There are worse things than Maine’s antiquated system of county government.


Meth addicts.

Newt Gingrich.

And that’s about it. On the plus side, there’s little chance malignant tumors, toothless dopers or phony historians with obscenely inflated paychecks from poorly managed quasi-federal agencies will ever be placed in charge of making decisions about development in this state’s unorganized territories.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of county government.

In general, Maine’s 16 counties are run by old coots with the political acumen of garden slugs — only less articulate. County commissioners add an unnecessary layer of administrative expense to the process of overseeing institutions and services that could be dealt with more efficiently at other levels of government. Over the years, they’ve proved themselves adept at keeping your property tax bills high — and not much else.

The commissioners will argue that, as elected officials, they represent the people’s voice in such pressing matters as registering deeds and wills. If so, the people are demanding those processes be conducted much as they were in the 19th century.

I doubt that more than one Mainer in 10 could name their county commissioner, and fewer than that could explain what they do or are aware of how much taxpayer money they spend doing it. The public pays attention to who oversees county functions about as much as it monitors agricultural yields in Yemen.

County government is an expensive anachronism that’s traditionally floundered between irrelevance and obstructionism. Getting rid of it would save money and streamline the bureaucracy. And the coots who’d be uprooted could be redirected to more productive pastimes, such as nose-picking and running meth labs.

This makes so much sense that it should come as no surprise that the Legislature is considering a plan to do just the opposite. Instead of passing a bill to transfer the duties of county sheriffs to Maine State Police, probate registries to the court system and deeds registries to the secretary of state, lawmakers want to give county government more responsibility and more power.

Specifically, they’ll soon be debating a bill to restructure the Land Use Regulation Commission (or LURC, an acronym more suited to undercover drug investigations or, possibly, stalkers). This measure will be based on the work of a special committee made up in part of county commissioners and similar doofuses. It would expand LURC, which regulates development in more than 10 million acres where there’s no organized municipal government, from seven members to nine. Instead of the governor appointing all the LURCers, he’d only get to nominate three. The rest would be chosen by meth addicts.

Sorry, that provision was taken out, although what was substituted for it is almost as bad. The remaining six members of LURC would be county commissioners or their appointees.

There’s no question that LURC needs to be reconstituted to make it more responsive to the people who live in the territory it controls and to those who reside in cities and towns nearby. But this plan makes it responsive to nobody but coots. It’s like putting Newt Gingrich in charge of a federal ethics investigation.

It gets worse. The proposal would allow counties to withdraw completely from LURC, so long as they developed a comprehensive plan for their unorganized territories and created a planning board. In other words, it would increase the authority of the state’s most ineffective form of government. And keep in mind that the only way to pay for all this new authority would be by raising property taxes.

If the Legislature really wants to make LURC more responsive to the people it affects most, the solution is simple. Let the folks who live in the unorganized territories elect some of the commissioners. Allow voters in municipalities close by to choose a few more. Let the governor continue to nominate the rest, with legislative approval. Everybody’s interests would be represented (except, possibly, meth addicts), and those regulators that consistently ignored the public’s will could be voted out at the next election.

This setup would actually be more democratic than the average local planning board, which is usually filled with appointees and other coots. And it would certainly be more reflective of the desires of residents of the unorganized territories than county commissioners, who tend to come from the larger population centers. Or homes for the criminally insane.

If LURC were revised and reinvigorated in this fashion, it would be better able to fulfill its responsibilities. And in the event the Legislature ever decided to get rid of county government, it would be well positioned to take on some of its duties.

Such as doddering, dithering and drooling.

Yeah, yeah, I already know I’m insulting, impertinent and immature. If you’ve got something fresh to add to the list of my faults, email me at