Saving money may be the bottom-line reason for reforming local government, but that’s only one of the benefits.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard made that point clear Jan. 27 in a speech to the Rotary Club of Indianapolis, outlining a reform plan called Unigov 2.0 that emphasized efficiency, transparency and accountability.
Ballard, the latest mayor to push for elimination of bureaucratic layers that plague local government, said he wanted to take progress by former mayors Richard Lugar and Bart Peterson to the next level.
"From Mayor Lugar’s Unigov to Mayor Peterson’s Indyworks, streamlining local government has been the right thing to do from any side of the aisle," Ballard said. "Yet, despite all that progress and effort, our local government still looks more like ‘Multigov.’"
In Marion County, said Ballard, "we have nine townships with trustees providing poor relief; six municipal corporations performing critical government services; nine different county officers; elected constables in small claims courts; paid, part-time township advisory boards; and more."
As part of his consolidation plan, Ballard wants to eliminate township governments and transfer their duties to the consolidated municipal government.
Reducing these mini-bureaucracies is likely to be more cost-efficient while making it easier for the average citizen to understand who’s in charge of what. The public has little idea who’s on these township boards, for example. Therefore, the boards operate with almost zero oversight and don’t seem accountable to anyone.
The Center Township Trustee’s Office serves as a prime example of the current system’s failures.
As IBJ reported last February, Trustee Carl Drummer, under little oversight, amassed a $7.1 million surplus, in part by taking in far more money annually than the township was spending on its mission of providing poor relief. (Drummer announced this month he will step down and join the local law firm Ice Miller LLP.)
The seven-member board Drummer is supposed to answer to is made up almost entirely of residents with few professional credentials who essentially rubber-stamp the budget, former board member Jon Elrod told IBJ.
This is where transparency becomes a problem. Reporter Peter Schnitzler spent long hours investigating the operations of the Center Township Trustee’s Office, uncovering how its budgets are compiled, its leadership structure and its real estate holdings. Citizens shouldn’t have to put in so much effort to find out how their government works.
"With township government occurring outside of the view of the council, there is limited oversight of the budgets and effectiveness," Ballard said in his speech. "And, with so many people in charge of various functions, there are overlaps and gaps, with no one really held accountable."
Ballard’s plan deserves support. A transcript of his speech, which details Unigov 2.0, is available on www. indy.gov. Residents would be wise to familiarize themselves with the plan.
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