Township Reform: Let’s Hear It For Policy Over Politics

A 90-minute Wednesday session titled Policy Over Politics: A Forum on Township Reform contained a seemingly never-ending supply of valuable information. Enough so that more than a few of the several hundred attendees could be heard at the end muttering something along the lines of (I paraphrase), "Why is this even an issue? Just do away with the townships and let’s move on."

Gov. Mitch Daniels opened the educational program, saying that it most definitely is time to reverse the "politics over policy" reality that has dominated the past few years. Below is a highlight or two from each of the presenters:

  • IUPUI political scientist Bill Blomquist noted there have only been about a dozen studies on local government reform over the past century and describes the historical aspect as a tension between 200-year-old Jacksonian democracy (elect everyone to short terms and make them accountable) and the later Progressive Era reform and its concept of government not being too complicated for the voters
  • The Indianapolis Star opinion editor Tim Swarens says he served on a panel on this topic eight or nine years ago, but that sometimes you just have to teach over and over. He quickly dispatched the various counter arguments township officials try to use to justify their existence
  • Louis Mahern, former state senator and member of the 2007 Kernan-Shepard Commission on Local Government Reform, also spoke. We could — and have in the past — done entire stories on his knowledge and passion in this area. For today, he points out that it comes down to the "money going for inefficient township government or libraries, or parks, or public safety, or pools …"
  • Martha Lamkin, longtime education and philanthropy leader: "It’s well past the time for elevating our poor relief to 21st century standards of accountability and transparency." She emphasizes the ridiculous nature of whether someone qualifies for poor relief being determined 1,000 different ways — township by township
  • Steve Campbell, former Indianapolis deputy mayor, advises to avoid the rhetoric. Efforts to modernize Marion County government while Bart Peterson was mayor were not a power grab, didn’t result in people dying (after fire department mergers began) and didn’t cost any state legislators their jobs
  • Mark Miles, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership president, closed with "every layer of government is being forced to do more with less, yet townships manage to do less with more" and this classic that he said he was told earlier in the day: Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time the quo has lost its status

Bottom line: get involved; contact your legislators; learn more at

Riding the Government Reform Roller Coaster

The effort to introduce the concepts of efficiency and better service to citizens into Indiana’s local government structure has seen more ups and downs than your favorite ride at Holiday World or any amusement park of your choice.

Following seven-plus weeks of progress, retreat, debate and committee members offering support for the broken-beyond-repair status quo, the full Senate restored teeth to some of the legislation on Tuesday.

Eliminating township boards in 91 counties (why not Marion, we must ask?) would be a tremendous step. Doing away with rampant nepotism and unconsionable levels of budget reserves are also a move in the right direction. Some county, library and election reforms are also in play.

The attention turns to the House, with the ball resting with Speaker Pat Bauer. The nearly 40-year veteran of the Statehouse wars has promised all along to take a look at what comes over from the Senate — and he repeated that pledge to the Indiana Chamber’s executive committee last week. Not an overwhelming endorsement, but there is some optimism. This should not be a partisan issue; all can find a place on the bandwagon for better government. makes the case for change. Indiana Chamber members can get the latest in a March 6 First Friday Conference Call featuring Chamber expert Mark Lawrance and government reform commission member Louis Mahern.