Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

County Commission agrees to study structural changes

March 13, 2003


Reorganizing Douglas County government for the first time in 135 years might be the right thing to do, Jere McElhaney says, but don't go thinking the county commissioner is eager to buy off on the concept.

"I'm open to listening," McElhaney told his fellow commissioners. "I'm open to dialogue. I'm open to information.

"But I'll be a hard sell."

With McElhaney's guarded endorsement, commissioners agreed Wednesday night to formally consider the possibility of revamping the county's government structure.

The concept, outlined in a memo prepared for commissioners last month, would be designed to help county government run more efficiently -- both in terms of service and financing.

Bob Johnson, commission chairman, has pushed the issue. During Wednesday's meeting, he made a case for at least mulling the prospects of expanding the commission's membership from three members to five members, or for hiring certain county officials -- such as treasurer, clerk and register of deeds -- instead of having the posts filled by popular vote.

Even more ideas could surface during a public process for considering changes -- among those mentioned Wednesday were combining Lawrence and county parks departments. Commissioners Wednesday, however, set no formal format for receiving input.

Johnson emphasized that no single event prompted his reorganization push. In recent months, Johnson and other commissioners have expressed frustration with Pat Wells, county treasurer, who had opposed commissioners' efforts to transfer treasurer's services in Baldwin to Baldwin municipal employees.

"I don't see this as an opportunity to address a problem, or somehow create a vendetta," Johnson said Wednesday, as Wells listened in the audience, "but rather as an opportunity to say we ought to take a hard look at who we are and what we do."

Commissioner Charles Jones, who criticized Johnson's move last month to discuss the idea with state legislators before formally considering it during a commission meeting, said commissioners should be careful.

Forming a committee to suggest changes, he said, could culminate in proposals commissioners don't like.

"I think this is a good conversation to have ... but we have to make sure we retain a certain amount of control," Jones said.

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