(08/07/2006)
OPINION AND COMMENT by Bob Weaver

The urge to merge and consolidate counties and community government is now a greater possibility, following legislation passed this year by the WV legislature.

Government consolidation is constitutionally linked to local school systems, so there are concerns that when counties are dissolved or merge, there goes community-controlled schools.

On the heels of the city of Fairmont and Marion County looking at government consolidation, Senator Brooks McCabe, the state's consolidation guru, says he would like to see Kanawha, Cabell and Putnam consolidated by 2010.

Rural counties will likely be taken in for the ride (and their taxpayers).

Like the dynamic movement that is changing the the nation's economy, McCabe says he would like to "globalize WV," eliminate county governments.

Most at risk are rural counties, or the de-constructing of community control over government and education.

Bigger is better and more efficient we're told, with little evidence to prove it.

Advantage Valley wants local chambers of commerce, businesses and governments to work together to help West Virginia become a more powerful economic force by the 2010 census.

Big numbers count.

FINDING BOGEYMEN

Mark Dempsey, vice-president and director of Advantage Valley, says "If there are any bogeymen in this bill (consolidation), I can't find them. It doesn't make anybody do anything they don't want to do."

No bogeymen?

Sounds like the WV Department of Education spinning that school consolidation is "strictly a local issue decided by a local school board," when in fact school boards have been held hostage by the powerful School Building Authority to consolidate.

Consider the greater ramifications of No Child Left Behind.

Former gubernatorial candidate Lloyd Jackson, one of the architects of school consolidation, when asked about his position on consolidation would only say "It's a local issue."

Communities have become outraged, school boards taken over, and court cases filed to overrule public will.

There are blocks that make government consolidation difficult, but it is a foot-in-the-door proposition.

McCabe said "We need to look good in the national census."

"We don't set the bar high enough (in West Virginia)," he said. "It [consolidation] will empower us. ... Its about changing our self-image," or bigger is better.

"Metro government would be the ultimate in regional cooperation," Dempsey concluded.

How WV citizens react to the movement, with counties already being held hostage to economic mandates, is a question.

Interest in voting may be at an all time low. With citizens disengaged from the own communities and disillusioned about government in general, it could be rather easy to tip elections, controlled by vested interests.

Former Secretary of State Chauncey Browing said years ago, "The best way for politicians to keep control of WV is to keep them angry and away from the polls."


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