'The consent of the governed'

'The consent of the governed'

May 3rd, 2009 in Opinion Free Press

What's the best form of local government?

Various communities across our state and country have tried differing forms. In any case, the best form of local government is whatever the local people prefer.

"The consent of the governed" is of vital importance. No form is good if it is forced upon a majority of the people without their will and consent.

We mention this subject now because there seems to be a little stirring among some to propose local changes, perhaps some consolidation, or other governmental adjustments, while others prefer the status quo.

If we were "starting from scratch," it is not likely that we would establish 10 separate municipalities and a separate county government, as we now have in Hamilton County. But over the years, that's what has come to be. Most people seem to like it that way. So why shouldn't they have what they prefer?

There also are other local jurisdictions, areas of special services for water, waste, police, fire protection, etc. If they work for the people involved, fine. If not, the people involved should be the ones to decide what they would like better.

A number of years ago, Chattanooga and Hamilton County operated separate city and county school systems. Then it was decided, not without controversy, to combine them in a single countywide system. While no system is perfect, we can't imagine local citizens deciding now to separate the schools into two systems again.

More than half a century ago, there were separate city and county health departments. We doubt that anyone would suggest we should have two now, since one health department is operating well.

Chattanooga has a mayor-council form of government, with a full-time mayor and nine part-time council members elected by the people. That system supplanted one in which there was an elected full-time mayor, with four full-time elected commissioners heading separate departments with specific functions and operating rather independently, coming together as a city legislative body.

There once was an effort to adopt a city manager system of government in Chattanooga - with a hired full-time city manager, and elected part-time commissioners. After debate, that was rejected by a vote of the people.

In past years, there have been two serious efforts to abolish our accustomed Hamilton County and Chattanooga governments and replace them with a single countywide "metropolitan" government. Debate was extensive. Arguments flared, pro and con. The decisions in both instances appropriately were left to votes by the people. The people spoke. In both cases, "metro" here was turned down.

By contrast, Nashville and Davidson County chose to adopt metro government long ago, and apparently the people there have been satisfied with it.

The main point is that the people involved, in every individual case, should have whatever system they believe suits them best - without having any form of government forced upon them. None is perfect. Some may be better than others. But when officials or general citizens suggest changes, it is important to remember that "the consent of the governed" is the most important thing.