Tales of Township Turmoil … Part 392

Eric Bradner of the Evansville Courier & Press continues his fine work in outlining the shortcomings of township government. See his latest entry here, with more expected in coming weeks.

The topic (late or not filed at all state-required financial reports) is now new; the reports for fiscal year 2009 (due in the first few months of this year) are missing in action for many. In addition to the story details, even more township trustees (nearly 400 of them) have filed to file an annual salary report. Who knows what interesting numbers are in hiding.

Here’s a brief section of Bradner’s story. It leaves one thinking — once again — why these townships continue to exist.

(In Warrick County), Lane Township Trustee Linda Orth … said she never knew she was supposed to file an annual financial report with the state and was unaware of the switch to an electronic format.

"I am still learning what I am supposed to do and not do," she said. "They change these rules quite regularly, and there is no official training."

Orth was appointed to the position in 2006 because her predecessor quit. She kept the job after that year’s election because no one ran for trustee. She later tried to resign, but said county officials told her she should wait until a replacement was trained. No one was interested.

A New Player in the Wasteful Spending Spotlight

The beat goes on … and on … and on. Unfortunately, the beat in this case is your taxpayer money being wasted by township government.

The latest details are not entirely new. There has been a long-time arrogance and "we’ll do what we want because you can’t do anything about it" coming from Wayne Township on the west side of Indianapolis. But kudos to 6News for a three-month investigation into questionable, at best, township expenditures and a state audit that reveals the depth of the mismanagement.

The sad part is that a brother and a girlfriend on the payroll are not unique to Wayne Township. Read what you want into trustee David Baird saying he "got lucky" when asked why he hired his girlfriend. And see what a former township board member says about the waste taking place.

Check out the full story at the theindychannel.com, with 6News promising a second report tonight on the controls (or lack thereof) on township government.

State legislators, are you paying attention?

Indy Star Blasts Washington Township Board

We brought you this gem last week. Now, the Indy Star is weighing in with some strong words against the Washington Township board that voted to give itself a 60% pay increase. The Star rightfully also points out that this is just a microcosm of the entire township government problem:

Over protests from residents and with little discussion, the Washington Township Board last week handed itself a 60 percent pay raise, effectively reversing a pay cut the board accepted last year after the township fire department was merged with the city’s.

… Eliminating township government altogether is a prominent recommendation of the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, whose report last year has been driving high-level discussions about municipal efficiency. One major result already is the folding of township assessors into one countywide office. A new state law accomplished that for smaller counties; and Marion County, for one, approved a referendum this month abolishing the job of township assessor.

Can township government itself, and township boards, be next? Gov. Mitch Daniels, among others, hopes so, arguing convincingly that multiple redundant layers of local government waste money and impede service. As property assessing joins police and fire protection among countywide functions, the dispensability of outmoded township governance will become more obvious.

Defenders of that 19th-century vestige maintain that it keeps public servants closer to the public. Whether that’s worth higher cost and lower efficiency is debatable in any case. In the case of the Washington Township Board, close turns out to be more like in-your-face.

Again, if the board wanted to make a case about job duties changing and whatnot as justification for a raise, I’m sure most of us would be willing to listen. Probably still wouldn’t support it, but we’d listen. Yet the unwillingness to even listen to public input or discuss the matter with the media, as displayed by reporter Norman Cox’s original blog (linked in our first post), is the most alarming aspect of this. The government is not God; it should work for us.

Howey Highlights Township Assessor Issue in Governor’s Race

Hoosier scribe/pundit Brian Howey recently penned a thoughtful article on township government and the gubernatorial race. The piece is worth a read, and our own Mark Lawrance is quoted:

Mark Lawrence [sic], senior vice president for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, is part of a consortium that includes the Indiana Association of Realtors and the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership that is pushing a “yes” vote on the referendum.  He said the coalition would have limited resources, though he expects some direct mail campaigns in the coming weeks.  He called the assessor referendum “a bump on the road on the way to Kernan-Shepard.”

The fact that the referendums come in each township, as opposed to countywide, means the “deck is stacked against us,” Lawrence said. The problem is that poor assessing in one township can impact property taxes for the entire county.

“We hope there will be enough interest in having fair assessments,” Lawrence said. “You want to make sure your house is assessed fairly as well as the neighbor’s down the street,” noting what he called the current “fragmented system.”

“If people understand it under those terms, they’ll see it impacts their pocketbooks,” Lawrence said.

An influencing factor may be the recent Washington and Warren township fire mergers with Indianapolis. “That went very smoothly,” Lawrence said. “It is saving millions of dollars. There has been no decrease in services.”

Kernan Hits Home Runs on Field, in Public Sector Role

The South Bend Silver Hawks have clinched the Eastern Division title of the Class A Midwest League as the second half of the minor league baseball season winds down. I know you’re saying thanks for the sports update, but there is more.

Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, a catcher during his college days at Notre Dame, serves as president of that team. Kernan spearheaded an ownership group that kept the franchise in South Bend. Kernan also had a 2007 "volunteer" job (the current governor calls and you accept) of co-chairing the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform.

Kernan took time earlier this year to share his perspective on one of the key recommendations out of that group — elimination of township government. It’s one of only 27, but a critical one if our state is to operate local government effectively and efficiently.

Read what Kernan had to say in BizVoice magazine, and view a series of short videos on specific township topics.

And, by the way, go Silver Hawks. You can’t have enough sports success stories in the state.