Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Thoughts on the Local Government Reform Report - Part 1

I am extremely impressed with this report. It actually appears that a government commission toured the state, listened to citizens and created a blueprint for streamlining our local government. I must say that the cynic in me was not expecting a document this thorough or this bold. About the only criticism I have is that they didn't attach any cost savings to their recommendations. Granted this would've been more difficult, but I think it's the missing piece that really would've generated the necessary momentum to get these recommendations enacted.

Now, for the wonks out there I'm going to go through each recommendation and give my comments. Seeing as there are 27 recommendations I decided to break it down into two posts. Here's part 1 and I'll have the other half tomorrow. Let me know what you think about any of the specific recommendations
  1. Establish a single-person elected county chief executive.

  2. As you'll soon see this is the recommendation that makes many of the others work. This also makes perfect sense - why have multiple commissioners and a county council all passing the buck? Nobody blinks when discussing the executive branch within a municipality and county government should be the same. If citizens want accountability then there needs to be somebody at the top of the food chain.

  3. Establish a single, unified legislative body for county government. Expand legislative membership to ensure sufficient representation for included rural suburban and urban populations.

  4. The report points out that we're the only state that divides fisacal and legislative decisions between two separate elected bodies. I've pointed out several instances of infighting between the commissioners and the county council here in Allen County. It's time we elect a county "mayor" and consolidate the powers of the commissioners and council into one legislative body. I doubt many citizens even know which body is responsible for what. On several occassions I've had to ask the commissioners that very question.

  5. Transfer the responsibility for administering the duties of the county auditor, treasurer, recorder, assessor, surveyor, sheriff and coroner to the county executive. Transfer the varied duties of the clerk to the courts, the county election board and the county executive. Establish objective minimum professional qualifications and standards for certain county administrative functions.

  6. The report points out that these are not typically thought of as policy positions as they are administrative in nature. I agree with the commission that these positions should not be elected positions. I want the best person for the job and not some political hack from the right party. However, I do believe the county legislative body should have to give their approval in order to maintain some oversight. Appointing the sheriff is likely to be controversial but the report makes a valid point by saying that other law enforcement positions are not elected - i.e. chief of police, FBI director, etc

  7. Retain a local government role for property tax assessment under a county assessor required to meet professional qualifications and appointed by the county executive.

  8. This seems like a no-brainer as local officials should be assessing local property. However the commission then contradicts itself by saying that the assessment of industrial and commercial property should be done by the state. This is a horrible idea and is an overreaction to the current property tax dustup. Local officials know thier markets better than some state bureacrat does. Ensuring the county assessors meet specific professional qualifications will be more than enough.

  9. Create a countywide body to oversee the provision of all public safety services.

  10. This community can't even agree on who should run the 911 call centers let alone all the public safety services. The report points out that that there is a lot of duplication of services here that cost taxpayers money. As an example they cite the fact that city residents pay for both county and city law enforcement. I have a feeling this is where a tremendous amount of cost savings can be achieved. Howver, as President Clinton was fond of saying, good policy doesn't always make for good politics. So how are they going to get this done? The commission recommends a freeze on all public safety levies until the change is made. Good luck

  11. Consolidate emergency public safety dispatch by county or multi-county region. Require that new, local emergency communications systems be compatible with the Project Hoosier SAFE-T statewide 800MHz communications system.

  12. Clearly the dispatch centers should be consolidated - bureaucratic infighting is the only thing holding it back. But I don't know enough about the SAFE-T system to even comment.

  13. Transfer the responsibility for all funding of the state's trial court system to the state, including public defenders and probation

  14. This points to one of the commission's guiding principals - things required by the state should be paid for by the state. Citizens should not have unequal access to the legal system due to where they live.

  15. Move the funding of child welfare from counties to the state

  16. Again, state mandates should be paid for by the state

  17. Transfer the responsibility for administering the duties of township government for assessment, poor relief, fire protectio...(etc) to the county executive. Establish a countywide poor relief levy.

  18. Readers will remember that this was the subject of a previous post here at FWL where I argued for this very recommendation. The report informs us that "no other state has a universal layer of township government." The commission also believes that the county government is "large enough to allow economies of scale but not so large that they preclude sufficient access for citizens". I agree 100%

  19. Transfer the responsibilities of the township small claims courts in Marion County to superior courts.

  20. Only affects those in Marion county but this seems redundant since the previous recommendation axed the townships altogether.

  21. Reorganize school districts to achieve a minimum student population of 2000. Establish state standards and county-based planning process similar to that established in 1959 legislation

  22. Ok, this is going to be controversial. Many people enjoy small schools and fear that consolidating districts will take that away. However the commission specifically states that they do not want to consolidate schools:
    Indiana has too many school districts and administrators, but Indiana does not have too many schools. We recommend retaining geographically dispersed schools to allow districts to maintain optimal class sizes and serve local populations and needs.

    To back up this claim they tell us that Indiana employs fewer instruction personnel than the national average but more non-instructional personell than the national average. That is NOT a where we should be. This could be a post all on its own but suffice to say that I think this one is DOA. Many people base where they live on the school district and they will fight like hell to keep that barrier in place.

  23. Require that school corporation bonds be approved by the fiscal body of the municipal or county government containing the greatest proportion of assessed value in the school district.

  24. Amen. Upon moving here I was simply amazed that the school board was it's own taxing authority. This is a long overdue change for Indiana government. However, the commission does not go far enough as they don't suggest that citizens should be able to remonstrate through a referendum process. The current process is a mess and unfairly stacks the deck against the citizenry. And I reject the idea that citizens will never vote to build new schools. One only needs to look at the most recent FWCS remonstrance process, where the district could've avoided a remonstrance altogether by opting for $300 Million instead of pushing for the full $500 Million, to know that isn't true.

  25. Prompt joint purchasing by schools

  26. The report points out that very few districts are purchasing items jointly and they recommend that they be required to purchase specific items as part of joint agreements.

  27. Conduct all non-partisan school elections during November in even years

  28. Another no-brainer as schoold districts should not be allowed to hold their elections during primary season. Government should strive for higher voter turnout and not the opposite.


Charlotte A. Weybright said...


Just curious, but do you know whether or not the government commission made it to Fort Wayne?

If so, was it announced? I know you are really up on these things.

Jeff Pruitt said...

Yes they did come here and it was announced although I was unable to make it to the meeting...

Vic DeMize said...

"... I don't know enough about the SAFE-T system to even comment."

For your edification...

In brief, Project Hoosier SAFE-T is about the unification of communications not only between outlets (Fire Dept./Police Dept) but also between city, township, county and state agencies. It would call for standardized technologies and equipment as well as transmission on standardized frequencies so that, for example, if a city firefighter needs assistance and the nearest backup is a township person who happens to be in the vicinity they can receive the call and respond.

That's my understanding, anyway.

Eric White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric White said...


I just wanted to pick your brain on this one. There has been a lot of press about merging the Allen County dispatch center with the Fort Wayne dispatch. But little is ever said about the fact that New Haven has its own dispatch. Should this be merged as well?

Jeff Pruitt said...


I don't know anything about the New Haven dispatch but off the top of my head I would say YES - all centers should be merged county wide.

Is there a compelling reason not to consolidate all these centers? I certainly haven't heard one in the FW-AC debate but perhaps that doesn't necessarily apply in New Haven's case...

Rachel said...

As the report noted, callers for emergency services aren't so concerned about where the call is being answered. They are far more concerned about where the first responders will be coming from.

People in New Haven should demand that the local police, fire and ambulance services remain in New Haven, but if the call is answered in Fort Wayne, Woodburn or Arcola, that doesn't really matter as long as the dispatcher is knowledgeable and capable.

Eric White said...


I am certainly not an expert on this subject, but I will throw out my own two cents (did you expect anything less?) :)

If I were the mayor of New Haven, or any small city capable of providing 911 service for that matter, I'd probably fight to maintain ownership of the dispatch service.

In the overall context of government reform, we've been talking about more accountability. But at the same time we're talking about taking a service away from those who SHOULD be accountable. How is the mayor of a city supposed to be held accountable for providing public safety services, if the dispatch of those services is being controlled by someone else?

Some have raised the argument, "Who cares where the call goes, as long as someone is dispatched?" This is a logical argument and undoubtedly it has some merit. Then again, I guess if that arguments makes sense, then we could also consider contracting 911 service with a call center in Nigeria.

In the age of technology, people often forget about the human element of 911 service. Within the last year, I remember reading an editorial in the paper about a woman whose father died because the wrong EMS was dispatched in southwest Fort Wayne, while the correct station was just up the street. While it is important that 911 is computerized, sometimes good old fashioned human knowledge and experience is the key to providing efficient service.

In situations where seconds can mean the difference between life and death, detailed, first-hand knowledge of a particular area can be extremely critical. This is the advantage that many of the smaller cities and towns have over the dispatch centers responsible for larger areas.

Should Fort Wayne and Allen County merge centers? I guess if they're going to occupy practically the same space and serve largely overlapping areas, then the answer is probably yes. However, both the mayor of Fort Wayne and the Sheriff should have some role in the oversight of the center. That way both can be responsible and accountable for the service. Otherwise, if only one person is responsible, then the entire police departments should be merged. New Haven should maintain its own center, but it should work in coordination with the County 911 (which I believe that it already does.)

Jeff Pruitt said...

I figured the "outsourcing" argument would come up and I agree that would make no sense. We need to maintain local accountability and proximity but I think control at the county level is good enough.

You do make some valid points and I suppose it would come down to cost savings and whether or not the citizenry wants that savings in exchange for losing some control...