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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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20 Quick Thoughts

1. Here’s one of the less amusing aspects of Nassau County returning to the same, failed, privatized bus operation that so frustrated decision makers and the public 30 years ago. One difference between a public agency and a private company running operations is that the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws don’t apply to private companies. If the company writes a report to the county, then it becomes an agency record and you can file a FOIL request. In some other states that are a few years ahead of New York in selling off or leasing everything, the media, the public and the government are having big problems with private companies stonewalling critical information.

2. Last week, IBM issued a report about “benchmarking” (comparing) operational efficiency in 100 American cities. Here are the critical seven words, contained in a subheading: “Management Matters (And It Matters A Lot).”

3. Indeed.

4. The governor reaches an agreement with the largest employee organization. It adjusts salaries and employee health contributions. Now he won’t lay off 9,800 employees. It’s practically a random number.

5. Late last year, when Commissioner Grannis made it clear that cuts from certain divisions will cripple the Department of Environmental Conservation’s ability to fulfill critical functions, he was sacked. Real New Yorkers don’t match actual needs to resource allocation. Savings, efficiencies, priorities, improvements, performance? We don’t do those here. And talking is not worth the risk.

6. Nassau County is cutting another 128 full-time employees this week. Twenty-one of them come from the division that runs county museums and historic sites, gutting what remains of those functions. Why? Well, why not?

7. A lot of it has to do with revenues generated, and with perceived paths of resistence. Eventually, pieces of ceiling fall into the aquatic center pool.

8. We cannot fix Nassau County and make our local governments work unless we fix our civil service system. Bent by politics, broken by budgets, it makes workers trapped in it and residents trying to deal with it cynical and very tired. Workers and even high-ranking administrators fear being exposed as a source of complaints about civil service. Talking is not worth the risk.

9. We still can’t sell off or privatize parks and schools at will. We think of them as “our” high schools and “our” museums or libraries, but actually all educational facilities are owned by New York, and “we” just have the local Board of Regents franchise to run them. They are issued a charter, which is a license.

10. That’s the kind of detail that we’ve taken for granted for a long time, making assumptions and accepting the way things are even if the rationale or the mission melted away years ago. Some of Nassau County’s local government structures were considered inadequate when talkies first came in, and here we are a long lifetime later and we’ve still got the same frontier-style town governments, the same fragmented districts calling shots in critical policy areas, the same “temporary” little designer villages, the same weak planning and missing critical infrastructure.

11. Time’s up.

12. Fairies don’t take away our sewage. It runs through pipes to inadequate plants, or into the bay.

13. Even small changes in sea level may push more salt into our wells. Try to fix a multi-billion dollar problem with this county’s proven decision-making, problem-solving capability.

14. And an irrational refusal to generate new revenues even from the residents of Easy Street.

15. We may be one good, big crisis away from a near-total local government meltdown.

16. I have written many times that if local governments can’t figure out how to provide critical services, they should find someone who can.

17. “Can’t” and “won’t” are two totally different things.

18. During the summer months, this space is largely dedicated to how we got to where we are and the choices we made. We’ll continue the floating series about the haunted lake.

19. Independence Day, our national unity holiday, is an appropriate time to think about what America means and what Americans are supposed to mean to each other.

20. I wish you a happy, peaceful Fourth of July.

 

 

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net