In 2007, an extraordinary thing happened. A group of non-partisan, people from every walk of life and every profession sat down and formed a Blue Ribbon Panel. The goal was to bring Indiana into the 21st century, to modernize the 150 year old model of government, and to save the citizens money.
Many of our elected officials have torn apart the Kernan-Shepard report to the point it is unrecognizable to those who so diligently and thoughtfully put it together, to those who saw a new and vibrant Indiana, one that is inviting to industries and families. Hoosiers watched the downward spiral of ineffective government escalate to the point of no return. At least it appears to be so.
Of course, I do not like every idea presented, but definitely, there is enough meat on the bone to feed a hungry State.
Michael Hicks and Dagney Faulk from Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research released a study in January on the effect Kernan-Shepard Report would have on Indiana’s financial future. It was estimated at least three quarters of Indiana residents live in communities with budget shortfalls.
Hicks and Faulk write, “Our estimates suggest realizable savings that could range from $400 million to $622 million per year.” That includes $74 million in consolidation of fire protection services and $52 million in administration. Hicks told the Senate Local Government Committee earlier this month.“We think the savings could be two or three times larger. That translates to about $150 per family per year just by consolidating practices.” 1
Something so simple as to move elections to an even year, could realize Indiana a 22 million dollar savings in 4 years.
Many of us have read the recent articles in the opinion page of the Muncie newspaper. Those same sentiments are echoing throughout all of Indiana. It certainly appears the elected officials are not listening. To bad it is not an election year! They have open ears when they need our vote.
Let’s take a brief look at what other Hoosiers are saying:
But my pet issue is government efficiency.
My hope is that the legislature seriously looks at and enacts some or all of the recommendations of the Kernan-Shepard Commission, which was convened to make local governments more efficient, consistent and accountable. 1
While legislators wrestle with how to save money in state government, the commission’s report gives them a blueprint on how to accomplish that goal at the local level. Efficient government benefits everyone. Whether state or local, the money that governments spend come out of the same pockets: ours. 2
The commission’s report highlighted the obvious deficiencies in Indiana’s governing apparatus-the abundance of local units of government with taxing authority and the citizenry’s inability to identify whom to hold accountable among the 10,746 local elected officials in charge. As the commission’s report notes, from 1984 to 2005, the average tax-rate increase by the 2,730 local government taxing authorities totaled more than 6 percent-twice the rate of inflation and twice the rate of growth in the tax base. 3
“We have very, very few options,” said a disappointed Sen. Connie Lawson, the Danville Republican who had shepherded most of the reforms through passage in the Senate. “Honestly, I don’t know if there’s any.”
“I don’t know what was happening here, and I don’t like it, all right? It’s that simple. I don’t like it,” Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, snarled bluntly after watching the committee vote 7-1 against the measures.
Marilyn Schultz, a former Democratic state representative who now is executive director of Mysmartgov.org, the group lobbying for the reforms, said the Democrat-controlled committee had intended to kill the reforms and did so under the guise of giving them a hearing.
“There were members of both caucuses who were getting a lot of heat from their constituents because they really want to see reform. So this was a kind of storefront hearing so they can say they gave it consideration and nobody was in favor,” she said. 4
I believe that what Hoosiers expect our government to do is the very same thing businesses and families are currently doing: reduce costs while maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. To ignore the cost savings available through Kernan-Shepard is to ignore constituent expectations. 5
The legislation could be revived late in the session, but House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, has said all along that he did not consider major restructuring of local government to be a high priority this session. 6
So it’s no surprise that the Republican governor and the Democratic speaker are once again sparring over some weighty issues before the General Assembly issues on which they have vastly different views.
Take two of Daniels’ top legislative priorities streamlining local government and taking the next step toward amending caps on property tax bills into the state constitution.
Daniels says both should be considered musts this session. He says local government is antiquated, overlapping and too confusing and costly, and the caps should be in the constitution so judges can’t overrule them and lawmakers couldn’t easily repeal them.
Bauer has been cool to the local government changes, saying they’re not pressing matters this session. And he says lawmakers should wait until next year to consider a resolution that would put the question of constitutional property tax caps before voters so they can better gauge how the caps impact taxpayers and local governments.
Daniels recently touched on Bauer’s stands on those issues in sharp words.
“We all know nothing happens in the House of Representatives that Speaker Bauer doesn’t permit,” Daniels said. “He’s never challenged. His authority is total.
“So with regard to questions like this (on local government) or property tax caps, it is a matter of him deciding either because it’s good government, or if that doesn’t matter, because it’s good politics for him to let some of these things move forward, and I hope for both reasons that he’ll decide to do that.” 7
1 Howey, Brian Howey: Are Indiana townships ‘functioning extremely well’? February 27, 2009 www.howeypolitics.com
2 Commentary – Rise to the challenge in 2009 Focus of legislative session should be government efficiency
Indianapolis Business Journal (IN) – Monday, January 5, 2009 Author/Byline: CHRIS KATTERJOHN
3 Commentary – State offices could use some fixing, too
Indianapolis Business Journal (IN) – Monday, March 9, 2009 Author/Byline: BRIAN WILLIAMS
4 Legislation to reform government hits a wall Indianapolis Star, The (IN) – Wednesday, March 11, 2009 Author/Byline: Mary Beth Schneider
5 South Bend Tribune 2-12-09 (Letter to editor)
6 Associated Press 3-10-09
7 Associated Press 3-09-09
According to the Star Press article dated February 27, 2008, Mr. Wilson was quoted “We have some daunting times ahead,” Wilson said after McShurley made his appointment official. “It will be challenging.”
The same article stated “Fire Capt. Eric Wilson , 39, was named by Mayor Sharon McShurley to lead firefighters through likely cutbacks and consolidation of public safety services.”
And “Wilson will initially lead alone with no deputy chief, although the mayor said that might be a option later. The chief makes $62,069 a year.”
And “Wilson said consolidations of fire stations probably would happen but noted that no capital money was available to build a new facility to replace the century-old downtown station.”
And “”We are keeping all our options open,” Wilson said about his 110-member department.”
Was he lead astray when he accepted the job? It doesn’t appear to be so. Mr. Wilson knew exactly what was expected of him when he was hired as the chief in 2008. Now, when he is expected to perform he cries foul.
He has been in that position for one full year, and nothing has come to fruition. It is still the same as it was when he accepted.
Nobody wanted him as chief, and a year later with the department exactly as it was when he took office, he is now the victim. I can’t see it.
Several departments have made concessions and reorganized to meet the budget, we have seen and heard. We don’t know the inside details, yet this article reminds us of the not so distant past. At the last Chat with the Mayor, when she was asked why Wilson had no deputy chief, she stated the MFD could only find $6,000.00 in cuts and that was not enough to hire a deputy.
Again from the Star Press , May 16, 2008 “A 2002 fire station study proposed a new fire protection model, consolidating Heekin Park and Mock Avenue stations at Heekin Park and combining the stations along Tillotson and Wheeling avenues with a new station at McGalliard Road and Tillotson.
Under the same plan, the Hoyt Avenue station would be relocated to 23rd Street and Cowan Road and a new downtown station would be built on North Walnut Street across from the Muncie Fieldhouse.”
Fire Chief Eric Wilson said he planned to look at the 2002 study and report back with more recommendations.” Where is the report and the recommendations?
What happened to the Blue Ribbon Panel?
GOVERNOR DANIELS SUMMONS RALLY
In a Property Tax Cap Rally called by Governor Daniels and sponsored by a Reform Alliance activated last year, dozens of angry citizens protested the apparent ditching of a reform set in motion last year and finalized in SJR1.
SJR1 passed the Senate this year but is stuck in
the House controlled by Democrats, specifically
Speaker Pat Bauer who will not give it a hearing,
making it dead for this session.
Outraged protestors were told last year the
property taxes were resolved and seemed shocked to find themselves standing in the same place where the Governor had signed reform. The much touted SJR1 would put into motion the process of constitutional the 1-2-3 caps that 80% of both chambers approved
last year. He encouraged the angry crowd chanting ‘cap it now’ or ‘repeal’ to go ‘upstairs’ to challenge those same legislators.
There were at least 2 Easter bunnies who distributed hollowed eggs, bearing a message by Mike Rowe who coordinated the ‘Black Sunday’ property tax protest rally at the Circle in Indianapolis. Inside the eggs is a message for total repeal and were distributed in the boxes of lawmakers and also given to Daniels by Mr. Bimm, a well known activist whose home was hit hard by terrific tax increases.
The Property Tax Rally at the Statehouse was a huge success. I would estimate approximately 40 people from Delaware County were there, and another 250+ from other counties across the State.
It was amazing to hear the reaction from the crowd when guest speaker, Jim Arnold, spoke on his $7,000+ property tax bill. The applause when he said his dream of owning a home has become a nightmare was deafening. After the rally, we had the opportunity to speak with other participants and listen to their stories. All across Indiana, people are calling for tax caps and responsible spending, trying to hold our elected officials to their promises. It does a body good to see the solidarity.
What I found most interesting was conversations we had with the staff at the Statehouse. I am talking about the employees who change light bulbs, etc. Their support of property tax caps was evident. Normal working people struggling to make ends meet. As we all know Marion County was hit hard.
Dennis Tyler was interviewed and he was adamant on his support of property tax caps. He even signed a pledge poster. Now, his next step is to talk with the Speaker of the House, Patrick Bauer, who is the bottleneck in all of this.
Sue Errington voted against the property tax caps. She was in the minority of around 20%. I like Senator Errington personally, can’t understand her line of reasoning.
Larry Riley’s column in the Star Press today, (3-11-09) lays it out. Wasteful spending and lack of accountability and over sight is the crux of our financial woes. Corruption and greed compounds our difficulties.
Folks, don’t be fooled, HB1001 and SJR1 is not our enemy. Don’t let the elected officials tell you this is the destroyer of our State, County and City. Run-a-way spending is our downfall.
Please take a few minutes to visit the websites under “Interesting Places”. Please become involved so that we can proclaim our State, City and County as the best place to live, work and raise a family.
I read that Commissioner President Todd Donati recently hired his son, Jason Donati, as education coordinator for the Stormwater Management Department at $30,000 a year.
The article stated Commissioner Larry Bledsoe denounced the move at a commissioners meeting. Bledsoe questioned whether Donati had violated county policy by not advertising the position and said that it created an appearance of impropriety, regardless of Jason Donati’s qualifications.
I heard there was quite a ruckus in the special meeting that occurred behind closed doors after the official meeting adjourned. Kudos Commissioner Bledsoe for taking a stand. I imagine you were berated for your comments, but rest assured, citizens anxious for fiscal responsibility and accountability in our government support your stance.
I don’t know exactly what an education coordinator for the Stormwater Management Department does, but It bothers me the position was not advertised to give everyone an equal opportunity to apply. How could you pick the best candidate for a job without interviewing candidates for the opening?
What bothers me most is that Commissioner Donati and Commissioner Donald Dunnuck seem to think this behavior is acceptable. Something stinks in Delaware County, and it’s not just storm water. Perhaps Dunnuck and Donati can hire a county commissioner training coordinator. I suggest that a refresher course in Ethics 101 might serve them well.
To Commissioner Bledsoe, keep up the good work.
Why did Sharon McShurley hire Jessica Koons, knowing she had a record?
Perhaps it was the same reason why Rick Burnett was hired for county bridge superintendent immediately following his parole completion in 1992 for cocaine charges. In 1997, he was indicted for racketeering, ghost employment and theft.
Hey, give a con a break, will ya?
Oh, yea, some would argue the Rick Burnett’s hiring was in the past. Yes, it is. The problem, the past has resurrected itself in our current county government.
Why did Sharon McShurley hire her son to mow Prairie Creek last summer? Maybe he was the most qualified to ride a John Deer. He loved tractors as a child.
Why did Donati create a job and hire his son for the position last month? Todd said his son was the most qualified and loves the environment.
There ya have it, folks.
Recently, the Commissioners wanted their meetings to be accessible to those who work. That is all fine and dandy except for one minor glitch. It is in conflict with Muncie City Council.
Let’s travel back in time again, shall we? When Shirey was Center Township Trustee, poor relief meetings were held immediately after the Commissioners meeting @ 10:15 AM. Yet at the 44th meeting, the commissioner’s broke their own rule and held it at 10:00 AM, without any notice to Shirey or a representative. When Dick’s deputy arrived at 10:05 AM, the meeting was over.
The same people who had devised ways to discredit Shirey are at work trying to discredit the Mayor. Is it any wonder why she appointed Richard Shirey at Deputy Mayor?
All one needs to do is research our past to predict our future.
Please, if you care about the future of Muncie and Delaware County, for your future, the future of your children and grandchildren, make your voices heard loud and clear. No more business as usual.
The Star Press wrote an editorial about the politics of Delaware County today (3-6-09). It had more than a ring of truth to it, yet it was pretty soft or as some would say “no teeth”.
I believe there are 91 counties in Indiana. Only two counties have had a worse reputation…Lake and St. Joseph. Someone spoke at City Council recently…she ended with “Our County’s competition, Lake County.”
In Lake County 53 people eventually were charged with vote fraud and 23 convicted. It took years of investigation, and Lake probably still isn’t squeaky clean.
Eventually, Delaware County will improve, you just have to keep plugging away.
Don’t forget Judges Wolf and Cannon refused to pay “dues” because they believed it to be unethical. Ethics….it is such a foreign concept.
More to come….