We suffered through a very public bankruptcy and then had a parade of County Commissioners convicted of crimes–with many serving jail time.
We’re now paying the price with punishing sewer rates that are projected to increase for the next 40 years.
How did we get ourselves into this mess?
Are Jefferson County politicians more corrupt than others?
We in Jefferson County have gotten what we deserve.
It appears none of us paid attention to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or our government teacher in school.
Our Founding Fathers, the framers of our Constitution, wanted to form a government that didn’t allow one person to have too much control. The framers wrote the Constitution to provide for a separation of powers, or three separate branches of government.
Astonishingly we do not have an executive branch of government in Jefferson County. We have a legislative branch (our County Commission) and a judicial branch–but no executive branch.
Here’s what Thomas Jefferson said more than 200 years ago:
“The Constitution intended that the three great branches of the government should be co-ordinate and independent of each other…Less mischief arises than from giving to any one of them a control over the others.” —Thomas Jefferson to George Hay, 1807. ME 11:213”
What other outcome would you expect when our Jefferson County Cmmissioners have the authority to make decisions unchecked?
A few years back our State Legislature passed legislation to require Jefferson County to hire a County Manager. But our newly created County Manager works directly for the County Commissioners—they can hire him and they can fire him–so we still don’t have an independent executive branch.
It’s a big improvement that we have a County Manager. But he or she needs to report to a county-wide elected official–who represents and answers to everyone in Jefferson County.
James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution wrote that combining legislative and executive powers in the same hands inevitably leads to abuses in government and “may be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
Separating these powers from one another, and then instituting checks and balances among them, obliges a government to control itself.
These structural principles were incorporated into the constitutions of the federal government and all fifty state governments.
No one would think of creating a state government without these checks and balances.
The same logic applies to a county as large as Jefferson – yet we continue to operate the county government without these fundamentals of self-control.
Editor’s note: The current County Commission has acted admirably–but future commissions could easily succumb to the shortcomings of a two branch government with no balance of power.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).