SLO County reform and community resurgence
December 8, 2016
OPINION by MIKE BROWN
Editor’s note: A column by Republican Mike Brown will run in CalCoastNews every other Thursday, rotating with a column by Democrat Stew Jenkins.
In 2017, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will have an opportunity to reform and reinvigorate county polices by replacing the current underlying self-serving and self-absorbed government incrementalism. A fresh and liberating approach to unleashing creativity, energy, and productivity of citizens could drive public policy.
Currently, the county is mired in the general malaise of California state and local government organizational culture, which is focused on expanding both services and itself as its overarching purpose.
The problem is that this prevailing culture is ultimately self-destructive and unsustainable because it undermines the productive capacity of society to generate the very resources necessary to feed its ever-growing demands. Simultaneously it also constrains the standard of living of its citizens. In doing this it undermines the ability of the most vulnerable members of society (the poor, immigrants, minorities, aging), to earn a living, to obtain decent housing, and to advance educationally. This results in expanded dependency and anti-social behavior, which fuels further expansion and cost of government.
The fundamental failure of this government culture is that it has collectively forgotten the ultimate and most important guiding purpose for its existence. The unique and animating historic genius of the American constitutional system was and is that its key purpose is to protect the people from their government. The Constitution and its derivative state and local constitutions and charters recognize that on both ethical and practical levels, government exists to insure freedom, safety of persons and property, legal stability, public order, and the general welfare in society. It’s very distinctive character is that it recognizes that governments themselves have always been and always will be the greatest threats to those very purposes.
Accordingly, the new board can reorient the county government (and perhaps some of the derivative agencies, such as the Air Pollution Control District and the San Luis Obispo County Council of Governments) to adopt new criteria by which to judge public policy. The county’s current overarching mission statement is emblematic of its contemporary redistributive paternalistic culture.”
“The county’s elected representatives and employees are committed to serve the community with pride to enhance the economic, environmental, and social quality of life in San Luis Obispo County,” the statement says.
This, of course, displays the government culture’s inherent arrogance which misses the point entirely that the resources to enhance society ultimately come from the productivity of a free people, not prideful public officials.
Instead it should be replaced with an affirmative and living philosophy such as: Protect liberty, personal security, private property, and freedom while promoting individual responsibility, strong families, and economic opportunity.
As a corollary matter, the new board needs to recognize that county and agency staffs have, on the one hand, been co-opted by private interest groups with which they are often allied. These combinations are likely to resist a paradigm shift.
On the other hand, and reciprocally, staff has co-opted various citizen advisory boards such as the Water Resources Advisory Commission. In both cases it will be asserted, that the boards of the county and other agencies must conform policy to staff professional recommendations.
Actually, during the last two Board of Supervisors elections, 2012 and 2016, the voters accumulatively sent a strong message that the process should be exactly the opposite. The supervisors and other boards should require that staff provide rigorous problem definition, clear analysis, and alternative recommendations from which the boards may choose or entirely reject and assert a very different direction.
At this point there is an emerging three-member board majority (supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton with Supervisor Elect John Peschong) who have made it pretty clear that they seek this new direction or something like it. It is not known how the remaining two (supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson) will collaborate on or resist the vital changes.
As Supervisor elect Peschong stated after the election and relative to the new board majority: “Hold us accountable.”
Mike Brown is the Government Affairs Director of the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business (COLAB) of San Luis Obispo County. He had a 42 year career as a city manager and county executive officer in four states including California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.