October 2, 1995 in Nation/World

Consolidation A Long Shot Nationwide, Nearly 90 Percent Of City-County Merger Attempts Have Failed To Win Enough Votes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Second of two parts

It passed in Lexington, Ky.

It passed in Athens, Ga.

But city-county consolidation faces an uphill battle in Spokane, if the experiences in those two communities are any indication.

“I’d say it’s a long shot, at best,” said Dan Durning, a government researcher and consolidation specialist at the University of Georgia.

In fact, consolidation is always a long shot. It fails eight times for every nine it appears on a ballot anywhere in the nation.

Few of the factors that led to victory in Lexington in 1972 or in Athens in 1990 are showing up in Spokane, where voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to consolidate city and county governments.

Most notably, Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty is the only local politician actively supporting consolidation. Others either aren’t taking a public stand or oppose the idea.

The county commissioners, City Council members and Geraghty would all lose their jobs if consolidation passed, although they could run for new positions in the consolidated government.

No elected official in Athens opposed the city’s merger with Clarke County. In Lexington, politicians were the leading campaigners, with Fayette County executive Robert Stephens earning praise in the local newspaper for “talking himself out of a job.”

Officials in the two cities outlined other factors that were key to a successful consolidation vote.

“We didn’t have any labor issues,” said Lexington Mayor Pam Miller.

That doesn’t mean city and county employees gave their blessing. In fact, many feared for their jobs. But the employees, who are not represented by unions, didn’t organize an opposition group.

In Athens, voters rejected three consolidation attempts that faced strong opposition from government workers. The proposition finally passed when backers promised no one would lose jobs or lose money.

Spokane city and county employees are represented by unions that take stands on many political issues.

Local members of Washington State City and County Employees will meet Tuesday to discuss consolidation. Union officials say there’s little doubt they’ll fight it.

Consolidation was endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including business groups, neighborhood activists and the League of Women Voters.

Consolidation was so popular in Lexington that opponents were left with few credible champions.

A week before the election, when The Lexington Herald ran guest editorials about the issue, a state legislator who was a lawyer and former county commissioner wrote the pro-consolidation statement. An under-graduate student from the University of Kentucky wrote the rebuttal.

In Spokane, business interests are the leading proponents and have donated more than $110,000 to the campaign.

Both political parties oppose consolidation, and the League of Women Voters isn’t taking a stand.

“We really have a goodly number on one side, a goodly number on the other side,” said League President Pam Behring.

Lexington was the only city in Fayette County, and there is only one small town in Clarke County, which merged with Athens, Ga.

“You didn’t have all these other governments weighing in,” said Miller.

There are 10 small towns in Spokane County. Freeholders tried to avoid opposition from the towns by writing a charter that leaves them independent.

Residents in both communities were fed up with their existing governments. That is one condition that may also exist in Spokane.

In Athens, businesses that considered settling in the county were turned away because the city wouldn’t provide water and sewers. In Lexington, houses burned while city firefighters watched, unable to help because the building was outside the city limits.

In Spokane, local government faces budget shortfalls. Doctors want the county coroner recalled. The community has come to expect embarrassing reports about any of the county commissioners.

Bill First, a leader in the anti-charter campaign in Spokane, said he doesn’t think many voters will choose to change government structure simply to oust unpopular officials.

“Voters realize they can get rid of these people,” First said. “They can vote them out of office.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: QUESTIONS? CALL US Have a question about the proposed merger of Spokane’s city and county governments? We’d like to answer it before the Nov. 7 election. Call Cityline, 458-8800, on a Touch-Tone telephone, press 9865 and ask the question. Cityline is free, but normal longdistance tolls to Spokane apply.

OTHER ATTEMPTS Between 1980 and 1990, residents of 30 U.S. communities voted on proposals to consolidate city and county governments. Two communities voted on the proposal twice during those years. The measure passed in just four communities. Vote counts aren’t available for the years since 1990. Consolidation has passed in only one community since then, Augusta-Richmond County, Ga. Failed consolidation votes (population and number of previous votes in parenthesis) 1981 - Kingston/Sullivan County, Tenn. (144,000). 1982 - Athens/Clarke County, Ga. (75,000; third attempt); Clarksville/Montgomery County, Tenn. (83,000); Louisville/ Jefferson County, Ky. (685,000); Asheville/Buncombe County, N.C. (161,000). 1983 - Dublin/Pulaski County, Va. (45,000); Louisville/Jefferson County, Ky. (685,000, second attempt); Missoula/Missoula County, Mont. (76,000; second attempt). 1984 - Staunton with Augusta County, Va. (76,000; second attempt); Tifton/Tift County, Ga. (34,000). Chattanooga/Hamilton County, Tenn. (288,000; third attempt). 1985 - Volusia/Halifax County, Fla. (321,000). 1986 - Lakeland-Lanier County, Ga. (6,000). 1987 - Wilmington/New Hanover County, N.C. (114,000; third attempt); Jackson/Madison County, Tenn. (78,000) Brunswick/Glynn County, Ga. (60,000; second attempt) Clifton Forge and Covington/Alleghany County, Va. (27,000). 1988 - Sparta/White County, Tenn. (20,000); Kingsport/ Sullivan County, Tenn. (146,000); Georgetown/Scott County, Ky. (22,000); Frankfort/Franklin County, Ky. (44,000); Okeechobee/Okeechobee County, Fla. (27,000; second attempt). 1989 - Conyers/Rockdale County, Ga. (47,000). 1990 - Sacramento/Sacramento County, Calif. (915,000; second attempt); Roanoke/Roanoke County, Va. (176,000; second attempt); Owensboro/Davis County, Ky. (88,000); Bowling Green/Warren County, Ky. (84,000). Successful attempts 1981 - Houma/Terrebonne Parish, La. (93,000). 1987 - Lynchburg/Moore County, Tenn. (4,900). 1988 - Augusta/Richmond County, Ga. (195,000; fourth attempt). 1990 - Athens/Clarke County, Ga. (78,000; fourth attempt). Source: Dan Durning, University of Georgia, and research by Dan Hansen.

These sidebars appeared with the story: QUESTIONS? CALL US Have a question about the proposed merger of Spokane’s city and county governments? We’d like to answer it before the Nov. 7 election. Call Cityline, 458-8800, on a Touch-Tone telephone, press 9865 and ask the question. Cityline is free, but normal longdistance tolls to Spokane apply.

OTHER ATTEMPTS Between 1980 and 1990, residents of 30 U.S. communities voted on proposals to consolidate city and county governments. Two communities voted on the proposal twice during those years. The measure passed in just four communities. Vote counts aren’t available for the years since 1990. Consolidation has passed in only one community since then, Augusta-Richmond County, Ga. Failed consolidation votes (population and number of previous votes in parenthesis) 1981 - Kingston/Sullivan County, Tenn. (144,000). 1982 - Athens/Clarke County, Ga. (75,000; third attempt); Clarksville/Montgomery County, Tenn. (83,000); Louisville/ Jefferson County, Ky. (685,000); Asheville/Buncombe County, N.C. (161,000). 1983 - Dublin/Pulaski County, Va. (45,000); Louisville/Jefferson County, Ky. (685,000, second attempt); Missoula/Missoula County, Mont. (76,000; second attempt). 1984 - Staunton with Augusta County, Va. (76,000; second attempt); Tifton/Tift County, Ga. (34,000). Chattanooga/Hamilton County, Tenn. (288,000; third attempt). 1985 - Volusia/Halifax County, Fla. (321,000). 1986 - Lakeland-Lanier County, Ga. (6,000). 1987 - Wilmington/New Hanover County, N.C. (114,000; third attempt); Jackson/Madison County, Tenn. (78,000) Brunswick/Glynn County, Ga. (60,000; second attempt) Clifton Forge and Covington/Alleghany County, Va. (27,000). 1988 - Sparta/White County, Tenn. (20,000); Kingsport/ Sullivan County, Tenn. (146,000); Georgetown/Scott County, Ky. (22,000); Frankfort/Franklin County, Ky. (44,000); Okeechobee/Okeechobee County, Fla. (27,000; second attempt). 1989 - Conyers/Rockdale County, Ga. (47,000). 1990 - Sacramento/Sacramento County, Calif. (915,000; second attempt); Roanoke/Roanoke County, Va. (176,000; second attempt); Owensboro/Davis County, Ky. (88,000); Bowling Green/Warren County, Ky. (84,000). Successful attempts 1981 - Houma/Terrebonne Parish, La. (93,000). 1987 - Lynchburg/Moore County, Tenn. (4,900). 1988 - Augusta/Richmond County, Ga. (195,000; fourth attempt). 1990 - Athens/Clarke County, Ga. (78,000; fourth attempt). Source: Dan Durning, University of Georgia, and research by Dan Hansen.


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