Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Government is not a Privately Owned Business!

That title might seem like one of those insights into the obvious; but is it obvious to municipal government, at least in the state of California? As a case in point, consider the city of San Carlos, located on the northern rim of Silicon Valley, once the pride and joy of the California economy. Henry K. Lee, Staff Writer for the San Francisco Chronicle filed the following report this morning (after I had already read my print edition):

The city of San Carlos has voted to dissolve its police force and to begin the steps to outsource the job of law enforcement to the San Mateo County sheriff's office as a cost-cutting measure.

The City Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to disband its 85-year-old Police Department to help save nearly two-thirds of next year's $3.5 million deficit. The council directed city staff to begin negotiating with the sheriff's office, said Mayor Randy Royce, who voted to scrap the city's 32-member force.

Royce noted that the sheriff's office, which has 462 deputies, has agreed to offer full-time jobs to all San Carlos officers. Redwood City police, which had also offered to take over police services, could not make such a guarantee.

In any private sector setting this would be viewed as a "business solution;" and, in the broader scope of business, it would be scrupulously examined by major shareholders and suppliers. However, the citizens of San Carlos are neither shareholders nor "customers" (and they are certainly not suppliers)! In the bluntest of terms, one does not turn to "business solutions" to address a total breakdown in the relationship between a government and its governed, even when that breakdown has to do with extremely unpleasant truths about the municipal budget. The real question is whether or not the citizens of San Carlos want their city to continue to exist, even if that means that they all have to contribute to restoring the budget through, for example, increased taxes. This is a matter that seems more appropriate for a public referendum than the "board room" thinking of a City Council, although I wonder just whom would then be engaged to deal with the results of that referendum, whatever they may be.

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