At a time when government at all levels often seems paralyzed by partisanship and hidebound thinking, it’s refreshing to hear an elected leader seek advice from those with a track record for customer-friendly and cost-cutting innovations. The residents of Macomb County should pat the chairman of their Board of Commissioners on the back for doing just that.

In a major public address on March 18, board Chairman William Crouchman asked the business community to help streamline county government operations. He is forming a task force of experienced managers in private enterprise to assess county practices against those proven effective in the private sector. Hallelujah!

To those who might assume that Crouchman must be a Republican, he is not. He is a Democrat from St. Clair Shores. In local government, good policy is generally a lot less partisan than it is at the state and federal levels. Regardless of party, the folks in the levels of government closest to the people are usually more interested in getting the job done than sniping at the other guys. This illustrates the wisdom of "the principle of subsidiarity," a pillar of our federal system: If it’s a government function, no government should do it if it can be done better at a more immediate and local level.

Successful, private businesspeople have much to offer that springs from having to please customers or go out of business. But even they can learn a thing or two from a book on occasion. One I would highly recommend to the members of Commissioner Crouchman’s task force is "Governing by Network: The New Shape of the Public Sector," by Stephen Goldsmith and William D. Eggers. Goldsmith is a former mayor of Indianapolis and Eggers is an experienced local government expert with backgrounds in both the public and private sectors. Goldsmith and Eggers challenge the reader to think of government less as the actual provider of certain goods and services and more as the facilitator of them. The book is chockfull of examples of leaner, better government.

As Crouchman noted in his address, these are lean times in Michigan and they are likely to get leaner before they get fatter. County government can be smarter than state government, which last fall slapped our shrinking private economy with a $1.4 billion tax hike. I congratulate the commissioner on taking a smart step in the direction of getting county government’s work done better and less expensively.

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Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

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