Township Trustee Paid $332,000 for….. Nothing?

This story is unfortunate, and I genuinely feel bad for the trustee who lost this money — and was subsequently ambushed at her home by a news crew. But a mistake was made — and it was a big one. It just simply points to yet another instance of township government in Indiana not using taxpayer resources very effectively.

A township trustee who paid up front for a fire truck that never showed up is now facing scrutiny from the State Board of Accounts and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

Pamela Crum, the trustee of Sheffield Township in Tippecanoe County, wrote a check for $332,970 to Elite Fire Apparatus of Wisconsin, but the company went bankrupt shortly after, according to an audit by the State Board of Accounts.

"The result was, they were just out the money and they were going to get no fire truck, and, according to the bankruptcy court, there were no assets to distribute," said Paul Joyce, deputy state examiner for the State Board of Accounts.

Indiana code states that public officials should not pay for goods or services up front, unless it’s a recurring expense, such as rent, 6News’ Kara Kenney reported.

"You’re not supposed to pay for anything in advance," Joyce said. "That’s because you might not get the goods and services you purchased."

Joyce called Sheffield Township’s $332,970 check the worst case the agency had ever seen of a public official paying for something that didn’t show up.

In an effort to recoup the money on behalf of taxpayers, the attorney general’s office sent out letters to Crum, the former board members who approved the expenditure, as well as Ohio Farmers Insurance and National Fire & Casualty.

National Fire & Casualty has a $500,000 policy on the township, and Ohio Farmers Insurance has a $15,000 surety bond on the township trustee, according to the attorney general’s office.

If they don’t pay within 30 days, the attorney general’s office may file a lawsuit to recover the public funds.

"I’m not happy, not happy," said Linda Gregory, a longtime Sheffield Township taxpayer. "For a small town like this, it’s surprising."

Reporter: No Excuse for Indiana Legislature to Ignore Consolidation

WRTV6 reporter and blogger Norman Cox offered some very sensical commentary over the break, asking the Indiana legislature to "walk and chew gum at the same time" when it comes to consolidating government. Most notably, he believes the legislature should stop making excuses and actually work to implement the township consolidation put forth in the Kernan-Shepard report. He writes:

As soon as Governor Mitch Daniels announced his plan to reorganize county government and get rid of townships, a modified version of last year’s Kernan-Shepard report, House Speaker Pat Bauer immediately shot down the idea, saying that legislators need to spend all their time on salvaging Indiana’s economy, balancing the budget, and keeping critical state functions such as schools afloat. Why? Are our senators and representatives collectively unable to do more than one task at a time?

I suspect the real reason for deep-sixing any reform package is that too many members simply oppose the idea for various reasons. Because they once held the lower-level offices that would be eliminated. Because their friends and supporters now hold them. Maybe because they genuinely believe getting rid of the offices is a bad idea. But don’t use the economy as an excuse.

Drama in Washington Township

So local TV reporter Norman Cox wanted to ask some questions about a pay raise the Washington Township Board members gave themselves (in a 4-3 vote) last night. Well, that didn’t go so well as the whole transparency thing kind of went down the ol’ commode:

Last night the township board’s Democratic majority rammed through a 60% pay raise for board members. They did so without speaking one word at the public meeting to justify it. They then refused to answer questions from the media or the public after the meeting.

I won’t post any more because you should really read Cox’s entire blog post if you want to start your weekend with a little disbelief. Oh, and you can watch an entertaining video as well.

Pay raise? Sure, we’ve earned it — just don’t ask us about it.