On the Beat in Bluffton

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How many should be in charge?

Wells County State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said Wednesday he will not pursue his legislation that would give each county an option to investigate and possibly give voters the choice to change the current three-commissioner system to a single commissioner with expanded powers of the county council.

The legislation has divided most local government officials, who oppose it, and members of the Chamber of Commerce, who support it:

The following comes from the Indiana Association of County Commissioners:
IACC opposes proposals to eliminate the three member board of commissioners and move to a single county executive. IACC supports reform that will lead to true cost savings and provide more efficient services to Hoosiers. IACC believes the proposal to move to a single county executive will have a number of detrimental effects on county government and negatively impact services to constituents. Specifically, IACC believes the proposal will:
  • Remove power from the voters to choose local leaders that represent all districts in the county;
  • Decrease transparency about county government actions by eliminating the requirement to discuss such actions in open meetings; and
  • Possibly open the door for abuses of power and political favoritism.
Additionally, IACC believes there is:
No evidence to support that a single county executive structure results in true cost savings. In fact, many counties could be faced with increased costs associated with appointed positions. For example, counties will have to hire support staff for a single executive officer, provide permanent office space and pay for related expenses, provide office equipment, etc. Recently a Ball State study, often cited as evidence of reform savings, recognized that transferring duties to other officials is “a potentially more costly activity.”

Great value to taxpayers under the current structure. Many commissioners serve to contribute to their communities. They are not in the position for the money. Because of the division of responsibilities some still work in separate jobs. Some serve after a successful career.

There has been great success with Economic Development in the State of Indiana. We do not believe that economic development success is stifled with the current structure. There have been mechanisms put in place for negotiations and public transparency for new development in communities. Many of the largest projects announced within recent years were county initiated projects. These include: Boone Co. - Anson Development; Decatur Co. – Honda; Gibson Co. – Toyota; Tippecanoe Co. - Subaru-Isuzu; Posey Co. Abengoa (ethanol); Whitley Co. – SDI expansion; Vigo Co. - Pfizer (since closed) CSN (steel); Monroe Co. Ivy Tech project; Hamilton Co. - Village Park

The current structure promotes cooperative leadership.
The current structure provides our communities with a diverse representation. Having three commissioners brings more qualifications, experience, and skills to the office and promotes a broad range of ideas to the decision making process. We have business professionals, homemakers, farmers, clergy, and educators just to name a few representing our communities. A three member board compliments each other and brings great wisdom and strength to decision making. The current structure is a true representative government structure.

The current structure allows the Commissioners to divide the responsibilities between a three members allows for greater time management and representation due to the fact that commissioners are often required by statute to sit on different board and commissions.

The three member board with election cycles alternating brings continuity to the business of the county.

The single county executive proposal compromises the continuity of local government.

The following comes from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce:

This allows, but does not require, for a county to decide if it wishes to go to the single county commissioner and also to move the county legislative responsibilities from the commissioners to the county council. It creates a good option from Indiana’s current structure in which there are three county CEOs. We also support how the bill moves the county legislative duties to the county council, where they should be.

The following comes from a report about local government reform, which originally promoted the idea of eliminating the county commissioners.

Counties: Create a clearer, more accountable structure with fewer elected officials. Better coordinate public safety services.
1. Establish a single-person elected county chief executive.
2. Establish a single, unified legislative body for county government. Expand legislative membership to ensure sufficient representation for included rural, suburban and urban populations.
3. Transfer the responsibility for administering the duties of the county auditor, treasurer, recorder, assessor, surveyor, sheriff and coroner to the county executive. Transfer the varied duties of the clerk to the courts, to the county election board and to the county executive. Establish objective minimum professional qualifications and standards for certain county administrative functions.
4. Retain a local government role for property tax assessment under a county assessor who is required to meet professional qualifiations and appointed by the county executive.
5. Create a countywide body to oversee the provision of all public safety services.
6. Consolidate emergency public safety dispatch by county or multi-county region. Require that new, local emergency communications systems be compatible with the Project Hoosier SAFE-T statewide 800 MHz communications system.
7. Transfer the responsibility for all funding of the state’s trial court system to the state, including public defenders and probation.
8. Move the funding of child welfare from counties to the state.

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