Bureaucrats and Bottom Lines

This week my esteemed colleague brought to light the cronyism at play to protect Steve O’Malley’s lofty position as La Crosse County Administrator. Chris’ reporting revealed that County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson sent e-mails to strongarm board members into saying nice things about O’Malley to help through a vote to renew his contract, which provides for healthy raises over the next four years and other benefits. The primary issue is not only how much O’Malley would make when his new contract is approved, it’s also the process to approve it. Chris writes,

The question of giving O’Malley yet another pay raise has not been done in the light of day, which is the modus operandi of County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson and the predecessor to whom she is loyal, now-state-rep Steve Doyle, who created the position and hired O’Malley for it in 2003.

The details make clear a network of public sector paper pushers protecting an old boys’ club without important and necessary checks and balances. Chairwoman Johnson’s principal argument to keep O’Malley is that he’s gotten hefty offers elsewhere and the County should redouble efforts to be sure they keep him.

The simplest equation to justify retaining O’Malley is this: Does the salary and benefits package provided to retain his skill set create efficiencies and provide value to La Crosse County, the Return on Investment for which is greater than the Return on Investment from a smaller salary and benefits package provided to retain the skills of someone else with comparable skills to get comparable results?

Chris’ answer to this convoluted question, in prose more eloquent than mine, is No.

Ostensibly the market is at work to keep O’Malley where he is in La Crosse. But that’s a ruse. Cronyism distorts the market demanding his services in this case.

It’s a liberal predisposition to assume that the government will act more beneficently than a corporation, on the assumption that government is not fueled by profits. If only it were.

The faces of government are elected officials working on the People’s behalf whose directives are executed and regulated by faceless bureaucrats who enjoy healthy compensation, generous benefits, and loads of time off. They have no incentive to treat people like people. (And anyone who counters by complaining about customer service at internet and cable or insurance companies can look up which private industries are the most heavily regulated.)

Until Gov. Scott Walker steamrolled in with is reforms, Wisconsin was a poster child for mindless spending on government without protecting results and outcomes. Just because an institution is funded or subsidized by public money does not remove its obligation to protect budgets and bottom lines. This theme has governed outcry over proposed reforms to the UW system in the next state budget.

This week UW Associate Professor for Educational Policy Nancy Kendall decried the Republican legislature’s initiative to corporatize the state’s highest education system.

Kendall and other hair-on-fire/save-the-tenure loons fear that real budget obligations and real-world market scenarios would make some particularly masturbatory curricula disappear. In particular, the more obscure liberal arts classes attended by six geeks a semester who pen dissertations proposing an end to the suffering of bi-racial transabled migrant Namibian workers who travel by skiff through unregulated waterways on alternating cloudy days, or whatever social justice issue might be en vogue that week. In the same breath, they’ll bitch about debilitating and un-payable student loan debt because students can’t get jobs.

The public sector should not be entitled to carte blanche, unfettered exploration of dull, boring, uninteresting social experiments.

Public sector institutions should be held to tighter, restricted budgetary and operational standards than any corporation. We’re stuck with one government. You can boycott it, but then you’ll go to jail or pay fines. Businesses, on the other hand, live and die at the hand of the market. They’re not stewards of taxpayer dollars, which is more reason to never, ever, give government bailouts or grants.

Market participants aren’t required to consume the products or services of companies whose practices they don’t like. That’s why paying Steve O’Malley’s absurd compensation through 2019 is such malpractice. There’s no alternative administrative body that can provide rules and regulations for La Crosse County citizens to follow. Couched in terms of the cronyism protecting O’Malley’s position, this is one bureaucrat rubbing another’s shoulders. Working in government is no longer a service and it hasn’t been for a long time.

In the market, disruption and new ideas lead to changes and innovation. In government, that’s called a coup.

About the writer: Nik Nelson is publisher of MorningMartini.com and Founder/CEO of OpenBox Strategies, where he connects political candidates and small businesses with excellent digital marketing tools and strategies.