Imagine: It's time to take local government into the future

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Now it's a birthday with a purpose. Pittsburgh was founded in 1758 and rose to become a historic, pivotal American city. Two hundred fifty years later, there's a better idea.

Pittsburghers complain about the failure to change with the times, but the release of a citizens report on the need for the city and Allegheny County to pursue a merger is a powerful impetus to get moving in the right direction. The long-awaited report, from a committee headed by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, assessed the bureaucratic duplication, the administrative overlap and the economic roadblocks that stem from too many layers of local government. It is not exactly a new idea.

Once again, the people of Allegheny County are asked if they want to move to a form of government that is not only modern and streamlined, but also holds the promise of greater efficiency and even some savings. What is different this time is the heads of city and county government -- Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato -- are four-square behind the change. Give them credit because it means political risk.

The Nordenberg task force, prudently, did not drop a 12-point plan on the region. Instead its report advances three broad recommendations that allow citizens to fill in the details: the county executive and the mayor should intensify their efforts toward cooperation that enhances efficiency; the city and county should sign a formal cooperation compact to ensure that such partnership continues in the future; and the question of city-county consolidation should be placed before the voters as soon as possible.

While the report is aimed at consolidating the city and county governments, Allegheny County's 129 other municipalities would remain. Over time, they could become subjects for additional reforms or they could stay untouched. The important thing right now is not to load up this major, yet limited, plan with the baggage of other aims or unwarranted fears. We must not let the perfect become the enemy of the good; we must not see change as a recipe for disaster.

We congratulate Chancellor Nordenberg, Mayor Ravenstahl and Chief Executive Onorato on their bold vision for the future and we challenge the Pittsburghers of Allegheny County to imagine what it can do for them.


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