Cost of Goverment Report Has Numerous Flaws

by Mark Hyde

The Cost of Government Report was submitted to the Council recently and a Viewpoint by the co-chair of the COG was printed in the Maui News today. Here is a rebuttal.

The current COG Report is based on academic journal articles dating as far back as 1966. As stated in the Report, these academic articles use government spending per capita to compare cost effectiveness between governance models. This is a flawed approach. Spending alone does not determine whether one community is more efficient than another. For example, if community A spends $100 per resident on planning while community B spends $90, can it be said that Community B plans more efficiently and effectively than A?  No. What’s tells the story is the quality and quantity of work gotten for the money spent, not just money spent. Value = quality and quantity divided by cost.

Another shortfall in the COG Report is its narrow analysis of the cost of turnover between the two governance models.  The Report looks only at turnover in the chief administrator position: 7.3 years on average in council manager communities and 4.2 years on average for Maui County managing directors.  Wholly avoided is discussion of massive and simultaneous turnover of every Maui County director and deputy (except those appointed by commissions) with the election of each mayor. This produces loss of knowledge, requires a significant learning curve, and results in discontinuity of management and direction.   Also missing in this limited analysis is recognition that in our “strong mayor” model Maui’s managing directors are political appointees.  Who can forget the Maui News article entitled “Damage Control”  (MN 10/11/15) where the current managing director is quoted as defining his role as “political” with a primary duty to serve the mayor, not the people.
The COG’s “heads down” academic approach misses the big picture - not seeing the forest for the trees.  Raising one’s head up and looking at the current situation we easily see many things that are obviously broken - the direct result of 50 years of strong/political mayor government.  Here are just a few:
· Dysfunction between the mayor and the council, including name-calling.  It’s universally known that people who work together accomplish more than people who don’t.

· Appointment of directors by the mayor to departmental director positions when the appointees lack subject matter knowledge of the areas they are to lead.   

· Breakdown in the county’s ability to develop and execute plans, with current plans about 10 years behind charter-established planning schedules.

· Wholesale turnover of directors with every new mayoral term resulting in discontinuity, loss of knowledge, and a steep learning curve for each new administration.

· Lack of accountability for performance and little transparency into government activities.

Lastly, the COG’s recommendation that decision on a charter change should be punted to the next charter commission is ill advised and, frankly,  beyond the scope of the COG’s charter. The next charter commission will not be convened for another 6 years. In the normal course, and once convened, that Commission would issue a report a year later, with action taken, or not, in the next election cycle, which could delay much needed restructuring until 2027 - 10 years from now.
Considering (1) that the Countywide Policy Plan adopted by the County in 2010 stated the need to explore other forms of government (to create greater accountability and transparency), (2) that the 2012 Charter Commission explicitly called for the appointment of a Special Committee to study council-manager government, and (3) that a Special Committee on Governance was convened by the County Council in late 2015 which thereafter took testimony, heard from experts, studied literature and issued a report recommending adoption of a form of county-manager government, the COG’s recommendation is odd at best.  Here’s what a member of the 2012 Charter Commission, who also served on the Special Committee on Governance, said at a recent Special Committee’s meeting: “It’s [county-management government] an interesting conversation. One that’s due. One the [2012] charter commission tried to wrestle with but never had any time for it.  We passed the buck on to this group [Special Committee on Governance] . ..”

Time to call the question and let the people vote on the kind of government they want.