RICH JAMES: Legislature hasn't delivered on government reform

2014-03-05T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Legislature hasn't delivered on government reformBy Rich James nwitimes.com
March 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels will tell you one of his proudest accomplishments was his appointment of former Gov. Joe Kernan and Chief Justice Randall Shepard to chair the Local Government Study Commission.

The charge was to come up with recommendations to make local government smaller and more efficient.

Daniels said, “Indiana has some 2,700 local units of government authorized to levy property taxes. Governing these units are more than 10,700 elected officials, 1,100 of whom assess property. Few other states have as much local government.”

A good number of those units of government are in Lake County.

The Kernan/Shepard study was released in December 2007.

Unfortunately, little has been accomplished.

Kernan/Shepard said the model for Indiana's local government is archaic.

“We should no longer try to deliver government services under boundaries set according to travel by horseback,” the study said. “That’s no longer efficient in this age of the Internet, interaction and interstates.”

The commission made recommendations for every level of local government.

Unfortunately, the Legislature has done little over the last seven years to have the 27 recommendations implemented.

The Legislature did get rid of the assessors in small townships and turned over those duties to the county assessor.

But in large townships, the Legislature allowed the residents to vote on keeping the assessors. In Lake County, just the North Township assessor was eliminated by voters.

The study did mandate consolidation of E-911 centers.

But the Legislature has done nothing on two of the study’s key recommendations.

One was to move municipal elections to even-numbered years to save money and foster greater voter turnout.

And the other, which would be wonderful for counties like Lake and Porter, would eliminate the three county commissioners in favor of a single administrator.

And the study calls for that administrator taking over the duties of most county elected officials. It would be much like a mayor appointing a police chief, controller, surveyor, etc.

Can you imagine Hammond or Gary or Crown Point having three mayors?

That is exactly what we’ve got on the county level.

Some say the county administrator would have too much power. It wouldn’t be any greater than that of a mayor.

So why hasn’t the Legislature acted to replace a board of county commissioners with a single administrator?

Legislators often are emphatic about saving money, especially at election time.

A single county administrator would save money — lots of it.

But eliminating county commissioners likely would be unpopular politically on the local level.

And state legislators don’t want to do anything to weaken their chances for re-election.

The bottom line is that saving the taxpayers' money is great, unless it is unpopular in political circles.

Don’t hold your breath waiting on the end of county commissioners.

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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