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Bill would change county-state government role

Beltrami County Administrator Tony Murphy has taken a lead in a proposal titled Minnesota Accountable Government Innovation and Collaborate Act.

The aim of the act is to allow counties to take charge of the health, safety and general welfare of the public. Currently in Minnesota, counties are prohibited from doing anything unless it is explicitly authorized by state law.

"A draft of the bill has been put together, and it's being circulated now," Murphy said. "I expect the bill will be numbered and introduced very soon."

Murphy said Beltrami County has been working toward this change for several years.

"There have been a number of counties shifting the way they do business on an outcome model," he said.

The idea is for county employees to focus their energies on outcomes rather than processes and for decisions to be made by local communities as much as possible.

"Sadly, due to the historic relationship that has evolved between the state and counties, many county employees had started to think of state regulators in St. Paul as their primary customers - not those that received their services or the public that hires them," Murphy said during a March 30 Civic Caucus in Bloomington, Minn., according to a transcript of the event.

Murphy gave an example of the outcome versus process model. Counties are required to provide chemical dependency treatment programs and contribute a cost-share. Counties track the number of clients placed in treatment and the amount the counties spend, but have no handle on success rates. The goal should not to simply provide treatment; it should be to help people get and stay sober.

"We were meeting the state mandates, but we didn't have any data to determine whether we were accomplishing the expected results," Murphy said at the caucus.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, is an enthusiastic supporter of the MAGIC Act concept.

"It's fantastic," he said. "We have so many bright, talented people in our counties. I think that's where the innovations will come from. Give them the tools, resources, and let them innovate and get a better result ... and hold them accountable. The advantage is having these 87 incubators in different areas."

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, endorsed exploring innovation to improve collaboration between state and local governments "while streamlining processes in order to improve government efficiency. We must examine all options closely in order to do what's best for Minnesotans and our counties. I have been supportive of efforts proposed in the past and will continue to carefully examine efforts proposed in the future."

Murphy said he believes the MAGIC Act will also offer fiscal flexibility.

"We (counties) probably have enough money to accomplish out outcomes if we have greater flexibility in our delivery approaches," he said at the caucus. "We probably don't have enough money to deliver all of the services and programs we're mandated to provide. Counties are concerned that the state-supervised, county-administered service delivery approach is unsustainable and fails to achieve expected results. Under the current state-county relationship, counties are not only mandated what to do but how to do it."

He said the innovation sought under MAGIC "must come from the trenches, not the ivory tower."

The state should have a say in how state money is spent, Murphy said, but state input should be on the outcomes, the "what" rather than the "how," which should be open to counties' innovations.

"I believe that if counties are given the needed flexibility to innovate, they'll knock your socks off," he said at the caucus. "Hold counties accountable for outcomes, not inputs, and counties will deliver. Give us a chance."

Murphy said Wednesday that he understands the MAGIC Act will receive sponsorship both in the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives.