Have you noticed the trendy buzzword attached to every discussion in local government and the media these days? It’s “region.” Right now County Council, NOT Regional Council, is butting heads with Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott over the EMTA, trying to create a new regional transit authority, saying they’ll take over, pay the bill and appoint the board members. The mayor replied, “no, thanks.” The concept of the region, however, continues to spread.
You can say regional, government cannot
The word is used so often in normal conversation that voters don’t notice the sly misdirection taking place when government officials begin saying it. We talk about weather in the Erie region, companies have regional sales territories, organizations have members that live in a certain region, so no one thinks it odd when government officials say it, too, but in Pennsylvania, we have cities, counties, townships and boroughs and we elect representatives in each, however there are no elected regional officials because there are no regions.
Kathy Dahlkemper is probably the biggest offender who most often refers to the Erie region, but she needs to look at the name tag on her door, it says COUNTY executive, there is no region of any sort. Her confusion is most likely what led her to go to Ohio to join the board of LEEDCo, a “public-private partnership,” another fuzzy term, allegedly representing Erie County, PA. Did any voters in Erie County vote to give her the authority to do that? County Council did, but they, too, are confused.
That public private partnership is a nice way of saying government aligning itself with a private company in a preferred industry that cannot compete on its own. Is she saying Erie County taxpayers will support projects in Ohio? Was that on the ballot anywhere? What are the specific details of the partnership and what does her membership on the board entail? Do Erie County taxpayers and voters want to support wind turbines in Lake Erie? Was that on the ballot?
Ask voters for permission
When elected officials begin overstepping the boundaries of their positions, they are assuming new powers they do not have. Every time something becomes regional, we begin to see unelected community groups, consortiums and bureaucrats making decisions that affect everyone, but who are accountable to no one because they are not on the ballot and not part of any specific jurisdiction. That is not accidental. Voters begin to lose control of the process. Elected officials who go along with this regional drift are undermining their own authority.
Don’t accept it, question it
When local media outlets go along with this concept of regional government using the word in their coverage of local government, they are complicit in what the politicians are trying to do and should instead be holding those officials accountable to the voters and asking questions about why officials believe they need to go outside their clearly defined role.
Any individual, company or organization that wants to operate across state and local boundaries is free to do so, but the government we elect to represent us is not free to go rogue. Officials must follow the law, no matter how much each elected official thinks they should be able to do as they please.
The next time our local government officials speak, count the number of times they use the word region or regional. It’s a great illustration of how little they think of Erie County voters. Evidently our county is not big enough to contain their ambition and no matter how often they say they’re doing it for us, in fact, they’re doing it to us.