Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Thoughts On Local Government Reform Report - Part 2

I know I promised this yesterday but better late than never I suppose. Numbers 18, 19 and 24 are the most important IMO:

  1. Allow the city council to appoint the city clerk in second-class cities.

  2. This is consistent with having administrative positions become appointed rather than elected and I would support this.

  3. Move all municipal elections to an even-year election cycle

  4. I know this might be unpopular for some because they like the idea of having regular elections, and I'm also sympathetic to those that want to keep the number of candidates they have to research to a minimum. However, the report points out that some cities are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars they could otherwise save if they piggybacked onto the other elections.

  5. Transfer the responsibilities of municipal health departments to the county health department

  6. We've already gone through that consolidation here in Allen County and I think it makes sense for other counties to do this as well.

  7. Reorganize library systems by county and provide government library service for all citizens

  8. The report points out that Indiana already has an excellent library system that ranked second in the country in 2004. However they also show that using statewide benchmarks can mask some of the underlying problems. For example they cite that 395,000 citizens do not have access to library services in their communities, and that our libraries employ twice as many staff as the national average. Much of the "over-employment" probably comes from the fact that 60% of our library districts account for only 8% of the statewide circulation. Like for schools, the commission only recommends consolidating districts and not actual libraries. Why in the world do we have 239 library districts and only 92 counties? In fact why do we have library districts at all? The commission is right to recommend that these be rolled into the counties.

  9. Require that the budgets and bonds of library and all other special districts be approved by the fiscal body of the municipality or county government containing the greatest proportion of assessed value in the unit seeking approval

  10. This should be one of the first recommendations that gets passed. Is is outrageous that Indiana allows unelected officials to issue debt and raise property taxes. As John B Kalb would say - Taxation without representation is tyranny!

  11. Strengthen the current joint purchasing infrastructure of libraries

  12. This makes sense to me but the committee's recommendation was rather weak as there's no mechanism suggested to ensure this gets done.

  13. Expand voluntary coordination and consolidation of units and services. Strengthen the power of voters to compel consolidation.

  14. One of the problems with consolidation is there no incentive for bureaucrats to take action. The commission is recommending that the state legislature give incentives to local government such as property tax credits and more local revenue tools. I would go a step further by allowing consolidation to take place via referendum. If the people want to consolidate their government then that should be their right and we should remove any and all barriers that are denying the people's will.

  15. Allow local governments to establish service districts with differentiated levels of service and corresponding tax rates

  16. Essentially this would allow local government to tax citizens within different geographic locations differently. For example if you're outside the city you shouldn't be paying for city water and sewer. This seems to be a secondary recommendation but would become critical if the other consolidation recommendations passed.

  17. Facilitate local improvement efforts using best public management and business practices. Strengthen state mechanisms that support these activities, particularly for collective purchasing

  18. This is all about applying six sigma, total quality management, or another cost/quality management system to local government. I'm not a big fan of six sigma (that's an entire post to itself) but as long as local government has a mechanism to measure their service and find areas for improvement then I'm happy. Also, Fort Wayne was mentioned in this recommendation - "The recently achieved improvements in service to citizens in Fort Wayne are worth emulating".

  19. Prohibit employees of a local government unit from serving as elected officials within the same local unit of government

  20. This should be enacted immediately and was a big reason why I could not support Marty Bender's candidacy for city council. Here's what the commission had to say:
    First, it is a clear conflict of interest for public employees to benefit from their actions as elected officials. Second, it undermines the chain of command and procedures for discipline that are critical to effective public services, particularly public safety. And perhaps most important, it diminishes the faith that citizens must have that local governments act in the public interest.

    I couldn't agree more but evidently the people of Fort Wayne disagree.

  21. Assign the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to monitor progress toward these recommendations and conduct additional research as needed. Produce an annual report on progress through 2011.

  22. You mean we're going to establish benchmarks (see below) AND measure results? Somebody pinch me...

  23. Establish a statewide benchmarking system to provide the public and policymakers with current information about local government productivity and progress

  24. See previous comment. They also want to create a regularly updated database that's available to the public. THIS is how it should be done at all levels of government.

  25. Designate a state office to provide technical assistance to local government

  26. The commission is wise to suggest such a position and they go a step further by suggesting this office should have no other responsibilities so they don't get bogged down by other issues. I would only go a step further by putting a sunset date on this position so it's effectively eliminated at some future date unless the state legislature renews it...


Eric White said...

On number 19, would Fort Wayne City Council be responsible for approving all bonds for the Allen County Public Library system?

I know that it says "or the county", but I envision this applying to potential multi-county library systems.

Jeff Pruitt said...

Good question. As written I believe it would give the city council authority in our case, but I would support the new county legislative bodies having authority if the library districts are to be consolidated at the county level...

Karen Goldner said...

ACPL is a county-wide system. The way I read Recommendation #19 is that it would be the Allen County Council, since there is 100% overlap between the area served by ACPL and Allen County.

Jeff Pruitt said...


The full text reads:

"We recommend that the fiscal body of the county (in the case of unincorporated areas) or municipality containing the most assessed value within the unit boundaries approve all budgets and the issuance of all bonds with input from citizens and taxpayers."

Since the library district does cover part of an incoporated area, I read this to mean that whichever municipality has more assessed value in the area would get to make the decision.

Do you read it differently?

J Q Taxpayer said...

I see it as follows.

The library operates within the Allen County unit of government. So it would be the county to pass on it.

Some cities here in Indiana have their own library so their government unit would be the city.

I believe Angola has their own library so it would be up to their city council to pass on such issues. There is no way Stueben County council should pass on issues regarding the city library.

Karen Goldner said...

Allen County contains 100% of the assessed value of the Allen County Public Library system. Fort Wayne only contains +/- 2/3 of the assessed value. So isn't 100% more than 2/3?

Plus, given the context of the rest of the report I cannot believe that the commission would recommend disenfranchising 25% of the taxpayers supporting the ACPL system by limiting its fiscal governance to FW City Council. I am reminded of the immortal words of John Kalb :-)

Seriously, it's goofy enough that such a process exists with Fort Wayne City Council and the county-wide income tax. I would be shocked if the commission were actually recommending expanding this phenomenon.

Jeff Pruitt said...

I completely agree that the county should be responsible but I was confused by the text...

J Q Taxpayer said...

Again what I think they over worded was the fact the library type unit would be reviewed by the government unit it is set up under.

I think some word person made it complex by the way they wrote it. I think it is pretty simple.

Robert Enders said...

Regarding Item 24:
I think it would be better if Bender and other government employees serving in office simply abstained on any votes that would create a conflict of interest. Many politicians work for companies that have government contracts (including me). The same would apply here. If I were elected, I would have abstained from any vote that created a conflict.