“Throwing the Bums Out” Not Always Welcome

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Every four years the promise that electing the new guys, who will run our State government more like a business, means we have the chance to “throw the bums out!” This year it has happened again. Voting in a new governor often does include a near wholesale turnover of management.

But when we throw the bums out are we aware of how un-business-like our actions are?

As voters, we step into the poll with the option of choosing between just a few candidates. However, once elected, the new administration begins appointing hundreds of people we didn’t vote for. Of course, there are the biggest appointments that we all pay close attention to, like the directors of the Office of Jobs and Family Services, Public Safety and so on. But many voters don’t realize just how far down the management structure these appointments can go. Not knowing is OK, right? Surely it is a good thing to throw ALL of the bums out, isn’t it? While that’s up for debate what isn’t up for debate is whether or not this makes our government run better.

A new governor can throw away four to eight years of direct experience. Hundreds of managers can be replaced by a new appointee. That’s what you get with the current system. And both parties use it.

Oddly, the current appointment system is actually functional, in its very dysfunctional way, because many of the appointees manage with a finger on the pulse of their party’s politics. Instead of making decisions that are best for the state of Ohio they favor decisions made in the best interest of their political party. If they don’t then they may no longer find themselves serving, “at the pleasure of the governor.”

In the business world this idea is turned on its head. If a corporate executive makes decisions based on anything other than what is best for the organization’s bottom line, they are at great risk of being replaced. State executives should make decisions based on what is best for Ohio, and when they do they should be rewarded with a long government career.

State employees who aren’t political appointees watch these administration transitions carefully. Sometimes the employees are thankful for the departure of particularly political managers. But most often state workers just wait to be shuffled endlessly, reorganizing again and again to fit the new political agenda – all the while becoming less and less productive.

Maybe before the next election cycle the people of Ohio will demand a different system, one that favors skill and experience over party loyalty and donations. Instead of serving, “at the pleasure of the governor”, or, more directly, at the pleasure of their political party – shouldn’t State of Ohio executives serve “at the pleasure of the citizens?”

Andrew Miller hosts the blog Elephants on Bicycles

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