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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Defending the public sector

Douglas County has something called the Partnership of Douglas County Governments -- a voluntary association of governmental agencies that meets monthly to share news, and look for ways to save money through cooperation.

At our meeting yesterday, I put forth my notion, learned from our failed mill levy election in 2007 and 2008, that all of us in Douglas County need to launch a new kind of communication approach with our citizens. I've been writing about this in my newspaper columns for the past three weeks, and will have more to say in the future.

But the idea is this: particularly in this county, there is an almost reflexive description of all government as incompetent, inefficient, borderline evil. Taxation is seen as bad by definition. I'm not claiming that taxation is by definition good, by the way. It depends on the project, the cost, the value -- just like the cost for anything in the private sector. But an attitude, cultivated and promulgated by Baby Boomers, of profound anti-government sentiment -- even by our elected officials -- ultimately undercuts the sustainability of all our institutions, and the missions they exist to fulfill.

There are several dimensions to all this: finding a way to clearly communicate those missions, the costs, the values, our performance. But another piece is just beginning to talk about it, to lay out the consequences of promoting our own destruction.

I'll be participating in a panel discussion tomorrow at ALA Mid-Winter, reacting to the OCLC study, which I've referenced in this blog several times. But it seems to me that all of these things are of a piece: public institutions have to become more savvy in understanding and influencing public perceptions, particularly when they drift far from the facts. And particularly when the facts alone aren't sufficient to change minds.

1 comment:

Caramida said...

To paraphrase President Obama, the question we must ask is not whether government is too big or too small, but whether it works. Not whether taxes are good, or bad, but whether they are necessary to make government work.