The Silly Longing for Small and Simple Government
Our modern-day well-being is built on both private- and public-sector institutions. We need them to be cost-effective, not inexpensive.
Richard Clay Wilson Jr. served in local government for 38 years, including 29 years as city manager of Santa Cruz, Calif., retiring in 2010 to write about management in the public sector. He is the author of Rethinking Public Administration: the Case for Management, a revised edition of which was published in January 2016, and The Loma Prieta Earthquake: What One City Learned, published in 1991.
Before becoming assistant city manager in Santa Cruz in 1979 and then city manager in 1981, Wilson served as finance director and assistant city manager in El Cerrito, Calif. He received his bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his master's degree in public administration from the University of Kansas at Lawrence.
There are no easy answers for a career public manager ordered to cut spending with no consideration of its impact.
We ask it to deal with a lot of problems for which it is ill-equipped. We need to narrow its focus and scale up other institutions.
It's not a simple issue, but there are some guiding principles to keep in mind.
We know that we could save a lot of money in the future by spending a little now. But we hardly ever do it.
The real problem is this: Public management doesn't have the kind of authority that's taken for granted in the private sector.
When officers are promoted to management, they need a new mindset. As Ferguson and Baltimore demonstrate, they're not getting it.
We say we want professional management in the public sector, but it's in the interest of neither politicians nor public employees.