I have had a chance to read over the report of the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform (pdf). Following is a summary and, in parentheses, a few of my initial observations.
- Indiana government is too complicated and should be simplified.
- Too many local government decisions are delegated to appointed boards and commissions (p. 8) BUT too many local government officials are elected into their positions, making it difficult for them to work as a team. (p. 8)
- A single individual as county executive would be more efficient than the three county commissioner model. (p. 8) (but possibly less transparent and responsive)
- A model based on the realities of travel and communication by horse and hand-delivery is outdated. (reporting to Indianapolis also?)
- Local government should be more transparent with respect to decisions and spending. (For example, if the legislature mandates a duty, it should probably have to pay for that duty).
- City v. county isn’t sufficient to define the complex geographic realities these days. Recommends thinking of regions as urban, suburban, exurban, and rural. (p. 10).
- More equitable distribution of services and funding them. “Some pay for services they donâ€™t receive; others receive services for which they do not pay. Indiana can do better at matching services received and dollars paid.” (p. 11) (Possible translation: If you can’t pay for government services, you probably shouldn’t get them. See also, Anatole France, “The law in all its majesty forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges and stealing bread.” — See? Equitable!)
- Reduce the number of local government officials.
- Only elected officials can approve debt or taxes. (p. 11).
- Elected officials should be administrators, officials such as sheriff, assessor, and coroner should be appointed rather than elected and should have professional qualification requirements. (p. 11) (I’ve got to say, appointment rather than election of the guy responsible for the Department of people with the guns makes me a little nervous.)
- (So, we should reduce the bureaucracy and reduce the number of elected officials in favor of appointed professionals except that we should have increased bureaucracy and numbers of elected officials (without any particular expertise) when it comes to funding the actions decided upon by others.)
- “It is imperative that the state develop a system of technical assistance and monitoring to ensure sustained implementation of local government reform, and that the state provide incentives and rewards for local governments that continually collaborate, innovate and improve efficiency and effectiveness.” (p. 12) (In other words, your newly efficient, stream-lined, responsive local government will have to report to an Indianapolis bureaucracy.)
- State services should be supported by state funding “wherever possible”. (When
would it be impossible for the State to provide funding for its demands
where it would not be impossible for local government to fund the State
County recommendations (p. 13) – (Looks a lot like turning a county system of government into a city system of government – Unigov for the whole state):
Township recommendations (p. 13). Get rid of all of the township responsibilities and give them to the individual county executive. This includes, township assessment, poor relief, volunteer fire services, and cemeteries.
School recommendations (p. 14). School districts should have a minimum of 2,000 students and school bonds should be approved by the local government with the largest portion of assessed value in the district. (As long as we’re consolidating, why not just make the individual county executive the Superintendent of schools and eliminate the school board? If this super-mayor can be the chief law enforcement officer, why not the chief educator as well?)
Cities and towns (p. 14). City-clerk to be appointed by the city council in second class cities; move municipal elections to even years; transfer municipal health department responsibilities to the county health department.
Libraries and special districts (p. 14). Reorganize library systems by county. Have budgets and bonds approved by the fiscal body of the municipal or county government with the largest portion of assessed value in the unit seeking approval. (Why not just have the county fiscal body do the budget, if we’re reorganizing by county? With this assessed value business, we’re moving away from ‘one person, one vote’ toward ‘one dollar, one vote.’)
Local governments generally (p. 14). Encourage coordination and consolidation. Allow creation of “service districts with differentiated levels of service and corresponding tax rates.” (Seems like this would encourage the return to a balkanized, incomprehensible muddle of taxes and services.) Encourage collective purchasing. Prohibit local government employees from holding elected office in the local unit.
State monitoring (p. 15). Require the “Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations” to monitor progress, conduct additional research, and provide a report through 2011. Establish a statewide benchmarking system. Designate a state office to provide “technical assistance” to local government. (When I hear of “technical assistance” coming from the State, why am I reminded of the lyrics from a fun song I heard recently: “Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime; Where we’re working in a mine; For our robot overlords; Did I say “overlords”? I meant “protectors””)
The rest of the report provides a narrative explanation for the recommendations. Perhaps I will have more thoughts later.