About a decade or more ago I addressed the City and County Commissions here in Albany and suggested to them that it made eminent good sense to consolidate governments. Of course, they listened to me, and that is why we now have a combined city-county government that has saved local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars ever since … NOT!
So, why not? Logic compels consolidation — we don’t need city and county police forces, public works departments, personnel departments, and administrators. Even if the county had a huge geographic area (like counties in states out west) or a significant population outside the municipal limits — and it doesn’t – there’s just no excuse for duplicating services. The 2000 census counted 96,065 persons in Dougherty County and 76,939 in the City. Do 20,000 people really need a whole separate government? Do 76,939 people need two governments performing identical services? Obviously not.
Other counties in Georgia have consolidated governments — Augusta/Richmond County and Columbus/Muscogee County to name two. And it’s no big deal to them. Once they consolidated their governments, they never looked back. So, why hasn’t our city and county consolidated? The answer is simple and it goes to the heart of human nature. Most human beings don’t want to give up something they already have — in this instance, political power and constant public exposure. Every city and county commissioner, each police chief and each head of a city and county department knows that he or she may lose his or her job — or if not their jobs, their primacy, their numero uno, big cheese, status.
And that is why much of what you may read or hear about consolidation which comes from the high muckety-mucks is pretty much a smokescreen for their real concerns. It’s not about services being lost, or lack of police protection, or the fact that women weren’t on the commission studying it. It’s especially not about race. Yes, Albany has a black mayor, a black police chief, and a black city administrator, and, wonder of wonders, those positions in the county government are all held by white persons. When consolidation comes, somebody is going to get kicked off his or her lofty perch. On a personal basis, there will be winners and losers.
Just as the national effort to reform health care has gotten bogged down and side-tracked by gross distortions and outright lies, there is no doubt that consolidation, a low-keyed, unemotional issue if ever there was one, will be hijacked by demagogues who see an opportunity to emulate their national brethren who never miss an opportunity to throw a stick into a bicycle spoke. White racists will stir fears that county positions will be taken over by black people. One speaker at a local forum on the subject echoed a phrase which brought back memories of the Old South’s violent resistance to segregation in the 50s and 60s: “When it comes to consolidation, it’s not no … it’s hell, no” Last time I read a quote like that, someone was standing in a schoolhouse door. Or bombing a church.
But fear not, the white racists aren’t alone in their prejudices and irrational anxieties. Black opportunists rightly object to losing sinecures and positions they have long held. As another speaker at a forum put it, the push for consolidation is “an underlying plot to strip minorities from leadership positions.”
So there you have it: finally, common ground has been found among white bigots and black opportunists. All of them oppose progress that would make local government more efficient and save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whether you are black or white, rural or urban, rich or poor, if that isn’t an excellent reason to vote for consolidation — to put them on their heels and publicly rebuke them — I don’t know what else would be.
Written by Jim Finkelstein.