It makes little difference where you live, because the subject of this essay applies to every State in our magnificent Union.
Way back on December 11, 2007 the report STREAMLINING LOCAL GOVERNMENT by the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform was released (also known as the Kernan Report, after the Commission’s Co-Chair, former Indiana Governor Joseph Kernan), and virtually nothing has been done to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of Indiana’s local governing bodies since that date.
I do not know how much money was spent to create the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, but it was probably significant, and we the taxpayers have paid the bill. Recently our local NBC affiliate, WNDU-TV, made a copy of the extensive report available on their website. This 46 page report is very interesting and carries a solid list of specific recommendations to improve local government within Indiana.
The essence of the report recommends the following:
COUNTIES: Create a clearer, more accountable structure with fewer elected officials. Better coordinate public safety services.
TOWNSHIPS: Transfer all present responsibilities to the county executive.
SCHOOLS: Establish districts that are large enough to provide high-caliber education at a lower cost and enhance fiscal accountability.
CITIES AND TOWNS: Strengthen accountability of elected officials, and eliminate the cost of separate election dates.
LIBRARIES AND SPECIAL DISTRICTS: Establish library districts that are large enough to provide high-caliber services to every Hoosier at a lower cost, and improve fiscal accountability.
ALL LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: Encourage additional voluntary action to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
SUPOPORT AND MONITORING: Facilitate the implementation of these recommendations.
All in all there are 27 specific recommendations within the above subjects, and they are all being ignored by the elected officials.
The only exception I have seen to my statement is recent action by the City of Mishawaka to consolidate their Department of Weights and Measurements into the same entity that operates in the City of South Bend. Substantial money will be saved and a more efficient operation should result. A logical question is: Why does Mishawaka continue to prosper while South Bend continues to fall further behind economically?
With local governments crying the blues about their economic health, immediate actions are not being taken to incorporate any of the suggestions so clearly outlined in the Commission’s recommendations. Within the past week the Mayor of South Bend had the unmitigated gall to suggest that an increase in the Income Tax should be considered, while he has failed to address any of the report’s recommendations. I suggest that the reason there is no action on the report is local provincialism, poor leadership, greed, fear of losing one’s job, and just plain stubborn attitudes. Reports of this nature quickly arouse opposition when segments of the populous realize their ox will be gored.
Indiana is a lovely place to live, but it has long been famous for its provincialism, and a strong tendency to cling to the past. That fact was clearly documented in Richard Longworth’s fine book CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE. Indiana, and many other States cannot thrive, or survive in the quickly changing global economy without shifting their focus to the future. Indiana has far too long clung to the past, frequently celebrating failure, and not embracing change. Indiana must adapt or it will ultimately perish economically.
Every citizen will have their own list of things they think can be done to consolidate or improve the effectiveness of local governments, but the Commission Report is an important document. It is a good starting point, but little is really being done to embrace the suggestions. Why? We must ask ourselves why some states are prospering or feeling a lesser impact during the economic downturn. Some states, especially in the south, recognize and accept the need to change, but Indiana does not.
Indiana is not alone in facing these problems, because virtually every state in this country could benefit by a similar Commission Report. If you live in Indiana your Commander strongly urges you to insist that the elected officials embrace the Kernan Report, and begin to implement at least some of the recommended changes as quickly as possible…not in political time.