Wednesday, June 10, 2009

City-County Merger: Jawboning It

There was a huge convocation on the subject of City - County Consolidation last week, and somehow the prospect of a full merger emerged seeming less likely even than before.

"This is bigger than me and my political ambitions," Ravenstahl said. "If the city and county were to merge and I wasn't involved afterward, I would be fine with that. It would be a great legacy." (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

You can see they are pulling out all the stops.

"The problem of managing government and meeting the expectations and demand that the public wants is getting harder and harder to do under the model of government we have today," said City Council President Doug Shields. "I'm not sure eliminating the City of Pittsburgh is going to get us there. I'm not sure if we even understand what that means." (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

If I understand Our Council Prez correctly (which is never a given) I agree. If we would just launch the gnarly conversation about what Region Council would look like -- how many members, apportioned where -- I think there would be less fear and uncertainty. At least we could begin working through some of those issues.

As it is, this prospective merger feels more like handing over the keys to Dan and Luke and praying they make the right decisions for everybody. I'm not sure very many of the folks that voted for them care to go that far.

An April 2008 report on consolidation that the mayor and county executive endorsed calls for a pre-merger city-county "cooperation compact" that would commit current and future leaders of those governments to combining specific services.

"For us legislators, [a compact] is something that's going to show us a good-faith effort between the city and the county," said state Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Beechview.

Mr. Onorato said an effort to develop a compact would be a distraction.

"Do you just go the next 10 years trying to [merge] parks and recreation, trying to chip away at [information technology]?" he asked, hypothetically, after the forum. "If you really want to merge all of these departments, merge the governments. ... But if [legislators] are not going to move, obviously you could do the slow change." (P-G, Rich Lord)

In this P-G Video, Onorato talks briefly about merging the URA with the ACED, and is like yum! One gets the impression that building an economic development juggernaut is what's driving a lot of the militant pro-merger sentiment. The thing is, merging Parks and Recreation while retaining our familiar governments has a lot more appeal to the average Joe.

Ms. Leland said that her research suggested there's no guarantee that any given type of merger will save taxpayer money or improve the economy, though the latter result happens more often than not. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The first coverage I had heard about this conference was on WDUQ -- it was an excerpt of one of the speakers. I'm not sure who it was, but she was insisting boldly and desperately, "If your only argument in favor of consolidation is that it will save money, then your. Efforts. Will. FAIL!!!!!" She really sounded sure of herself. So maybe add more talk about improved delivery of services to go along with a frank discussion of what the new government might look like.

And I'd settle in for at least 10 years, or at least until Pittsburgh emerges from state oversight. Which will be our next topic.

1 comment:

  1. As Nixon would say: "The jawbone of an ass is just as dangerous a weapon today as it was in Sampson's time".