Ever since colonial times, counties have existed in conjunction with Massachusetts government. Barnstable County was founded in the year 1685. Initially, counties had mainly judicial purposes; however, gradually more and more duties were assimilated, like management of the local prison system, control of specific medical care institutions, roadway maintenance, farming matters and recording of real estate deeds. Massachusetts statutes decreed the process by which elected public officials were chosen, such as county commissioners, clerks of courts, county sheriffs, registers of deeds and probate, as well as district attorneys.
Up until a quarter century ago, Barnstable County was akin to other counties within the state; it had no legislative power. That all changed with the Barnstable County Home Rule Charter of 1988. It created specific rights of home rule, along with more and better prospects for improved citizen involvement regarding the Cape Cod regional government. The Charter authorized establishment of a regional legislative body known as the County Assembly of Delegates, which has the power to promulgate laws of regional impact and jurisdiction.
Said Charter declares:
We, the people of Barnstable County, in order to gain for ourselves and for our communities all the rights, powers, privileges, duties, and obligations which may now or in the future be derived from county government, do establish for ourselves and for our communities the means and structure to deal with regional issues which transcend the existing boundaries of municipal governments. This home rule charter for Barnstable County places the power and responsibility to deal with unique problems of Barnstable County in a county government directly responsible to the people of Barnstable County.
In recent months, members of the “Barnstable County Special Commission on County Governance” (appointed by the County Commissioners) have been and continue to hold meetings to explore and examine the structure and role of the regional government here on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. As a native-born Cape Codder, I take this opportunity to express my views regarding the structure and status of our regional government. In recent years, I have first-hand experience in dealing with the County Administrator, the Assembly of Delegates, the County Commissioners, as well as other county components. I have always found each of these experiences to be highly positive, enlightening, informative, worthwhile and cordial.
The Special Commission claims it seeks to address the need for strong executive county administrative leadership; the existing two branch structure of the regional government; the representation and role of the Board of regional Commissioners; the representation and role of the Assembly of Delegates; as well as the County’s relationship with the fifteen towns of Barnstable County. The Special Commission needs to fully approach its task in a fair and balanced manner, something it has apparently failed miserably at up to this point in time. Furthermore, it needs to be logical and reasonable about any final recommended changes to the Cape Cod Regional Government.
I have a very straightforward and simple statement to communicate to the Special Commission. The existing fundamental structure of our regional government is just fine at present and functions quite well exactly the way that it presently is! It does NOT require any drastic changes (like a ‘mayor of Cape Cod’) or “tweaking” as some others may have suggested. Many Cape Codders (myself included), would be vehemently opposed to any sort of radical reorganization or restructuring of our County government from its current existence.
I would like to emphatically voice my absolute opposition to one particular ill-advised and undemocratic course of action recently presented to the Special Commission, the complete abolition of the County Assembly of Delegates. The Assembly of Delegates is the duly elected democratic voice of the people of Cape Cod, and provides us with the requisite protections against overzealous special interest groups and power hungry individuals.
The County Assembly as a representative legislative body is the epitome of the American system of “checks and balances” as embodied in both the Barnstable County Home Rule Charter and the United States Constitution.
West Barnstable, MA
Ron Beaty, M.Ed, M.S. is a native Cape Codder, citizen activist, and graduate student of public policy.[poll id=”