Are you in a place where you question the effectiveness and efficiency of our local government? Do you wonder if there are ways that the system can work more successfully? Where is the best focus of local governments’ energy? These are certainly questions that I have been pondering and encourage you too as well, especially if you care about important issues like affordable housing, public transportation, the rise of taxes and aging infrastructure, to name just a few of the issues that government oversees and influences.
In our case, in Asheville and Buncombe County, all of our Council members serve in part-time positions and are being paid small salaries. Yet all these leaders are overseeing large staff departments [via the city manager] and must understand very complex issues. Because of their limited amount of time and our current organizational structure, it is imperative that Council members spend time and energy on issues that will have lasting impact on the changes they really want to see.
The No. 1 focus ought to be on how to make our local government more efficient and effective. Instead, Council members often get caught in the weeds of issues that their own organizational structure is simultaneously influencing. Not only is their time focused on the details of these ever-so-important issues, but also they are directing our staff to jump in the trenches with them. The homestay rental issue is just one of many examples.
When are we going to wake up and fully realize that change must happen from within so that we can be more functional and sustainable? If Council and staff are really concerned about the numerous issues that we face, the strategy which will have the most impact over the long term is to figure out how to better focus our energy on changes from within. Why do we have two governments overseeing the same 45-mile jurisdiction? How much money do we spend on higher management positions and other repeat staff positions because of this overlap? How much time and energy are lost each year in repeat meetings, disagreements, similar committees to oversee, etc., all because Asheville and Buncombe County governments are not one entity? How are we managing staff to ensure their energy stays focused while at work? How can we better instill a sense of pride and commitment to service among staff?
These questions all relate to overhead costs, organizational structure, efficiency and motivational drivers, which I am requesting all our elected officials and government staff to ponder first and foremost. A commitment to change from within will free up more money for issues that are important, while at the same time will help ensure taxes do not keep increasing. Combining Asheville and Buncombe County into one entity is the place to start.
Of course, many naysayers will say that cannot be done with excuses of legislation laws, annexation laws and the nonsupport of people who live in the county who do not want to see their taxes raised. Ironically, most of the staff who work for Asheville city and Buncombe County governments live in the county. Let’s not trick ourselves to think we cannot create new ways of being that will be more effective. We can make bold changes like combining our governments. We can choose to put our prime focus on making our government more effective and efficient. Only then will we really be able to affect issues like the aging infrastructure, public transit, affordable housing, sustainability and the vicious cycle of tax escalation.
— Ryan Pickens