Potomac Chronicle

Why a VA Scandal Is Unlikely to Happen at the Local Level

Imagine this scenario: Managers feel intense pressure from senior officials to demonstrate they’re meeting tough performance targets. They push hard on front-line workers to massage the numbers to demonstrate progress. But then stories leak out that managers have been sweeping problems under the rug by misreporting performance numbers. The top dog suddenly finds himself in a harsh spotlight.

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The Great Water Paradox

For me, the problem with water has gotten personal. Along with other fishermen last fall in northwest Michigan (where my wife and I live part of the year), I watched in near-horror as thousands of salmon struggled to swim up the Betsie River to spawn, only to beach themselves on sand bars because the water levels were so low -- almost three feet below normal. The state’s Department of Natural Resources closed down a number of popular fishing areas and started dredging canals near the mouths of some rivers in an effort to allow the fish to swim upriver.

This fall, the good news is that things should be much better, thanks to a very cold winter that froze over the lake for the first time in decades -- reducing evaporation -- and a snowfall that was 40 to 50 inches above normal. READ MORE

How Much Can (and Should) Government Protect People from Natural Disaster?

It didn’t take long after the tragedy of the Oso, Wash., March mudslide for everyone to wonder: Should local officials have done more to prevent people from building in harm’s way?

The local emergency management director, John Pennington, was grief-stricken. “We did everything we could,” he told reporters. He added, “Sometimes big events just happen. Sometimes large events that nobody sees happen. And this just happened.” READ MORE

How Big Cities Push Big New Ideas

This story appears in Governing's annual International issue.

Four years ago, I attended the sixth annual Richard J. Daley Global Cities Forum, designed by the University of Illinois in Chicago to convene more than 2,000 public and private leaders “to discuss, analyze and propose pragmatic and innovative solutions that will enhance the lives of city-dwellers around the globe.”  READ MORE

Is a Constitutional Convention in the Works?

In attacking recent court decisions on gay marriage, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told reporters, “The moral foundation of our country is under attack. Government has become oppressive.” He went on to urge the nation’s governors to push back by asking their state legislators to call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. Moore is in good company. Faced with issues like balancing the federal budget, protecting gun rights, preserving state prerogatives in health care and insurance, and deciding who gets to marry whom, at least 20 states have already joined the “convention campaign.” 

One of the last pieces of the Constitution that James Madison proposed in 1787 was how to keep the document alive. He was very conscious of the uneasy compromise he and his colleagues were trying to frame throughout the Constitution, and he wanted to make extra sure that there was procedural room that would allow the document to bend without breaking. He was especially conscious of the need to balance national with state power, since the convention in which he was sitting had been called by the states because the Articles of Confederation had crumbled. READ MORE