Friday, September 4, 2015

The need for more centralization in government

And now a politics post instead of a gaming post.

One of the things I've been thinking about a lot lately are the problems inherent to America's decentralized, local autonomy, style of government.  It's a style that has a lot of benefits, and I don't suggest eliminating it.  But I do think we need some reform, and a bit of centralization that is currently non-existent.

Right now there are over 20,000 completely independent law enforcement agencies in the USA.  By "completely independent", I mean not answerable to any authority higher than their own commander.  Most of these are the various sheriff's departments, and to repeat, the sheriff's departments of America are not in a hierarchy or chain of command that involves any authority higher than the sheriff.

In theory this allows for flexibility and local decision making in law enforcement.  And when things work well, that's what we get.  But when things don't go so well the result is Boss Hogg or Joe Arpaio.  There is no real mechanism to remove incompetent, corrupt, or abusive sheriffs beyond the state legislature impeaching them, and most state legislatures aren't full time so any problem has to either wait until the lege is in session or be so bad that the governor calls a special session.  Worse, since there's no hierarchy there's no supervision or monitoring or even best practices, no superiors an grieved person can contact with any reasonable hope of resolving their dispute with the sheriff.

We see this same dynamic play out with Kim Davis, who though currently in jail for contempt of court because she's refusing to do her job and issue marriage licenses to everyone who is legally entitled to one, she's still the county clerk and there is no way for her to be removed save impeachment by the Kentucky legislature which isn't currently in session even if it were inclined to impeach her.

A county clerk is just a tax collection and license issuing agent, I'm dubious about the value of having such positions being elected positions at all, it sounds to me that the job of county clerk is one that should be done by an employee of the county not an elected official.  But even if we do decide to keep them elected, there needs to be best practices and standards at a state level (or even federal level), and some chain of command with a mechanism for disciplining or removing those who are incompetent, refuse to do their jobs, or otherwise are messing up.

Again, I don't dispute the utility of a degree of autonomy and decentralization.  But I think we need to evaluate such things from a utility standpoint, not from an ideological commitment to the idea of county government as sacrosanct or quasi-sovereign.

No comments:

Post a Comment