Counties: They Matter Because …

Over the last decade, we've shared many examples of the need for local government reform. At the county level, the focus has been on a lack of accountability for numerous officials and a governance structure (three commissioners as the executive body) that simply doesn't make sense.

Why does it matter? Because counties do make a difference. Add up the numbers and they:

  • Own and maintain 44 percent of the roadways
  • Spend $68.3 billion on health care services
  • Dish out a combined $472 billion on law enforcement, education, construction and human services
  • Employ 3.3 million people Feature 19,300 elected officials

Just imagine if it was all done more efficiently.

The Joys of Somerville: Massachusetts Mayor Lauded for Government Reform

If you’ve been following our blog over the past year, you’ll realize we haven’t been too kind to Massachusetts. For evidence of our Commonwealth-bashing, see here and here — and for good measure, you better take a look at this as well. (Sorry, perhaps it’s just our Belichick aversion coming through.) But alas, the day has come to offer praise to the Old Bay State as we feature a column from former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith in Governing, in which he touts the reforms of Somerville, Mass. Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone:

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone has enacted transformative changes in the management of Somerville, Massachusetts, and has done so by championing the importance of cost and efficiency data for all city services to improve accountability and performance. These efforts led to the creation of the SomerStat program. His approach to reform serves as a particularly timely primer on how to establish new norms for tracking and improving service delivery, giving officials the tools to know where to cut costs, where to keep investing and where there are opportunities for innovation…

SomerStat has now taken Baltimore’s CitiStat program one step further by integrating real-time data into its arsenal. According to Hirsch, this has allowed the city "to intensify its reliance on data for decision making." The mayor’s office requires that all city data be centrally accessible by the SomerStat office. This means that data from more than 50 sources are reported to the SomerStat office, from enterprise-wide and stand-alone systems. In fact, Curtatone subsequently created a major new source of performance data by implementing a centralized 311 constituent center (the first such center in New England) that tracks and issues work orders for every resident request for city services.

The first success to come from SomerStat’s analysis of this data was when it revealed a persistent problem of excessive overtime in the police department. The biggest culprit was that overtime costs were incurred whenever an officer was needed to cover someone who was out sick. Police leadership immediately started working with the mayor’s office and the union to create a solution. By increasing the number of officers assigned to each shift, the police and the mayor were not only able to rein in overtime costs, but were able to improve their community policing efforts by maintaining higher staff levels for each shift. "We’ve reaped one of the first rewards of the SomerStat process," Curtatone said. "This is part of our overall effort to modernize city government, cut waste and improve services."

Enact Government Reform Now with Legislature’s Authority

Some legislators have announced their intentions of taking the road of less resistance to achieving local government reform by punting it to the voters for county-by-county referendums.

The Indiana Chamber strongly opposes such actions as it is fully within the authority of the Legislature to make all of the recommendations by the Kernan-Shepard Commission (except for the one concerning the constitutionally required election of certain county officials).

Why do legislators single out local government structural issues to go to a referendum? Primarily because it provides cover for their friends in local government at home and tends to make it less controversial. There are many reasons why there shouldn’t be voter referendums for the local government reform legislation.  For one, a county-by-county referendum would result in a hodgepodge of governmental structures, making things worse than they are now. Our voters elect legislators to represent them in the General Assembly and deliberate on hard issues and make tough decisions, not to pass the buck. Local government tends to be invisible to many citizens. To educate them on the nuances of Indiana’s complicated system of local government is a massive and costly process that can and should be avoided. The Chamber will be working with its allies to ensure referendums related to local government do not pass.

In Gov. Daniels’ recent State of the State address, he said, "The largest and most momentous of our opportunities lies in the area of governmental reform. The cost in dollars, confusion and just plain bad government of our 150-year-old system is by now completely beyond dispute. … The hour for action has arrived."

We encourage you to visit MySmartgov.org to learn more about the issues and what you can do. You can also locate and contact your legislators here.

* This is an excerpt from our weekly Legislative Report. Indiana Chamber members receive the full report each Friday during the General Assembly session.

Chamber Issues Statement on Governor’s Reform Agenda

Governor Mitch Daniels discussed his hopes today to further push government reform in the upcoming legislative session, with Kernan-Shepard Report architects Joe Kernan and Randall Shepard in attendance. We’ve issued a press release in response, indicating our continued support:

When the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform released its 27 recommendations one year ago (on December 11, 2007), the Indiana Chamber said, "This report places the emphasis exactly where it needs to be — on increased local government efficiency and reduced spending."

Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber president, says today: "Nothing has changed. In fact, in these challenging economic times it’s more important than ever for Hoosiers to demand that the General Assembly enact the recommendations of the Kernan-Shepard Commission so that we may all benefit from high-performing local governments, and for those local units to operate as cost-efficiently as possible.

"We’ve been encouraged by the discussion and the progress over the past year. Hoosiers made their preference for better local government clear at the polls in November when they voted to move the majority of the remaining tax assessing duties from the township to the county level.

"This is not strictly a business issue. It’s putting in place a structure that allows everyone easier access to libraries and other government services, as well as helping ensure the highest levels of public safety," Brinegar concludes.