Too often in government, elected officials shoot first and ask questions later. They may come up with what sounds like a good idea, weeks or months before an election, then throw it out there for public consumption and move on.
There are obvious problems with that approach. For one thing, when you don't your homework, you run the risk of having to backtrack. And when you do, credibility can take a step back as well.
A month ago, Northumberland County commissioners thought they came up with a creative way to save the cash-strapped county more than $2 million. By turning the row officers into part-time employees, the county planned on reducing salaries of those positions to as low as $18,000 per year. The move would also cut health care benefits, an $800,000 move.
One problem: Cutting health benefits for full-time, elected officials is illegal in Pennsylvania.
Government at all levels, from the tiniest municipalities to the federal government, are always looking for ways to cut costs, especially with the growing list of unfunded mandates coming from Washington and Harrisburg.
In Northumberland County, years of financial mismanagement -- which are slowly but surely being corrected as evidenced by their new surplus -- have cost taxpayers enough money already. So looking for ways to save taxpayer money is always a worthy goal. Making sure the proposed cuts are viable is something else.
Citizens want to believe the government can and will do the right things. In this instance, the commissioners were trying to cut costs. They just got a little antsy doing so. That happens when you see a crack of light through the door. You want to see what's on the other side. Occasionally, however, decisions haven't been thought all the way through, nor have all the possible conclusions been determined before taking the first step.
When you have to backtrack, does the public lose faith in its institutions? In this instance -- where the county is looking to save as much money as it can -- maybe not. It does prove how often leaders can get the order wrong when trying to score political points or make an immediate impact.
Too often it is "Ready. Fire. Aim." It is a reaction that misses the target because the steps to reach the end result are not always considered.
Government leaders need to follow all the leads, think of all the scenarios. Work on that aim before firing away at worthy goals.