Carroll's Headless Government

July 21, 1995

If Carroll's County government were a ballclub, it wouldn't have enough players to field a team. An unusual number of top administrative positions in key departments are vacant. If the county commissioners persist in their current penny-wise, pound-foolish practice, these jobs will remain unfilled indefinitely.

The recent dismissal of Micki Smith, head of the county's public information office, adds to the list of county departments where the top job is vacant. Important offices such as county attorney and planning are headed by acting directors. The county tourism office is vacant at the height of vacation season. The position of forest conservation program manager remains unfilled. Nor does the county have an airport manager.

The commissioners are doing themselves and the taxpayers more harm than good by making up this misguided policy as they go along. Government is a service business. Having the appropriate number of people in the appropriate positions to carry out that service is essential.

If Carroll had a bloated bureaucracy, there might be a reasonable rationale for these actions. But by most objective measures, the county government is rather lean. Top administrators are not simply figureheads. In the legal department, the county attorney represented 16 percent of the legal staff. Now, legal questions don't get answered as quickly because the work is handled by fewer and less experienced staff. The forest conservation program manager was responsible for reviewing plans as well as heading the program; developers' plans sit waiting for review because only one person is available to process them.

The lack of leadership in key departments bogs down important policy-making. An acting county attorney, for example, does not hold the authority of a permanent one. An acting planning director can't undertake long-range initiatives because the unstated directive is to focus only on day-to-day duties.

The county may save some money by leaving jobs vacant. But if the relatively few dollars saved results in unresponsive departments and a degradation in government service, the savings ultimately will be worthless. Having a troop of headless horsemen is not the same as having a methodical plan for efficient government.

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