Philosophically, I think we vote for way too many offices in Washington. It’s fair to say I’m a high-information voter, and I can hardly track the performance of a Lt. Governor, State Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Public Lands, County Elections Director, School Board, Port of Seattle board, and dozens of judges, to say nothing of the four executives and 15 legislators that represent me at one level or another.* I can’t imagine what it must be like to vote with only a mild interest in local politics. I suspect that if we abolished the entire structure in favor of appointments by Governors, County Executives, and Mayors — and simply held them accountable for performance — we’d probably be objectively better off.

Direct elections to esoteric board positions fundamentally erode accountability. Perhaps a close Port watcher can set me straight, but I think the Port of Seattle seems like a good example of an organization with an elected board and a nearly continuous whiff of scandal and mismanagement.

The bill in Olympia that would replace the appointed Sound Transit Board with an elected one has similar faults. Moreover, the wild swings possible with the mood of an electorate are particularly dangerous to any large capital project which requires steady and competent execution.

In spite of all this, many locals inexplicably like long and complicated ballots. For those people, it really comes down to institutional design. Districts might be arranged to dilute or concentrate the power of the urban core. Board positions could be unpaid or full-time positions, influencing the kind of person that runs for each. In the case of this bill, it’s a part-time position with nominal pay.

There’s a certain strain of opinion that is pro-transit and pro-rail in the abstract but believes that Sound Transit is hopelessly corrupt and/or incompetent. A lot of these people gravitated to the monorail project about a decade ago. Others have concluded that a failure of ST to adopt their preferred policy on a particular issue is proof of their perfidy. If you’re in that camp, then I suppose reforming the board couldn’t possibly make things any worse. Personally, I see ST as a well-intentioned bureaucracy that suffers under some unfortunate external incentives and constraints, and has some of the inherent weaknesses of large organizations. None of those weaknesses are actually solved by an elected board.

Furthermore, I think proceeding with all possible haste will get us where we want faster than trying to expend organizational time and energy trying to optimize governance. Writing the RTA law right in 1995 might have produced a better Sound Transit and a better rail system. Rewriting it now will do neither.

* Not an exhaustive list of elected offices!

75 Replies to “The Trouble with Directly Elected Boards”

  1. The Port board is basically selected and bought by organized maritime & trucking labor and maritime interests, with some involvement by construction companies and construction labor. Most of the general public doesn’t care and isn’t knowledgeable, so the spending of these interests elects the board, who is then beholden to them. It is fundamentally a corrupt process.

    Because transit service is more widely used and followed, voter interest will likely be greater and an elected ST board would probably not be quite as negative. Nevertheless, I agree that it’s not in the best interests of good long-term decision-making to have ST run by a board that’s up for election every few years.

    1. The board needs a fire lit under their butts. They take too long to do anything. Elections might help . . . get some fresh blood in there.

    2. In the case of Metro, there’s a sizeable enough minority that uses their services that there is at least a hope of public oversight. But nobody knows anything about ST’s capital projects once you get out of the wonk bubble.

    3. Nevertheless, I agree that it’s not in the best interests of good long-term decision-making to have ST run by a board that’s up for election every few years.

      This is why the public should have a say in who runs that government . . . Sound Transit is here for the long term.

      Anyone know what the tax costs will be to secure all Sound Transit’s bonds? Nope, you don’t. That is because it uses abusive Monorail Authority financing. No directly-elected board would have set up an abusive financing plan like that.

      The board has unlimited spending and taxing authority. That means that unless people can provide a check that board WILL abuse people. Ever heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment? It’s human nature.

      Americans have the right to elect local government policy-makers, and Sound Transit is a permanent local government with massive taxing, spending, condemning, bond-selling, etc. powers (FAR greater than what the Port of Seattle can do). Those features mean it should not be an exception to the rule that people should be able to control the leadership of governments to which they are subject.

      1. MIke, would you please pick *one* posting name and stick with it? Call yourself “the Fremont T” or whatever, but don’t pretend to be several different posters.

        Also, please don’t tell us that you are for efficient delivery of light rail when you’ve clearly been opposed to light rail in the past.

        We’re aware that Kemper Freeman wants to change ST’s governance structure, for the sheer sake of changing its governance structure, in order to increase the odds he can get an ST Board that doesn’t support moving forward with light rail.

        If we change to that governance structure, and it continues to push forward competently with the light rail program, Kemper will have his surrogates call for yet another change of the ST Board’s structure.

        Do you think we haven’t caught on to the game that is going on here by Kemper and his paid surrogates (including Mike Ennis)?

      2. No idea who you are Brent, and no idea who “MIke” is. Let me guess . . . he raises bogus arguments on boards like this so Sound Transit’s supporters can mock him, right?

        I like light rail, if it is paid for the way TriMet does it. Sound Transit could have done that even though its got an appointive board. The fact that it chose abusive Monorail Authority financing means things need to change.

        Freeman is a red herring. He has development plans in the Bel-Red corridor and near the Overlake station . . . he wants Sound Transit to continue just as it is. It’ll make his properties in downtown Bellevue worth more, and increase the profits for his company in its future development efforts. Stop being disingenuous about that, Brent. That’s who benefits from Sound Transit: property developers. Who loses? The public that gets hit by high regressive taxes.

        Answer the question I posed above, Brent. What is the amount of taxing Sound Transit plans on doing to secure the bonds? Show us you know how much Sound Transit plans on confiscating from the individuals and families around here to make property developers INCLUDING Freeman Development Corp. immeasurably richer.

      3. I don’t think Freeman Development Company has any major plans in Bel-Red (Wright Runstad & Company) and for sure nothing near the Overlake Station (Group Health and Microsoft). Kemper Freeman Jr’s opposition to East Link is because these developments will compete with downtown Bellevue development and increase traffic congestion (that’s right, increase). It will also increase the tax burden on all of Bellevue to pay for the large number of road projects starting with the new 15th/16th through Bell-Red. Then there’s the years of destruction in downtown while the tunnel is being built.

      4. “Confiscating” is a totally disingenuous term. They presented the tax package. We voted for it. I’m sorry you don’t like the outcome of the elections, but in a mature democracy, we respect election outcomes. I pay taxes to support a lot of things I don’t agree with, many of them on which I never got to vote.

        We did have a say in who administers the ST projects. We voted for that taxing authority given the current structure. Going back and changing the structure now would be a violation of those votes.

        The total amount ST taxes and spends is largely dependant on the final project list. If light rail reaches Federal Way under ST2, then the total amount raised and spent for ST2 will be larger than if it delays light rail to Federal Way until ST3. So, do you want Sound Transit to spend less, or do you want light rail to Federal Way?

      5. Heflin, the monorail was an elected board and used exactly that financing model.

        If you don’t think ST is well run, then vote against Dow Constantine. He’s ultimately responsible.

      6. Martin, except that no politician – and few voters – are single issue focused to that extent. Having ST board positions remain elected posotions allows voters focused accountability without putting them (us) in the position of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

      7. Actually, the monorail was a hybrid board with two elected positions. One of the candidates who got elected was anti-monorail, so that contributed to its demise.

      8. They presented the tax package. We voted for it.

        No, doofus . . . there was no tax package on that ballot. All it said was the board would be free to raise a sales tax rate. There was no limit as to how much tax the board could haul in, how much tax revenue it could spend, or how long the pledges in the bond sales contract to take in taxes at the maximum rates could last. Those are the features of the tax package that were not known to voters AND THAT STILL ARE UNKNOWN. Those aspects of the taxing scheme the unaccountable political appointees intend to impose remain a mystery because Sound Transit is an impervious silo from which no information about the taxing scheme emerges.

      9. Kemper’s longstanding opposition to rail predates the Spring District proposal, and it dovetails with his longstanding support for widening 405. In short, it’s all about automobile access to Bellevue Square, not potential competion from the Spring District or downtown or Northgate. Downtown Bellevue has a unique market niche, its upscale atmosphere, and that will remain even with ST2 Link. Kemper’s contention is that its target market base prefers to arrive by car, and if that becomes more difficult they’ll shop elsewhere or not shop at all. So light rail => traffic congestion => loss of sales. Widening highways and streets => less congestion => happier shoppers => more sales. You may laugh at the last sentence but Kemperites seem to believe it.

  2. What would you propose to replace the elected Port board? Should it be the county council, acting as the Port Authority of Martin Luther King Jr. County?

      1. Oh, shoot. I forgot that “the Reverend Dr.” is an official part of the name. Thanks for the correction.

    1. Either having the Port be part of County government or having the commission appointed by the executive and approved by the council would work for me.

      Merging the Port with the County might be possible under current law, though I’m not sure to the extent the Port’s special powers and taxing authority would survive a merger.

      Unfortunately current state law requires Ports to have elected commissioners which precludes the second option.

  3. Denver has such a board. It got Light Rail almost a decade before Seattle. The problem with the ST board is that the members have other “hats” and they are more interested in their little fiefdoms getting a chunk of the pie. See: “Federal Way”.

    1. This.

      I’d be all for reducing duplicate county-wide elected bodies, if we had a better election system not prone to the three evils of campaign cash, gerrymandering, and district pork.

      But the idea of ranking a list of candidates, and electing them proportionally, is too much in the Einsteinian realm, when Americans are still resisting the laws of Newton. I heartily recommend a visit to the FairVote website if you are interested in better election methods.

      1. Personally, having studied different election methods, I find that approval voting is best for almost everything.

        For electing a representative board, however, party-proportional systems are desirable, and the simplest is plain old party list. (It has to be very easy to register new parties in order to make it work though.)

      2. I vote Approve on keeping ST on track to continue its highly competent track toward completion of the meat of its capital project list.

        I vote Disapprove toward destabilizing it with a directly-elected board in which Kemper’s money will play a big role.

        I vote Disapprove toward eliminating ST.

        I vote Disapprove toward allowing parts of ST to unilaterally pull out when they already had a vote on ST1 and ST2.

        I vote Disapprove on having WSDOT take over ST.

        I vote Disapprove on Approval Voting as well, since, as you can see, it tends to default to plurality voting (which is to say, many will vote for their favorite candidate/option, and against all other candidates/options).

      3. “I vote Disapprove toward allowing parts of ST to unilaterally pull out when they already had a vote on ST1 and ST2.”

        That’s an interesting point. What is a city’s obligation in being part of an ST district that has voted for projects and bonds? If Federal Way did leave, how would they apportion its share of debt? Or would Federal Way just sail out of the obligation forcing other cities to pay more?

      4. That question applies just as interestingly for Pierce Transit and the areas pulling out. In addition to share of debt, do they need to reimburse PT for the original construction costs of all amenities that will move outside of PT’s boundaries?

        And will they help all paratransit passengers move to somewhere else so they can keep their paratransit service?

        (ST has no paratransit obligation from Sounder since it isn’t all-day service.)

  4. Completely, completely agree with all of this.

    Voting effort is very valuable, and should be reserved for the most important issues and political positions. In theory, in a region of over 3 million people, assuming everyone spends just ten minutes per candidate, a third of people vote, their time is worth just $10 an hour, that costs us $1.7M of effort per candidate per election. And how good of a democracy do you get from 10 minutes of effort?

      1. Yep, with no ballots mailed out and just a handful of places where you can vote, and no voters’ guide mailed out. You have to be in the know to even know the election is going on.

        It’s a lot cheaper for them to do it this way, as their share of the cost in a real election would be six figures (which would eat up a big chunk of their budget), compared to the $15,000 they spend for their stealth election.

        If a body doesn’t have the money to be part of a real public election, it shouldn’t be elected.

        Oh, and the seats are by plurality, so very little competition is allowed.

  5. Electing government policy makers is needed — it provides a check against excesses. Interested individuals can raise important issues during the election contests, issues that can remain hidden if the public has no say in taxing and spending plans.

    Can anyone here explain why during the last months of Aaron Reardon’s tenure as chair of Sound Transit’s board staff disclosed it would need $6.8 billion of new long term bonds for ST2, as opposed to the $5.3 billion in had been saying it needed up to that point? I didn’t think so . . .. The facts are clear that Sound Transit taxes FAR more heavily than any peer. Management does not put taxpayers’ interests first, and one explanation for that bad state of affairs is that management is not accountable to people.

  6. Martin and Ben: How much chance do you think there is that this legislation will even make it out of committee?

    Mark Dublin

  7. Agree completely.

    Then again I support repealing the 17th Amendment, so you didn’t really have to work too hard to convince me.

  8. I completely agree. From what I can tell, the ideal governance structure for something like a transit agency or port authority with a very specific mission is something along the lines of Sound Transit’s structure (a bunch of elected officials from different jurisdictions appointed to the board) or King County Metro (in which the board is directly elected, but transit is only one of many government functions they oversee). Directly electing a board with a narrow mandate just invites special interests to buy out the board to get what they want. TriMet in Portland is at the opposite extreme, with a board appointed directly by the governor. I have been talking up the idea of a Sound Transit-style structure for TriMet, but I would never advocate a directly elected board.

  9. I need to admit to a special prejudice on this issue, based on some extremely negative memories of the political climate during the design and construction of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

    Whatever the merits of the political discussion, the practical effect of the campaign that ended the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle was to divert the attention of every transit decision-maker in the region to issues of “Governance” at the exact time when they most needed on the most urgent decisions on technical matters.

    I believe the project came very close to having its chief engineer resign at the most critical phase of the work. I also wondered how many of our problems with the Breda buses resulted from politically distracted technical attention. Fair or not, I consider our politics more lucky than deserving that the boring machines aren’t still in the ground under Third Avenue.

    So whatever the make-up of the governing board, in the absence of massive ineptitude and corruption, I’m strongly disinclined toward major changes in structure over the outcome of any single political issue.

    “Governance?” Recalling times past, like Juliet’s gang-related cousin says: “I hate the word!”

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’m inclined to agree.

      Merging Metro in with the county proved a distraction both for county government and for the old Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle’s missions of providing transit service and water quality. Though to be sure that was a rather odd-duck combination of responsibilities. Rather ironic then that King County is trying to shed all of its responsibilities not mandated by state law or inherited from the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle.

      A better solution might have been to simply reform the old Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle’s board along lines that would pass constitutional muster.

      Some argument could also be made for splitting the transit and water quality responsibilities into separate agencies.

      In any case I believe it would be best to table any questions of Sound Transit’s governance until 2023 when the majority of the ST2 projects will be finished.

      I suppose if they have another crisis of confidence like they did in their early years it might be warranted as well. But in spite of Mr. Priest’s protests to the contrary I don’t believe the revenue shortfall affecting South Link meets that test.

      1. “Rather ironic then that King County is trying to shed all of its responsibilities not mandated by state law or inherited from the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle.”

        If they’re not mandated by state law or inherited from Metro, then they’re not King County’s “responsibilities.”

      2. A lot of parks for one. For another it has told unincorporated urban areas that they can expect rural levels of local government services unless they incorporate or join with an exsisting City.

      3. Merging Metro in with the county proved a distraction both for county government and for the old Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle’s missions of providing transit service and water quality.

        You’ve got it all wrong. Metro was formed first to clean up Lake Washington and always has been a County agency. Seattle still owns it’s water supply and is soon turning off the tap to the Eastside. The Cascade Water Alliance was formed to pipe water to the Eastside from Lake Tapps (yuck) and will use the BNSF ROW. Seattle’s transit was in a deep deep hole and about to fold up the tent. Metro bailed them out with an infusion of money from the rest of King County.

      4. expect rural levels of local government services unless they incorporate or join with an exsisting City.

        Ah, yeah… you expect metropolitan levels of service and don’t want to be part of a city? Unincorporated areas should be rural. King County got it’s self in a pickle by allowing less than 1/2 acre lots way the frack out between Woodinville and Duval back in the early 70’s. The inability to maintain parks is a result of years of having to expend more money than they take in to support these bad land use decisions.

      5. “Metro was formed first to clean up Lake Washington and always has been a County agency.”

        No, Metro was not a county agency, it was a separate governmental agency from the county with a separate council and originally it’s district didn’t even cover the entire county. It expanded county-wide in 1972, when it took over bus services from Seattle and a few small suburban operators. Metro wasn’t folded into the county government until 1992. You are right about it being formed to process waste water though.

      6. “What responsibilities is it shedding?”

        “A lot of parks for one. For another it has told unincorporated urban areas that they can expect rural levels of local government services unless they incorporate or join with an exsisting City.”

        I’d call that clarifying its responsibilities rather than shedding them, and getting out of areas it shouldn’t have gotten into. The county’s purpose is to provide rural services, and perform certain county-wide functions (land registration, elections, superior court). These rural areas grew gradually into urban areas, and their residents resisted annexation mostly “to avoid a third level of taxes” (state, county, city). In other words, they wanted urban services without paying for them, leading to incorporated areas subsidizing unincorporated areas, aka. cities subsidizing sprawl. The county should have said from the beginning that areas growing from ruralhood have X years to incorporate or join cities. Then Shoreline and other areas would have incorporated a decade earlier than they did/will do.

        The King County Library System, intended to be a “rural library district”, is in a somewhat different situation because it has succeeded so well in the growth that it’s one of the most-used and highest-rated libraries in the country. It would be a shame to break that up. So it would make more sense to keep it as a county-wide service and allow SPL to merge with it (which would require changing its charter).

    2. I consider our politics more lucky than deserving that the boring machines aren’t still in the ground under Third Avenue.

      Wasn’t the Bus Tunnel a cut and cover project? I know it’s within a cats whisker of the train tunnel in at least one spot so maybe it was a “hybrid”.

      1. Thanks Oran! Makes sense as the Roberts Company of Seattle pretty much invented the modern tunnel boring machine.

  10. Martin,
    Were you in some sort of strange coma during the Bush administration when polotical appointees ran rampant without accountability?

    1. “Without accountability?” I seem to recall that voters thought the Bush Administration’s way of running the country was just dandy in 2004, then deciding it wasn’t so hot in 2008. Were you in a strange coma for those elections?

      1. Martin,

        That’s 8 full years of no accountability, dude. That was 8 years of recess appointments (“heck of a job, Brownie!”) to positions of political influence, including major national departments and the judicial system.

        Despite the fact that many of these appointees implemented political litmus tests in their own hiring (illegally) not one has ever been held accountable, save eventually leaving their jobs when the administration was voted out. You call that “accountability”? Free reign to run roughshod over law and policy and public will – and being “punished” by moving on to lucrative jobs when the administration that appointed them is (finally) voted out? I’m not seeing it.

        Lets say we get Rob McKenna as our next Governor, and your system implemented. What position would you feel comfortable having Kemper Freeman appointed (not elected) to, and for what length of time?

        Seriously. Democracy may be messy, but the alernative is turning over important and well-compensated positions of public service to a process that is inherently prone to political favoritism, appointments made as quid pro quo compensation, and a LACK of public oversight and accountability.

        I vote “no” on the Duke Proposal.

    2. Arguably the problem there is again too many elected offices. Who keeps track of two Senators, a Representative, and the Presidency, as well as the myriad state offices?

      In your average European country, you vote for:
      (1) Either a party or a person for city council
      (2) Either a party or a person for state/provincial parliament
      (3) Either a party or a person for Parliament
      (4) The occasional referendum

      And that’s it. Some add a direct election for:
      (5) Mayor
      (6) President (who is a largely ceremonial office)

      People simply won’t pay attention if there are too many separate elective offices. Accountability of elected officials is important, but having “more elected offices” doesn’t seem to help. Two houses of Parliament don’t make sense if they’re both directly elected, either.

      There’s an argument for an elected Attorney General and an elected Comptroller; if elected separately, their political interests (uncovering crimes and fraud by the government) will naturally be opposed to the government’s, and will therefore provide checks and balances.

      There isn’t much of an argument for an infinite number of separate elected councils of special districts, which is what Washington state appears to have.

      1. Europeans also get to vote for European Parliament members, sort of. It’s a party list system in all countries, so you have a substantial number of Greens and other “third” parties in the European Parliament.

        Can anyone here describe the body that administers NAFTA?

        They have fewer offices to vote on (which, btw, often includes a directly-elected mayor, which I don’t happen to favor, unless we get stuck with a gerrymandered city council) but more options.

        Here, we just have a two-party Sithdom, albeit now in a different form in Washington State.

      2. On the opposite extreme is Switzerland which votes on every little detail. It seems to work well there. I wonder if there’s anything we can learn from Switzerland.

      3. And the biggest problem with Europarl (as the European Parliament is nicknamed) is that *many Europeans seem to be completely ignorant of what they’re voting for*. Low turnout, people voting for candidates whose views they clearly disagree with, etc.

        Too many elections seems to be a problem.

      4. Switzerland has just as few votes for *people*, but a lot more referenda.

        Switzerland seems to understand how to do the referendum. There probably is something we could learn from Switzerland about initiative-and-referendum.

  11. I totally agree. Entities don’t even need to be merged; the Port could continue to be independent, but have its board composed of professionals appointed by the County Council and Executive. The same thing should happen with school boards, but through mayors and city councils. Also, the fact that they aren’t paid is important and needs to be addressed. It’s no wonder the Port and the Seattle School District have reputations for being scandal-ridden when the people who are supposed to be overseeing their finances frequently have full time jobs on the side!

    1. I didn’t know they weren’t paid. Unpaid positions are ripe for abuse – pretty much the only people that want (and can afford) such a job have interests outside of the public good.

      Every public official should get enough to live on, and perhaps a similar paycheck as someone in the private sector with a similar job (though a bit less, thanks to the theoretical shorter hours).

  12. I agree. Seeing the shameless pandering on the King County Council over the 42 made me long for a system like Chicago’s, where the board of the CTA is appointed by the Mayor and Governor. Setting policy should be the job of elected representatives, but the politically unpalatable administrative decisions that come as a result of that policy should be made by an appointed board of technically-minded folks.

    1. In a Westminster-style system, these “politically unpalatable administrative decisions” would be made by “permanent undersecretaries”.

  13. Philosopically, I completely disagree. Officials like Governors, Presidents, or Mayors are typically held accountable mainly on issues that are of the highest importance to their pool of potential voters. Secondary issues that are important but don’t drive people’s votes directly don’t allow for much accountability.

    For example, I and many others might be very unhappy with the Obama administration’s actions on civil liberties issues, and that issue might be one of the most important to me. But what I am going to do to express this–vote for Romney with whom I’m in far more disagreement on most other issues about? Unlikely. There essentially is very limited accountability on issues that aren’t going to drive large numbers of voters.

    While I can’t really explain what’s happened with Port of Seattle’s board specifically, what I can say is that the separate elected board allows for strong accountability were the Port to do or address something that would cause voter interest. It allows voters to take direct action on Port issues instead of being stuck with theoretical decisions like “I really appreciate Rob McKenna’s pro-reform stance with the board, and I don’t like Jay Inslee’s lame kowtowing to his old friends there, but I still would rather have Inslee as Governor for his positions on issues W, X, Y, and Z that I also care about.” (That example was entirely fictional.)

    1. Approval voting makes it a lot easier to express one’s opinions through voting, because you don’t have the binary two-candidate choice.

      (The two-candidate choice is caused by Duverger’s Law. Look it up — it applies to instant runoff voting too, incidentally.)

      Party-proportional systems for legislatures have the same effect, you don’t have a binary two-party choice so it’s more possible to express your opinion.

      1. All you have to do is think about Ralph Nader in 2000 to realize why our plurality system forces a two-party system (though it doesn’t explain why it happens with instant-runoff).

    2. Since the Port of Seattle is being used as an example in this post and some of the comments, I thought I’d weigh in.

      I’m in full agreement with some of the comments to the effect that there are way too many local municipalities/elected bodies in King County. In some cases, I believe that we could derive efficiencies through greater cooperation and, in other cases, consolidation.

      Moreover, I don’t think a directly elected board as a rule necessarily gets you better efficiency. I believe that it really needs to be looked at on a case by case basis. For example, the Washington Policy Center which is advocating for a directly elected Sound Transit Board has also spoken favorably of the education reform laws of the State of Louisiana that allows the state to take over under-performing schools from directly elected school boards, on its face a contradiction in their philosophy.

      I do agree with JT, however, that having directly elected boards allows for stronger accountability per subject matter of the particular agency’s jurisdiction. And that may be more important to citizens with respect to some jurisdictions versus others (contrast, say, a school district with a sewer or fire district).

      I have publicly spoken about the efficiencies that I believe would result through port consolidation (see But a more accountable model, in my opinion, would be to have a Puget Sound port authority, not to role the public deep water ports in Puget Sound into their respective counties. This would also be beneficial in that a combined port authority would be better able to address infrastructure needs common to all the port.

  14. Mildly off topic: Just bought The Gardens of Democracy. I believe I heard about it on the Speakers’ Forum podcast. They recognize that government is a complex adaptive system, and design simple rules to stop treating our government like a machine and start treating it like an organic creature. I’ll reserve judgment on the (cute little hardbound) book until I read it, but I highly recommend The Quark and the Juguar for an overview of complex adaptive systems – and complexity in general. That book changed the way I look at most everything.

  15. Great piece Martin and yes, I agree with you on all counts – we have too many elected officials with no discernable benefit to the process beyond a weakened executive branch at the Governor’s level and electing ST board members would be similarly parochial in impact.

    What we need at most levels of government is a unifying theme, a unifying vision and a unifying way of carrying it out. Having elected officials representing micro areas will lead to too much indecision and project delay.

  16. There’s two philosophies here. One, the governor should just appoint these positions and let them “get things done”. The other, you can’t trust bureaucrats and elected officials any farther than you can through them, because they follow their own interests rather than yours and they treat your money as their own, so the only solution is to elect all positions. The latter ties the officials’ hands and prevents them from doing anything on their own, but that’s the intention.

    1. There’s a failure of logic with that second case. “you can’t trust… elected officials… so the only solution is to elect all positions.” Not that people don’t really believe this, but it’s a failure of logic.

  17. “In spite of all this, many locals inexplicably like long and complicated ballots.””

    Because they instinctively believe “more elections = more democracy = good”.

  18. I see ST as a well-intentioned bureaucracy that suffers under some unfortunate external incentives and constraints, and has some of the inherent weaknesses of large organizations. None of those weaknesses are actually solved by an elected board.

    So they’re incompetent and can’t be fixed, but you want to keep them anyway. Interesting.

    1. The words I used aren’t even in the same area code as “incompetent.” I think ST is about as good as you can get with a government agency. I’m no anarchist, so I think they should stay.

      1. I think you made an excellent case for their incompetence. I think you want to keep them because the alternative, getting rid of them, would call into serious question the entire dubious enterprise of fixed rail. I consider fixed rail a curious relic of the 19th Century; any bureaucracy whose mission is to promote such a thing will always be ridiculous.

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