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Charter: Let’s get on with it


  The heavy lifting required to get the proposal for consolidated government off the table and before Polk County voters cannot be overstated. Neither can the challenge ahead for backers of a consolidated Polk County-Des Moines city government be underestimated.

Change comes slowly in Polk County, as has been demonstrated in past attempts at government consolidation. They’ve failed miserably. And already, the latest proposal, just days old, is coming under fire by some of the people who helped draft it. Ned Chiodo, the vice chairman of the charter commission, says that unless problems he considers fundamental are corrected, he’ll actively campaign against its approval in the November 2004 general election. As the combined governance is currently structured, Chiodo says, suburban and rural interests could hold up the budget process in hopes of getting a better deal.

Whether Chiodo has raised a genuine concern or a red herring can be worked out in public hearings. The important thing is that consolidated government, which other metropolitan areas across the country have touted as an engine for economic development, is moving forward when so many obstacles -legislative tinkering, for example, and political turf protection and partisan bickering – could have caused a retreat.

That we’ve gotten this far is a testament to the commitment of the 46 citizens who studied various aspects of consolidation for 16 months; the leadership of commission chairman Rick Neumann, who remained unflappable when discussions turned gnarly; and the members of Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels’ task force, who recognized early on the urgent need for a better, more efficient approach to local government. Together, they’ve handed Greater Des Moines residents a rare opportunity.

With its potential to advance the stature of the metro area, the charter proposal is as important as the $1.5 billion in current downtown construction projects, taken singly or as a whole. It says Polk County residents are neither afraid of change nor reluctant to admit that a system of government that made sense a century and a half ago no longer meets today’s needs for efficiencies and cohesiveness of vision and voice. It tells other Iowa counties and cities that even the mightiest among them recognizes they’re hurt most by maintaining the status quo and least by changing to meet new demands. The psychological boost that provides to counties and cities struggling under an antiquated system of government is immeasurable.

Such opportunities don’t come along very often. In Des Moines and Polk County, we can’t afford to let this one pass us by.  

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