ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Life Without the Supervisors

County Supervisor Marian Bergeson certainly got attention when she floated a proposal that, among other things, would abolish her own job. It was startling and even refreshing to have such candor from a member of a board that too often has put political survival at the top of its list of priorities.

Bergeson's plan commands serious consideration by virtue of the depth of her experience and her attention as a state senator to the relationship between the state and localities.

Moreover, the state's Constitutional Revision Commission is currently studying the duties of counties, among other things. It would make sense to see where Bergeson's ideas fit within the possibilities of state reform. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the way government in California is working.

Bergeson proposes replacing the Board of Supervisors with an appointed, part-time authority similar to a city council and giving the supervisors' power and the administrative responsibility of the chief executive officer to an elected county mayor. Most functions of county government would be turned over to the state or the cities. The county mayor would have control of criminal justice, health care and transportation; the other services now handled by the county bureaucracy would become the responsibility of the cities.

The bankruptcy has given extra attention and impetus to reducing government. It is important to remember though that economies always have been a motivation in consolidating service. Reorganization can be effective, but government reorganized for the sake of reorganization will not necessarily be better.

However county government is structured, there still will be a need to have the county perform certain functions. There are some things, like planning, housing and libraries, that may be handled better at the city level.

The need for high-quality personnel would be unchanged. We should remember that many fine public servants were working for all of us in Orange County government before they lost their jobs in the bankruptcy.

As for the supervisors, we may not need a five-member board, but there is no reason we can't have a good one of that size. We certainly don't need either a board or a part-time council that doesn't do its job or that functions within an aura of perks and permanence.

Orange County has no shortage of managerial and governmental experts who could serve on a panel studying this issue. This may be the occasion for a long-overdue effort to bring county government up to date. It's a discussion that ultimately ought to engage a broad section of citizens. We should remember too that even though change is always painful, the county cannot expect to go on with business as usual.

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