Let us talk of Fundamental Transformation of governace structure.

(Note: Peter Galuszka’s post on Commonwealth’s information technology “Behind the Northrop Grumman / VITA Scandals” 30 June 2009) spit into two themes as well as a sub-theme dealing with MainStream Media. EMR addressed the sub-theme on MainStream Media in the “Unbelievable Obliviousness” post of 7 July – FYI, there was an Ombudsman CYA in the 12 July WaPo on this topic. Many of the comments on “Northrop…” addressed the Commonwealth IT issue. The other theme that emerged was Governance Reform, examined here.)

EMR likes Groveton’s goal: The governance structure closest to the citizens governs best. EMR does not, however, think Groveton’s strategy has legs. Giving more power to Fairfax County and then ‘hoping’ they will devolve it further is not realistic. (Some of Groveton’s original comment in the “Northrop…” string is repeated below with EMR comments.)

Fairfax County has a larger population than seven states. It is hardly a “local” – as in ‘close to those governed’ – Agency. Closer than the Commonwealth, but NOT close enough.

At the same time Fairfax County does not represent even half the population of the Virginia part of the Nation Capital SubRegion and covers perhaps 10% of the area.

And that does not address the population or area of the National Capital SubRegion or the Washington-Baltimore NUR. The NUR is the fundamental economic, social and physical building block that impacts every citizen of the NUR not just in Virginia but in the Federal District, and parts of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

EMR, Groveton and TMT all agreed in the “Northrop …” string that lower is better but what does ‘lower’ mean and how do citizens get there?

What the simple “closest governs best” mantra does not reflect is that in contemporary society there are many levels of impact and thus the criteria must be “the lowest level is best so long as it represents all those impacted by the policy, program, or regulation” of the Agency.

In other words: Level of control must be at level of impact.” Since there are often multiple levels of impact, there must be a governance structure that represents EVERY level and a system to share responsibility among levels.

History documents that it is counter productive to assume the highest level should controls except for overarching “self-evident truths” impacting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This is the nub of the most important element of Fundamental Transformation of governance structure:

In contemporary society there is no single level that is the obvious nexus of control for all issues that are the responsibility of the First Estate.

It is possible to redistribute the powers and responsibilities of Agencies. EMR did that 40 years ago with the Adirondack SubRegional land use control, transport and amenity system that is still in effect (Although not optimum, it works better than many other attempts to Balance conservation and economic prosperity.)

EMR also did the same thing for many functions of governance for NUR and USRs in the draft legislation to restructure governance below the state level in New York state in the late 60s.

Fundamental Transformation means, FUNDAMENTAL TRANSFORMATION.

The issue is explored in more depth in The Shape of the Future but here is a sketch of how to get started:

The Cluster-scale is the LARGEST scaled component where direct democracy is a functional governance strategy. Most elementary schools have a room large enough for the Cluster to meet and discuss key issues. A board of seven or nine can keep track of most issue of importance at this scale. This level of democracy works, we prove it every day. It is hard, much harder than just kicking the issue up to higher levels and then complaining, but it works.

Let Clusters choose what Neighborhood they want to be part of. It will be obvious in some cases but it should not be a foregone conclusion that leads to the Neighborhood having the last word, and then each higher level assuming they are can supercede the lower level and more important or have the last say on issue.

In the same way, Neighborhoods choose what Village they want to be part of and Villages what Community, etc.

Let components of settlement pattern and of governance Agencies COMPETE for citizens instead of exercising the ‘right’ to control those of smaller scale. There would be a buy-in for a set period of years and a cost allocation for disengagement but the potential would always be there to choose some better fit for your Cluster, your Neighborhood, your Village, your Community.

The most important ingredient of the structure would be incentives to create Balance at each scale. For example delegating down taxing powers, level of autonomy and say about what happens in larger components by lower components increases with Balance.

This would be especially important at the Village, Community and SubRegional scales. This structure would give Clusters and Neighborhoods a direct say in Regional facility and infrastructure decisions without NIMBY protectionism.

You do not want it there (NIMBY), OK you can help pay for the added cost of putting the facility in a less efficient location, is an example of getting to the root of many settlement pattern dysfunctions.

It would not be Neighborhood approval of the nation-state defense budget but you get the idea:

Level of decision at level of impact.

If there is shared impact then there is shared decision making. The highest level would rule only on issues fundamental to the Federal Constitution. As Groveton has pointed out, that is the theory now but that is not the way it works.

As EMR pointed out in the “Northrop…” post (with clarification and spell checking):

If one protects the turf of existing Governance Practitioners, there would be little real change. Also, per Groveton’s view, the GA likes the system the way it is — they have control without responsibility.

When EMR was involved in Fairfax politics we found anything that the Chamber, the LWV and the Federation all backed went through the GA without a hitch — e.g. the bond authority for building roadways in the 70s.

In other words, there is no specific difference between ‘city’ status and county status that could not be ‘fixed’ if there was a consensus on the need to change. If there is not consensus, the change is not going to happen regardless of status.


Fairfax County includes all or part of nine Beta Communities. Fairfax does not just rank between Dallas and San Jose in population (and is 200,000 larger than Detroit), it is also more populous than seven of the 50 states including EMR’s home state of Montana.

After Fundamental Transformation there could be a special fund to erect historic markers for Olde Fairfaxe.

Since these issue were first raised in the “Northrop…” string, there have been references to, questions about and cross postings to Senator Chap Peterson’s Blog. In this Blog, Sen. Peterson seems to not support Fairfax County morphing to ‘city’ status – the same for the need for Fundamental Transformation.

Then on Sunday, 5 July, WaPo did two stories on Fairfax County switching to ‘city’ status and a comment that contends that ‘city’ status would guarantee to more money for transportation – as if more money will mitigate the Mobility and Access Crisis without Fundamental Transformation in human settlement patterns….

Some may have missed a great breath of fresh air in a 3 July WaPo story “New White House Office to Redefine What Urban Policy Encompasses: Agenda May Address Suburbs, Too.”

Bruce Katz at Brookings has been working to redefine ‘urban policy’ as ‘metropolitan policy’ for years but keeps getting sabotaged by his habit of overusing the word ‘city’ and by his staff substituting ‘city’ for ‘Metropolitan Statistical Area’ (or New Urban Region) in their reports and press releases.

In SYNERGY’s Vocabulary Urban policy addresses the Urban area of the nation-state where 95 of economic activity occurs in 2009.

It is time to abandon the idea that “urban” is code for “central city” and for the interests of those citizens with a specific racial or cultural heritage.

If one is to go to the trouble of making a change, make a change that is worth the effort.


For those who do not want to go back to “Northrop…”, here is the nub of Groveton’s suggestion with notes by EMR:

“I think Fairfax needs a two part evolution.

“First, the county needs city status to partly throw off the yoke of GA oppression.

“Then, the new city/county needs to recognize even more granular decision making areas – the existing supervisory districts are close but would have to be adjusted.

EMR suggests that there has been nothing stopping the County from doing this in the past. Every time a sub-county interest has appeared, it has been quashed by the County – e.g. the attempts by Reston to change status. Getting rid of the GA yoke would just put the primary focus on a different level with no difference in impact on the ground.

“Then, there would need to be referenda at the local level. At first, the referenda could be advisory. However, after the process was refined the advisories would become binding.”

Referenda can be useful tools but they are not a substitute for Fundamental Transformation.

“To all the hacks in the GA – The government that governs closest to the people governs best. So, why doesn’t this happen in VA? I have begun to see the GA as “Useful Idiots” – …”

All true, but that does not solve the problem.

EMR has given a lot of thought and experimented with levels of governance number and effectiveness of below the county level in Fairfax County for 27 years (1975 to 2002)and in Fauquier County since then. We hope this clarifies the context and helps sort out the response to the problems that TMT raised in the “Northrop…” and in “A Quick One for Peter” of 10 July.


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  1. Larry G Avatar

    I'd like to see us better define what "Governance" means – especially with regard to taxation and authorities.

    For instance, does it imply that taxation occurs at the cluster level and for what purposes would the monies accrued to used for?

    at the higher levels – what revenues and resources would be provided from the State and NUR level to the subordinate levels?

    I'm especially interested in mobility and access facilities in this regard.

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    All in due time, my friend.

    First the big picture, then the details. Fundamental Transformation — settlement patterns, governance structure, economic system — is such a change from Business-As-Usual that it will take a while to get a grip on the big picture.

    For now, "governance" is what the First Estate does — EVERTHING IT DOES. See THE ESTATES MATRIX.

    These are good questions and SYNERGY has been asked to explore the details of some of them in the near future.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Sounds like a plan to guarantee that nothing can be accomplished and everyone has veto power. As EMR point out himself "If there is not consensus, the change is not going to happen regardless of status." Which is a perfect statement of the conservationist manifesto: forget about personal freedom, propewrty rights, ambition and all the rest: without a consensus, we aren't going to let you do squat. It is a guaranteed plan to preserve the status quo and nver change anything.

    Cluster, Neighborhood, Village, Community, Service District, County, Region, State, Feds. And we all want smaller, more responsive government, right? As it stands now there is nothing to prevent formation of any kind of special interest group to lobby the county on ant subject; why institutionalize them and give them even more power?


    "You do not want it there (NIMBY), OK you can help pay for the added cost of putting the facility in a less efficient location,"

    Sounds like my reverse auction plan. If you don't wnat it, probably no one else does either, so what you do is auction off the right NOT to get it. The low bidding jurisdiction gets stuck with it AND they ger ALL the money that was bid by the other jurisdictions NOT to get it.

    Like any other infrastructure, the ability to say "NO" will be overused if there is no price attached.


    "‘city’ status would guarantee to more money for transportation – as if more money will mitigate the Mobility and Access Crisis " With or without changes in settlemnt patterns, more money is going to be needed. If changes in settlement patterns improve transportation, then we can use transportation money to pay for the changes, but one way or another, you need more money than the state is letting us keep right now.


    "It is time to abandon the idea that “urban” is code for “central city” ……."

    So now it is OK to have jobs in additional places within the urban area? We might actually move some jobs to wher people live?



  4. Groveton Avatar

    There are some very well informed people who disagree with EMR regarding the irrelevence of city vs. county and the role of the state in retarding the effectiveness of local government –

    "All of us live in either a city or a county. The structure and power of that local government depends upon whether it is a city or a county. We live with the terms 'city and county'. Yet I submit that we so without comprehending that time and events have blurred the distinctions that city and county once had. We tinker almost annually … adjust for core city problems … alter for suburban areas … change for rural needs … We need to effect the changes desired by both urban and rural interests in the various state funding formulas for local governments. We owe it to ourselves and the future of the Commonwealth."

    "For years, local governments' financial problems have been studied, reports and recommendations have been made … The decade of the 1990s offered us a wonderful opportunity. But we didn't take it … Instead, we watched state revenues increase significantly, strengthened by rises in sales and income taxes … Meanwhile, localities were largely confined to stagnant property tax revenues. Local government provides vital and essential services: fire policce, garbage collection, schools, parks, etc. Yet, Virginia failed to give local government the support needed to do its best work.".

    former Governor Gerald L. Baliles
    August 12, 2001

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Here is an example of a government that is working in the exact opposite direction from having peopel pay their true locational costs. (It's Actually the power company, but I assume the power company is regulated.)

    "The DWP Service Area covers several different climate zones. Households who live in hotter climate zones will face the low price Tier I for longer than households who live in cooler parts of the service area. Intuitively, there is some cut point such as 600 KWH such that a household in a cool area will be bumped up to the higher Tier II price while a household in the hot area will only be bumped up to the same higher Tier II price if its consumption exceeds perhaps 1000 KWH."

    "This is an implicit spatial subsidy encouraging development in East LA rather than near the coast. ……On average, people are poorer the further east you go. Conversely, people are richer the closer you get to the Pacific Ocean. Think of Santa Monica, Malibu and the Palisades. So LADWP has introduced a progressive tax that implicitly redistributes from coastal people to inland people."

    Here is a case where it would be more energy efficient to have more people living near the coast, but the wealthy people who live there are unlikely to allow that transformation: better to provide a geographic energy subsidy.

    And this is a policy that was centrally planned: it isn't the result of individuals making good personal decisisons that lead to bad social results.

    It is also a geographic Tax that doesn't show up on the books, just like our soon to be HOT lanes.


  6. Rabbit Avatar

    As it stands now there is nothing to prevent formation of any kind of special interest group to lobby the county on ant subject; why institutionalize them and give them even more power?

    RH, I understand the governance structure being discussed to be more of a bottom-up approach. EMR, anyone else disagree? The question is, who constitutes "them"? Direct democracy at Cluster levels insures agility and immediacy, the power to get things done quickly and efficiently, where they are most wanted and needed. The need for representative consensus at higher levels does preserve a status quo: the new status quo created after the governance transformation, one where the professional class of politicians at higher levels of government are beggars rather than thieves. We gain diversity and empowerment by distributing power to lowest appropriate level of governance. I would very much like to see the state and federal governments hobbled to prevent unsustainable growth in those bureaucracies.

    Groveton, it may be worthy to note that Governor Baliles said those words after he left office. It is exceedingly difficult for someone in the Governor's seat to actually do anything about the bankruptcy and castration of city and county governments. It is difficult to do anything when your organization is designed to operate in the darkness. Do you think Governor Kaine is getting any straight answers from his staff regarding VITA/NG, when the IT Investment Board fires anyone who speaks against current policy? I can't even assess the situation in the Commonwealth's executive branch without more information, which that bureaucracy will deny us because it airs their dirty laundry to their constituents. I have never seen any bureaucracy willfully shrink itself in order to better serve its "customers".

    The VITA/NG Partnership, and similar "public/private" ventures, serve to remind us that present governance structures are dysfunctional, but the lack of transparency keeps us in the dark about exactly how dysfunctional. TANSTAAFL. No free lunches. In the case of VITA/NG we may even know the approximate overall cost for everyone's lunch… but the cafeteria is so huge and providing so many lunches, without telling any details about inefficiencies and cost overruns, that we don't know how much our lunch costs. We only know that the food sucks.

    I am agreeable to the bottom-up approach to governance, level of governance at level of impact. Transparency is more easily achieved in smaller units. Paying all taxes to higher levels of governance injects those funds into a black box that wastes without scruple. "Trickle down" economics works even more poorly in governance than in industry, because the paper trail is more easily obfuscated, and citizens less likely to pay attention to events farther away than a neighbor's house. The biggest question remains: how do we get there from here?

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    "Direct democracy at Cluster levels insures agility and immediacy, the power to get things done quickly and efficiently, where they are most wanted and needed. "

    I come from a town meeting form of government background.

    SOME of what you say is true. But th eproblem is that at that level you just don't have the money to get anything big accomplished.

    Anyway, that isn;t the way I understood EMR to describe it: his plan depends hugely on consensus, which means nothing gets done. At some point you need to have power and authority.

    When we elect a representative, he represents everyone in his district, not just those who went to the polls. As a result, he has power far beyond the consensus of those who elected him.

    Suppose you had a bottoms up government (which I support). I pay my taxes to my city or my county or whatever the smallest usnit is. If the state needs money it can negotiate with the counties, not with me directly.

    But then if the state tries to do somethng that does not benefit some county, that county won't go along, and the state can't get anything accomplished.

    But if the state gets moeny from every county regardless, then it has the power to prioritze projects. It can build something for county A now, and county B later. But County B is still going to have to pay for A's good luck, up front. The state does not then have to depend on consensus.

    That is why EMR's plan is a plan for ossification, which is what he wants anyway.


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