Public or Private 

The issue of privatizing public functions surfaced twice locally within the last week -- once when President Bush arrived here last Friday to push his plan for partial privatization of Social Security and again when a dispute arose on the Shelby County Commission concerning a move to out-source the management of the county's correction facilities.

To recap what we've said before, we remain dubious about the president's Social Security proposal. Any way we look at it, it would substitute risk for guaranteed benefits -- and that would seem to run counter to the very purpose of Social Security.

The issue of privatizing the county's correction facilities is more complex. On one hand, it would definitely seem to jeopardize the livelihoods of jailers and other personnel. On the other hand, it might indeed save the taxpayer some -- as yet uncertain -- sums of money. Other issues, notably public safety and quality of oversight, are involved. It is a matter requiring that Shelby County commissioners, all 13 of them, try to suspend their prejudices as they reach a decision.

And they might also set aside, as red herrings, the matters of last week's indictments of prison personnel for drug smuggling and the question of how and by whom the county's inquiry into privatization got going in the first place. The commissioners, sitting as a body, will have the last say. That's what counts.

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