Imagine if politicians ran government like businesses

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 24, 2005

One simple sentence frustrated me: "We don't run it like a business."

The person who spoke those words was a county leader, one of numerous elected officials charged with making decisions for the public good. The "it" in his sentence was county government.

His admission, while not surprising given the fiscal state of our local government, was disappointing.

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The statement wasn't disappointing because it was true, but rather because he understood it was true, but felt powerless to make a change. My hope that the problem was simply one of understanding how things should operate, a hope that with a little communication everything would be better, was immediately dashed.

In recent weeks, I've had similar conversations with leaders with the city of Ironton, so please don't think I'm picking solely on the county.

The epidemic is everywhere: The people we've elected are afraid to do anything that will offend us.

Our local governments seem to function like a cheating spouse, who knows what the "right" thing to do is, but simply cannot let go of the promise of instant gratification.

When is the last time we've heard a local elected officials say: "This isn't popular, but it needs to be done."

A prime example of how our elected officials are slow to react to an obviously easy business decision is the case of the much-touted, little examined plan to merge emergency services' dispatching.

"Not one union job will be lost on my watch," one elected official was overheard saying.

This before anyone has, at least to my knowledge, actually looked at the potential benefits and potential problems.

When confronted with such an option, most businesses would simply look at it as objectively as possible.

Instead, some of our local leaders seem hell-bent on doing the politically advantageous thing - in this case, protecting the union voting block.

Before our leaders go throwing the baby out with the bath water, why don't we at least discuss all options?

Both the county and a number of municipalities are finalizing this year's budgets. Before they sign on the dotted line, hopefully, they'll take a long, serious, businesslike look at each line item.

Every single expense should be challenged. Every option for streamlining and making things more efficient should be examined.

While some local politicians may believe the best course of action is the safe course of action, imagine the alternative.

Imagine, if when their next campaign comes up, that politician can point to a number of projects and say, "we did all of this for you, the taxpayer, and, more important, we didn't raise your taxes one penny."

That's a winning business model with which few could argue.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1445, ext. 12 or by e-mail to