What’s the point of setting up Authorities?

Down in Camden County, just north of the Florida border, three cities organized a Public Services Authority to manage recreation and parks facilities. They hired themselves a director and are now dismayed to find the Internal Revenue Service looking for taxes that have not been paid and independent audits that have not been compiled since 2002.

Here in Glynn County we are awash in Authorities. There is the Georgia Ports Authority, the Jekyll Island Authority, the Brunswick and Glynn Economic Development Authority, the Airport Authority, the Brunswick Housing Authority and, most recently, the Southeast Georgia Joint Development Authority. That last has been issued a registration number by the Secretary of State, but there is not even an address available to get a hint what they are about.

So, what is going on? Well, before the advent of universal suffrage and open government requirements, all levels of government had mainly served as repositories of real assets (land and mineral rights) until mostly commercial interests thought it timely to tap them. Then their distribution was commonly referred to as “pork.” It was a well-honed process as long as the electorate was small and nobody paid much attention. Those were the good old days when even the halls of Congress were open to any Jane who thought to wander in on her lunch hour to see what was going on (not much, since most deals were struck in the cloak room).

Open government requirements, along with public hearings and record keeping requirements brought a big change — an imperative to recapture privacy and secure dealing-making for the stewards of public assets, lest competitors demand access. So, under the umbrella of privatization and the promise of increased efficiency (quicker deals) and saving money, a number of alternatives were found. Most of them involved the insertion of middlemen. If there were actual dollar savings up front, it was because critical oversight and manegement supervision got lost.

Well, perhaps that is not entirely accurate. The charge to manage public resources and assets for the welfare of all is a Constitutional ideal that, like the people governing, was never yet fully subscribed to by the people who took the top jobs. Perhaps unjust stewards are attracted to public service like bears to the honey pot.

If we thought authorities were created to bring expertise to the public sector, we were mistaken. Either that or, like other public bodies, they authorities been subverted by authoritarians, fake authorities. In that sense, the private sector is perhaps more honest. Corporations plan to fail ’cause that way the golden parachutes (and toilets?) lie.