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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com
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As I See It

Have a bright idea you would like to pass on?

July 2nd, 2012 9:14 am by Robert Houk

Got any good ideas you’d like to share with our readers? I bet you do. For every bad idea that gets made into law in Nashville or Washington, there are two or three really great ones that often take years to get noticed.
There are a few interesting ideas listed this month in The Atlantic, which also happens to be the magazine’s annual ideas issue. Some are really bold, such as eliminating the sale of gasoline for transportation purposes by 2050. Others seem counter-intuitive, such as an idea for companies to hire only introverts as bosses. The thinking is introverted managers can deliver better productivity than extroverts because they are more likely to allow proactive employees to pursue their own ideas.
Other ideas in the issue seem a bit far-fetched. I doubt Americans are really ready to abandon the idea of the secret ballot in favor of a system that works to shame citizens into voting (not that I don’t find some merit in the latter). Neither do I think it’s possible to teach (as Vincent Rougeau, dean of the Boston School of Law writes) would-be attorneys to see the law “not as path to wealth, but what it has been historically — a respectable middle-class profession.”
I do, however, find merit in a proposed boot camp for teachers. As Amanda Ripley writes in The Atlantic: “It’s time we start training teachers the way we train doctors and pilots with intense, realistic practice using humans, simulations and master instructors.”
From time to time I hear some really interesting ideas from our readers. One that pops up frequently during presidential election years is the abolishment of the Electoral College. There’s even an organization, backed by former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, pushing this idea. Truthfully, I doubt most people could accurately explain what the Electoral College does. The same is true of the Federal Reserve, which is also a target for elimination by some around election time.
I recently received another interesting idea from Larry French of Butler. French, who is one of our Community Voices columnists, emailed me last month to note “this year’s presidential election will be the first time in America history where neither major candidate has any prior military experience, and yet — through the process of the election — one automatically becomes commander in chief of the armed forces.”
French wonders if we want to amend the constitutional qualifications for president to require that the holder of that office has “served honorably in the armed forces of the United States.”
Closer to home, I’ve heard a number of intriguing ideas that would require a change to the City Charter in Johnson City. One would be to move the city elections from the spring to the fall. Moving the elections to November would likely result in more city voters going to the polls, which is why some of the city’s movers and shakers don’t want to do it.
Another suggestion that would take a charter change would be to make the office of mayor an elected one in Johnson City. Jeff Keeling, a city resident and longtime advocate of downtown redevelopment, believes a strong mayor could play a major role in keeping projects like downtown revitalization on track. Currently, city commissioners elect one of themselves to serve in the ceremonial role of mayor. The main duties of the mayor presently is to sign proclamations, cut ribbons and preside over commission meetings.
If the charter is indeed changed to allow for an elected mayor, then I see no reason to stop there. Why not elect city commissioners by district? Currently, the five members of the board are elected at large.
And let’s not forget about county government. A while back you might recall Tom Krieger, a retired business executive, wrote an insightful column offering suggestions for downsizing the Washington County Commission. His ideas have since fallen on deaf ears in Jonesborough.
“In my opinion our county could be well represented by fewer commissioners than the 25 we now have if we moved to the one commissioner/one district method,” Krieger noted in September. “Since we are required by law to have no less than nine, and no more than 25 commissioners, the answer lies somewhere in between.”
There is another idea I’ve heard expressed many times over the years that would necessitate a change in the state’s Constitution — abolishing the election of the so-called “fee” offices. These courthouse offices (which include circuit court clerk, county clerk and trustee) in some cases could be consolidated and placed under the authority of the county mayor. Others could conceivably be appointed by the County Commission.
Removing politics from these offices could make for a more professional and cost-efficient delivery of services to county taxpayers — at least that’s the theory.
I’d like to hear your ideas about this and other issues. Do you have any bright suggestions for bettering local government? Let me know.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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