Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Saturday signed a bill into law that reshapes Marion County government through the elimination of four at-large City-County Council seats and other changes.
Senate Enrolled Act 621 gives the Indianapolis mayor more budgetary oversight of county office-holders, including the prosecutor and sheriff. It also grants the mayor the right to appoint five of nine members to the Metropolitan Development Commission, compared to the four members he appoints now.
Pence acknowledged the signing was controversial given the political makeup of the mayor's office and the at-large council seats being eliminated. Mayor Greg Ballard is a Republican and the four at-large seats belong to Democrats.
“Despite my misgivings about certain aspects of SEA 621, I am signing this legislation because it serves the public interest by granting to the current mayor of Indianapolis—and any future mayor of either political party—the authority to manage the city’s finances in a manner that protects taxpayers and encourages economic development and job creation," Pence said in prepared statement.
The elimination of the seats begins with the 2015 election and could change the power structure of the council. Democrats now have 15-14 majority.
“I am concerned that signing this legislation will eliminate four at-large seats that are currently held by one political party," Pence said. "However, I am consoled by the fact that nothing in this legislation removes the incumbent council members before their terms expire or erodes the right of voters to express their will to elect the mayor and City-County Council majority of their choosing in 2015. Were it otherwise, I certainly would have vetoed this bill."
The measure also shrinks residency requirements for mayoral and council candidates to one year; does away with the council’s power to assess a one-time tax on the Capital Improvement Board; reduces Marion County’s township boards from seven members to five; and mandates centralized counting of absentee ballots in Marion County.
“I applaud Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly’s decision to protect Marion County taxpayers, promote economic development and strengthen the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department,” Ballard said in a prepared statement.
[I'm] disappointed in governor's decision to sign SB 621 into law," council member Maggie Lewis, a Democrat, said on her Twitter account. "SB 621 allows [the] mayor to lead [without] bipartisan compromise. "What was the point of having the 2011 elections? Results from Nov. 2011 just erased!"