Is There Such a Thing as a “Utility Player” in Government Service?
I don’t know the answer, but there certainly could be. For those of you — including our intrepid editor — who have no idea what I mean by “utility player,” that is the player on a baseball team who serves as the backup for a number of positions, especially infield. They can be used in many different ways, and that is why they are valuable. (Cardinals fans will always remember Jose Oquendo in that role.) Could there be such a thing for local governments, and would it be a good thing?
I ask because of this article in today’s Kansas City Star about snow-removal efforts in Kansas City. The short answer for why snow removal is taking a long time in Kansas City is simply that there are too many roads and too little staff:
For example, Kansas City plows more than 4,200 lane-miles of main arterials and residential roads, compared with 1,800 lane-miles in Overland Park. During the last round of storms, Overland Park had 125 people involved in snow operations, compared with about 200 to 250 in Kansas City.
Staffing cuts and shortages haven’t helped. Since 1998, Kansas City’s street maintenance staff has dropped from 174 to about 110.
For the record, the reasons they give are entirely acceptable to me, and I have no reason to believe they are not all doing the best they can. Anyone who loves political history like I do knows how much local officials can be judged by these things, though. Just ask Jane Byrne.
This leads me to an open question about local government staffing. Cities and counties in Missouri could have at least a few workers who are trained in multiple fields, and can move from department to department as the needs change. Here is a possible schedule:
- December–February of each year: Streets/highways, primarily as snow plow and salt truck drivers.
- February–August of odd-numbered years: Assessment divisions, though not as primary assessors. (This has been done by St. Louis County in the past, although mostly just to get lots of people to physically eyeball properties that computers determined rose in value by more than 15 percent.)
- Memorial Day to Labor Day every year: Parks Department, while the pools are open and the parks and golf courses are busy.
- November–December every year: Revenue Department, collecting checks as everyone pays their property taxes.
- Other potential opportunities include working for the Revenue Department on the delinquent tax sale day, the Police Department for parades, protests, etc., and the Health Department for emergency preparedness procedures.
I predict everyone will hate this idea. Libertarians and unions would finally agree on something. I don’t actually support it, because it would be turned into an excuse just to hire more government employees in total, but it would not be a bad thing if we could have a small number of government employees able to assist in multiple fields as seasons and needs change.