There’s a specific obscene phrase for the situation involving Barrow County’s defective emergency radio system. As a family newspaper, we won’t publish that term, but it does describe the situation perfectly.
The implementation of the digital radio system in Barrow County was done by people who didn’t know what they were doing. It was a multi-million dollar boondoggle. But those who spend other people’s money often don’t care.
If this were an isolated incident, such an amateurish mistake might be forgiven. Alas, this kind of thing seems to happen over and over within the Barrow County government — wrong people with bad ideas executing dreadful planning with little oversight. The former operation of the county animal shelter was a perfect example of incompetence married to a bad attitude.
Given this kind of history, one might be tempted to jump headlong into pushing for the county to privatize many of its functions, as is currently being debated by the Barrow County Board of Commissioners.
There are two basic reasons to consider privatization of a government: To save money and to improve services.
One of the unspoken reasons behind the push to privatize in Barrow County is the belief that some staff members in county government owe their positions not to merit, but rather to politics or family connections. One method to the sweep the county of such incompetence would be to privatize and allow a firm to come in and do merit-based hiring. That might improve the delivery of some services.
But the BOC doesn’t seem to be of one mind about that. Commissioner Kenny Shook said last week that the county could require that a private contractor hire all the existing employees in the county government.
If you say you’re going to privatize, but then tell the private company who they have to hire, doesn’t that kinda defeat the idea of privatization?
It’s difficult to see just where there will be much financial savings from privatizing the county, given the relatively small size of the county government. That fact that not many management firms were interested in bidding on operating the county government is a very telling fact.
It would be a big, big deal if the BOC were to vote to privatize many of its core functions. But a little voice keeps whispering that afore-mentioned obscene phrase in my ear every time I think about privatizing Barrow’s government.
If the Barrow County government can’t get a working emergency radio system in place, then can it really transition to a private management structure, a move that will be 10 times more difficult?
One change the Barrow government is making hopefully will work out is the change in command of the county’s economic development efforts.
Last week, county leaders announced that the county government and not the chamber or Economic Development Council would be taking the lead in future economic development efforts.
It remains to be seen how that will work out, but it can’t be any worse than the current non-functioning economic development efforts in the county.
The biggest loser in this move will be EDC vice-president Linda Moore who had been the main point of contact for industrial development in the past. Her position now become redundant and it’s difficult to see a place for her in the new scheme outlined last week.
Of course, economic development is about more than just the people involved. No matter who’s selling the county to prospective industry, they have to have something solid to sell.
Barrow’s biggest problem is that for all the hype, Hwy. 316 has become more of a commercial development center rather than industrial. Most industries want to be along an interstate and not a dead-end highway like Hwy. 316.
So what about Caterpillar which did locate in neighboring Oconee & Clarke counties?
That was a give-away by those counties and the state. A massive amount of local and state tax dollars were used to “buy” Caterpillar. Barrow County doesn’t have the financial resources to lavish such corporate welfare on industry.
Still, Barrow’s previous economic development efforts have been slipshod. More effort has been expended on raising funds to support local EDC salaries than on real industrial recruitment.
Admittedly, the BOC and county government don’t have a strong track record, but hopefully this is one change that will bring dividends in the future.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of the Barrow Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.