Consolidation isn't only way to get somewhere

By the Tri-City HeraldNovember 7, 2012 

Some people have recurring dreams -- maybe they can fly or they're being chased by a monster.

One reccurring dream for some, and historically, this board would have been included, is consolidating the Tri-Cities.

In fact, we believe we invented the concept of a unified community back in 1947, when Glenn C. Lee started a newspaper to serve all three towns and called it the Tri-City Herald.

Our list of reasons why we thought consolidation is a good idea includes things like greater clout in Olympia and efficiencies in our local governments and agencies.

And we aren't the only dreamers out there.

The Three Rivers Community Roundtable also has been advancing what has come to be known as the four Cs (communication, cooperation, collaboration and consolidation).

This dream is really just a hunch. Or it has been up until now.

A recent study by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center -- a joint venture of Washington's two research universities -- tells us consolidation isn't the right approach for a community our size.

That's a useful piece of advice.

As with a car, though, when one tire goes flat you don't take a knife to the other three.

There still is a lot of forward movement.

The other three Cs may well meet the goals we had in mind when we were pondering the advantages we thought could be gained through consolidation. We are interested in a destination, not which road we take to get there.

So where do we go from here?

If consolidation doesn't further our cause, how can we best work together and grow?

These are questions to be answered by Tri-Cities Evolution, a working group of the Roundtable.

Just this week, members of the group visited Portland, where a regional government agency is responsible for certain parts of the vast metropolitan area's assets, such as land use, parks and public transportation and other regional facilities.

The Portland area includes 28 cities and three counties that maintain autonomy and work together through the Metro government. The model definitely is worth exploring.

It's not consolidation, but it certainly is cooperation.

And maybe it's a plan with aspects we can implement here.

So here are two pieces of advice.

* When considering land use and the Mid-Columbia's future, consult the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network Vision Plan. That document takes a comprehensive look at land-use issues in our region and forms a solid foundation for future efforts.

* All government entities should participate in this exercise aimed at improving cooperation. The future of any part of the Tri-Cities is interwoven with the whole, and that fact ought to inform everything we do as a community.

The Ruckelshaus approach recommends three phases. We've only completed one of them. The next step is to bring community leaders together and explore ways to improve local government.

That second phase only will be valuable if our elected officials and other leaders are willing to put in the effort required to make it a success.

Frankly, we'd like to see some financial support from local governments to ensure our elected officials are serious about the process.

As the initial Ruckelshaus report points out, the Tri-Cities excel in the area of cooperation among agencies. But we can do better if we try.

We're interested to see where this dream leads.

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