DOUG ROSS: What would Unigov mean for Lake County?

2014-04-11T00:00:00Z 2014-04-11T07:08:17Z DOUG ROSS: What would Unigov mean for Lake County?By Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Lake County has more municipalities, libraries, school districts and other units of local government than you can shake a stick at — and don't tell me you haven't been tempted.

Is Lake County collapsing under the weight of all its government? And is there an alternative?

Those questions are all the more relevant during the E-911 consolidation anguish and the decades-long struggle to expand commuter rail service in Lake County.

Enter Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and his discussion of Unigov during his Wednesday visit with The Times Editorial Board.

"If you really want to go beyond the parochialism, you've got to think big," he said.

That means thinking about Unigov, which merged Indianapolis and Marion County when Dick Lugar was mayor there.

"They think regionally, and they're highly successful," McDermott said.

And then there's Lake County, where achieving unity is a struggle.

McDermott's selling point for turning Lake County into one large city — the second biggest in Indiana — is the clout Lake County and its mayor would gain downstate.

That's also one of the biggest fears expressed by many politicians who would be key in accomplishing that merger. 

Their fears are valid and have to be taken into consideration. This is Lake County, after all. But realize the entire state puts a lot of power in one individual — the governor — and cities a lot bigger than Lake County have been successful with just one chief executive.

McDermott used this Lake County Unigov scenario as a midterm exam when he taught a local government course. The college students came up with varying plans, which included a name for the city.

Indiana State University beat him to that punch, though. Its Unigov proposal was dead even before printing was done.

McDermott's proposal is to push the merger years into the future — at least a decade — so the details can be worked out. That gets the current mayors out of the way so it doesn't become a battle for the new supermayor job.

It would work better if the municipal elections were switched to an even-numbered year. Currently, voter turnout is so low during municipal election years that it seems to be mostly municipal employees, their friends and relatives who cast ballots. That's not good public policy.

And, like the Indianapolis Unigov situation, it would take a legislative mandate and not a referendum to accomplish.

Sometimes it's hard to agree to do what's for your own good. Don't believe it? Just talk to any parent whose kid doesn't want to go to school.

Will it happen? Who knows? What Republican supermajority downstate wants to create a Democratic powerhouse? But it could turn into a Republican powerhouse in the future under the right conditions.

Planting seeds now, and continuing to water them, might get us to that point.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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