Portage Board Reverses Course on Citizens Panel

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January 5, 2011; Source: Beacon-Journal | To read the national press, one would think the Tea Party movement had been laser-focused on Congress and bypassed all other levels of government. This article linked to above about the deliberations of the Portage County (Ohio) Commission should be a reminder that the Tea Party is a social movement, not simply a national third party in waiting.

The newest member of the Portage County Commission is the county's first Republican in 15 years, Tommie Jo Marsilio. Her opinions seem to be getting applauded by the Portage County TEA Party organization, though she claims not to have been influenced by the group. Since she joined the Commission, one of her first moves was to get it to reconsider a decision reached in December, prior to her taking office, to abolish the County's economic development operation in favor of contracting with a nonprofit to be set up by the local business community.

Marsilio's argument, applauded by the TEA Party, was that contracting with the new nonprofit didn't make sense because the group has "no assets, no executive director and no business plan," in other words, there's no there there. Although one might think that Tea Party conservatives would automatically hew to the desires of the business sector, that isn't necessarily the case.

Lots of local governments are inexplicably turning over economic development functions to nonprofits affiliated with local chambers of commerce or other business groupings, forgetting that economic development is a much bigger, more inclusive idea than mere business promotion. Just because the TEA Party says something is bad doesn't mean that everyone needs to rush headlong to say it must be good, and vice versa.

Nonprofit Quarterly would be interested in hearing from readers about where they are seeing Tea Party-affiliated or -oriented politicians operating at the local, municipal/county levels and more specifically addressing issues of concern to the nonprofit sector. What is the Tea Party doing at the local government level and how does it strike you?—Rick Cohen