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Tuesday, April 22, 2014 11:23 am

Reporting the report

I have been writing about Springfield local government since the Great Satan in the White House was a Republican. During that time, able and earnest citizens sat down to recommend improvements to everything from local government, water supply and railroad relocation to industrial development, downtown redevelopment and historic preservation.

Whatever the experience has taught me about local government, it taught me to dread having to read yet another report describing the results. The casual definitions of terms. The declaration of vague “principles,” which is how “truisms” is spelled in such documents. The confusion of cost-cutting with efficiency. The roster of participants chosen because they know local and state government, which in fact they know only Illinois local and state government. The ignorance, even indifference to alternatives that have been proven to work outside Illinois, or even outside Sangamon County.

It was with surprise as well as pleasure, therefore, that I read the report of the Sangamon County Citizens Efficiency Commission in described in my recent column, “Rearranging the desks.” Most such report resort to blather to conceal their emptiness, but this report is precise in it language and as clearly stated as complexity of its subject allows. There is a refreshing insistence on evidence as a test of alternatives. (“Collectively, we 23 members of the CEC found it easy to say what we thought might make government better, but found it very difficult to demonstrate clearly that our notions were correct.”)

This is as surprising as it is refreshing. So is the endorsement of expertise as a precondition of intelligent reform: “It is imperative that other jurisdictions considering efforts similar to that undertaken by the CEC understand that, in the absence of professional staff of the caliber made available to us, the effort is likely to produce only mediocre results if not outright failure.”

That professional staff, it should be noted, usually are found at their desks at the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission. Well done, all.


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