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Providing and paying for the public good.

The following is a preview of one of the topics to be covered during the Leadership Training Institute seminar, "Leading Through An Economic Storm: Navigating the New Normal in Local Government," in North Palm Harbor, Fla., held January, 28-30, 2010.

Many people's uneasy peace between their need for government and their desire to be free from government has encouraged them to undertake a quest to make government quicker, cheaper and better.

From efforts to introduce more efficient management into local and state government during the Progressive Era, to state and national commissions charged with shrinking the size of government and reducing spending to perpetual calls for making government run more like a business, local officials seek a solution that appears to have eluded them for more than a century.

Today, this quest has evolved beyond simply achieving greater efficiency and applying business practices to government. It has embraced greater private participation in managing and governing public enterprises, including privatizing public facilities, such as prisons, airports, stadiums and convention centers, and even some public services, such as trash collection, mental health and social services. It has led to efforts to commercialize government, ranging from advertising on electronic road signs to video broadcasts on public buses and trains.

It has ushered in competition between state and local governments to offer economic incentives to for-profit corporations, and it has encouraged selling naming rights to everything from town hall meeting rooms to public schools and universities to public Facilities. And it has promoted alternative ways of financing and paying for government, such as tax-increment financing: public-private partnerships for building schools, public facilities and infrastructure; leasing public assets such as roads, tunnels, bridges, land, buildings, utilities and even lotteries; and supporting greater use of user fees, gambling and sin taxes.

Even more striking is the growing number of proposals and initiatives addressing the structure of state and local government. These include consolidating multiple local governments and eliminating duplicative structures and functions to reduce costs; merging parts or all of governmental units to better address cross-jurisdictional issues such as water, land use and poverty; streamlining elected offices, boards and commissions to improve the speed and efficiency of governmental decision making; and abolishing units of government, even states, as more and more Americans take up residence in metropolitan and regional settings.

Questions of what local government should do, who should do it and how it should be paid for are timeless and never changing. The answers, on the other hand, depend upon the context and times in which one asks the questions. As they approach 2010, municipal officials are faced with some key questions in light of this dizzying array of new, different and alternative arrangements for financing, providing and paying for the public good.

How can they discuss and understand the forces driving these alternatives and the trade-offs involved? How should they assess and weigh the implications and consequences of different governing and funding arrangements for the public good? How might they evaluate and prioritize the value of these alternatives in relation to the public good in their cities and towns?

Each of these alternative governing arrangements has its advocates. Who will advocate for the public good? As is often true in making public decisions, it is better to know all the questions than some of the answers.

Details: Boyle will lead the half-day Leadership Training Institute seminar "Governing in the New Normal: Prioritizing the Public Good" on Saturday, January 30, 2010 from 8:30 a.m. to noon. For more information or to register for Leadership Training Institute seminars, visit www.nlc.org.

Phillip Boyle is the president of Leading and Governing Associates, located in Carrboro, N.C. He works with municipal, county, school and state public officials and their associations in the areas of public leadership development, public engagement, and policy facilitation and strategic navigation.
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Title Annotation:Leadership Training Institute
Author:Boyle, Phillip
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 21, 2009
Words:641
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