New Mayor John Matta’s remarks upon taking office Tuesday night contain some positive suggestions this commission would be well-advised to follow.
The most significant of those was his call for accelerated discussions about “consolidation, in part or in total,” with Riley County.
Consolidation, either of government offices, services or of the governments themselves, is a topic public officials tend to tackle askance rather than head-on, in some measure because any head-on approach is guaranteed to enrage a segment of the voting populace. There are other practical considerations to broad-based consolidation as well, notably the leakage of Manhattan across county boundaries, and the wide difference in lifestyle between the county’s urban and rural areas.
Even presuming something not yet in evidence — namely that those factors make literal merger of city and county governments impractical — it still makes sense to explore the topic in the fullest sense possible.
Think of government essentially as administration, then think of administration essentially as overhead, and the reasons for seeking to reduce its size and scope become obvious. Whether this means creation of a Wyandotte County-style Unigov, whether it focuses on the physical sharing of facilities, or whether it looks at mergers of support staff, the effort of exploration is not likely to be wasted.
One could also not help but be struck by Matta’s emphasis on entrepreneurship. The mayor understands something too little emphasized today: that private business is good. Certainly the business sector requires regulation for purposes of public safety and welfare. But it also requires promotion, and not necessarily through financial incentive. Often the more productive course is periodic review of regulatory dis-incentives whose burdens outstrip their values.
The commission has suffered, if that is not too strong a word, through a turbulent several years marked by pitched battles over a variety of issues that could be reduced to a single phrase: the role of government. Plainly the current commission has a mixed view of that role. If commissioners continue to wage that war, it is likely that the commission’s own productivity will be compromised. There are elements of the agenda laid out by Mayor Matta that could threaten to bog down the commission. Candidly, there are also elements of agendas laid out by groups active in the recent campaign that could similarly bog down the commission.
The challenge for the new mayor and the new commission will be to resist the urge to go down that confrontational path and instead find a way to progress as a unit. Recent commissions haven’t been very good at that, but the concept is worth trying.