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  • Last modified 9 days ago (Dec. 6, 2018)

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Dreaming the not-impossible dream

Leaders or followers? For all the bluster coming out of the courthouse each week, it’s becoming painfully obvious that leadership is in extremely short supply.

Leadership is about doing the right thing by setting a direction, building an inspiring vision, and creating something new. It’s about mapping out where we need to go. It’s dynamic, exciting, and inspiring.

That’s the complete opposite of everything county commissioners are doing in trying to determine how to draw boundaries that will increase the number of commissioners from three to five.

No one except the most naïve among us believes that simply adding two more people to the commissioner’s meeting room, each representing even smaller districts with unique local interests, will do anything to improve the already seriously fractured nature of county government.

Leaders don’t blindly follow rules and insist that their hands are tied. They make every effort to adjust rules so that they fit needs. And what Marion County needs more than anything else is some sort of countywide, rather than district-limited, vision on its county commission.

We don’t live in Russia or China or some tinhorn dictatorship in South America or Africa. We live in a democracy. We elect officials not so they can spout off about various hot-button issues and hobnob with each other. We elect them so they can adjust our laws as needed.

Time was, Marion County had leadership. Thank God it did or we wouldn’t have a place like St. Luke Hospital. If the people responsible for setting up Hospital District No. 1, which runs St. Luke, had been a bunch of bureaucratic followers instead of visionary leaders, they would have said there was no way under law to establish a hospital district and given up. Instead, they pushed for a new law and got it — and in the process not only saved the hospital but also positioned it to become one of the area’s most important features.

Now is the time for true leadership to emerge on the county commission. State law does not specifically allow for creation of at-large commissioner districts. But it also doesn’t outright forbid it.

Already, two other counties have worked with their state legislators to enact exemptions allowing them to apportion county commissioner districts differently than the generic model that our county now seems to believe is the only way it can be done.

There’s even a legal argument that the county could accomplish this without a special enactment of the legislature. Home-rule charter ordinances allow counties to exempt themselves from a wide range of laws except those specifically enacted to apply equally to all counties. Since the legislature already allows differences in two counties, its rules regarding commissioner districts are no longer uniform and thus could be subject to home rule.

Asking our two state representatives and state senator to pursue a special exemption that might allow at least some commissioners to be elected at large might be a safer step. But to date, the followers who pretend to be leaders on the county commission appear to have taken no action, even to inquire about the possibility.

This is not democracy. They know — because they have heard from multiple voters who approved expansion of the commission — that this is what at least some of them thought they were voting for. The entire process has become a giant bait-and-switch. What many thought they were voting for isn’t what they will be getting unless our commissioners become leaders.

We call upon all three of them and our county clerk, who also plays an important role in this, to contact our three state legislators and at least discuss the possibility of making one or more of the new districts represent voters at large.

Otherwise, after much silly debate over which census figures to use and whether to gerrymander two current commissioners into the same district, we’ll end up paying more and getting less of everything except disagreement.

If the political reality isn’t persuasive, consider the economic reality. A county obsessed with development is going to look a lot better to prospective businesses if it’s willing to demonstrate leadership instead of powerlessly following rules. A move to seek at least one at-large district could be the key evidence needed to erase concerns prospective businesses might have about locating in an area where county commissioner act like guerilla fighters in a Middle Eastern civil war.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Dec. 6, 2018

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