Sensing collaborative momentum in ToledoWritten by Dan Johnson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There are encouraging signs of greater regional collaboration emerging on several fronts. I don’t know if these are unrelated coincidences or if we are seeing the beginning of a new and more progressive approach to planning and providing public services. That remains to be seen, but my hope is that our communities and region are entering a new era of greater collaboration.
One of the encouraging signs is the recent proposal for a joint development agreement between the City of Toledo and Perrysburg Township. We learned this past week that Toledo and Perrysburg Township were able to turn the potential conflict over FedEx into a “win-win” collaborative outcome through the proposed establishment of a “joint economic development district” (The Blade, Sept. 23, 2007). Not only do both cities come out ahead with such an arrangement, it is a big win for our region. This is a good example of regional collaboration and a good model for promoting regional economic development.
Increasing collaboration is also evident among regional agencies and organizations that are engaged in economic development. Preliminary ideas are currently being considered for sharing information about strategic goals and objectives for economic development as well as finding a process that will enable all of the organizations and agencies to identify two or three common goals on which they can all work together. This is another good example of emerging regional collaboration.
The third example that reflects a philosophy of collaboration is the recently released report from the 21st Century Government Committee, Reinventing Lucas County Government: A Strategy for Our Future (Aug. 21, 2007), commissioned by Ben Konop, Lucas County Commissioner. Following its charge, the committee studied local governments “in order to identify areas of potential collaboration.” The co-chairs of the committee, Jim Holzemer and Benjamin F. Marsh, stated clearly and correctly at the outset of their report that “intergovernmental cooperation is vital to the future success of Lucas County. The 20th Century paradigm of government no longer serves the public efficiently.”
Nowhere is this more true than Toledo, Lucas County and Northwest Ohio. It would be fair to say that the issue goes far beyond “efficiency” in the provision of public services. The 20th Century government paradigm is one of multiple competing and sometimes conflicting jurisdictions. Such jurisdictions cannot successfully compete with metropolitan regions that have developed ways for their units of local government to cooperate, collaborate and consolidate. Collaboration is not only a matter of efficiency and simple economics; it is also a philosophy and mode of governing that is attractive to new businesses, successful corporations as well as citizens of the larger regional community. As citizens, we want to see our local governments working collaboratively.
The 21st Century Government Committee report is fairly lengthy (83 pages) but the reader can gain an excellent overview of the document and its recommendations from the five page executive summary. The report accurately describes the growing economic pressures resulting from the shrinking tax base in the county and the increasing expenditures and demands for services and needed infrastructure improvements. The options for the county as well as the City of Toledo and the other units of local government in our region are very “few and far between.” The choices, quite simply, are to raise taxes, cut services or change the way services are delivered.
As voters we often make the jobs of our elected officials nearly impossible. We give them mixed messages: First, we tell them, “Give us more and better services.” Then, we say, “But don’t raise taxes.” We all know we can’t have it both ways if we choose to continue with a business-as-usual approach to public services. It is fiscally impossible. The committee, however, makes a compelling case for changing the way public services, are delivered, i.e., greater inter-governmental collaboration.
I believe that most responsible citizens reading this important report will come to the same or very similar conclusion. Like the proposed Toledo-Perrysburg Township joint development district, it offers several “win-win” propositions. In fact, I found the full report and its eight recommendations a refreshing new look at possible future strategies that ought to be topics for county-wide — perhaps region-wide — discussion.
The recommendations will whet the appetites of all civic-minded residents of Lucas County. They embrace the following ideas:
- Focus on customer service
- Expand joint purchasing among all units of government
- Employ technology to identify and solve problems, improve interconnectivity and reduce duplication
- Expand commitment to joint services among all units of government
- Consolidate and/or relocate facilities closer to the point of service delivery
- Emphasize goal setting and outcome measurements
- Commit to holding growth in county spending below the rate of inflation
- Address urban sprawl and economic development issues when making significant county operational or policy decisions
Each of the eight recommendations is rooted in a collaborative philosophy that carries the message that all of our units of government should be working together on these issues. Frankly, it is frustrating and sad — sometimes even funny — to read about the splintered, duplicative, archaic way some of our current government services are handled. There are numerous examples in the report.
This report recognizes and is also sensitive to the fact that it is relatively easy to offer recommendations, providing someone else has the responsibility for implementation. In this case, however, the report includes some excellent ideas for implementation that are pragmatic as well as educational.
One of the implementation strategies that I particularly like is to engage students in the process through a “Model Student Metro Government Project.” I have a strong feeling that our students would rise to the challenge and offer innovative and creative solutions for “re-inventing” local government.
After all, they will inherit our communities in the near future and will soon have the full responsibility for our units of local government. How do they want local governments to work together? What kind of county and city do they want to inherit? I suspect the political science professors at UT, Lourdes College and Owens Community College would also be open to engaging their students in this issue, to conduct research on public-service delivery and collaborative models used in other cities and counties across the nation.
Another very interesting part of the 21st Century Government Committee report is a summary of what other major cities are doing to foster greater intergovernmental cooperation, collaboration and consolidation.
Cities such as Indianapolis, Portland, Nashville, Jacksonville, Lexington, Minneapolis, Louisville, Miami and Charlotte are described and their governance models critiqued. Lucas County and its largest city, Toledo, can no longer ignore the cost and quality implications of our chosen mode of public service delivery unless we are willing to pay higher taxes or cut services.
I hope you will take a look at this important report from the 21st Century Government Committee and thank
those who worked so hard to give us the benefit of their thinking and for their creative recommendations. Clearly, they have a vision for a better future.
You can find the report, Reinventing Lucas County Government: A Strategy for Our Future, online at www.co.lucas.oh.us.
Dan Johnson is President Emeritus and University Professor of Public Policy and Economic Development at the University of Toledo. E-mail him at email@example.com.