Goldsmith Talks to Shelby County

Stephen Goldsmith

Former Indianapolis Mayor, Stephen Goldsmith, spoke yesterday at a forum hosted by Rebuild Government about the challenges of consolidation as well as some of the opportunities that unifying the two largest governments in Shelby County presents.

Here are two looks at what he said, first from the Commercial Appeal:

In an interview Tuesday, Goldsmith, who will become New York City’s deputy mayor on June 1, said merging key aspects of the Memphis and county governments can improve efficiency, enhance job growth and benefit economic development.

As for efficiency, Goldsmith notes the benefits of having some public works, streets and other redundant services under one government.

He also recognizes the resistance from the suburbs. Despite outlying cities such as Bartlett, Collierville and Germantown retaining their autonomy under the merger proposal, outlying residents express fears about inheriting Memphis’ problems. But Goldsmith said the suburbs already face Memphis problems. Criminals don’t know jurisdictional boundaries. Economic development and job growth are regional matters, and the suburbs need a viable Memphis. “You can’t be a successful suburb of nowhere,” he said.

The phrase “Suburb of nowhere” really sums up this part of the debate for me. The reality is that all of the suburbs of Memphis, both inside and outside Shelby County rely on Memphis to help drive their economy, which is something Smart City Memphis noted on Monday.

Now for the second report, this one from the Memphis Flyer on privatizing civil service:

This is an idea proposed [this morning even] by former Indianapolis mayor/Harvard professor/New York deputy mayor Stephen Goldsmith at a Rebuild Government forum. During his tenure as mayor, Goldsmith cut costs in the city by $400 million, some by making public service work competitive.

When bidding out projects, they would allow the public sector if they could find a way to do it as cheaply or efficiently, and more often than not, the public sector won.

“Public employees are not inferior to private employees; the public system was inferior to the private one,” he said. “The incentives were different.”

The incentives are different if you allow them to be Mr. Goldsmith. Initiating a profit motive for government functions doesn’t necessarily make the experience any better for the end user, which should be the focus of any government function, publicly or privately handled.

I’m going to talk about this more at some other time, because there was an interesting exchange about this at a Charter Commission meeting several weeks ago, but let me just say this, yes, you may be able to cut cost by privatizing some government services, but things cost what they cost for a reason. You have to ask yourself what you’re losing in the process. Is it accountability? Is it control over government process? There’s a lot to potentially lose besides cost.

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