NH 2020: Lessons learned from a public policy disaster | TheUnion.com

NH 2020: Lessons learned from a public policy disaster

Say what you will about Natural Heritage 2020 – and everyone seems to have said a lot – one point remains indisputable: This is a lousy way to make public policy.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to wrap up NH 2020 in the next seven weeks.

During the interregnum between the end of the NH 2020 argument and the start of the next argument which will inevitably arise, we have a chance to talk about some of the lessons we learned from NH 2020.

Among them:

— It’s a high-risk proposition to publicly introduce a program and say it’s an empty box to be filled with public wishes. People will put their imaginations to work, and they tend to imagine the worst. Think of the times you see the boss talking to someone with the door shut. More often than not, you imagine the worst. Empty boxes are public policy disasters waiting to happen.

— The public attention span is limited. We can’t think of more than a half dozen people who aren’t thoroughly sick of the debate over NH 2020. And their annoyance is well-justified. NH 2020 has been on the public stage for at least 16 months now, and for the better part of the first year, nothing in particular happened. Some members of the current Board of Supervisors appeared entranced by process. But for a majority of us, results are far more interesting than process.

— We need to think carefully about whether we want to turn over government to private organizations such as the Sierra Business Council and what terms we want to impose when we do so. Governments are owned by the public, and they’re governed by a raft of laws that dictate that the public know what the government is doing. Private organizations don’t have to tell anything to anybody. That may be a price we’re willing to pay in exchange for having a private organization pay part of the cost of running our government. But we need to think carefully about these implications before we get involved in these deals again.

Even public policy disasters can be put to good use – if we learn something from them.

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