I’ve been honored to serve as one of your county commissioners for just over a month now, and am proud to be part of the team of officials leading Portage County. Since my swearing in, I have had the opportunity to meet with every department director and have spoken with many county employees. What I have found is an amazing group of hard-working and dedicated individuals who regularly go above and beyond in service to their fellow citizens.
Unfortunately, I have frequently heard, and have seen for myself, that the county has a management problem. The commissioners’ office lacks a single staff person to direct day-to-day operations across all our departments. This is inefficient on most days and dysfunctional on our worst. Staff find themselves responding to sometimes conflicting direction from elected officials while still trying to serve the public effectively – an impossible task.
As taxpayers, you elect your commissioners to drive policy and formulate the ideas that move our county forward to improve the lives of our citizens. However, in the current structure we are often too busy responding to the issues of the day to find time to focus on any sort of strategic planning. And while that may seem like a minor challenge, no single commissioner has the authority to direct daily operations because we must always work as a team. That simply cannot happen in the efficient and effective manner that departments and staff across the county require.
This is why I am advocating for a shift to a professional county management model through the hiring of a county administrator.
The International City/County Management Association (www.icma.org) best sums up the benefits of adding this position: "Employing a professional administrator frees county elected officials from the administration of daily operations and gives them time to focus on the policy issues that will guide the future of the county. It empowers elected officials to provide leadership, develop a vision for the community, determine what services to provide citizens, lobby the state legislature on the community’s behalf, and communicate and forge new relationships with constituents. The professional manager, appointed by the governing body, oversees the day-to-day operation and the implementation of policy."
A recent headline in the Record-Courier suggested that the idea of hiring a county administrator was about lightening the workload, but this could not be further from the truth. Hiring an administrator will reduce the amount of unnecessary, duplicative, and redundant processes – freeing up both commissioners and staff to do more meaningful work to make progress across the county.
Is a county administrator an answer to all our problems? Absolutely not. However, it will bring in a level of professional management that our county has never seen, resulting in more transparency, accountability, and efficiency – benefits that you, the taxpayer, deserve.
A tried and true standard of a modern county government, the addition of a county administrator is a worthwhile investment in our county’s future, paying dividends for years to come.
I will continue to work closely with my fellow commissioners to advocate for this position and, if they agree that it is necessary, to define what a county administrator would look like in Portage County. At this point, nothing is set, and the process is still fluid. I welcome any and all thoughts and comments, both good and bad, on this and any other issue before the Portage County Board of Commissioners. I hope to hear from you.
Commissioner Mike Kerrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-297-3604.