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Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

Public input

March 16, 2003

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Even if they hear something they don't like, Douglas County commissioners are doing the right thing by opening the discussion on how county government might operate more effectively.

Whenever you ask the people -- especially the people of Lawrence, and Douglas County -- a question you probably need to brace yourself for the answers you'll receive.

County Commissioner Charles Jones seemed to be thinking about that when he sounded a word of caution on forming a committee to suggest changes in the structure of county government. Such a committee might come up with proposals the commissioners didn't like, he said, adding, "I think this is a good conversation to have ... but we have to make sure we retain a certain amount of control."

That crazy public, you just never know what kind of wild ideas they might come up with.

It's a little humorous for a commissioner to be leery of input from the public which, by the way, elected him and his fellow commissioners. County government is, after all, here to serve the people, not the commission.

To their credit, the commissioners weren't so cowed by the prospect of public input that they weren't willing to study some structural changes. Those changes could include switching some elected positions in the county to appointed positions. The county treasurer, clerk and register of deeds have been mentioned as jobs that might be better appointed.

The discussions also may include increasing the size of the County Commission to five members or combining certain services with the city. Lawrence's statistical metropolitan area already includes all of Douglas County, and as the city grows, it will have a greater impact on the rural areas of the county. How Lawrence interacts with the cities of Baldwin, Eudora and Lecompton also will change.

Increasing the number of commissioners might provide more representation for Lawrence residents on the board or perhaps give Eudora, Baldwin and Lecompton area residents more representation. As districts are drawn now, one district lies almost entirely inside the Lawrence city limits while the other two commissioners have more rural constituents.

However, if the County Commission moves more toward representing Lawrence, it raises the question of whether the functions of city and county government could be merged. One of the items the county's committee might discuss is the merging of certain services like parks maintenance. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical is an example of a successful partnership that already is in place.

Maybe it's time for Douglas County to consider something like the unified government that has been established in Wyandotte County. Is that the kind of idea Jones had in mind when he voiced reservations about turning these deliberations over to a public committee?

Maybe, maybe not, but talking about how to streamline government operations and make them work better for the people is a discussion worth having.

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