05/03/2012: "-- Guest Column --"
By Ed Kilduff
Quangos may sound like a strange kind of endangered species, but they are a political animal. From my perspective, we have a quango management problem in the County, and I hope it can be effectively and dispassionately addressed in the upcoming charter review.
“Quango” is primarily a British term that originally stood for “quasi-non-governmental organization.”
It has come to mean any body of appointees to which government authority has been devolved. Many of our county boards and committees conduct their affairs with a great deal of authority, real or apparent. They apply for grants; have their own letterheads; and coordinate with out-of-county entities.
Some have their own budgets and borrowing capacity, such as the Land Bank, which I include in my definition of quangos. Although many of these bodies were initially established to provide citizen input to the Council, their full range of activities includes instances where they have established financial and policy obligations for the County, often via activities as seemingly innocuous as grant applications.
Right now, there are 27 vacancies among the 32 boards and committees of the County. That does not even include groups like the Economic Development Council or the Conservation District who are not technically part of local government but who nevertheless have at least some appointees and some participation in government here, including receiving partial funding from the County tax base.
Also, paradoxically, despite the large number of vacancies on our boards and committees, we also experience the other extreme: appointees who have served unelected for well over a decade. Currently, there are no term limits for these appointees.
For me, the behavior and structure of these quangos raises a lot of fundamental questions about good governance. I hope these questions will be addressed by charter review. As mentioned, questions about policy and finances come to mind, but even more fundamental questions come to mind such as, “Are these quangos really all that democratic?” Do they represent us? Do they serve the public good? Can they be managed and coordinated better?
There seem to be natural coordination or even combination opportunities among our boards and commissions. Why do they not work together more? The Land Bank, for example, would seem to be a natural fit with the Parks Commission. Do we really need an Eastsound Planning Commission and an Eastsound Design Commission? Can the Stormwater and Water Resources Committees be consolidated? And while we seem to have a plethora of boards and committees, there also seem to be some glaring omissions. Why do we have no local Ethics Board or ordinance?
At the present time, I do not think the County is able to manage its overall affairs effectively.
I have been very vocal about the County not managing its solid waste affairs, for example. For quango reasons, I also oppose the Land Bank renewal at this time, not wanting to provide a more-than-decade-long renewal to a high-profile quango before the charter review has had a chance to consider County management fixes.
I hope the soon-to-be-elected freeholders will take up the challenge of quango management, and ultimately find some way to tame our quango beasts.