At 96 years old, Judge Andy Devine has done it all in local government. Andy started out in electoral politics as an Ohio state representative while in his early thirties. He served in county government. He was later elected to Toledo city council. He jokes that he was often told that he was moving in the wrong direction career-wise. What he was really doing was moving in a direction that was closer and closer to the people.
“So what’s this blog about?” he asked, over coffee and cookies at his kitchen table a few weeks ago.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Andy from time to time over the last few years. Our chats have covered a lot of ground – education, parents, local initiatives, social programs, and his time in court and in local government.
“Well,” I said, “I have become fascinated with the question of resources in a community. What are we doing with our public resources for programs, services, and infrastructure? What is the best way to use them? And what is the best use of private, charitable resources? And how can we increase understanding of how they all work? And you know, we have a really decentralized way of doing things in America. I encounter so much confusion about these resources, on both the public and charitable side, whether from elected officials, nonprofits, or donors. Couple that with a generally low level of civic knowledge in the public and I think that in our civic confusion we often miss opportunities to find better ways of using those resources for the common good.”
Then came a pause and a sip of coffee.
“Boy, that’s really been the story of my life,” said Andy, putting down his coffee mug.
Andy explained that while he was serving in the state legislature, much of his time was occupied making decisions about what to do with “big pots” of money. He described the conflict between how decisions are made at the state level about resources, and how the reality plays out at the local level.
“I did come across that issue when I was in the legislature. And that’s a problem in and of itself. They do not really comprehend how these local kingdoms are not really on the same page.”
“The legislature thinks in terms of big pots. But when you get down to the local level, it’s not that simple. One pot has ramifications for another pot… and so on. And if you don’t get things together, you get situations where they are at odds or in conflict with each other.”
Andy is most known for his career as a judge. He was the founder of our juvenile court. While at work in that court, after his time in the legislature, Andy encountered firsthand the silos generated by the various “pots” of funding that had come down through the federal and state government. It all came to a head in the case of one particular child. It was a perfect example of what should not happen, he said.
“Here’s a kid who is the welfare system, with a special counselor there. He’s involved with Child Protective Services – another counselor there. And, of course, he’s in the education system. Another counselor there. And all three – nobody talking to anybody. They all had their specific take on what the kid’s major problems where, from their perspective. They didn’t see the ramifications of what each did on the other. They were really in conflict,” explained Andy.
As a judge, Andy had a different form of authority available to him for solving problems. He issued an order.
“I said, ‘Now, you directors, we are going to have a meeting down at my chambers. And you better come.’ And they came. And that’s when it got exciting.”
“I told the agency directors. I want you to help me, because now the kid is in court and now I’m in control and I need to decide what’s in the best interests of the child. And I need your help.”
As a result of that case, Andy created something he called the Placement Consortium. It would bring together the agencies that serve the same families, like child protective services, the courts, and the welfare office, to eliminate silos and find unified approaches to cases like this one. His work became a statewide model. Here’s how a local report explained what Andy had accomplished many years ago:
In the early 1980’s it had become apparent to a number of stakeholders around the state that for those children/youth and their families who were involved in multiple systems, receiving services was often very complex, duplicative across systems and unwieldy to navigate. For some of the children/youth and their families they literally “fell off the map” as systems became embroiled in conflicts over who was responsible, who would deliver services and who would have to pay. At that time, Lucas County, Juvenile Court Judge Andy Devine had ordered local systems to come together to try to work out their issues so that in order to better coordinate services for the child/youth and their family. These issues rose to the attention of state government resulting in Executive Order 84-12, which was issued by then Governor Richard Celeste in 1984 and culminating in the passage of HB 304 in 1987, which codified the establishment of county-level Clusters in ORC 121.37.
This work of helping others see “the big picture” extended to other arenas of civic life for Andy. He served as the first chair of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, an entity covered elsewhere in this blog. And in the 1950s, as a local legislator, Andy organized a delegation of elected officials to visit Toronto, Ontario. He was excited about what they were doing in regional collaboration.
He explained that Toronto was taking certain governance challenges, and instead of managing them through a complicated patchwork of towns, cities, suburbs across the metro Toronto region, it had decided to manage them regionally.
Take a challenge like transportation. Does it make sense for every individual town, suburb, village and city in a metro region to engage in transportation planning? Probably not, as the roads are all connected to each other – and congestion in one community does affect its neighbor. Public transportation breaks down if you can’t get from one suburban town to another on the other side of the region. Growth and expansion needs to be viewed from a regional lens in order to allocate resources and engage in effective prioritization of future projects. Predictive analysis and planning around the major infrastructure needs for a region (think highways, ports, and airports) is difficult to do otherwise.
Similarly, does it make sense for what may be 100 municipalities in a region to handle the challenge of providing water individually? The Toronto region said, “No.” Water plants are expensive. Cost savings and economies of scale are achieved when all of the municipalities band together.
Andy explained the underlying principle, as he saw it, “There’s an important principle out there for governance that comes from Catholic social teaching – it’s called ‘subsidiarity.’ Subsidiarity means that you manage challenges at the level of governance that is most suited to address it. For many things, that’s the lowest level of governance possible. But for some challenges, it’s just not.”
There are some areas for governance that do not lend themselves to efficient management if they are handled in a fractured way, with numerous local agencies, towns, cities and villages doing the work that one could do better.
While the delegation left Toronto impressed, they couldn’t come to agreement about regionalizing any of metro Toledo’s significant public systems, planning bodies or services. Moving to a more unified system inherently involves the loss of power. Local control, and local “kingdoms” are not so easily dismantled.
For many reasons, Toronto has continued to grow. The Toledo region has largely stayed the same. Andy expressed frustration that he was unable to convince his delegation of the importance of solving problems that affect the whole region at the regional level. We still have a patchwork of water providers. We lack a strong regional transportation plan and agency. We have many who fight the idea of regionalism, rejecting any proposal to consider local government consolidation.
Often our fundamental American principles of decentralization of authority and local control are at odds with our desires for an efficient and business-like government. If we want both, we are going to have to summon some deep powers of imagination, so that we can rethink the arrangement of our political institutions and find new ways to live out our democratic values.
But I remain optimistic. We have incredible tools available for the management, analysis and display of information. We have to start using them. It is time to build up our civic capacity for problem-solving. And we have to start with a deeper analysis of our institutions, their dynamics and the conditions that they create in communities.
These days, Andy now works primarily to advance the view that parents are the most important thing in a child’s life. For decades in the juvenile court, he had to be the person to make one of the toughest decisions you can make – whether or not to take away a child from his or her parents. He astutely observes that many social programs, public policies and our economy, which demands two incomes to support our households, undercut the importance of parents. He says we need to do more as a society to support them. If we do more to support parents, we’ll have much less work to do to support their children. Lots of what Judge Andy Devine says makes a great deal of sense. Hopefully, the next generation will be able to take his lessons forward.