In Praise of Innumerable Boards

As much as Americans supposedly hate government, we are world-champions at multiple jurisdictions. And Athens-Clarke County is not unique – we have innumerable Boards, Commissions, Committees, Authorities, Foundations, NGOs, and Friends of to compete with the most complicated political system anywhere.

Just off the top of my head, I can rattle off the Board of Health, Board of Assessors, Greenway Commission, SPLOST Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Airport Board – actually, or you could just think of a government building or service, then append ‘Board,’ ‘Commission,’ or ‘Authority’ to it – and I would guarantee that it exists.

And these aren’t just meetings for like-minded citizens to hang out at, they all have significant power. They directly oversee their domain, and are the point of contact for the Commission for information, influence, and guidance. However, they all act in their own way with their own interests without any real guiding ‘vision,’ or direction from the administration.

What we get it a conflicting and cacophonous systems riddled with contradictions and overlapping mandates with a diversity of interests, abilities, and motivations. We are seeing a great example of this with the closing of Hancock issue. You have the Classic Center Authority, Downtown Development Authority, the SPLOST Advisory Committee all directly involved and organizations such as the Economic Development Foundation, Greenway Commission, and several others tangentially involved – or at least influenced by the situation. And that’s before the Commission gets involved. And I say that this is all a good thing.

The multitude of agencies allows for many advantages. It allows for division of labor. People who care are people who know about an issue. They can remove small issues from larger political fights – and focus on a specific task. Since there will always be large interest groups, the more there are, the better because they can counterbalance. They allow a feedback loop up to the Commission – rather than having each decision imposed from the top. They allow more people to be involved and have a stake in some sort of project.

Now, there can be incompetent people, and there can certainly be conflicts of interests. A multitude of agencies can create confusion and frustration (as the developers who go before the Historic Preservation Commission AND the Planning Commission), but these negatives can be abated with controls (a big suggestion from the ACC Charter Commission).

There is much fawning over China in the business media about how things just get done over there without any convoluted approval process. If the Provincial government wants a Greenway to get built – out goes the edict and it gets built. Same for a highway. Same for any project. Things get done. But what doesn’t get pointed out out, is that these projects that are decreed and done soon die and end up being drags on the economy for lack of planning, feedback, and oversight.

Certainly, Athens-Clarke could do without some NIMBYism and complicated processes, but don’t throw the good out with the bad. Our multitude of authorities, boards, and such are a good thing and should be strengthened. The ACC library is an excellent example – funded by SPLOST, governed by the library board, with programs run by other organizations, and under a remit from ACC – it seems like it wouldn’t work, but is an excellent community asset. One to be supported and thought of next time you hear someone complain about ‘too many government agencies.’

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