There are worse things than Maine's antiquated system of county government.
And that's about it. On the plus side, there's little chance malignant tumors, toothless dopers, or phony historians with obscenely inflated paychecks from poorly managed quasi-federal agencies will ever be placed in charge of making decisions about development in this state's unorganized territories.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of county government.
In general, Maine's 16 counties are run by old coots with the political acumen of garden slugs — only less articulate. County commissioners add an unnecessary layer of administrative expense to the process of overseeing institutions and services that could be dealt with more efficiently at other levels of government. Over the years, they've proved themselves adept at keeping your property-tax bills high — and not much else.
The commissioners will argue that, as elected officials, they represent the people's voice in such pressing matters as registering deeds and wills. If so, the people are demanding those processes be conducted much as they were in the 19th century.
I doubt that more than one Mainer in ten could name their county commissioner, and fewer than that could explain what they do or are aware of how much taxpayer money they spend doing it. The public pays attention to who oversees county functions about as much as it monitors agricultural yields in Yemen.
County government is an expensive anachronism that's traditionally floundered between irrelevance and obstructionism. Getting rid of it would save money and streamline the bureaucracy. And the coots who'd be uprooted could be redirected to more productive pastimes, such as nose-picking and running meth labs.
This makes so much sense that it should come as no surprise that the Legislature is considering a plan to do just the opposite. Instead of passing a bill to transfer the duties of county sheriffs to the State Police, probate registries to the court system, and deeds registries to the secretary of state, lawmakers want to give county government more responsibility and more power.
Specifically, they'll soon be debating a bill to restructure the Land Use Regulation Commission or LURC (an acronym more suited to undercover drug investigations or, possibly, stalkers). This measure will be based on the work of a special committee made up in part of county commissioners and similar doofuses. It would expand LURC, which regulates development in more than 10 million acres where there's no organized municipal government, from seven members to nine. Instead of the governor appointing all the LURCers, he'd only get to nominate three. The rest would be chosen by meth addicts.
Sorry, that provision was taken out, although what was substituted for it is almost as bad. The remaining six members of LURC would be county commissioners or their appointees.
There's no question that LURC needs to be reconstituted to make it more responsive to the people who live in the territory it controls and to those who reside in cities and towns nearby. But this plan makes it responsive to nobody but coots. It's like putting Newt Gingrich in charge of a federal ethics investigation.