Township offices have to go

March 2, 2009
Most Hoosiers fall under the jurisdiction of 26 separate local government officials. Indiana has 239 library districts, 293 school districts, 886 "special" districts, 1,008 townships and 10,300 local officials.

What is it going to take for us to peel off some of these unnecessary layers, which are clogging up government and eating up precious tax dollars?

The timing seems perfect. Gov. Mitch Daniels is fresh off a sweeping victory based on a campaign that emphasized government reform. In the same election, voters in many Indiana counties approved the elimination of township assessors in favor of a single county assessor. And Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard recently unveiled a broad streamlining plan he dubbed "Unigov 2.0."

And yet the Indiana Senate first watered down and then defeated a bill that would have completed the consolidation of Marion County government under the Indianapolis mayor.

The Senate also cut the heart out of another bill that would have abolished township government. The weaker version it passed Feb. 24 would wipe out township boards, give county councils oversight of township budgets, and eliminate nepotism in township government. Unfortunately, it leaves township trustees in place and some of its provisions exclude Marion County. Even more unfortunately, the bill may die in the House of Representatives.

Such reform has no friend in House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, nor in other leaders who head committees where the bill is likely to land.

"I believe there's a need for township government, especially in certain counties," said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who chairs the House Local Government Committee.

That statement smacks of cronyism, which seems about the only true rationale for opposing consolidation. Opponents argue that township government is more transparent than county offices, but government is most transparent and accountable when citizens know who's in charge.

Hoosiers have so little interest in "close-to-the-people" township offices that most advisory board members run unopposed. Former Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer was able to hoard millions of taxpayer dollars because he toiled in near obscurity. Most of us would probably be hard-pressed to name a single one of the 26 local officials (aside from the mayor) who govern us.

What is it going to take to stop the madness?

The nonpartisan Kernan-Shepherd Commission on Local Government Reform has recommended getting rid of 5,833 elected officials and 1,155 governmental units.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle have called for streamlining township government since the days when Republican Steve Goldsmith was mayor. Our mayor still supports it, as does our governor and our business community.

What is it going to take for our legislators to stop pandering to township officials desperate to keep their jobs?

Maybe it'll take some new legislators. Let's watch the votes and take down names. Because we shouldn't have to take it anymore.

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