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County Hall Corner: What is “Good Government?”

An interesting addendum to the East Third Street/Old City Revitalization Project that was highlighted in this column last week was the objection to the process given by Commissioner Scott Metzger at the close of the Thursday, August 4th meeting. His comments were quite poignant and hit pretty hard as both commissioners Mirabito and Mussare apologized

An interesting addendum to the East Third Street/Old City Revitalization Project that was highlighted in this column last week was the objection to the process given by Commissioner Scott Metzger at the close of the Thursday, August 4th meeting. His comments were quite poignant and hit pretty hard as both commissioners Mirabito and Mussare apologized to Scott for the misunderstanding of procedure and protocol.

Yet, this provoked a very good thought that deserves some consideration. Metzger ended his long objection with the statement, “It is wrong how this matter was handled last week and does not display good government.” He noted that he hopes “in the future, my colleagues would be more mindful moving ahead, so monies are allocated with all three of us involved in the decision-making process.”

While it is certainly an accurate statement, it is worth expanding this concern in defining “good government.” Truth be told, at present most Americans do not trust their government to do the right thing. According to a national survey conducted by the Partnership for Public Service, only four in ten Americans say they trust the federal government to do what is right, at least some of the time. It falls along political lines; 60% of Democrats say they trust the government, only 27% of Republicans and 26% of independents do. What should concern us is that two-thirds of this distrusting population did not vote in the 2020 election, which shows that this distrust goes beyond the concerns of issues from that election.

Less than half of survey respondents (37%) felt that the federal government helps people “like me.” Fully 75% of respondents said the government is too bureaucratic and wasteful. Almost as many stated it is corrupt (69%), while 59% said it was incompetent. The list goes on and on. This is nothing new, by the way. Mark Twain once wrote, “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

But despite the challenges, we should aspire to the “good government” that Commissioner Metzger advocates for. I would suggest that there are three core principles that every level of government should adhere to, be it federal, state, county, or municipal government.

First, it should adhere to the law. This sounds obvious, but the COVID shutdowns have stretched the boundaries of ‘legality’ so far that it began to look more like autocracy than democracy.

This lack of adherence to the law was the core complaint of Commissioner Metzger. More of our local officials should have such a moral compass. I have been an elected official and have attended several local municipal government meetings as an observer. I find it discouraging that too often, “law” is only respected when there is visible accountability.

Another core principle should be objectivity. This concern has been brought up to me by area residents who notice that all three county commissioners are also small business owners. On more than one occasion, they have championed the importance of entrepreneurs, those who rent homes, small shop operators, etc. But in their defense, and as one who has been to hundreds of meetings, these men are obviously human and do have a heart for small businesses; they are also generally impartial in their concerns. Commissioner Mirabito is probably the best example of this in relation to the White Deer Golf Course. He does not golf, has no real interest in golf, but recognizes its value to the county and has supported the initiatives for it for the benefit it gives to the county.

The third core principle is consistency. One reason why the East Third Street/Old City Revitalization Project is so important is that it has been over a decade in the making. Major projects such as this one, the river levee project, and others do not happen over one administration. One official with an overanxious ego can derail years of work on an essential program or plan of action.

Good government should be the goal of every elected official in every area and at every level of government. Unfortunately, Winston Churchill’s words are still too often true, “The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”