News Columns & Blogs

Talking about consolidating local services

Personally, I like Mike Bennett. Fellow Vietnam vet, a bit rough around the edges, quick with a quip. Says what’s on his mind, and doesn’t check which way the wind is blowing first.

He followed the powerful John McKay, of Bradenton, into the Florida Senate, and made his presence known, never facing a serious election challenge.

Now, he is starting his final year in office, and the man who once referred to someone “being as crazy as a sprayed roach,” continues to say exactly what’s on his mind, often to surprising effect.

Two recent examples:

A split U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that said the government may not ban corporate and union spending to sway elections.

Bennett’s response:

“That’s another example of the courts overruling the legislative process. I think that’s wrong. Everybody in America recognizes that you should not be able to buy an election. That’s a bad day for the Republic.”

Bennett came down on the side of common sense on this issue. There may be a few Joe Six-packs that think it’s a good idea for big business and unions to have a disproportionate influence in elections — not that they don’t already — but most would like to see the playing field as level as possible. Those pulling the levers of big business are largely responsible for the economic mess that’s engulfed this nation.

Then on Friday, as the Manatee County legislative delegation was briefing Manatee Chamber of Commerce members about the upcoming legislative session, Bennett suggested that local government could save a lot of money by consolidating police and fire protection.

Like I said, he’s never been shy with his opinions, nor was Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston in response. Poston basically said Bennett should take care of his legislating in Tallahassee and keep his hands off local police and fire protection.

So, is consolidation a good idea? The jury is out on whether consolidation is a money saver and service improver. I’ve lived in places where fire services are consolidated, and saw no difference in service or taxes.

One argument for having local control of government is that it tends to be more responsive to its constituents, its taxpayers. I’m all for that. That’s also why municipalities have their own police departments.

One of the reasons Lakewood Ranch is looking at incorporation is that it might be able to tailor law enforcement to its needs. The sheriff maintains a decent presence in the Ranch, but let’s face it, the high crime areas rightfully take precedence, and those are elsewhere.

Consolidation a good idea? If the people support it and if credible studies say it makes sense, absolutely. Otherwise, leave it the way it is.