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Growing central Indiana suburbs mull class status

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When Fishers becomes Hamilton County’s newest city in 2015, it also will be the first of Indianapolis’ northern suburbs to achieve “second-class” status.

Fewer than two dozen cities in Indiana carry the population-based designation, which calls for a different governance structure than in smaller, third-class communities.

Others—including suburban standouts Carmel and Noblesville—qualify for an upgrade because of their growth but have not made the leap. Yet.

Noblesville’s Common Council began reviewing a proposal this month that would reclassify the city of about 55,000 after the next municipal election.

Becoming a second-class city would mean adding two seats to the seven-member council and dividing the clerk-treasurer’s duties between an elected clerk and a mayor-appointed controller.

ditslear-john-mug Ditslear

Municipal leaders informally looked into making the shift years ago, Mayor John Ditslear said, but decided not to proceed at the time. It made sense to revisit the issue as the community continued to develop, he said.

“As the city has grown, the [council] districts have become so large,” Ditslear said, citing the benefits of expanding the legislative body. In addition to better representing the community, he said, a bigger council would mean fresh faces behind the dais—and possibly some new ideas for improving Noblesville. “New blood is not a bad thing.”

Another factor: Longtime Clerk-Treasurer Janet Jaros has indicated she likely won’t run for a sixth term in 2015, which could make it easier to divide the recordkeeping and financial duties.

And with redistricting planned for next year, anyway, “it appears to be the right time … to take another look,” council President Roy Johnson told IBJ.

Indianapolis is the state’s only first-class city.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard has twice proposed switching the tony suburb to second-class status, only to have the city council vote down ordinances that would authorize the move. The sticking point: Councilors didn’t want to do away with the elected clerk-treasurer’s position, held since 1996 by Diana Cordray.

When the first proposed ordinance failed by a 2-5 vote in June 2004, Brainard agreed to let the council vote on his controller appointment. That measure also failed.

He doesn’t plan to resurrect the issue anytime soon, but “it makes sense for a city of our size to have nine council members,” Brainard said of the 80,000-resident community.

The Carmel Chamber of Commerce agreed, and five years ago advocated reclassifying the city as part of an effort to improve government efficiency.

“It was a non-starter with the council,” said Chamber President Mo Merhoff.

About the same time, former Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson was floating the idea, for at least the third time, of upgrading the Johnson County suburb’s status. The Greenwood City Council approved the move in 2010.

Although class can be an important distinction for city leaders, “regular people” often don’t know the difference, said Jamie Palmer, a senior policy analyst for Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“It’s really just local politicians’ preference,” concurred Ann Cottongim, deputy director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.

suburbs-table.gifFishers officials didn’t have a choice, given the population last November when residents voted to turn the town of 80,000 into a city with an elected mayor and city council. Its first city election is scheduled for 2014.

Regardless of class, cities have an advantage over towns when it comes to economic development because they have a single executive who can act on local government’s behalf, said John L. Krauss, director of Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute and a former deputy to Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut.

“Site selectors and companies looking to make investments in a community are looking for someone they can go to who can make commitments,” he said. “Decisions happen so fast now, if you don’t respond quickly and substantively to an opportunity, it goes someplace else.”

The most significant difference between second- and third-class cities is the degree of sophistication its chief financial officer brings to the job, Krauss said. Elected clerk-treasurers are not required to have any financial experience, he said, and although some are “very competent,” others are not.

“It’s getting closer to the organizational structure of a business,” he said.

Second-class cities can incur additional expenses—salaries for the two additional council members and department-head-level controller, at the very least—but having in-house financial expertise could reduce professional consulting fees.

Johnson, the Noblesville council president, said the panel will weigh all the pros and cons before voting on the class change later this month.

“We’re still in the exploratory and discussion phases of this process,” he said. “We’ll be asking all the questions that, ultimately, will provide the answer to, ‘What’s best for the city of Noblesville?’”•

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  • Time 4 Carmel to be 2nd Class City
    Was the IBJ Scooped? Read my article in last week's Current in Carmel about why Carmel should be a second class city.

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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