Thomas Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment. A scholar and a Deist, he believed that man’s Euclidean measurements could bring order to what was, at the time, America’s Wild West. After the Revolutionary War, Jefferson proposed that the Northwest Territories -- today’s Upper Midwest -- be subdivided into a grid of townships, six miles on each side, whose boundaries would be drawn without regard to natural features.
Jefferson, who never crossed the Appalachians, unwittingly imposed an impractical form of government on the Midwest, Townships may have been useful in an agrarian society, when the county seat was a day’s journey by horse, but they’ve been obsolete for over a century. Yet they continue to burden us. Illinois' 1,432 townships are the reason we have more governments than any other state. Cincinnati Township in Pike County has only 37 residents. Do those people really need their own government? Gov. Jim Edgar wanted townships abolished.
Suburban state senators Dan Kotowski and Terry Link aren’t quite going that far, but both have proposals to reduce the role of townships. According to the Daily Herald:
Link’s plan calls for creating a commission to dissolve or merge local governments across the state. His bipartisan commission would force all local governments to come forward and prove their worth.
Then, the commission would create a statewide plan to eliminate or consolidate governments that lawmakers would have to approve — or not — without tweaking.
Meanwhile, Kotowski, who is chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, plans to file legislation that would allow certain township positions to be eliminated by referendum.
Apparently, suburbanites have come to recognize the utter worthlessness of townships, by not bothering to run for local boards, or vote in elections:
About 50 percent of school and municipal board positions were contested. But four of five regional office of education seats were uncontested, as were 47 of 70 library boards, 16 of 24 fire protection districts, and 49 of 74 park districts.
Are townships such a derelict form of government that they’re about to die of indifference? Let’s not allow that to happen. We should blow them up instead. Townships weren’t Thomas Jefferson’s biggest mistake -- he also owned and had sex with slaves -- but they’re the biggest mistake we still have with us. Illinois led the way in getting rid of slavery. Now let’s lead the way in getting rid of townships. Even geniuses make mistakes.
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