Sustained Outrage

Metro government: Interest in Harrison County

ron_watson.jpgHarrison County Commissioner Ron Watson has been keeping an eye on Kanawha County’s metro government discussion.

He grew up at Lost Creek in Harrison County, but he worked for more than 20 years for the consolidated government of Jacksonville, Fla.

“I have some knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly of consolidated government,” he said.

Clarksburg has about 16,000 people, but used to be a major city in the state with 30,000 people. Bridgeport is an energetic, up and coming city of about 8,000, he said. But all the municipalities compete and squabble with each other to annex developing bits of the county, which doesn’t seem like much of a growth plan to Watson.

“I love what Kent Carper and Kanawha County Commission did, by going to the Legislature and getting the opportunity to put it on a ballot, they can let the people choose what they want.

“I’m going to follow them very carefully and closely as they go through the process.”

“Most of the critics of consolidating governments are elected officials who don’t want to lose their offices,” Watson said. “They think they own government.”

Like Kanawha, Harrison County has already consolidated some services — county and city housing authorities, health department, 911 center.

“People don’t realize we’ve already done it,” he said. “We have local governmental agreements, code enforcement and planning. We’re doing some of this anyway.”

But there’s room for more.

“Every time Clarksburg and Bridgeport have a urinating contest they just make my case.”

Harrison County has about 69,000 people. About 34,000 live in unincorporated areas. The rest live in one of 10 municipalities,.

“Say we merged police departments. Why wouldn’t we have better police protection? Water and sewer infrastructure? There’s just so much more all of them can benefit by.”

“Money is the key. Can we provide better service for less cost? Maybe.”

All those things are issues Kent and them will have to go over in Kanawha County.”

“It’s the same issue asked in Jacksonville, Charlotte, Memphis, Miami-Dade. It has to be the same questions asked. We don’t have to reinvent wheel. The questions and answers are out there.”

Watson was a police officer in Washington, D.C. during the 1960s and 70s. He came home for a while and thought he wanted to be a teacher, but changed his mind after student teaching. He went to work for the state Corrections system, and then moved to Jacksonville, where he worked for several mayors on various special projects, such as garbage issues, criminal justice, recreation and getting rid of tolls.

He and his wife, who had always maintained property here, moved back to retire several years ago.

“We came home because we could afford to come home.”

“I was intent on just sitting back on the porch drinking lemonade. Well you can’t work all your life and then stop and not do anything.”

His career gave him a sense of public service, so he ran for sheriff. He was defeated, but he was later elected to the County Commission. He’s in his second term, and he isn’t planning to run for re-election.

He wants to follow Kanawha County’s progress on metro government and learn from it.

“It’s a lengthy process,” he said. “Voters have to want it. They have to make sure they know the facts, and think about it with knowledge. I’m a messenger.”

“The whole key is we want people to know they own their government, and they decide the type of government they have. If they’re satisfied with the government they’ve got, then no problem.”