Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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In a recent column examining the Routt County Board of Commissioners' April Fools' Day decision to cut county employees' pay by 10 percent, I questioned why we need full-time commissioners.
The response to the column was overwhelming.
I received more e-mail and phone calls about that column than any other. Several readers raised thoughtful questions about other potentially wasteful government positions, programs and expenditures that we overlook when times are flush, but that may not make sense in the current economic climate.
In fact, some of the best questions about wasteful or duplicative government programs and positions came from government employees. That's not all that surprising when you realize government insiders know best where the dead bodies are buried - so to speak.
The comments I received reminded me that it is our role as citizens to constantly challenge our elected representatives with the question all 3-year-olds constantly ask their parents.
And, the current economic landscape necessitates that now - more than ever - we challenge our government to justify every dime expended before seeking more. In other words, it is not just our right as citizens to constantly challenge the government - it is our duty.
It's time to question everything.
Let's start with questions that have crossed my mind about our local governance, along with questions that others have suggested recently, by expanding on the query that resulted in a flood of responses from readers two weeks ago - why do we need full-time county commissioners?
After raising the question, I wrote, "After all, the city of Steamboat Springs is governed by a part-time council with direct responsibility for more in government operations than the commissioners have - while making far less than the commissioners do."
Several readers chastised me for only comparing the full-time county commissioners to the part-time city council. After all, the governing bodies of Yampa, Oak Creek and Hayden also consist of part-time legislators. Additionally, all our school and planning boards across the county are part time and - here's the real kicker - even our elected representatives to the Colorado Legislature are part timers.
Still, even with my lack of thoroughness, the question evidently struck a nerve with the commissioners. A few days ago - in order to signal just how busy they are - they carpet-bombed everyone on their e-mail lists announcing every meeting of every board, commission and gathering of two or more standing on a street corner they plan to attend.
Commendably, if not coincidentally, the commissioners also jammed inboxes with announcements of town-hall-style meetings all across the county in coming months, where you can pose your questions directly to the triumvirate.
Speaking of part-time school boards, why do we need three of them? As in, why do we need three publicly funded school systems in one county? Couldn't we save a tremendous amount of money - in duplicative administration costs alone - with one, countywide school system? Don't economies of scale favor at least examining a change to the status quo when it comes to our school systems?
And whenever the topic of duplicative or overlapping agencies makes it to the radar screen, the question arises: Why do we have multiple departments and authorities working on affordable housing? Why can't we settle on one body with countywide authority given that - to the degree there is a problem that the free market is not correcting before our very eyes - the problem is a countywide problem, not a city problem requiring a city solution.
And here's one final question for today that bangs around in my noggin every time I read about yet another meeting of city staff and business owners about signs downtown.
Why is it that the city government spends untold man hours harassing local business owners concerning signs advertising open and operating stores but can't get the out-of-town owners of Monument Oil to clean up their abandoned pigsty on the Space Station lot at Seventh and Lincoln?
As wasteful government programs, positions or expenditures will be a regular topic for future columns, please e-mail me at Rob.Douglas@Comcast.net with your questions and observations of wasteful government spending. I will incorporate your questions and observations into future columns as we collectively ask government the most important question: Why?
To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail Rob.Douglas@Comcast.net.