Consultants are often a wise use of government money.
Consider: There are all kinds of specialized expertise to which the government needs access, whether in engineering or environmental sciences or market studies. It's impossible, without bloating the public payroll, to hire enough bureaucrats to meet every foreseeable need. For those times, paying a consultant is usually a good investment.
Having said all that, the concept seems to have taken a slight turn toward the absurd in Columbia County where county officials have just hired a consultant - to help them hire a consultant.
We're not making this up. The Columbia County Commission last week hired SMG to help pick a consultant that will be used to design yet another one of the county's many master plans.
SMG, a Philadelphia company that touts itself as "the world leader in venue management, marketing and development," for a short while managed Augusta's civic center. So its officials are likely to be familiar with our neck of the woods. And there is little doubt that SMG would love to get a crack at managing a future arena in Columbia County.
The county is planning to pay up to $10,000 to SMG for the company's help in selecting a consultant that will study such a possible arena, as well as a building to house an exotic animal collection, possible uses for the county's abandoned landfill and concepts for the development of the Interstate 20-Lewiston Road interchange.
SMG's role, says County Administrator Steve Szablewski, will be to "help oversee studies that are done and ... help us see that we get our money's worth on whatever study we do."
So what's to stop SMG from picking the consultant friendliest to the idea of building the arena that SMG would like to manage? Will we need to hire a consultant to find out if we've gotten good advice from the consultant that we've hired to study the consultant? It's enough to make your head spin - and your wallet thin.
No one rationally expects a government to employ every possible range of expertise. But surely there are enough smart people in Columbia County's government to judge whether they've gotten a fair deal when they hire an expert.
If there is so much doubt that they have to hire someone to validate their own judgment, they probably don't have any business spending public money in the first place.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.