EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: State constraints limit local government innovation

2014-06-15T19:57:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: State constraints limit local government innovationBy Michael Griffin nwitimes.com
June 15, 2014 7:57 pm  • 

Jim Collins, author of the highly praised "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't," has written a companion monograph that applies to the “social sectors” — government and nonprofits. Some of his insights are very instructive.

If government is to get to great, we need appropriate metrics to determine what great is. Collins suggests that too often reform metrics focus on inputs rather than outputs — resources rather than performance.

So much of the environment in which local governments operate are highly affected by the body of rules, reforms and constraints that the Indiana General Assembly has adopted over many years, and it may be arresting innovation in local governance.

Home rule generally describes the nature of local government authority. Its opposite, Dillon’s Rule, basically was the way all local governments in the United States were operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In short, the rule was unless the legislature says you can, you can’t.

Home rule reverses Dillon’s Rule. Its basic tenet is unless the legislature says you can’t, then you can. Home rule in some form was adopted by 49 of 50 states over the course of the mid to late 20th century. It was adopted in Indiana in 1980.

However, since its adoption, Indiana’s home rule as a force for innovation has been eroding. The list of exceptions in the law grows. Local governments cannot regulate door-to-door solicitors. Local governments cannot compel compliance or code inspections on rental properties. In fact, most local ordinances that prohibit littering are technically in violation of Indiana home rule because there is already a state law that prohibits it and does not expressly confer local power to regulate it.

While it’s true to say Indiana is a home rule state; it seems increasingly Dillon’s Rule in practice.

Recent public finance reforms such as those that cap property taxes through the use of a circuit breaker, in effect fix the price of certain services in local government rather than cost.

While some of these reforms are welcome, the Indiana General Assembly has focused on modifying the inputs of government with the objective to improve governance. If I read Jim Collins correctly, too much focus on inputs and insufficient focus on outputs will not get us to great.

While these erosions in home rule and other limits on local government’s ability to innovate, invent and serve well are troubling, this explains the challenges rather than excuse we local elected officers face.

We should help our state Legislature understand the effects the undue emphasis on inputs has on local innovation and imaginative public service.

In short, it complicates and sometimes curtails our ability to deliver necessary and desirable local public services at the highest possible quality and at the lowest possible cost.

Local elected and appointed officials, even in this framework, can and must work to create a good to great ethos. Even with the constraints, we can foster a culture of innovation, encourage imaginative public service and governance, practice disciplined thought, produce disciplined action and work to create more outputs of greatness. The people we serve should receive no less.

Michael Griffin is Highland's clerk-treasurer. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Times

Featured Businesses

Submit a Letter to Editor

We welcome letters from readers on any issue of public interest, and make every effort to publish as many as we can and in a timely manner. The Times will publish only one letter a month from a writer, and be sure to include your name, address and a telephone number for verification. Letters should be 150 words or less. They will be edited.

Letters may be submitted:
  • Via our submission form.
  • Via e-mail.
  • Via fax: (219) 933-3249 or (219) 465-7298
  • Via mail or by hand to our offices:
    • 601 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321
    • 2080 N. Main St., Crown Point, IN 46307
    • 1111 Glendale Blvd., Valparaiso, IN 46383
    • 3410 Delta Dr., Portage, IN 46368
    • Please mark envelopes with "Attn: Letters"


Email Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross or call (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357



Who do you support for Porter County commissioner?

View Results