MICKEY MAURER Commentary: The right men for a tough job

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In response to the sticker shock experienced by many Hoosiers upon opening the envelope from the property-tax assessor, Gov. Mitch Daniels announced a number of major moves. He ordered new assessments in Marion County and other counties throughout the state; a tax bill freeze in these counties to the 2006 levy; and the creation of a commission on local government reform, co-chaired by Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard and former Gov. Joe Kernan.

The mission of the commission is to examine the state’s current system of local government and make recommendations on reforming and reshaping it. Essentially, Indiana needs to unloose the shackles of redundant governmental entities and emerge with a streamlined, efficient plan to deliver goods and services and to otherwise carry out the responsibilities of government.

The appointment of Kernan obviously demonstrates that the governor intends the commission to be nonpartisan. The subsequent additions of Adam Herbert, Louis Mahern, Ian M. Rolland, John Stafford and Sue Anne Gilroy comprise a diverse, well-balanced panel.

The restoration of the man he defeated in the last election to a high-profile, important leadership role is seen as politically risky. “Risk” has been the Daniels mantra since the first stop of RV-1 on the campaign trail. Nonpartisanship is a description that has been slow to attach itself to this administration. I don’t know why. The governor has reached across the aisle on the issues of cigarette-tax increases, daylight-saving time and many other important initiatives. In doing so, he has given credit to the opposition for the ideas that germinated from that camp.

Over two years ago, when discussing with the governor whether I should volunteer as president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., I reminded him that I had voted for and supported a number of Democrats. His response: “I don’t care. Just go out and create jobs.”

Let’s congratulate the governor, not only because his choices make good political sense but because Chief Justice Randall Shepard and former Gov. Joe Kernan are, as the governor said, “distinguished and respected Hoosiers” who are highly capable and perfectly suited for this endeavor.

Shepard, one of the brightest minds in Indiana, has served on the Indiana Supreme Court since his appointment by Gov. Robert Orr in 1985. He graduated from Princeton University cum laude and from Yale Law School. He earned a master of laws degree from the University of Virginia. Behind the black robe is a caring guy who is no stranger to community service.

Kernan’s resume includes a four-year hitch as controller of South Bend. He was three times elected as mayor and served nine years before teaming with Gov. Frank O’Bannon. He has the sensitivity, understanding and intimate knowledge of how local government does and should work. Moreover, Kernan understands the property-tax issue. In 2001, a statewide reassessment threatened a 35-percent increase in property-tax bills. Lt. Gov. Kernan was contemplating a run for the office of governor and it was suggested that perhaps he should “hide in the closet” on that issue. Instead, Kernan led a commission to work on the problem. The commission’s conclusions dealt with property-tax reform and included recommendations to eliminate inventory and gross-receipts taxes.

Earlier this summer, I was Kernan’s guest at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium (the Cove) for a Single A professional baseball game between the local Silver Hawks and the Fort Wayne Wizards. Kernan, varsity catcher for the University of Notre Dame, has always loved the game and assumed responsibility for rescuing the Silver Hawks when a prospective purchaser threatened to move the team to Marion, Ill. He was exuberant in his Silver Hawk hat, downing a Philly cheese steak sandwich. Not only were the Silver Hawks winning but the San Diego chicken was performing to a delighted audience. Undoubtedly he will take that same exuberance to this new assignment.

I salute Shepard and Kernan for volunteering to face this crisis and to set the blueprint for sound, efficient government in our state. Indiana will have one more reason to thank these outstanding men.

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.comor go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com.

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