Local Officials Ask State For More Flexibility

Carlson, left, and Vene, right

Local government officials say they could help citizens better if the state got off their back.

State and local officials’ relationship has eroded, according to Executive Director Jim Miller of the League of Minnesota Cities. “The relationship needs mending.”

The league, Association of Minnesota Counties and Minnesota School Boards Association announced their intentions to work together in seeking some legislative relief from state mandates. The only specific legislation they backed was a bill senators overwhelmingly passed last year to establish a limited number of pilot projects that would give county governments more freedom.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, sponsored the bill last year and said on Monday that it would provide better accountability for county governments and allow for local innovation and collaboration. The bill got lost amid last year’s budget debate, and backers expect it to pass this year.

An example of what needs to change came from southeastern Minnesota, where a dozen counties want to cooperate on a joint human services program. However, at nearly every step forward, some state rule or law becomes an obstacle.

C. Scott Cooper of the Bush Foundation said his organization is funding a study to see how those counties can work together, and will provide some funding to begin the cooperative effort as an example to other counties.

Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene said that programs often are set up to match county lines, but while borders “identify us, they do not define us.”

Kevin Donovan of the Mahtomedi school board and member of the state school board group said he hopes the Carlson bill can be put on steroids and used to open the door for other governmental bodies to share resources and work closer together.