Government: What a Concept

Charlotte's new city manager seems to be that rare breed who recognizes the distinction between government and business

Charlotte’s new city manager, Ron Carlee, is a dadgum Communist, apparently. He’s already catching hell from the spittle-fleckers who inhabit the Observer‘s comments section, which I usually don’t bother to call attention to. But these are just so typical, and they’re indicative of the kind of voices we surely will be hearing in the months and years to come: “Where’s the outrage for a 15% pay raise,” “Uhh, he was in Arlington VA. That’s right next to DC. DC is the most liberal city in the US.” (Gotcha!) “Bravo comrades!” The usual swill.

It’s all a matter of perspective, of course, and it is quite instructive to read some of the blog posts Carlee has written for — brace yourselves — The Huffington Post. (One entry specifically addresses the supposed outrage of him blogging at The Huffington Post.) Here’s one on the proper role of a city or county manager:

While the business of local government is the retail delivery of services, local government is not a business. This was a distinction I always made to new employees when I was a manager and a point that I continue make with my students. I ask them: what is the difference between local government and a private business? The answer lies in the underlying purpose of each entity; in the end success is measured differently.

In a private business the single most important metric is profit, sustained over a long period of time. In contrast, most local government transactions are indirect; payment of services comes through taxes that are collected separately and apart from any direct receipt of a service. There is actually an incentive to keep taxes, and thus revenue, down.

No, local governments are not about making profit; they are about making community.

Or this one, posted just a couple of weeks ago, on the importance of investment in public infrastructure:

Infrastructure investment is a national problem … Candid public conversations and public engagement will be key to successful action. Taxpayers need to have an understanding of the issues, options, and risks. Some may want to engage in an accusatory retrospective about what wasn’t done that should have been done. A more productive conversation, however, will be future-oriented, focused on the investments needed to create and sustain a city’s vision for its future … and a recognition that sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

Well, yeah, you do, and what’s certain to make the all-government-is-evil nihilists as nervous as a cat in a public swimming pool is that Carlee not only has extensive experience managing government but a philosophical foundation to guide him; as COO and executive in residence at the International City/County Management Association, he’s been exposed to and explored ideas about local governments from — again, brace yourselves — other countries. The border’s been breached.

I wish Mr. Carlee good luck. Given the animus that seems to have overtaken the people’s representatives at the state level with regard to Charlotte, I imagine he’ll need it.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest