If You Believe In Democracy, Charter Government Looks Like A Loser.
By Emil Franzi
THE FIRST REPORT of the Pima County Charter Committee is in, and the product is even worse than expected.
The proposed charter is a combination of paranoia, elitism, staff manipulation and basic ignorance about how government really functions.
The Committee has ducked as "too controversial" the big issues of campaign funding, land use and an expanded board, meaning Pima County will be scourged with initiatives and referendums for years to come. The 15-member Committee, heavily influenced by county staff and an outside consulting firm, is a political body in search of a constituency. Its proposals range from manic to sophist.
What makes the Committee's much-vaunted "home rule" such a good idea? It clearly means "more rules." Currently county government is constrained from taking many actions, such as imposing new taxes, without seeking the permission of the state Legislature. Good! That means fewer laws and less power in the hands of the county bureaucracy. But here's where the demagoguery begins.
Milking the provincial hatred southern Arizonans have for Phoenix, the argument becomes, "Don't let Maricopa County have power over local decisions." But that argument is fraudulent because, through state pre-emption laws and other devices, the Legislature will have the same power over Pima County as before. Charter government isn't secession or nullification--it removes no powers from state government over Pima County. It simply adds more power to county government, giving us the worst of both worlds.
Those who love the idea of more government at the bottom without removing any power from the top should live in a condo complex with an elected board of directors, or a subdivision with a mandatory association where you're told what's acceptable for the color of your mailbox and the size of your dog. That's local control with a vengeance. Masochists who crave that shouldn't be denied the opportunity, but don't force it on the rest of us.
Charter proponents have chosen city government as a role model. They wish to convert Pima County supervisors into potted plants like the Tucson mayor and council. There are student governments with more clout than what's left for elected supervisors under the proposed charter. All the added power to be granted county government by this charter proposal will accrue to an unelected staff.
The Charter Committee declined the option to increase the number of supervisors, saying the public wouldn't accept the increased cost of additional politicians. They don't say that's their position, they pretend it's yours. The elitists who make up this Commission continually claim they know what you really want.
And while more supervisors are out of the question, the Charter Committee would create an auditor (a new, politically correct job title--note how the city just blew a couple hundred grand on an auditor for the cops) with a nebulous role and an ultimate price tag far exceeding a couple of new supes. All of which indicates the Charter Committee believes you really want more high-priced bureaucrats.
The proposed charter further empowers county management by diminishing the role of ordinary employees, restricting them from contributing to, or even being part of, county political campaigns under the guise of "protecting" them from politicians, and the public from "patronage."
Unfortunately, this provision will further isolate elected officials from county workers and their issues by eliminating access to them--and their information--via political involvement. While federal and state governments are cutting back similar restrictions on their employees, Pima's charter mavens have given us more clichés and moved backwards, proposing to fix things that aren't broken.
The concept of county supervisor as onlooker is presented throughout the proposed charter. It would allow contact with the county bureaucracy to be made only through the county manager, exactly like the current city process. This is based on the pathological belief that elected officials "make policy" and appointed bureaucrats simply "implement their decisions." There is an overwhelming abundance of practical evidence disproving this theory. City Water is but one example of a bureaucracy that has made its own policy for years, despite the wishes of the official policymakers. There are legions more.
When the Charter Committee parrots the myth about who makes and implements policy, its members reveal they are either naive or simply conning us. The many former state legislators in the group who hold this myopic view may have derived it from a warped vision of their own relevance. They may actually believe the bureaucracy did their policy bidding.
The proposed charter ultimately makes the supervisors even more impotent than the current Tucson City Council. The Council at least has the power to hire and fire some key players beyond the manager. Supervisors would be allowed only to pick and remove the manager and the new auditor.
But the most ludicrous proposal of all concerns reapportionment. In the paranoid belief that allowing supervisors to draw up their own districts is somehow inherently evil, the Committee members now want the whole process turned over to a randomly selected group of registered voters, who will be denied certain information, including where the incumbents live!
Nothing more clearly indicates the deep psychological problems inherent with too many members of the Charter Committee. They argue this Mickey Mouse approach will "preserve communities of interest," which they fail to define. How about the community of interest composed of a majority of voters who like the person representing them? The charterheads mumble about "districts that look good on the map," but can't explain what's wrong with the ones we currently have--districts that have passed U.S. Justice Department guidelines for both minority representation and population balance.
A randomly selected redistricting committee would leave the real power, again, with unelected staff. This is "no-peek-ee" redistricting, and any civilized community would laugh its proponents out of town. It's another attempt by the charter gang, mostly politicians themselves, to exploit the anti-politician trend.
Just because most of us are fed up with politicians doesn't mean we're ready to scrap representative government. Too many of those involved in the charter process interpret anti-politician attitudes as a mandate to raid the powers assigned to the people's representatives and reassign them to an unelected elite of lawyers, bureaucrats and other faceless creatures who dominate our lives in too many ways now.
The people's real frustration with government at all levels is due to the failure of those we elect to control the hordes of unelected officials who spend our money, erode our freedom and claim to know what's good for us. Charter proponents, some of them part of that horde and intellectually driven by it, wish to send local government even further down the road of non-democratic, non-representative frustration.
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