The Penny Pinchers

With the proposition to reform the charter for Montgomery County, we once again see how the protectors of the taxpayers push back against the charter change vis-a-vis the County Executive: it costs too much.

Coupled with that inevitably will be the salary — let’s say $100K inclusive of benefits– as way beyond what the average person in the county makes and you can just see how this will be played: it’s too much money that tax payers can’t afford. And why do we have to pay someone so much when the average wage in the county is so much lower?

As always the case with lopsided financial and economic arguments that only look at expenses and wholly ignore returns, opportunity costs and any other financial metric, they will be cast as favorable to taxpayers when they are anything but.

While I’m not in favor of the position as elected as it precludes any qualifications to taking on a 250 plus person operation and soon-to-be $100 million budget, I do think the position of a county executive is the right thing to do financially and from a governance perspective. I think it’s Business 101 that this scale of operation requires accountability at the executive level. In its current form of government, I don’t know who is accountable for daily operations or to whom departments heads report. The only incident that sticks in my mind is from last year where a town supervisor intervened within the DSS chain-of-command; I’m sure similar scenarios play out all the time where supervisor influence, totally off the org chart, impacts daily operations and management. This is not the way to proper governance and accountability– it’s quite the opposite.

I’m also aware , quite keenly, of how the lack of executive leadership fosters , let’s be polite here, a less than favorable return to tax payers but a nicer return to the vested interests at tax payer expense. We could fund a squad of county executives with that alone.

Clearly a shift of power will occur, I know some concern from the city’s interests, but if Montgomery County wants to change course, I do think it needs executive leadership to foster better returns around its operations and its economic development efforts. With proper management and governance of such an operation, we should see more than a $100K return. As a side note, I don’t currently see much influence from the city supervisors at all in advancing the city’s interests; I see quite the opposite- promoting economic development of the towns over the city’s economic development; ignoring revitalizing the city versus development outside; consolidating services so the towns can transfer costs to the county and hence to the city. Oh right, then we get to share in the county’s health care trust for the privilege of paying more than if the city administers it itself and with the added benefit of zero transparency. We’ve consolidated transparency into opacity. F’ing brilliant.

I do think positions such as County Executive should require minimum qualifications; we see within the city now the impacts surrounding elected positions versus appointed. Clearly we save no money in the end regardless of how unflinchingly we pinch that penny. We pinch the penny and scatter the quarters instead and let the dollars tumble along to our adjacent counties.

I don’t think the executive position being an elected one is enough to tip me against the change; I’ll take the gambit that well qualified people will run and also appreciate that removing appointment power for the executive from the legislators to the public will be a way to offset the power and sway of the legislators.

 

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