Feds Raid Township Trustee Office

The reason the Indiana Chamber continues to push for local government reform is the opportunity to provide more effective services with more efficient use of taxpayer money.

The fact that some township trustees continue to draw the scrutiny and action of authorities only adds to the logic of modernizing Indiana’s local government system. A portion of the latest from Lake County (the Northwest Indiana Times has the full story):

FBI and IRS agents raided the Calumet Township Trustee’s office and removed boxes full of documents and at least one computer shortly after noon Thursday as part of a federal investigation of the office.

Bob Ramsey, the supervisory agent for the FBI office in Merrillville, said his office, the Internal Revenue Service in Merrillville and state police are taking part in a joint operation.

Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin, who operates one of the largest township government units in the state, couldn’t be reached for comment. She has been under official scrutiny for her office’s spending on assistance to Gary’s low income residents and the use of take-home cars.

The state has been threatening to take over the finances of her office if she doesn’t reduce administrative costs. Elgin is suing Gov. Mike Pence to stop enforcement of a 2013 law that would significantly reduce her control over more than $5 million in annual spending.

The law requires Elgin to reduce the property tax rate supporting her township assistance program to less than 12 times the average of the state’s 1,008 townships. Calumet Township’s tax rate has been as much as 22.6 times the state average. Elgin said her tax rate is much lower when the impact of state-mandated property tax cuts are calculated.

A Times investigation found her office spent almost as much on employees’ salaries and benefits and business vendors, as it did on direct assistance for  emergency shelter, utilities, health care and food. Elgin puts her administrative costs at 37 percent of her budget.




Top Companies Rank Top Goals

Two of the many Indiana Chamber programs/initiatives that we are proud of are the Best Places to Work in Indiana program and our Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan.

We combined the two in a strictly unscientific survey, asking the Best Places applicants to prioritize five of the Indiana Vision 2025 goals. There are no right or wrong answers, of course, but it's interesting to see how these top organizations rank some of the strategies that will help move our state forward.

The five goals and the average rank (1 being most important, 5 least important):

  • Develop entrepreneurship and aggressively promote business start-ups through education, networking, investment and financial support: 2.3
  • Diversify Indiana's energy mix with an emphasis on clean coal, nuclear power and renewables: 4.2
  • Enact comprehensive local government refrom at the state and local levels to increase efficiency and effctiveness in delivery of services: 3.4
  • Increase to 90% the proportion of Indiana students who graduate from high school ready for college and/or career training: 2.1
  • Increase to 60% the proportion of Indiana residents with high quality postsecondary credentials: 3.0

Work is ongoing on all the Indiana Vision 2025 goals. The 2013 Best Places to Work program will culminate with the May 2 awards dinner. Rankings will be revealed at that event and BizVoice magazine will profile the 100 winners.

Tallying Your Legislative Votes

We’re celebrating a most successful 2011 Indiana General Assembly session and trying to let you know about it in various ways — short video; final Legislative Report coming next week; May 13 Policy Call, etc.

But even in a really, really good year, there are legislative goals that fall short. Our recent poll question asked which of four initiatives the Chamber should continue to pursue. Your responses were fairly evenly split between three of the choices.

Passing right-to-work legislation and meaningful local government reform each received 33% of the votes. Close behind was a statewide smoking ban at 27%. Lagging at 7% was eliminating the state estate (or death) tax.

Message received. We’ll continue to plug away on those issues and more.

Our new poll question (top right of the page) asks you to select the biggest "victory" of the 2011 session.  Tell us what you think.

No Direct Comparison Intended; Just a Clever Lead

Yesterday’s blog post about two local government reform bills being defeated in the Senate was intended (like all communication efforts) to draw attention. After all, comprehensive reform — particularly at the township level — has been a top priority of the Chamber (and the governor) over the last four years.

The attention goal was achieved, at least in part, as there was an interpretation by some (including at least one state senator) that the analogy in the lead was directly comparing the defeat of these two bills to the magnitude of the House Democrat walkout. That was not the intention at all. The reference to the House dispute (one could be justified using much stronger terms) was simply to show that 99% of the media and public attention was focused on the House and that the actions of the Senate (both those we agreed with and did not support) were occurring "under the radar screen."

That’s the great thing about interpretations — everyone has their own. Now, you know mine in authoring this post.

Township Reform: Senators Do Their Own Harm Before Heading Home

Look up the definition of "currently under the radar screen," and you might find an image of the Indiana Senate. With House Democrats bolstering the Illinois economy, little to no attention is being paid to the other side of the third floor of the Statehouse.

But before wrapping up its first half of the session, senators managed to do their own harm by failing to pass two important local government reform measures. SB 405 (eliminating township boards) was defeated 28-21 and SB 303 (giving counties the option to go to a single county executive instead of three commissioners) went down 27-22.

What were they thinking? It’s been clearly demonstrated — over and over and over — that townships waste taxpayer dollars, fail to effectively provide basic services and are a relic of days gone by. Townships don’t work in Indianapolis, Evansville, Fort Wayne or the many less populous areas throughout the state.

Yet, some legislators in more rural districts made the case to their colleagues that, and I paraphrase, "our township folks are good people; it’s OK that they hire their relatives and so what if they break the rules every now and then and sit on money that could be used for schools, libraries and other local services."

As a colleague described it, politics and emotion won out over common sense. We expected more, much more, from our senators.

Lawmakers should have listened to two trustees (one former, one current) who had a clear message.

Member Benefit: The 2011 Legislature and Your Business

Chamber members, this one is for you. A one-hour Policy Issue Conference Call on Friday (9:30 a.m. EST) will feature a preview of the 2011 Indiana General Assembly session.

There are two dozen new legislators as a result of the November election and previous retirements, etc. Republicans picked up 12 seats in the House to take control of that chamber and extended their already large majority in the Senate. Education and local government reform, fixing the broken unemployment compensation system and drawing new political maps are among the priorities. And there’s that pesky two-year state budget thing during extremely tight financial times.

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar will offer his analysis and answer your questions. It’s going to be a big session with a major impact on companies and their employees. Find out how — and what you might be able to do to assist in the process.

Sign up today and listen in/participate on Friday.

Bob Speaks; We Should Listen

I do not know Bob Anderson of Wonder Lake, Illinois. But Bob makes a lot of sense.

His comments in a recent letter to the editor to a suburban Chicago newspaper are right on target — whether one resides in his home state or back home in Indiana.

We’ve been saying the same thing in various forms for the past six years or so. And we’ll continue to say it, and with the help of Hoosiers who simply don’t understand how Indiana can afford a malfunctioning system of government.

For today, the floor is Bob Anderson’s. Let’s hold up our end of his argument (If they can do it, so can we). Here are his words:

Recently, House Speaker Michael Madigan introduced a Constitutional amendment to abolish the position of Illinois’ office of lieutenant governor.

Rep. Jack Franks has also called for the abolition of the office. Gov. Pat Quinn, a former lieutenant governor, states the position is useless.

Now, in the 21st century, the township form of government is also useless.

If Gov. Quinn, Speaker Madigan and Rep. Franks want to show real leadership they should work to introduce a Constitutional amendment to abolish obsolete township government in Illinois.

Illinois has 1,433 township governments in addition to 1,395 road districts that are outmoded, duplicative, inefficient, and most of all, costly.

Township government is an outdated vestige of a once useful government established in the 1800s to help farmers and settlers when 98 percent of the population lived in rural areas.

There is pending legislation in Indiana to abolish their townships. If they can do it, so can we.

Townships should be eliminated, with the transfer of their duties to general purpose governments – counties and municipalities. This would simplify the election process, improve services and reduce cost of local government.

Public Speaks: Make Government Work Better

It’s a little too easy to take potshots at Washington these days. But even though the headline on a story I saw stated, "Poll: Some feds are overpaid and underworked," it’s not really an indictment of the individuals working for federal agencies.

It’s more of a "fix the darn system, train the people we have and give them the tools to do the job effectively" message. Just as has been the message with local government reform in Indiana, it’s not knocking the people (or at least most of them) but the bureaucracy that protects the status quo and prevents taxpayer dollars from being used efficiently.

Here are some of the details from the Government Executive article:

A May survey of 2,523 participants conducted by Hart Research Associates found that 67 percent of respondents believed a major source of government waste was due to inefficient federal employees receiving generous benefits or high salaries.

Respondents did not indicate a desire to cut federal pay, but instead expressed support for improved training and recruiting of federal employees to increase government efficiency.

Overall, respondents said they wanted a government that runs better, regardless of size. Sixty-two percent of respondents thought the government’s priority should be to improve efficiency and effectiveness, while 36 percent considered reducing the size of federal government a priority.

"Public lack of confidence in government’s ability to solve problems is more closely related to perceptions of government performance than it is a function of partisan affiliation or political ideology," the authors of the survey said in a statement. Guy Molyneux, a partner at Hart Research; John Whaley, a Hart Research senior analyst; and Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, conducted the survey.

"They [those polled] are extremely receptive to reform efforts that would eliminate inefficient government programs, implement performance-based policy decisions, and adopt modern management methods and information technologies," the authors said. Forty-five percent of respondents said efforts at improving federal management should begin with holding government more accountable for how it spends money.

While the majority of those polled — 74 percent — believed government could be effective with better management, 23 percent said the government was "bound to be ineffective no matter what."

Time Equals Results for Students

Reforms come in various shapes and sizes. For example:

  • Health care reform dominated the headlines in 2009 and early this year. No one is quite sure what we ended up with, although many in business are convinced it’s going to cost a lot of money and more and more John/Jane Q. Publics are not happy with what they’re learning about the government intrusion into their medical doings.
  • Local government reform in Indiana has stalled the last few years because a:) some Hoosiers like the way the system was set up in 1851; b:) politics is taking precedence over policy (imagine that!); c:) the people who prefer the status quo have spoken louder, or at least more effectively, than the proponents for change; or d:) some combination of all of the above.

Today. however, we’re talking education reform and it’s an area in which the overall results are sometimes mixed. (But then almost any reform is an improvement over a status quo that fails far too many young people). But the focus is spending more time on task; in Massachusetts, the official name is a rather straightforward Expanded Learning Time. And ELT is working.

The U.S. trails most other industrialized nations in school days. So Massachusetts has added 300 hours per year in select schools. Included among the results:

  • ELT schools gaining in test results at double the state average in English language arts and math; and at five times the state average in science
  • Broadened opportunities for students, including enrichment programming in a variety of subjects
  • Increased student demand. One Boston middle school went from underenrolled to a waiting list in three years
  • Higher teacher satisfaction
  • Stronger community partnerships

No, you can’t just keep the doors open longer. No one said it is easy. But it does seem to be one of the more common sense reforms that could yield positive results for students of all abilities. Yet, in the Indiana General Assembly, time is spent each session fighting off legislation that would actually shorten the school year.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Indiana’s local government structure and school day calendar (to meet the needs of students who had to help out on the family farm) were set up around the same time. Both are in need of a serious update. We’ve got to start somewhere — for schools, that might be with more, not less, learning opportunities.

Read Massachusetts’ More Time for Learning: Promising Practices and Lessons Learned.