A major job of any public official is to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent wisely and the public is getting what it’s paying for.
So if an official thinks a contractor isn’t doing the job, it’s up to him or her to raise the issue and see what can be done to make it right.
Making it right, however, doesn’t usually include throwing a fit or throwing in your chips and going home. Making it right means understanding the aims, expectations and limitations of the contract, articulating what the contractor is doing wrong or where he or she is falling short, and talking with staff and fellow officials about what it will take to get it right.
In just nine months the Grand Traverse County Road Commission has tried both approaches and has already found out that actually talking to the contractor in question and making an effort to work things out beats just walking away.
In January the Road Commission’s then three-person board voted, essentially out of the blue, to stop paying its $20,000 in annual dues to the Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study.
The complaint was that TC-TALUS, a 22-agency regional roads and transportation planning group, wasn’t doing the job the Road Commission expected and the county wasn’t getting a worthwhile return.
So the road board said “we quit” and walked away.
Since then, however, Road Commission and TC-TALUS officials met and talked and TALUS has tried to address road commission concerns. It must be said TALUS didn’t seem to address the road commission’s major jobs - maintaining and repairing area roads and plowing snow in the winter.
So there was talk about what TALUS could do for the county, like traffic modeling and analysis and grant writing. It has to be assumed the Road Commission was also reminded of TALUS’s close ties to the Michigan Department of Transportation and its other partners.
Whatever the reasons, the Road Commission recently reversed its decision to halt funding, at least in part. While TALUS had reduced the Road Commission’s dues to $17,000 from $20,000, the commission agreed to cough up $10,000 for the year beginning Oct. 1.
Leelanau County went through a similar experience when it threatened to pull out of its arrangement with the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments because some Leelanau Commissioners didn’t like the way NMCOG does business. Cooler heads have since prevailed.
Being hawkish with public money is fine. Doing it smart is just as important.