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 Response Page - Murphy  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Tony Murphy Interview of


Tony Murphy, administrator, Beltrami County, Bemidji, MN, argues the need for changing the relationship between counties and the state in the area of service delivery. He believes the state should, rather than prescribing how services must be provided, hold county officials accountable for the outcomes of services.   Murphy argues that while the state should continue to hold counties accountable for results, it should allow counties to innovate in how they go about meeting stated objectives. Such an approach would improve the engagement of local staff, who, he contends, are well positioned to know what is working and what is not, and change the role of state agency staff from compliance monitoring to more helpful technical assistance.  

For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary:  Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Murphy.  Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Procedural requirements. (8.4 average response) Because the state overloads counties with procedural requirements, Minnesotans are being short-changed for state-paid services delivered by counties.

2. Accountability. (8.3 average response) Counties should be freed to carry out their responsibilities in ways they deem best, if they agree to be held accountable for results.

3. Consolidation. (7.0 average response) The question of new structures, such as multi-county consolidations, can be addressed effectively by counties if the state moves to pay-for-performance.


Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses








1. Procedural requirements.







2. Accountability.







3. Consolidation.







Individual Responses: 

Lynn Gitelis  (7.5)  (0)  (0)

1. Procedural requirements. Procedural requirements usually are the result of someone finding a loophole and exploiting it; the courts then rule that the law/process/procedure is unfair/unenforceable, and we get new procedural requirements. Until we can break that cycle, this condition is unlikely to change.

2. Accountability. This violates two basic principles of law: a) all people governed by a law/program have to be treated equally within the same jurisdiction (in this case, the state), and b) a key reason that laws exist is to allow people to "know the rules" and plan their lives accordingly. Different programs/enforcement in counties will result in "forum shopping" and opens the door to widespread fraud.  This mode of thinking also disregards the most basic reality that "results" cannot be guaranteed in the population at large. There will always be failures.  The state cannot exclude "market segments" it doesn't like the way a business can.

3. Consolidation. Again, "pay for performance" is a non-starter in a government based system. People do what they get rewarded for, and avoid what they get punished for. If we reward "performance", difficult cases and clients will get dropped/forgotten/lost in the system. Business thinking simply doesn't work in social services, and in fact, will result in dysfunction and fraud as both employees and clients will look for ways to "win".

Laura Paycer  (10)  (10)  (5)

1. Procedural requirements. I am a social worker who serves the mentally ill on CADI waiver programs.  Most of the screening tools I'm mandated to use don't even target the mentally ill population - they are driven towards the elderly and medically ill.  However, the documentation is required in order for a client to get funding - despite the irrelevance of the screening tools.  I spend many hours getting a client file to look as expected - just in case we're audited, rather than having direct contact with clients and service providers.  What a waste of time and money.

2. Accountability. I agree, but with a caveat.  In the example noted in the discussion, chemical dependency was used in the context of measuring outcomes, i.e., has the person maintained sobriety vs. did the county get the person to treatment.  Careful consideration must be made of documented recovery rates and length of sustainment.  In other words, how will those kinds of measurements be made and against what 'yard stick'?   Those issues will be complex.

John Carlson  (10)  (10)  (10)

Sandy Rohr  (10)  (10)  (10)

1. Procedural requirements. Oh my, don't get me started!  It's everywhere we turn.

2. Accountability. We are responsible people that know and understand our local needs and limitations better than the folks in the "ivory towers."  We live and work here. Why would we do irresponsible things to our community or with our communities hard-earned tax dollars? We have to face the community on a daily basis; we can't hide in St. Paul.

3. Consolidation. I believe we are all looking for ways to do more with less.  This approach would possibly pull along some counties that may not have the leadership or the motivation to meet the performance standards.  There's strength in numbers and it would force communication between the "county boundaries."  The shared county resources could be a huge benefit.  Change is good and way over due.

Elaine Voss  (2.5)  (2.5)  (2.5)

1. Procedural requirements. I agree with the problem (if that is the correct term) but don't necessarily agree with the proposed solution.  Rural vs. urban vs. inner city have such different needs. It is almost like a solution that doesn't meet the problem

2. Accountability. Standards different for each, certainly not all identical.  I'm not certain the public is crying out for this layer.  If this all about money, where do the human needs come in?

3. Consolidation. I can't respond directly as the statement is made.  I don’t support consolidation as a blanket answer. I support the idea of "working together" in whatever form that takes.  With all the cuts to the state, they would now be asked to take on a huge task with a reduction in staff.  I am unaware of counties falling short of meeting citizen needs.  Are they spending too much?  I don't know.

Susan E. Congrave  (10)  (10)  (7.5)

3. Consolidation. The Community Health Services system within local public health agencies does a lot of this already.  It is very effective and a lot of flexibility is within the local area. A few programs are very prescriptive such as WIC.

David Landecker  (7.5)  (10)  (5)

Bruce A. Lundeen  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)

1. Procedural requirements. The notion of County employees laboring to meet the requirements of programs - not outcomes - is repugnant.

2. Accountability. The State needs to insure (the) equality local jurisdictions would not, without rigidly defining the “How” – “silos” of stifling compliance “redundancies and non-value-added process steps”.

Dave Broden  (10)  (10)  (10)

1. Procedural requirements. There is simply no thought by state government regarding the activities that must be done to implement many of the programs demanded. Neither counties nor any other government unit is prepared or staffed to do the busy work and would much rather address the real problem.

2. Accountability. The people at the location know best; yes, there should be some guidelines but passing responsibility is a proven management success method.

3. Consolidation. I strongly agree with the statement except for the term multi-county consolidation--combining programs as consolidation is a strong “yes”--we need to be careful about use of the term county consolidation--this term far too often suggests elimination of counties--remember community is the key--loss of county is loss of community--but sharing and combining services can be made to work.

Randy Neumann  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

Warren Strandell  (10)  (10)  (10)

1. Procedural requirements. Take the case of Polk County's out of home placement costs. In 1997, the county spent $2.4 million on this program. By employing 5 "family-based service providers" to work with kids and parents instead of sending them off, that cost was reduced to just over $1 million in just 2 years and it has stayed in that range (sometimes even dropping below $1 million) every year since. The County, which was on the hook for the full cost of 5 family-based service providers, made a leap of faith based on a plan developed by social services staff and it has more than paid off. Counties can do great things, if allowed to try them.

Anonymous   (10)  (10)  (2.5)

Anonymous   (10)  (10)  (5)

Peter Hennessey  (7.5)  (7.5)  (2.5)

1. Procedural requirements. Let's accept the premise to be true. The question is, why does the State "overload counties with procedural requirements." Of course the ultimate source of the problem is with the way the applicable laws are written, and how the State agencies interpret the law and write the regulations that put the laws into effect.   But the fundamental problem is in the operating model written into the law; maybe State services should be delivered by State agencies, and county services should be delivered by county agencies. Why does the State pay (if it does) counties to deliver State services? Of course counties pay attention to their bosses at the State, not to their "retail clients; "he who pays the piper, calls the tune.” If the State did not meddle in county affairs, or if State agencies ran State programs, there would not be a problem with the counties running State programs.

2. Accountability. Well, yes, the business model that works best in all situations (small businesses, corporations, the military, schools, and so, one would presume, government agencies) is that the higher authority determines the mission, assigns the responsible personnel, and provides the resources, and lets the assigned personnel determine how best to complete the mission. Otherwise the people closest to the problem are just mindless robots, putting in time, not solving the problems, not responding to changing conditions.   But the business model can be put in place only after the roles and responsibilities are defined correctly (see 1. above and 3. below). In other words, a State agency running a State program reports to the State, and a county agency running a county program reports to the county. A county reports to the State only to the extent of verifying compliance with applicable law.

3. Consolidation. Maybe there is a structural problem, rooted in the size and location of counties? Maybe the historical reasons for the existing boundaries of a county are no longer valid? You do have to ask, why would or should multi-county consolidation come up as a possible solution, if not for the fact that there is no more reason to keep the existing county boundaries.  Or maybe the structural problem is rooted in the operating model that requires counties to run State programs (see 1. above). If there were a better definition of State and county services, cleanly separating programs that each level of government is responsible for, then the problem with accountability, performance and efficiency would be confined to the level of government directly responsible for each program.  One would think that after decades of developing and running academic departments and schools of "public administration," to the extent that you can even get a Ph.D. in PA, these problems in system design, management and operations research would have been solved long ago in the public context, as they have been in private business. Surely there are plenty of large private corporate bureaucracies that can serve as models for government operations. After all, paperwork is paperwork, whether you are processing insurance claims or welfare applications, purchase orders or grant requests, etc.

Don Anderson  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

1. Procedural requirements. A one-sized procedure isn't the most effective way of getting the results needed at the least effective cost.

3. Consolidation. The biggest question will defining "pay-for-performance".

Bob White  (10)  (7.5)  (10)

Anonymous   (7.5)  (7.5)  (0)

Paul and Ruth Hauge  (7)  (5)  (8)

Unfortunately, some of the smaller counties are not equipped to make qualified decisions about major issues and thus many decisions need to take place at a higher level. Consolidation should be decided by a state organized body, but cooperation among counties should be left to the counties and encouraged with incentives from the state level.

Jackie Underferth   (9)  (10)  (5)

We have way too many counties and county commissioners, sheriffs and other elected local officials.  So many counties are tiny...merging them makes sense along with outcome based services.

Steve Dahl  (10)  (10)  (10)

The direction the county is going is a great innovation that we need to see much more of in Minnesota.

Chuck Lutz  (8)  (9)  (8)

Jeanie Kuebelbeck  (10)  (10)  (10)

I feel that if the state is going to dictate what services the counties provide then they need to help finance those services.

Arvonne Fraser  (5)  (6)  (6)

Counties vary so, i.e. Hennepin vs. Lake of the Woods.  I'd like more on how this would be done rather than just what.

Chris Stedman  (10)  (8)  (8)

Robert J. Brown  (10)  (10)  (10)

Great discussion. On the subject of silos - We must get the colleges that train the professionals in human service and government service fields to train professionals to work in interdisciplinary teams. People should be prepared right before they go into the field, not expected to change once they get there.

Scott Halstead  (7)  (7)  (10)

John Nowicki  (7)  (10)  (5)

We need to reduce the number of counties as a first step

Wayne Jennings  (9)  (10)  (9)

I love these ideas of the state determining the “what” and locals given the freedom of the “how.” He spoke of counties. The same thing is true for K-12 schools. They are hemmed in by regulations regarding courses, licensure, age-grade cohorts, special education, etc. It results in a hide-bound system out of sync with innovative practices and it discourages change. Yes on outcomes, but careful about their prescriptiveness.

Dave Hutcheson  (6)  (8)  (8)

I have so little direct experience with county government that I am hesitant to offer judgments, but the general philosophy being espoused sounds very much like the basic mode of operation of two very successful organizations I am familiar with, the US Army for the last 100 years, and the Catholic Church for the last 2000.    I would like very much to get a feel for the extent to which Mr. Murphy speaks for leaders in other county governments; I would be encouraged to learn that others agree with him.

Marianne Curry  (na)  (na)  (na)

As a person who has served in the trenches, it strikes me that Tony Murphy is on to something revolutionary in his new/old paradigm.  Just substitute the word “counties” for “schools” and you have a great description of what is also wrong with state/federal control of schools through regulations and ever more unpredictable revenue streams to support those mandates.   I remember a time when my mother served on the school board in the 1950’s.  Local control and local pride attracted the best and the brightest to govern school boards.  Now who wants to run for that position when there is so little local control?  The trade-off price paid for state control is loss of community center, declining outcomes over 60 years, and ever higher expenses per pupil.  Something is rotten in Denmark when a large percentage of parents in Minnesota are willing to pay twice for public and private education tuition.  If CC really wants to shake the status quo, look at the numbers of declining performance, consolidation in the name of savings and highest costs per pupil ever over the past 60 years.  There is definitely a relationship between lack of community/parent involvement in schools and declining performance, including curricula not responsive to the global economy.  Too much energy is going into lobbying the legislature and lobbying local taxpayers for referenda supplements to secure funding for schools, in my opinion.  Too much money spent on school transportation when the public transportation system is underutilized.   Talk about expensive redundancy!  Who is looking at this question?

Tom Swain  (5)  (7)  (5)

Carolyn Ring  (10)  (10)  (8)

Having been a summer resident in Beltrami County all my life, I can attest to the innovative thinking of the people and its leaders.  While many small towns are literally dying, I can attest to the vitality and progress of Bemidji, and Beltrami County.

Al Quie  (10)  (10)  (10)

I wonder if the revolution last election is enough to bring this revolution about. I doubt it, because so many are opposed to government rather than being in favor of giving local units more autonomy. They are joined by those who think we can only solve our problems by top down authority.

Larry Schluter  (8)  (7)  (7)


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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