Governor still mulling creation of new Indiana 'heritage' agency

October 31, 2009

Gov. Mitch Daniels is reconsidering his plan to create a state agency focused on history.

Daniels had planned last month to sign an executive order making the long-discussed “heritage” department a reality, lawmakers close to the plan said. IBJ reported online Oct. 16 that he planned to do so, but no order has materialized.

The Governor’s office won’t talk about what exactly is being considered, or what prompted Daniels to pull back.

“This has long been discussed. This continues to be discussed,” spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said.

The idea of merging the State Library, State Museum and several other history-related entities into one new agency is still on the table, said Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Indianapolis, who filed a bill to that effect last session.

“I know it’s going to happen. They just have more internal things to work out,” he said.

Advocates believe the consolidation would save money and lead to better organization of the state’s vast historic resources, which now are overseen by a hodgepodge of commissions and state offices.

Murphy said an aide to Daniels mentioned to him on Oct. 16 that an executive order would be signed the following day. Though that didn’t happen, Murphy said he has since spoken with David Pippen, Daniels’ senior policy director, and still believes the governor will create the department by year-end.

Another longtime proponent of the reorganization, Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said Pippen told him the governor’s blueprint follows the bill Merritt filed in the 2009 session.

The bill, which died in conference committee, would have merged seven offices: the State Museum and Historic Sites, the State Library, the Commission on Public Records, the Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology, the Indiana Historical Bureau, the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission, and the State House Tour office.

“They are considering how to marshal all these heritage forces,” Merritt said.

About 300 full- and part-time positions would be affected. Most of those jobs are within the Department of Natural Resources, which includes the museum, 12 historic sites and the preservation office.

The State Library has 79 employees, while the Commission on Public Records, which includes the state archive, has 48.

The Historical Bureau, which oversees historic-marker signs, employs eight people.

Though Murphy and Merritt believe the merger would save money, there’s no evidence of that. The Legislative Services Agency’s fiscal-impact statement on Merritt’s bill was inconclusive.

“Cost savings, if any, will depend on the efficiencies gained by the consolidation of duties in the [Department of Indiana Heritage],” the analyst stated. “Also, costs will increase to establish a new department, a new commissioner, and for administration of new fees.”

Merritt’s bill would have allowed the state historic sites to charge admission, potentially offsetting some costs in the new department.

The lawmakers are concerned about public access. While working on a master’s degree in history, Murphy said, he was disappointed to find the state archives closed on weekends, and old newspaper collections split between the state and the private, not-for-profit Indiana Historical Society.

“Indiana’s resources were deep and broad, but I didn’t think very well-organized.”

Murphy noted that the State Library resides in a relatively new building on the Central Canal, while the archive, which holds the 1816 constitution, is on East 30th Street.

“You could knock the whole building down with your car,” Murphy said. The archives might have a better shot at increased funding if it were part of a history agency, he argued.

The state’s various historic agencies are sometimes confused with private, not-for-profit organizations. The Historical Society collects non-governmental papers and photographs, while the State Museum collects three-dimensional artifacts.

Marsh Davis, president of the Historic Landmarks Foundation, said he’s always backed the idea of a state history department.

The foundation works closely with the Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology.

“One of their primary roles is to ensure tax dollars aren’t used to destroy historic properties,” Davis said. Though the office is obscure, he added, “Their work is essential to what we do.”

It’s unclear how much input the Governor’s Office has sought from affected agencies.

Murphy said Daniels’ staff has studied the merger since 2008.

That year, he said, state archivist Jim Corridan, who is also director of the Public Records Commission and deputy state librarian, led the study group.

“They worked extensively with us and the Governor’s Office on what would be included and what wouldn’t,” Murphy said.

Corridan, however, said he’s never analyzed a potential merger. “We would support the administration’s efforts, whatever they are.”•


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