By Ruth Gadebusch
It is generally accepted that organizations don’t change when fat and sassy. Only when lean and hungry is change made coming not from outside but by insiders reaching out.
If this is true, where is the leadership for change in our government? Our agencies claim to be very, very hungry at this time. Still, we see little cooperation, much less consolidation. Organizations are much more likely to compete with each other rather than combine services canceling duplication.
Three City Councilpersons are proposing another study regarding merging the City of Fresno Police Department and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department operations. Yes, there would be huge barriers to overcome but the payoff could be tremendous in efficiency leading to better service and economy. It seems to me that we have had plenty of study, and it is now time for action. How lean does it need to get before some actual movement?
A California Highway Patrol officer has said it would never work because of the different cultural climate, etc. To heck with that kind of thinking! That attitude is just the problem. It seems that turfdom is still the major issue. Who would concede power to whom?
If combining two such large agencies of law enforcement is so difficult, start with some of the various little-known entities. An example is the irrigation district on my current ballot. The only times we ever hear of, or from, them is on the tax bill and the ballot.
Just why do we still have county islands surrounded by the city of Fresno? Moving to Fresno a half-century ago and purchasing a house, we were amazed to find that we were considered rural. Although we were in a city-sized lot subdivision and few knew exactly the boundary between city and county, there was pride on being “country.” At least sewers have been installed in many such areas, but mostly the fear seemed to be of sidewalks and curbs, never mind that a huge mud puddle was constant in front of my place despite efforts to eliminate it. It is urban no matter what it is called. The areas are affected by the city, but there is no power—no vote—to effect city action.
It seemed irrational then. It is even more so today.
On another scale are the overlapping agencies in state government. Included in education are the State Department of Education with its elected superintendent; the Board of Education, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing and higher education (Board of Regents, California State University, community college governing systems), all gubernatorial appointees; various advisory committees; and, of course, the Assembly and Senate (two) legislative committees—all with staff.
The governor’s Secretary of Education and the California Postsecondary Education Commission (directed by former Fresno Mayor Karen Humphrey) succumbed to the lean times. The latter seemed rather precipitous, done more on emotion than consideration of its purpose. When there is action, it often appears to be on whim rather than consideration, exacerbating the problem.
More than a thousand school districts exist in the name of local control even though some seldom have competitive elections and oftentimes no candidate at all. Add to that community college districts and county boards.
Alas, this situation is not confined to education. It is throughout government. My point is not to criticize those involved. Most appointees and employees are totally committed to the agency. Nor is it my intent to decimate government. I am simply asking, “Is there a better way?” Progress does demand change to accommodate changing times.
Ruth Gadebusch is a community activist, a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.