Griffith stock

Who speaks for some our state and Region's largest municipalities?

An antiquated form of local government means that's not always clear.

Indiana law affords two types of municipal government — towns and cities — and we have both in Northwest Indiana.

Under Indiana law, municipalities with at least 2,000 residents can vote through a referendum to become cities.

It's time for Region towns, seven of which are within the state's 10 largest towns and 10 of which are among the largest 20, to give serious consideration to becoming cities.

City governments are led by an elected mayor — a strong central administrator who anchors day-to-day city business and economic development. Meanwhile, a city council handles the fiscal and legislative matters, such as passing new municipal laws.

Under a town government structure, it's less clear who's actually in charge. A town council of equal peers is responsible for everything.

Though councils elect a president on an annual basis, none has a strong central voice, at least by statute.

When emergencies, including natural disasters, arise a mayor has the authority to act quickly on a city's behalf to lead the response. A mayor also has a voters' mandate to create a long-term vision for a city's future.

We've seen the benefits of this in the thriving cities of Valparaiso, Crown Point and Whiting. Vibrant downtowns in Crown Point and Valpo and a booming lakeshore in Whiting are proof positive.

Griffith, a town government, also has seen some economic development successes and downtown rejuvenation in recent years. That's a tribute to the strong leadership of the town council.

But even leaders there, including Town Council President Rick Ryfa, concede the benefits of a city form of government.

Ryfa has said it may be time for his town, the ninth-most populous in the state, to explore the merits of city government.

Griffith, which has led in progressive policing strategies and many other areas, could be a leader in this regard as well.

So many others should follow. Merrilliville has the most residents of any town in Indiana, with an estimated 34,994 in 2016. Strong central leadership could create the kind of vision and accountability to make the municipality far more economically successful and vibrant.

Schererville, Munster, Highland, St. John, Dyer, Chesterton and Cedar Lake all are among the state's largest towns.

All are eligible to seek city status and should begin weighing this option.

Our state and Region continue to be surrounded by competitive opportunity.

The more our municipalities can speak with a unified voice, the more likely we'll shine bright enough to attract more residents and businesses from Illinois and elsewhere.

When great opportunities present themselves, do we want the ability to pounce, or must we discuss everything in fragmented committee? It's time to make a decision.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase, Editor Bob Heisse, Politics/History Editor Doug Ross and Managing Editor Erin Orr.