Should the Orange County Tax Collector be an elected position, or eliminated?

President_Woodrow_WilsonEffectiveness and efficiency.

These are the cornerstones of public administration. When Woodrow Wilson wrote his ground-breaking article “The Study of Administration” in the Political Science Quarterly in June of 1887, he spoke of how public administration should be more efficient, much like business. Included in his article is what has become known as Wilson’s “administration dichotomy”, where the future president advocates that public administration and politics should run separately. While politics does play a role in shaping policy, the administration of that policy should happen in a non-political manner

A few decades later, Leonard White added that effectiveness should also be included into the mix. While overall efficiency was nice, what was the point if it was not effective. White, and those who follow him, would start using methodological concepts to determine the best route for public administration.

But one point that most classic writers of public administration agree on is that politics and administration should not mix. But, of course, that is the case in Orange County. For decades, political parties have been pouring money into Orange County’s constitutional offices. While these offices should only be deemed as administrative services, politics plays a role, which can lead to cronyism and corruption.

In more recent publications regarding public administration, the debate as to whether to hand off administrative services to private companies has been hot. Heating up around the 1990s with the Bill Clinton Administration and the concept of “reinventing government”, privatization has been highly criticized because those who have a close working relationship with public managers are usually favored when it comes to contract bids, and anything else that would require privatization. The same concept holds true with partisan elected positions which are only administrative in nature. Those who are loyal to either a political party or person holding high positions within the elected administration are usually the ones who get the jobs. In many cases, these people do not have the experience for the position that they now hold. In a nutshell, bringing in political cronies makes the system less efficient, breaking Wilson’s philosophy regarding administration.

In addition to the lack of efficiency, having elected partisan administrators easily violates the administration dichotomy, as politics and administration easily mingles.

So, is Commissioner Brummer right in asking for the Orange County Tax Collector position to be eliminated? The answer is a simple yes, as the current system is not effective, efficient and is partisan in nature, which should be left out of non-policy administrative agencies and bureaus altogether.

But is Commissioner Brummer honest in his criticism?

In Orange County, all the county offices are elected positions, and partisan as well (those positions being Sheriff, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser, Supervisor of Elections, Clerk of Courts and Comptroller). All of these are purely administrative positions, and should all be void of political influence. Because these positions are elected and partisan, they are open to cronyism and corruption. Since these are purely administrative positions, the Orange County Charter Review Commission should consider making all of these positions appointed, or even eliminating them, which would automatically end partisanship in the positions.

But Brummer is only asking for one position to be eliminated. Why is this the case? The nature of all of the county offices are administrative and should have no political influence in the decision-making process. But yet he is only asking for one change, and that is for the position of Tax Collector. Could this be a case of personalities clashing? Whatever it is, Brummer asking for only one position to be switched is quite suspicious.

In addition, asking for a special election on the issue (which would cost $1.2 million) instead of having the issue on the November ballot or having it go though the Charter Review Commission should make voters wonder about Brummer’s motives as well.

But the overall plan does seem to make sense, since the administration would be approved by the mayor and the commission, and not the mayor alone. The position is wasteful government, and the position should no longer exist. Tax Collector Scott Randolph says that having an elected tax collector leads to “accountability”. But Mr. Randolph misses the obvious point that the position would still be held to account by the mayor and the county commissioners. Also, if there are any issues regarding corruption or fraud in the Tax Collector position, having the commission holding the Tax Collector (or whoever takes over those duties) accountable means that removal of that individual could be swift and done in a timely manner. But with elected officials, this is not the case. Brummer’s plan would actually lead to more accountability than Randolph claims. As much as Brummer is trying to rush this through, Randolph seems to be mostly interested in keeping his job and not effective or efficient government, as his argument is only based on rhetoric and not empirical evidence.

While this makes good “policy” sense, it does not make good “political” sense. Brummer could have gone through the traditional channels and had this looked at. Or another method could have been used to make this a ballot issue. But the way that Brummer is going about it makes it look 100% political, which is a shame because this is a change that is needed.