RICH JAMES: Good government would take major overhaul

2013-05-08T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Good government would take major overhaulBy Rich James nwitimes.com
May 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

What if Hammond had three mayors? Or Valparaiso? Or Crown Point?

It would be governmental chaos.

On the other hand, every Indiana county has three mayors. Only they call them county commissioners.

A legislative committee this summer will study whether it will be prudent for the state to eliminate the county commissioner system.

Instead, there would be an elected county administrator.

My gut feeling is that this would work beautifully in Newton County or any of the state’s more sparsely populated counties.

But while I am an advocate of getting rid of unneeded government, I’ve got reservations about Lake County electing a “mayor” to run the show without some other changes being made.

The system of a mayor and a city council seems to work well in running a city.

So why wouldn’t a county administrator and a county council work out just as well?

In a city, the mayor appoints the engineer, controller, attorney, police and fire chiefs and others.

In a county, the commissioners name some of the same positions. But in county government there are other elected positions, such as prosecutor, sheriff, treasurer, recorder, auditor, assessor, clerk, surveyor and coroner.

One problem with Lake County going to a system of having an elected administrator is the county’s diversity.

Would a single administrator take the interests of the whole county to heart, or be prejudiced toward his own town? Perhaps he or she would have to be fair in order to win re-election.

Is it a question of power? Mayors certainly have power and get things done if they want to get re-elected. Commissioners have power but often get bogged down in indecision and turf wars. They usually get re-elected anyway. Is that good?

When the study committee convenes this summer, it needs to do much more than decide whether counties would be better off with a single administrator.

With a single administrator, the county council would need more authority, such as approving contracts signed by the administrator. It would help prevent corruption.

If we elected a person to replace the board of commissioners, what about those other county offices that spend so much energy justifying their own existence?

Combine the recorder, treasurer, assessor and auditor offices into one and have the administrator name the head of that office, perhaps with approval from the council. Have the administrator name the coroner and surveyor and judges pick the clerk.

Now we are talking about efficiency in government. Gone are several elected officials and their salaries and duplicative employees.

And no longer are decisions too often based on what’s good in terms of re-election. Suddenly there would be new meaning to the phrase that “good government is good politics.”

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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