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.




Supporting the Arts on Others’ Dime (Lots of Dimes)

Let’s be clear: Carmel’s Palladium performing arts center is a good thing, adding to the quality of life for residents of the Hamilton County city and surrounding areas. A township trustee spending $10,000 in taxpayer money so he, township board members and their guests could enjoy the grand opening is the latest in a long line of reasons to do away with this outdated form of government.

The key phrase is "taxpayer money." Which makes the following comments all the more ridiculous. The trustee told WRTV-Channel 6, "From my standpoint, it was the right thing to do." The township board chairman adds, "We view this as supporting the arts in Carmel."

The Indianapolis Star editorial on Saturday stated in part:

Keep in mind that poor relief is one of the purported purposes of township government. But tuxedoed patron of the arts? Not on the official list of a township trustee’s duties.

(Trustee Douglas) Callahan, however, was unrepentant in an interview with The Star’s Chris Sikich. He even tried to argue that township officials have been picked on by powerful forces. "People are throwing us to the dogs constantly, from the (Indiana) Chamber of Commerce to the media to the governor’s office,” he said.

The state chamber, the governor and the editorial boards of 16 Indiana newspapers, along with dozens of other officials and organizations, have indeed been critical of township government. But their complaints aren’t so much with the people who fill township offices as with the system in which they operate. Even if every existing township official were to be replaced with people of impeccable judgment and integrity, the township system still would be antiquated, inefficient and unnecessary.

And although Callahan and the township board members exercised poor judgment in using tax dollars to buy tickets to a fancy celebration, the more significant outrage is that Indiana’s townships are collectively hoarding at least $295 million in public money while fewer people in need receive assistance.

Really, it’s time for reform. It won’t happen, however, unless Hoosiers speak up and demand it. Need more convincing. Check out MySmartGov

UPDATE: Upon advice of the Clay Township Attorney, who also happens to be House Speaker Brian Bosma, township officials have decided to do the right thing and return the $10,000 used on Palladium tickets.

Indianapolis Star Editor on Target in Township Column

Are you tired of the Chamber and our allies campaigning for local government reform? Sorry, but not too much. If there’s an idea worth working for — and this one is very high on that list — we’re not going to give up. I’d bet that one day, when we’re realizing the efficiencies that will come when townships are gone and counties are reorganized in a common sense manner, you’ll even say thanks — or at least think it.

On the township front, Indianapolis Star editor Dennis Ryerson joins the chorus. He opens his Sunday column with two questions: Who is your township trustee? What does that trustee do? Excellent questions and good points to follow.