Rothschild: Committees can solve problems, or be the problem

As a Conservative, I oppose energetic government. Lately, the silent majority of citizens and I have been concerned about the proliferation of committees.

To Wit:


We have a Joint Planning Committee. I voted for this committee because I knew it would pass 4:1 without me, and I wanted a seat at the table in determining how this committee is staffed and operated.

We have a Combined Education Committee … which, erroneously, is still being referred to as the "Funding Committee" by officials.


County Public Schools has six internal committees staffed by school system employees and citizen volunteers to discuss plans for implementing Obama's transgender "Advice Letter."

State government recently created a committee on Water Quality and Nutrient Trading.

So, what are the issues?

First and foremost, the staffing of committees can pre-determine outcomes. First and foremost, the staffing of committees can pre-determine outcomes. Based on my personal observations, a disturbing pattern has developed. Liberal activists are routinely appointed to committees, yet officials routinely exclude conservatives known for their strong anti-tax and spend viewpoints. Why the double standard?

Second, in too many situations, activist non-elected organizations known as Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) may dominate committee membership. This is especially true on environmental committees. I know as a fact from years of working with other counties, that many moderate Democrats and Republicans view these NGOs as radical leftist groups that yield far too much influence in government considering the fact they are not elected by anybody.

Third, committees are not accountable to the public. You can't "un-elect" committee members who push radical policy alternatives if they were never elected to office in the first place. In many cases, meetings aren't open to the public. An early dispute over the premises of a specific committee's directive, held in a closed meeting can make the difference in outcomes months down the road.

For example, in one committee meeting, I challenged the premise the "law says we must do something." In fact, a close reading of applicable laws and documents provided strong indication to the opposite. Bad premises lead to bad outcomes. Committees quickly veer to the left and propose only liberal alternatives, unless strong conservatives are present to push the group back to the right.

Fourth, as correctly suggested by the Times editorial staff, committees should have clearly defined goals before they are created. How do you know when a committee has its proper marching orders? Answer: When you can clearly define, in advance, the characteristics of a successful outcome: i.e. "This committee will be successful if it devises a way to close the budget gap without raising taxes;" or "This committee will be deemed a success if it develops solutions to abate pollution by 20 percent while reducing costs to taxpayers 10 percent below current levels."

Ambiguous, or poorly stated goals open the door to undesirable outcomes, ineffective regulatory mandates, bad social policies, spending increases, urbanization of rural communities, and loss of freedom.

Let's look at a politically charged issue where, in my judgment, there is a mixed bag of pros and cons: On the positive side, Superintendent Guthrie did a good job of crafting a well-stated goal, and helped relieve some anxiety when he issued a committee charge that required any transgender policies to "respect the privacy of all students." On the other hand, I believe the public interest would be better served if these committee meetings were opened to the public, so they can witness discussions and debates.

What are my recommendations?

For situations that involve controversial public policy, as opposed to operational issues, committee meetings should be open to the public. This is the only way to ensure the full spectrum of alternatives are vetted. Participation by non-elected NGOs that receive government funding should be eliminated. It is a conflict of interest.


Committee membership criteria must be clearly defined in advance. Too frequently, invisible censorship of potential committee members occurs if they fail to embrace invisible motives of officials that create committees.

There is a difference between delegating responsibilities to a committee to develop alternatives, versus delegating authority to committees to debate policies in private. The former is fine, the latter is completely unacceptable.

Bottom line? Committees can solve problems, or become the problem.

Richard Rothschild is a Republican county commissioner representing District 4.

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