December 22, 2010

Watching the Slow-Motion Crash of the Regionalization Train

Justin Katz

It may not add up to a silver lining, but hopefully folks are beginning to see why Anchor Rising contributors have been very suspicious of calls to regionalize or centralize government and its services:

[League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Dan Beardsley] also spoke of new limits on municipal contracts to ban: automatic renewals for expired agreements; retirement benefits that exceed the statewide standard, should one be adopted,and provisions such as minimum manning rules that limit municipalities' ability to close or reorganize departments.

Beardsley said those changes were needed to undo years of bad laws and, in his opinion, excessive arbitration decisions that had unreasonably increased municipal benefits such as pay for unused sick time.

[AFL-CIO President George] Nee said the contracts were the result of both sides agreeing to the terms, and it was disingenuous for municipal officials to blame unions for the deals they signed themselves.

Frankly, Nee's right. The people whom Rhode Islanders have allowed to operate local governments have acceded to union demands much too enthusiastically. Moreover, they haven't adequately pushed back against mandates and statutes at the state level that have tilted the game board in the direction of unions and other special interests. Only when things begin to fall apart do they begin to strike poses of complaint.

But note, in that process, that the state has not been the source of reason. The larger, superseding government and its officials have been drawing municipalities in the harmful direction, not striving to hold them back. What on Earth makes folks think that giving them more direct control — as with statewide teacher contracts, more say on healthcare programs, and a stronger position in local affairs — will be to the better?

Even just a few paragraphs away, we get this:

John C. Simmons, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, said while proposals in the report for a city merger or for a regionalization of services were interesting, other options might be considered, too, such as the state simply taking over all city services in Central Falls.

All that means, it seems to me, is that the unreasonable costs of Central Falls' agreements will be spread across the entire state. Hiding those costs and deflating accountability is clearly not the way to bring the city or the state toward the practice of better decision making.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

What Nee said is factual. However, what was agreed in the past is not carved in stone for the future.

In the 19th century, the status quo was low wages, long hours, seven-day weeks and unhealthy working conditions. So the unions were created to reform it. Today, the status quo is a corrupt alliance between public-sector unions and politicians to use the power of the state to enshrine unfair advantages for the unions against the interests of the taxpayers and the community as a whole. So it's time to reform this status quo, which in its way is more evil and entrenched than was the 19th century way of business.

Why do I say that? Because working conditions and wages were already improving because of market forces and the realization by some enlightened managers (e.g., Henry Ford) that productivity and innovation improved with better management practices. But the system today is ossified by its statutory nature, and by the deeply corrupt special deals between the union leaders and the politicians.

Until the statutory monopoly of the unions is eliminated and the playing field of negotiation leveled, we the citizens - and our children - will continue to be ripped off, screwed, and abused by the likes of George Nee.

It's time to pass Right to Work legislation for all workers, and I hope to see a bill introduced in this GA session.

Posted by: BobN at December 22, 2010 3:19 PM

If we had enough public officials we could trust... if there were enough decision makers on the side of the taxpayer, then I could see a positive side to regionalization. But, I see regionalization as merely another way to kick the can down the road. If people could be trusted to do regionalization right, there would be no need for regionalization, because they would have done city/town/state government right.

My sceptical mind imagines something like this: "We're going to merge Cranston, Warwick, West Warwick and Scituate schools to 'save money'". At the end of negotiations, we have a regional administration and a regional board, with staff and office space. But the players insist that local deputies are still needed (at the same salaries as current superintendants) to ensure the needs of the local communities are still represented. Next there will be a need for additional "liason' between the local administrators and the regional administrators. They will need staff and office space as well. Of course, the unions will fight to make every one of these "management" positions a union job with no-fire clauses. Local mayors and city councils will have even less control over the cost of education in their cities. I'm sure there's a lot more a crafty union "organizer" could come up with.

Now imagine the Police, Fire, DPW, Parks & Rec. scenarios... UGLY!

Posted by: George at December 22, 2010 3:23 PM

I come from a fiscally sound community with a reasonable tax rate and fantastic municipal services including a nationally accredited police agency. Why would I be in favor of regionalization? Call me selfish but I don't see my community benefiting. For that matter, I see my community as a well getting sucked dry by regionalization.

Posted by: Max Diesel at December 22, 2010 3:57 PM

George, you lost me at "If we had enough public officials we could trust."

If we had any...

Posted by: BobN at December 22, 2010 5:29 PM

BobN, there are some I would trust to do the right thing. Sadly, you could count them on a clumsy lumberjack's hand.

Posted by: George at December 23, 2010 11:29 AM

I am hoping to see a meeting of officials of regional school districts. I put it on for discussion at the upcoming Chariho Regional School District on Thursday, January 20,2010,.
SCott Bill Hirst
Member, Hopkinton Town Council

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at December 23, 2010 5:49 PM

his is for ALL regional school districts in Rhode Island. I am trying to get the ball rolling.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at December 23, 2010 5:51 PM
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