Are government officials in over their heads?
I got an email Friday evening from a reader who suggested: “I am wondering what you would think about doing an article about why we have made our lives so complicated. All our governing bodies, at all levels, seem to be in over their heads in many areas. Have we reached a point where the problems are really too complicated and involved to solve?”
I didn’t read the email until Monday. That’s sort of a large topic for a newspaper with our level of staffing to tackle, I wrote back.
She responded that county boards are composed of private citizens, many with no education beyond high school. “They are handling millions of dollars and are really not qualified to do so. When a building project, for instance, is proposed they swallow the entire rhetoric of the architects without having the knowledge or ability of checking out the truth. Then taxpayers are left with huge bills to pay. Now magnify this on the state and federal levels. It is no wonder this country is so in debt.”
She had an interesting point, I suggested. But isn’t that why an astute county administrator is crucial, to help guide the elected county board into making good decisions?
“But they are not all that good because they are looking toward the next level up,” she wrote back. “You have to realize that professional bureaucrats are in no way like good business people. They are looking to benefit themselves. Building a big building is a feather in their cap and looks good on a resume. Never think for one minute that they have the best interests of the taxpayer at heart.”
I don’t know this woman and didn’t know what perspective she was speaking from. She later told me that she worked many years in county government in another Wisconsin county, including more than 20 years in an elected position before retiring from public office. That gave her inside perspective on how things functioned—at least in that county.
Do you think she’s on to something or is just overly cynical? Despite our mounting concerns, I’d like to think that by electing and hiring the right people for government positions, we can solve our local, state and national problems.
Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter or