Tom Brokaw wrote an editorial that appeared in the New York Times yesterday. Brokaw wrote, “It’s time to reorganize our state and local government structures for today’s realities rather than cling to the sensibilities of the 20th century.”
His article created quite a stir here in Iowa. Brokaw used our state’s 99 county grid as an example of an outdated system. I agree with Brokaw’s premise, but these types of changes are not easy, and the worst thing that the state could attempt is trying to implement a one-size-fits-all approach.
Whether it’s consolidating some of Iowa’s 362 school districts or consolidating county governments, we have a responsibility to make sure that the students and residents of the rural areas of our state receive the same educational opportunities and government services as those people who live in more urban areas.
There are obviously many opportunities to consolidate some of Iowa’s school districts, but those efforts need to focus on creating stronger school districts that provide students with the all the advantages of Iowa’s bests schools. Consolidating school districts would save on administration costs, but the main focus needs to be on the quality of education that each student will receive.
As for consolidating some of Iowa’s 99 counties, that is simply a bad idea. Many counties already only operate satellite offices for driver’s licenses on certain days. Local government needs to be accessible to the people they serve. While Mr. Brokaw might be willing to drive 70 miles to get a new set of license plates or to renew his driver’s license, many Iowans are not.
That’s not to say that consolidation opportunities do not exist within each county. For example, maybe instead of having a county sheriff and police chiefs for each city, each county needs to have one law enforcement agency, not two or more.
I’m not advocating for fewer police officers or county patrolmen. Instead, a county law enforcement agency could have two departments, city and rural, both would be under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff. These agencies often already need to work together and operate under the same dispatch system. Why not make them one entity?
Along the same line, we should eliminate city and county road crews and just have one for the entire county. Like a consolidated law enforcement agency, the road crew could also have a city and rural division.
For those people who want to consolidate counties, there is also another thing that deserves consideration. Iowa’s redistricting laws do not allow counties to be split between multiple congressional districts. That might not seem like a big deal, but when it comes to drawing new congressional lines every 10 years, it is already difficult to make reasonable districts. Making counties even larger could throw a wrench into what is already a difficult process.
Consolidation is a good discussion to have, but it needs to be handled the right way, and for the right reasons.
A post about Tom Brokaw would not be complete without the following Dana Carvey video:
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