Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

New form of leadership needed in the 21st century

As a Lucas County commissioner for more than three years, I've seen firsthand the waste, inefficiency, and ineffectiveness of county government. I've seen, almost daily, its lack of focus, results, accountability, and transparency.

I've seen a rudderless economic development department embark on a feeble pursuit of job creation, while it awarded no-bid contracts to politically connected cronies. I've talked to many hardworking county employees who are unsure of their mission and even whom they ought to report to. Bureaucratic roadblocks stymie their quest for progress.

At nearly every meeting of the Board of Commissioners, I've watched taxpayer dollars wasted by a lack of checks and balances among the numerous overlapping and duplicative elected county offices. In short, I have witnessed a county government that does not befit the community I love.

Although it is often said that people get the government they deserve, that maxim doesn't hold true if the structure of government stops it from functioning effectively. In 2010, the structure of Lucas County government does just that. I support a new form of government and a new form of leadership to bring our county into the 21st century.

County government in Ohio can be traced back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and has not markedly changed since then. The office of county Recorder was established to police competing land claims of frontiersmen, in an era when it took a full day to travel from Sylvania to Toledo.

Many counties in the United States have wisely moved to a more modern and logical form of local government. That helps these counties compete more nimbly in both the global and local economies.

In Ohio, Cuyahoga County has just taken a leap forward to modernize its government structure. Voters there overwhelmingly approved a county charter focused on economic development, much like the charter I support for Lucas County. Unless we change as well, we'll continue to fall behind.

While it is not the only factor, surely our bumbling county government is a key contributor to our community's poor economy. Our unemployment rate is the highest of any major county in Ohio. One-third of Lucas County residents live near or below the poverty line. We need to reverse these trends, and county charter reform can help.

Reform will eliminate unnecessary and outdated elected offices. In their place, the reform plan establishes an 11-member county council elected by district, to establish true checks and balances and a more representative government.

An elected county executive, whose main focus will be on economic development, will lead the executive branch. This emphasis on job creation, mandated in the charter, gives our community its best chance to compete in the global economy.

Having one executive officer, rather than 10 as we have now, creates accountability for citizens. No more pointing fingers or deflecting blame - it will be put-up-or-shut-up time at One Government Center.

Notably, the new structure would give us a county government that represents our community's diversity - one of our greatest strengths. A county council based on district representation will result in the election of more working-class people and minorities, who will take part in the discussion of issues such as worker training and social services. This perspective is sorely lacking in county government today.

Republicans and independents, who are nearly half of registered Lucas County voters, finally will have a seat at the table of county government. No current county officeholder is an independent or Republican. Even to a proudly progressive Democrat like me, that math doesn't seem fair.

Longtime county politicos don't agree. They are blasting the charter change in an effort to keep it off the November ballot and keep their jobs. Don't be fooled: This is not just another squabble among downtown politicians.

This important discussion needs to be held, not for my future but for yours, and for the future of Lucas County. Most important, the outcome of the reform debate will help determine whether your children and grandchildren will have jobs and can continue to live in this great community.

Ben Konop is a Lucas County commissioner.

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