The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 11:17 pm

Of the people, for the people

Fred Gilbert

After the failure of the single county executive referendum, Allen County Commissioners Nelson Peters and Therese Brown appointed a County Efficiency Task Force, composed of proponents and opponents of the referendum along with commissioner and staff representatives. This task force is charged with "improving the efficiency and effectiveness of Allen County government’s executive branch." 

As a citizen participant in these sort of discussions for nearly 30 years, I write to share the positive and productive communications this group has already produced.

Drawing on its long history of professional study and fact-based analysis of community issues, the Community Research Institute of IPFW was chosen to facilitate the process. Director Ellen Cutter and staff have continued that expertise with this assignment.

Beginning with extensive interviews of task force members, agendas have a wide range of topics, especially the budgeting process in county government.

Additionally, an organizational chart of county government was constructed, mapping the wide variations in the complex and interrelated structures of local county government, with a focus on the county commissioners’ office and other elected positions. This chart is continually consulted in meetings. 

Commissioners Peters and Brown give real-world examples of the day-to-day duties of county government, along with commissioners’ staffer Chris Cloud. County Council President Tom Harris has joined the meetings, offering examples of legal and historical impediments and opportunities for improvement. Discussions have also included Councilman Roy Buskirk as an audience participant. 

Discussions have largely focused on the annual budget process, beginning with the auditor’s formulation of revenue projections. Commissioners meet with respective offices under their supervision and elected officials begin their plans. It appears that Allen County’s strategic plan, an award-winning set of governmental goals, is widely consulted as a template for action, although not universally accepted. Oversight of the process and citizen services were constant questions by all members of the task force.

Much oversight enforcement is centered in County Council. The citizen members continue to focus on public accountability, encouraging communications and attention to a Strategic Plan and good business practices overall.

They have all applied common-sense questions and recommendations. 

It is especially refreshing as a long-time observer to see these discussions occurring in real time while the actual budget process is happening. It is clear that the task force discussions are having a positive effect already in exploring new and productive ways of making change work and increasing communications. As priorities are established among members, change can begin locally but also may require legislative action if barriers are statutory. It is hoped that the people at large will also be more involved in the discussion and will come to support community-based efforts at improvement.

Allen County government has always functioned as a reflection of the people at large. It has always thrived with the people’s active participation, questions and recommendations. This initiative continues the best of our Allen County talents in good government and will surely inspire and lead efforts statewide. Media coverage has been shamefully minimal and we hope for improvement. The larger the definition of "we the people," the better the government. Examine the work of the task force at the CRI website, attend and participate in the process and ask to join the mailing list.

Fred Gilbert is a retired social worker. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.


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