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:
Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement,
to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed
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.
requirements. (8.4 average response)
Because the state overloads counties with procedural requirements,
Minnesotans are being short-changed for state-paid services delivered
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.
(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
Gitelis (7.5) (0) (0)
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.
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.
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
Paycer (10) (10) (5)
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.
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.
Carlson (10) (10) (10)
Rohr (10) (10) (10)
requirements. Oh my, don't get me started! It's everywhere we turn.
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.
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)
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
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?
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.
E. Congrave (10) (10) (7.5)
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.
Landecker (7.5) (10) (5)
A. Lundeen (7.5) (7.5) (10)
requirements. The notion of County employees laboring to meet the
requirements of programs - not outcomes - is repugnant.
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”.
Broden (10) (10) (10)
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
The people at the location know best; yes, there should be some
guidelines but passing responsibility is a proven management success
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.
Neumann (7.5) (7.5) (7.5)
Warren Strandell (10) (10) (10)
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)
Hennessey (7.5) (7.5) (2.5)
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
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
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.
Anderson (7.5) (7.5) (7.5)
requirements. A one-sized procedure isn't the most effective way of
getting the results needed at the least effective cost.
The biggest question will defining "pay-for-performance".
White (10) (7.5) (10)
Anonymous (7.5) (7.5) (0)
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)
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.
Dahl (10) (10) (10)
direction the county is going is a great innovation that we need to
see much more of in Minnesota.
Lutz (8) (9) (8)
Jeanie Kuebelbeck (10) (10) (10)
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.
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.
Halstead (7) (7) (10)
Nowicki (7) (10) (5)
need to reduce the number of counties as a first step
Jennings (9) (10) (9)
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
Hutcheson (6) (8) (8)
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)
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?
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.
Quie (10) (10) (10)
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.
Schluter (8) (7) (7)