EDITORIAL: City-County Council doesn’t need fixing

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As the second half of the legislative session begins to heat up, one of the bills still in play deserves calling out for its blatantly political intent.

Senate Bill 621, sponsored by Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, passed the Senate last month and has been assigned to the House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform. We hope it dies there.

Many of the bill’s provisions were introduced by Young at the request of Mayor Greg Ballard following last year’s bruising battle over the city budget. It would, among other things, remove the City-County Council’s authority to confirm top-level mayoral appointments. And it would strip the council’s ability to charge the Capital Improvement Board a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT. To fill a budget gap, the council last fall unsuccessfully attempted to levy such a charge against CIB, the public entity that owns or controls most of the city’s sports and convention facilities.

Before passing the bill, the Senate eliminated a provision, requested by Ballard, that would have given the mayor the ability to modify budget line items, rather than simply accept or reject them.

Tinkering with decades-old state code that lays out the rules for governing Indianapolis doesn’t seem like the most forward-thinking response to a tough budget season.

But Young, now with the full Senate’s blessing, doesn’t stop there. The bill would eliminate the four at-large City-County Council seats and reduce the residency requirement for a candidate for mayor from five years to one year and for council from two years to one year.

Watering down the residency requirement serves no clear purpose. And eliminating the countywide, at-large seats is obviously designed to help Republicans maintain control in a county whose population is more diverse and more likely to vote for Democrats than ever before. Without the at-large seats, all of which happen to be held by Democrats, the council would have a Republican majority today.

Politics in its most cynical—and increasingly common—form is a power game whose overriding objective is to create an advantage and impose one’s will. That’s what most of SB 621 looks like to us.

From the looks of it, you’d think Republicans were fighting for their lives. But that’s a hard sell. The Republican Ballard is in his second term, and council Democrats cling to a razor-thin majority—made even thinner with Councilor Jose Evans’ recent announcement that he was joining the Republicans.

Marion County Republicans don’t need cynical state legislators to change the rules for them. They can still win with ideas.•

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