James Leroy Wilson's blog

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Do we want county government?

"A former Gage County, Nebraska, prosecutor decided against running DNA tests in 1989 to help resolve unanswered questions in the cold-case killing of a Beatrice grandmother" in part because "the $350 lab fees were deemed too expensive."

This was years after the real killer was ruled out because of "a mistake on a blood test."

Now the county has to pay $28 million in compensation to the "Beatrice Six" who were wrongfully convicted of the crime. That's bigger than the county budget, and "amount to nearly $1,300 for each of the county’s roughly 21,900 residents."

That sounds like a small county, but it's the 14th most populous of Nebraska's 93 counties. More than two-thirds of them are under 10,000; several are under 1,000.

Which means particularly serious crimes like murder almost never happen in most of them. Police and prosecutors, with no previous experience to draw on, may botch a murder case even when they are doing their earnest best.

This is probably true in most rural counties across America. Some states have their own statewide bureaus of investigation that can dispatch pros to investigate major crimes, and I think I'd recommend that all states have one.

I favor small, decentralized government. But many counties in many states are too small to have the resources or professional competence to conduct their most important duty - investigate violent crime and prosecute offenders.

In any case, I feel for the people of Gage County, facing a bill today to pay for mistakes public officials made three decades ago.

As a citizen of Nebraska, I believe the Beatrice Six deserve the compensation they were awarded. I do not believe I should be on the hook as a taxpayer for it. But neither should the innocent taxpayers of Gage County.

Of the unfair options, I'd rather all the taxpayers of Nebraska share the burden of this compensation.

And then we should re-think county government. 

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