The Long Way Home 5.17.24

I’m a bit late to the game commenting on this, and some of my cohorts may tell me it’s all old news—just forget about it. 

I can’t.

On April 9, the Cook County Board of Commissioners, after reviewing a proposal from an out-of-town design firm for a new courthouse and improved cop shop, voted three to two to proceed with the planning process for the $32 million project. 

At a meeting of the Board on April 23, the county administrator suggested the commissioners “pause” the design process, and the five elected officials agreed. Finding outside funding to proceed with the project was problematic.

All the brouhaha over the proposal left me thinking about the proper role of local governments and how we are a trusting population. 

The proposal for the so-called Justice Center results from the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) process. The CIP addresses deteriorating county-owned properties and cramped working conditions at the historic Cook County Courthouse headquarters, a building constructed in 1911.

The new courthouse design, which is part of the Justice Center proposal, offers a safer, modernized area for county attorneys to labor for the public good and for the District Court judge to have private restroom facilities. Adjacent to the cop shop, the large, lake-facing glass front of the new courthouse affords a sitting judge spectacular views of Lake Superior while deliberating the fate of parties unfortunate enough to appear before the court.

We naturally tend to accept and trust things figures of authority and perceived expertise spew out, even when the information they provide isn’t necessarily accurate. This acceptance is due to a cognitive condition known as authority bias. 

We strive to drink eight glasses of water daily, attempt 10,000 steps every 24 hours, and schedule a dentist appointment twice a year. We assume that since these recommendations come from some in the healthcare professions they are as close to the gospel truth as, well, the gospels. 

Remember, we are the ultimate guardians of our personal well-being, and critical thinking should always be at play. It's not enough to accept what's presented to us at face value. 

We must ingest enough liquids daily, but that might be four glasses of water, a few cups of coffee, and plenty of water-filled vegetables. 

Movement is essential for physical health, but step counting only makes money for pedometer makers and removes your focus from more important things.

Two visits to the dentist each year are pretty costly unless you have a boatload of cash or excellent employer-provided health insurance. 

Elected officials and bureaucrats are often granted an authority bias.

Cook County ranks 80th of Minnesota’s 87 counties by population. She ranks 87th in population density with 1.6 persons per square mile. Ramsey County, where the legislature sits and passes mandates for counties, funded and not, is first in density with 3,100 people per square mile. 

I know the legislature hasn’t mandated a justice center for the county of Cook. Instead, the county board is examining ways to properly maintain its physical assets and house a growing staff, some of whom are toiling in state-mandated positions. Okay.

However, some healthy skepticism, evident in some elected officials but not in others, is reasonable. 

For instance, the proposed cost of the justice center, $32 million, is more than $5,700 for every man, woman, and child tallied in the most recent census of Cook County. For a family of four, that’s enough to provide top-notch health insurance for a year or two, maybe a down payment on a home, or even enough to buy a decent used car. 

Local government is the grassroots of public policy. It exists to improve the lives of as many people under its jurisdiction as possible. It must fight, even defy, the bureaucratic insanity of governing mandates that violate common sense.

For decades, people have said the government should run itself more like a business. I think entrepreneurs should run local governments. They are the kind of people who do the most with the least. They see opportunities for new services and processes to improve people's lives while keeping costs to a minimum.

We live in a complex world, and we’re comforted by authority figures who present visions of solutions to complex problems. 

Don’t be deceived.  

Although we always need bureaucrats, and consultants less often, the best solutions will usually bubble up from the people.