LWV of Marion County Get County and City Health Departments to Combine For More Efficient Use of Resources

LWV of Marion County Get County and City Health Departments to Combine For More Efficient Use of Resources

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

The ImPACT of Marion’s Ballot Issue – By Jo Ann Radwin-Zimmerman, Co-President, LWV of Marion County

ImPACT in action! Marion, Ohio is definitely not the same after the past two years of ImPACT Town Hall Meetings (THMs). Our well-attended community discussions later spun off into an advocacy partnership between our League (LWVM) and the local Chamber of Commerce (C/C). Our two organizations’ abiding interest in ‘good government’ practices evolved into a successful ballot issue initiative that emerged last summer.

It all started about two years ago when the C/C President gave an impressive presentation on the Chamber’s Efficiency in Local Government initiatives at one of our general membership meetings. Almost at the same time, our League learned about LWVO’s new ImPACT project that offered assistance with local THM’s. We immediately planned our very first THM, with Political Accountability as our theme. The discussion format featured two topics: governmental transparency and Sunshine Law practices, along with a local topic furnished by the Chamber: Could Marion County be more efficient, more effective, more taxpayer friendly?

Our 150 THM participants’ animated roundtable discussions offered ideas about improvements that would result from consolidating many of our local city, county and township government entities. This topic has been long-standing in our community, with many residents chronically frustrated because ‘nothing ever gets done about it.’

In 1980, a committee of community leaders conducted a study of our city and our county health departments, which indicated that consolidation of the two departments would result in tax dollar savings and improved ‘one-stop-shopping’ access for residents. The study committee’s recommendations to local government decision-makers went unheeded. In the ensuing 27 years, the issue was revisited several times, but no one would step forward to provide leadership for this project.

The C/C recently engaged a professional consultant to conduct a feasibility study for combining the health departments (HD). In its January 2008 report, the consultant’s findings confirmed the 1980 study results and outlined suggested strategies for merging the two HD’s. Of special interest in the report was a statement that in the face of public official inaction, Ohio law provides that voters can mandate a merger by approving a ballot issue.

The League offered a second THM April 2008 that featured a report on the health department study along with a panel of seven government and health department officials who expressed their reactions to the study. Participants also took part in a Q & A session. Though the panelists cited many obstacles involved in combining the health departments, each acknowledged that a merger was appropriate.

Two months later last June, disappointingly, there was no merger action in sight nor even any discussion about it. At this point, the Chamber and the LWVM boards decided that the political climate was ripe for putting the Health Department Merger on the ballot for the November 4, 2008 election. A 55-member grassroots committee of League, Chamber, and interested citizens carried out a successful three week petition signature drive. LWVM, now in an advocacy position, served as the flagship organization for the promotional campaign. The Chamber provided financial support for the campaign materials.

Voters passed the ballot issue by a very comfortable margin, thus ending a very ‘imPACT-ful’ drama for our community…and even for the state of Ohio. Of the 59 counties that have combined health districts, Marion’s is the first to be accomplished at the ballot box!