything." Springsteen

Anonymous said...

separation of executive and legislative responsibilities .... County Commissioners d very little with regard to legislative responsibilities. Their job is to manage the county government. What was the last piece of legislation they voted on? Keep it simple stupid KISS .... now that makes sense to me. I want total control of my governemnt and complicating it like these self proclaimed experts want is not my cup of tea. The problem is not and never has been the form of government, it is the PEOPLE! What don't you people understand that the problem is in the people who don't vote! WAKE THE F*** UP!

Austin said...

The policy they decide is not unlike that of our federal or state legislatures. They create and execute a system of rules that includes over 9 figures of our money and has a significant impact in the lives of their citizenry.

Having a consolidation of power reduces your control over your county government and further complicates the matter. If the problem is the people why is it that gov'ts with a consolidation of power have experienced corruption and failure throughout our nation's history?

Remember we were told to try different people and vote no on the last charter by a multi million dollar effort. The result was Commissioners Skrepenak and Vonderheid who got us another couple hundred million dollars in debt and the worst corruption scandal we've seen yet.

Anonymous said...

9 politicians over 3 politicians. i vote NO

Anonymous said...

I have several acquaintances who don't vote and never should be encouraged to do so.

Anonymous said...

I have several acquaintances who don't vote and never should be encouraged to do so.

Jim Haggerty said...

Please allow me a response to Mr. Ford.

First, the claim that "everyone" wants an elected executive rather than an appointed professional manager is silly. Mr. Ford is plainly unaware that the council/manager system is one of the most common and preferred systems of county government in the United States. I would refer him to icma.org (the website of the International City/County Management Associaton)for further information on the merits of this form of government.

The council/manager plan IS a true separation of powers. The executive/operational responsibilities are vested in a professional non-political manager. Legislative power is vested in the council, which is prohibited from participating in day-to-day operations. Allegations that the proposed charter lacks a "separation of powers" are thus utterly incorrect.

What Mr. Ford apparently cares about is having an elected executive who can veto legislation. What he doesn't understand is that county government enacts little legislation -- ask the county clerk. The county provides services -- it's not the U.S. Congress. "Veto power" is thus largely an academic question without practical import in county decision making.

Mr. Ford bemoans the current "consolidation" of power in two majority commissioners. But he then proposes even MORE consolidation of power, advocating for the consolidation of the county's political, executive and operational authority in a single individual This argument is illogical. The power of a single elected county executive would be far beyond the powers of our current board of commissioners.

The ultimate question is this: Is Luzerne County and its $130 million budget better off being run by the best professional municipal manager that can be recruited nationwide OR should the county be run by the best politician in the county who, using hundreds of thousands of dollars of contributor money, can get himself elected county executive.

It is hard to view this as a close question.

Jim Haggerty
Chairman
Luzerne County Government Study Commission

Austin said...

The unelected executive is very common, there is no evidence that indicates it is at all preferred on their cite.

The plan described there gives the manager no checks or balances on the council at all. If one of your two branches has no power at all, it is not any kind of a separation of powers.

Everything our County Commissioners do at there meetings is legislation. Anything that sets up policy or rules. There isn't a more practical question.

Again, having two branches of government instead of one would be less consolidation of power, regardless of the number of people involved in each branch. The power of a single elected county executive would be far less than our current County Commissioners because they would need new legislation to be passed by another branch.

Of course the county could still recruit a manager from anywhere in the world, no matter which system of government it uses. If we are going to stop electing people because we come up with a better politician than official, why elect the council?

Austin said...

*on their site

*their meetings

I shouldn't argue before I get caffeine.

Anonymous said...

Just read the above. The no nothings prove they know nothing and those that think they know it all also proves they know nothng. I will no vote for Home Rule and I will ask family and friends to keep the current format of government. We need good people not better/different rules. My question never changes, how can people who never worked in government, never held political office, never managed a business and have no manaement experience write the rules that government should operated under? Just say NO to Home Rule. Ben Franklin's cousin.

Austin said...

As I've argued above, we've had lots of different people involved in our county government and we've still had persistent corruption problems. No one system is perfect but a better one will make a fundamental change.

Pizza Pete said...

I continue to agree that it is the people not the format. If this much effort was put into attending meetings, writing letters to the editor and seeking better candidates, tings would be a lot better and a lot less confusing.

Anonymous said...

it is definitely the people Pete, that is why I am voting NO! I would rather only have to worry about 3 county commissioners becoming corrupted than 9... escpecially after getting a load of the crew who were on the study commission.

Pizza Pete said...

A while back, I read a comment that stated: Show me a school board that works and I'll consider a council of 11" or something to that effect. I'm going to stick with what we have. I can vote one person out and make a change. With a council of 11, I have to remove at least six and that's a tough job.

Austin said...

Again a school board is a consolidation of power similar to both the current system and the council/manager system the commission is proposing.

They lack any separation of power or checks and balances because the board appoints a manager who has no checks on them and does not answer to the voters.

Anonymous said...

Austin you can keep trying. I am voting NO NO and NO. Give me 3 over a huge council any day.,

Pizza Pete said...

And I will continue to agree with Anon 7:48. Looks to me like Austin is trying to convince us that the county management is similar to the Congress. It is possible to over think something and it seems that over thinking this Home Rule thing is exactly what's happening. People want to believe that Home Rule is the answer and it is far from it. We can't get 3 good commissioner candidates but we will get 11 good council candidates. Dream on! I VOTE NO!!!!!!!

Austin said...

Again, I am AGAINST the council/management system. Also I am AGAINST having 11 council members.

I wrote the post to disagree with what they are doing.