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Friday, June 17, 2011

Privatization Effort A Boondoggle for Frederick County Maryland

George Wenschhof

The much ballyhooed privatization report presentation by PPP Associates, LLC took place yesterday and as a result, the board of county commissioners would be wise to slow down and scrutinize fully the ideas espoused by Oliver Porter.

For, it is Oliver Porter and his company who stand to benefit the most if the county would move to implement the changes outlined in the report.

The aw, shucks southern drawl from Mr. Porter included references to how well the county currently is providing services, but how his suggestions, if implemented would provide savings up to 109 million. Of course, if his firm was selected to provide consultation services, they would be willing to do the work for free if no savings resulted from the effort. If, savings did result, they would be willing to only take 1%. All the while, Board president Blaine Young was gulping the kool-aid as it was being poured by Porter.

Let’s see, 1% of 109 million is 1 million and 90 thousand dollars – not a bad consultation fee.

Of course, with PPS Associates, LLC providing the consultation, there would be no conflict of interest, would there? Porter also has to be hoping the national exposure he would receive as a result of Frederick County government hiring his company, would lead other far right wing leaning local governments to retain his firm.

After the presentation, only two commissioners expressed reservations. Commissioner David Gray correctly pointed out comparing Sandy Springs, Georgia to Frederick County was an inaccurate approach as Sandy Springs was a breakaway city from a county which was starting up from scratch. Paul Smith wanted to meet with department heads to discuss more in depth and rightfully suggested taking time to review what had been proposed.

Commissioners Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve, who are becoming the real life version of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, said nothing as they continue to act in lockstep with their friend, Board president Blaine Young, whose coattails they rode into office.

When public comments were allowed, long term Frederick county resident Margaret Hindman pointed out the Libertarian ties Mr. Porter is known to have and that the private firm he had contracted with to provide services for the City of Sandy Springs was not retained when the contract expired. All of which are legitimate concerns.

Additional public testimony included a good point relating to the proposed selling of county owned equipment, after a private contractor was retained to provide services. If the services provided by the private contractor were not satisfactory and the decision was made to move back to the county providing the service, it would become a costly proposition.

All of which begs the question, if this privatization plan is so great, why only a few small municipalities across the country have chosen to take this route in providing needed services in their communities.

A change as drastic as the one proposed by PPP Associates, LLC is also one in which all voters should have the opportunity to weigh in on. Like a change to charter government, a change to privatization of government services should go to referendum and be placed on a ballot for the voters to decide.

Instead of moving forward, as board president Young is doing; scheduling required public meetings leading to a vote by the board of commissioners on the matter, the wise move to make at this point is considerable research into privatization efforts as well as other innovative approaches to providing county services.

A better approach by the county commissioners would have been to commission an independent think tank, which does not stand to benefit from the analysis provided, such as The University of Maryland School of Public Policy, to provide an analysis of different ways to provide services by county government; comparing privatization, costs and efficiencies. It is not too late for the board to do so.

But, then again to ultra conservatives focused on ending government as we know it, a quick vote is the answer. After all, this representative democracy stuff is a really ineffective system. The current commissioners realizing this already have already reduced the number of board of commissioners meetings by fifty per cent.

The decision by Blaine Young and Company to pay PPP Associates, LLC $25,000 to provide a report which the firm stands to benefit financially from is not only bad form, it is taxpayer money ill spent.

At this point, moving forward with a vote on privatizing county services by the board of commissioners would be a boondoggle of monumental proportions for the county.

Frederick County residents deserve better representation– they should demand it.


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