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Friday, 1.21.05: State of the County

I'm on the Sounding Board at Rochester's Democrat & Chronicle newspaper. It's not as prestigious as being on the Board of Contributors, where you get more personal recognition. The Sounding Board is more like a list of opinionated people who can reliably be counted on to produce some b.s. under a deadline. Every few weeks they  email or call to see if you're willing to address a particular subject. An assignment. Cool.

This week's assignment:

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks is scheduled to give her State of the County address on Jan. 26. In a short essay of up to 200 words, we'd like you spell out what you would want her to say: What is the state of the county, in your view? What are the main problems that it faces and what should be done about them? (Be specific in pointing out problems and offering remedies.)

Power politics, town chauvinism, and turf protection wear us down as a community

Maggie Brooks is a Republican who started out as a local TV newswoman, and who then ran for County Clerk. As County Executive, she's a breath of fresh air compared to the divisive boy's club that used to be in charge. They treated the Democrat-dominated city of Rochester as if it were the white suburbanite's burden, which they'd just as soon have slide into Lake Ontario. Our Ms. Brooks is a conciliator.

But like every other county in New York, Monroe is full of budget woes and complaints about state government. The big complaint is that, unlike most states, the counties have to kick in a big hunk of the state's share of Medicaid. It's an uncontrollable cost. New York State, which used to be rich, has an extremely generous Medicaid program. It puts a stranglehold on county budgets and raises property taxes, which everyone gripes about. I figure that, until Albany figures out how to reform its Medicaid spending overall, we'll be paying either via property taxes or state income taxes, so what's the diff?

Here's what I submitted:

All I ever hear about are budgets, property taxes, and how Medicaid is to blame for everything. Id like Ms. Brooks to dig deeper and talk about the lessons she learned from The 9/11 Commission Report and its analysis of flawed organizations, siloed cultures and ineffective management. How will she apply these lessons to assist city, towns, school districts, and privatized services to prepare for the future both the unimaginable disasters and the unimagined opportunities? Power politics, town chauvinism, and turf protection wear us down as a community once known for innovation and effective regional planning. She doesnt have to use the wicked word consolidation but she does need to help us visualize the consequences of our failure to act in concert. Ms. Brooks has the intelligence and mindset for this challenge. Id love to hear her plans.

According to Fast Company (Feb 2005), The 9/11 Commission Report is the hottest selling new "management" book because it describes so vividly how organizations go wrong through isolating divisions and failures to communicate. In Monroe County, every suburb has its own police department, fire department, and school district. The Mayor of Rochester lost his bid to be County Executive because he advocated for some thoughtful consolidation of these services because, like the County, they are all starved for money. But no, all of our towns like to think of themselves as alone on the prairie -- autonomous, competitive, and proud.

Through painful experience, the region has shown it can manage ice storms and massive power outages. But it hasn't distinguished itself for much else lately.


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