Ten years ago, political tug-of-war between county Executive James McCarthy and the Summit County Council doomed the chances of a worthy charter amendment making it to the ballot. The Charter Review Commission proposed a change that would have unified various information technology departments under the executive. McCarthy backed the idea, even with a separate board in charge of purchasing, but the council feared he would gain too much control, at the expense of the fiscal officer.

The idea has surfaced again, a new Charter Review Commission recommending combining IT departments run by the county executive, fiscal officer, engineer, sheriff, prosecutor, clerk of courts and environmental services department into a single operation. Instead of being under the executive, the department would be led by a chief information officer, who would report to a board representing the elected officials, plus the president of the County Council.

Such a merger is long overdue, the review commission correctly concluding that so many separate operations lead to costly inefficiencies. Two years ago, the County Council was able to merge four separate Geographical Information Systems (GIS) systems, saving $180,000 annually.

The creation of a new IT department, requiring a charter change, would save far more, setting another example for local governments to follow. Now, Summit spends about 4.9 percent of its operating funds on information technology. Cutting that amount to 3.6 percent, meeting a nationally recognized standard for state and local governments, would save $1.8 million a year.

Northeast Ohio is particularly vulnerable to the costs imposed by many small units of local government. Under its charter form of government, Summit County has made strides toward greater efficiencies, but much remains to be done, as shown by the evolution of so many information technology departments under different elected officeholders.

Ideally, those fiefdoms would be consolidated under the county executive, the County Council providing the checks and balances, the arrangement better serving accountability. More, the county would avoid adding a new board, or what amounts to a new layer of bureaucracy.

That said, there is a different proposal on the table, the council on Monday weighing whether to place the measure on the fall ballot. It should do so. Such a consolidation would reduce overhead and standardize equipment purchases, making additional resources available to update technology, a more efficient county government able to deliver a range of services for less money.

That isnít as far as the county should go in managing its information technology. It does make for an important step forward.