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Consolidation will require real thought

Ever since Martha Stewart claimed the phrase, “a good thing,” I cringe whenever I hear it come up in casual conversation.

So when I heard a friend use the phrase while discussing the mayor’s recent consolidation comments, I couldn’t get the image of Jake Middleton dressed in a fashionable sweater set touting his idea to a studio audience of middle-aged women.

“Consolidation is a good thing,” he said again and again in my day dream.

It may be. But as the etiquette empress and crafts czar Stewart would probably tell you, anything good takes time, effort and consideration.

Those were in short supply this week when Middleton suddenly realized the city public works director was decamping for the Adams County road manager’s office.

County supervisors voted unanimously Monday to hire Robbie Dollar for the position left vacant after Curley Jones retired last fall. Since then Sammy Lee Gaines has filling in as interim manager,

Middleton admitted that Dollar would be a difficult man to replace and what better way to avoid the issue than by consolidating the city and county public works departments and thus sharing him with the county.

Consolidation is an approach often suggested by both city and county leaders as a way to cut costs and make government more efficient.

In the past decade, leaders have proposed many flavors of consolidation from the merging of separate departments to a total consolidation of city and county government.

With the exception of city and county fire protection, neither side has done anything other than talk about the issue.

One reason may be that it will take a lot of time and research to make sure all aspects of the issue are considered before making real steps toward consolidation.

A sudden opening in a department does not allow for such consideration.

There are many questions that will need to be answered.

For example, a successful consolidation that leads to appreciable cost savings may lead to job losses. Will these losses come from the city or county?

What about leadership? Who will be calling the shots — the city or county or both? What will that look like?

How much control will aldermen and supervisors have over the day-to-day operations?

How will consolidation affect grants and funding? How will any pre-existing debts be handled?

What will consolidation cost county and city residents? How will the cost of operations be covered by taxpayers?

These are just a few questions that need to be asked. They should not be answered hastily just because a department head position is suddenly open.

Consolidation inevitably means ceding power from some, if not all of our leaders. Human shortcomings, like jealousy and mistrust have always been the biggest barrier to any consolidation. Are our elected leaders willing to risk giving up some of that power to benefit the city and county as a whole?

If not, then all of this talk about consolidation is just wasted time and energy.

And that is not a good thing.

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.

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