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April 18, 2011


Bud Byrd

Back when Lou Gerstner arrived at IBM, my understanding is that he decreed that IBM's strength was its ability to be synergistic, to provide comprehensive solutions. Its strength was not in the value of its broken apart parts, but in the multiplier of all its parts working together.

Cities, towns, townships, counties are at a similar juncture as that IBM, pre-Gerstner crossroads. At IBM, Mr. Gerstner had the good fortune of being in control of all the divisions, pseudo companies, locations, etc., contained in IBM, worldwide. State and local governments do not share that luxury.

Fortunately or unfortunately counties and municipalities have grown together in recent years as people concentrate more and more into urban centers and their suburbs. As this happens, most existing local governments remain intact. People come together, but governments do not. Consequently, you have more and more large urban areas with a multitude of competing governments distinguished only by artificial town lines and/or incorporation limits.

These butted-up against one another towns and cities are cumbersome to manage locally, impossible to manage regionally. If you have doubts about this problem, take a ride through Bergen County in New Jersey. Many streets and roads have one name when traveling in one direction, another if you travel in the opposite direction. The competing towns invariably change the name of a road or street as it crosses the border from one town to the next. These multi-named roads and streets, while confusing to the visitor, are a small problem but indicative of a much larger one.

The real problem is the cost to taxpayers of multiple layers and multiple instances of local governments. In a very small, compact location where a single government could be just as local, just as responsive for fewer tax dollars, oftentimes you have many. Wouldn't a single government called Bergen County be a blessing to the taxpayers, be capable of bringing synergism of government services to the people living in that part of North Jersey?

I applaud the efforts of urbanologists in their attempts to integrate technologies, upgrade infrastructure and ease the plight of those of us living in this oftentimes unplanned urban sprawl. However, I can't help but believe that until we fix the tribal culture that drives us into small, closed-in burgs, even inside a much larger urban area, it will be impossible to make meaningful changes to the status quo of fragmented infrastructure, unworkable governments, and ever escalating taxation, even as our physical city, town and county lines overlap.

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