Genesis of Regional Solutions to Local Problems
In 1970, Oklahoma’s governor established 11 sub-state planning districts. Subsequently, the local governments served by the planning districts created the 11 COGs using the sub-state planning district boundaries. By coordinating regional approaches and solutions applicable at the local level, our regional councils of governments have become highly successful vehicles for change.
Throughout the past 40 years, our regional councils have evolved from conduits for regional planning and grant administration to catalysts of change in all aspects of life throughout the state. Today’s regional councils provide an invaluable statewide network that remains committed to the legislature’s original vision for effective and effi cient program delivery and planning that spans local government boundaries.
As we evolve, we continue to offer professional staff capacity and expertise not available at the local level. We are a vital statewide delivery system that convenes local governments of all size and location to identify and solve complex problems as well as pursue new opportunities. State and federal officials rely on our proven capacity and skill as a highly professional, accountable, effi cient and cost-effective network that can reach local governments, deliver quality programs and foster local cooperation at the sub-state regional level.
Local jurisdictions within our regions depend on us to package and secure financing for projects of all size and complexity; they also count on us to help manage complicated federal and state programs.
As conveners of local governments on sub-state and statewide levels, we provide neutral forums for dialogue, strategic planning and cooperation among diverse local offi cials and other stakeholders. This often overlooked but essential function is simply not available in any other context. Our holistic approach assures program fl exibility and local accountability unique to our structure and mission.
The Council of Government (COG) entities, initially referred to as Sub-state Planning Districts, were originally organized under the provisions of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, often referred to as the Interlocal Government Act, identified in Section 40 and Section 204 of the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act. The original legislation was enacted In the 1960s and thus, the creation of Council of Government entities. With the beginning of the creation of Council districts, a need for the establishment of districts in accordance with regional needs and multi-county participation was identified and referred to the Oklahoma Industrial Development and Park Commission by Senate Bill 290 passed by the 1969 Oklahoma Legislature.
The Oklahoma Industrial Development and Park Commission conducted public hearings and on November 17, 1970 , a proposed plan was presented at a public hearing in Oklahoma City to finalize a plan for regional delineation. The final plan gave dual participation options to 7 counties to allow those counties to join and affiliate with the optional region (district) that was deemed most beneficial or already most closely aligned with planning and development efforts. Subsequent directives or interpretations resulting from the Federal Act caused the Sub-state planning districts to be identified as a regional clearing house for review and comment on proposed state and federal projects to identify a conflict or lack of conflict with existing plans for the area represented by the Sub-state planning district. The project review requirement was repealed in 1992.
The Southern Oklahoma Development Association (SODA) was the first Planning and Development district created under the provisions of the Federal act. In 1971 a concern was expressed by representatives of SODA, that much work had been done regarding the enactment of the recommended sub-state regionalization plan approved by the Oklahoma Industrial Development and Park Commission, but no legislation had been introduced to enact the statewide provision. Roy Boatner, then a member of the House of Representatives, District 21, visited with Governor David Hall and requested he enact the provisions by Executive Order to give official recognition to SODA, other COGs created and other COGs to be created. This would allow an orderly development of organizations that would cover the entire State of Oklahoma . Governor Hall signed the Executive Order on May 21, 1971 ; it became official at filing with the Secretary of State on May 24, 1971 .
What is a COG?
Regional Councils are voluntary associations of local governments formed under Oklahoma law. These associations deal with the problems and planning needs that cross the boundaries of individual local governments or that require regional attention. Regional councils coordinate planning and provide a regional approach to problem solving through cooperative action. Although known by several different names, including councils of governments, regional planning commissions, associations of governments and area councils, they are most commonly referred to as “regional councils” or COGs. No legal distinction exists among the different names.
Regional councils are defined by law as political subdivisions of the state, but they have no regulatory power or other authority possessed by cities, counties, or other local governments. Decisions by regional councils are not binding on member governments. These decisions are considered and adopted as members needs require. As political subdivisions, regional councils are subject to state laws governing open meetings, access to public records and conduct of public officials.
The geographic boundaries of regional councils in Oklahoma must coincide with the eleven (11) designated planning regions. Membership of the regional councils includes local governments as well as Cities, Counties, Conservation Districts and Indian Nations. The COGs include all seventy-seven (77) counties. Counties and cities comprise the majority of regional council membership.
Federal law provided the initial impetus for creating regional councils. The national legislation authorized organizations directed by local elected officials to prepare a variety of regional plans at the sub state level. In their early years, regional councils were heavily involved in comprehensive planning, with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, these funds were significantly reduced in 1982. Regional councils continue to do comprehensive planning, however, with funding provided from local funds, state assistance, EDA and special contributions; projects now include regional data collection and analysis, mapping, and coordination of environmental, economic, social program plans, Rural Fire Defense, Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) Grant programs and Hazard Mitigation Planning.
Organization and Functions
Participating local governments design their regional council to meet specific local needs. The organizational structures of the eleven (11) Oklahoma Regional Councils vary and each regional council has its own bylaws or articles of agreement. The policymaking bodies in most of the councils are the board of directors, who govern the regional council policies. Policy making responsibilities usually include proposing or adopting the annual budget and dues structure, determining criteria for membership, amending bylaws, appointing members to various standing committees, and approving the employment of an executive director.
A fulltime professional staff carries out the directives of the policymaking bodies. The executive director, who is employed by the governing body, is the chief administrative officer of the council. The executive director manages the regional council’s daily operations and staff. Typical staff positions of a regional council include Director of Regional Planning, Fiscal Officer, Regional Services Coordinator, and Planners and Coordinators for Aging, Employment and Training, Environmental, Rural Fire Defense Coordinator, REAP Grants Coordinator and other programs.
Basic responsibilities of regional councils may involve planning for the development of the area, assisting member local governments in carrying out regional plans or recommendations, contracting with member local governments for the provision of certain services, and reviewing and commenting on applications for state and federal financial assistance. Originally, regional councils assisted member local governments in meeting national water and sewer, open space, and housing planning mandates. Since their inception, however, responsibilities of Oklahoma regional councils have changed and grown to include comprehensive planning and service delivery in program areas such as aging, employment and training, economic development, emergency communications, environmental quality, solid waste management, transportation and rural development. Regional councils also provide technical assistance and training to members to help local governments carry out their programs and service delivery.
COGs are assisted in their regional efforts through the Oklahoma Association of Regional Councils (OARC). A statewide association of regional councils, OARC serves as a vehicle for COGs to collaborate and exchange success stories, educate the legislature and state agency boards and staff, and to forge a collective vision and strategy for regionalism in Oklahoma . OARC carries out its work through a governing board of directors, an executive director’s council, a structure of policy and program committees, staff associations of regional council program coordinators, and a management staff in Oklahoma City . The board consists of one or more members representing each COG.
Regional Council Programs
Regional councils operate a variety of programs and provide services designated to meet regional needs. Specific programs and activities often stem from contracts or agreements with state or federal agencies, other regional organizations, and local governments. Local governments contract with one another to perform a multitude of governmental functions and services through multi-jurisdictional agreements.
A unique aspect of regional councils is their ability to serve as comprehensive regional organizations and also to be designated as special purpose agencies, such as economic development districts or area agencies on aging. Because the geographic boundaries or regional councils are coterminous with the state planning regions, the councils are suited to fulfill multiple area wide planning responsibilities of other regional entities.
Regional councils assist member local governments in a cost effective manner with management and technical expertise in a number of areas. Technical assistance is generally provided at the request of member government, formally or informally, or as part of a specific program activity. Technical assistance represents an important service of regional councils as it results in expanded staff capabilities for member local governments and allows members to deal with issues without incurring expenses beyond their means.
Examples of technical assistance provided by regional councils include financial management, planning and community development, joint data and computer services, cooperative purchasing, training programs for local officials, establishment of housing assistance programs, preparation of grant applications and local ordinance writing, 911 services, mapping and much more.
Many regional councils also apprise member governments of current programs, grants, and upcoming events through newsletters or electronic networks. Regional councils often sponsor seminars, workshops, and demonstrations, which provide information on topics pertinent to member governments. COGs are the conduits between federal, state, and local units of government.