MINOT, N.D. — Over the years I’ve had several conversations with Gov. Doug Burgum talking about a phenomena in government he describes as “siloing.”
This is the practice of treating each segment of government as a sort of sovereign entity which doesn’t share much of anything else with other government entities.
Burgum sees this as wasteful, and at the state level he’s sought to end it.
An example of this was last year’s move of websites for the state’s agencies and departments onto one hosting platform.
The public servants in charge of these entities still have some autonomy to choose designs and functionality, but instead of a number of different systems on the back end of these websites there is now one.
Burgum broke down the silos, and made things more efficient.
What if we applied that sort of thinking to local government?
North Dakotans are a thoroughly governed people. Our statewide population is roughly the same size as Seattle, yet we have no fewer than 13 statewide elected offices (tied with Georgia for most in the nation), a full legislature, county commissions, county officers, city commissions, park boards, school boards, district court judges, township boards, soil conservancy districts.
We don’t actually elect dog catchers in North Dakota, but we might as well.
It’s hard to believe busy, distracted voters are really making discerning choices about all of these elected offices at the ballot box, but I digress.
In the cities, where most North Dakotans live, the power of government is stratified primarily across three entities: City governments, park boards, and school boards.
Why are we doing this?
Those entities all serve the same constituency. Do they really need to be separate?
Recently, the park board in my hometown of Minot announced the acquisition of land with an eye toward expansion of facilities. They want to build an aquatic center (even though voters said no to one not long ago) among other things.
But Minot has other needs. We need a new high school far more than we need an aquatics center.
Also, our city government is an absolute mess thanks to profligate spending and poor leadership from past city officials.
These things aren’t really the local park board’s problem, but isn’t that in and of itself a problem?
The very sort of “siloing” Burgum has been talking about?
The park board and the city government and the school board all serve the same citizens, yet because they’re separate we can’t prioritize across their disparate jurisdictions. We can’t tell our city leaders to hold off on the aquatic center and focus on a new high school, or some other more important priority, because we treat parks like they’re some separate, sovereign entity from the city government which is, in turn, separate from the school district.
This makes little sense, and it ought to change.
Consolidated local governments would mean more work for those serving in them, but we could pay those people more and give them more resources. What we’d save in efficiency, and better decision making, would be worth it.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.