Thursday, December 13, 2007

From South Bend Tribune...SB comments in Bold/Italic


Kernan offers insights on reform report
Former governor tells what went into effort, what he hopes it accomplishes.

Tribune Political Writer

SOUTH BEND -- The Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform report on streamlining local government came with a message just short of a warning:

"We've got to stop governing like this," it said.

Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, who co-chaired the commission, met with the Tribune's editorial board Wednesday in an effort to explain what went into the nearly six-months-long commission effort and what he hopes the state will get out of it.

In all, the commission made 27 recommendations for streamlining local government, each of which was unanimously approved by Kernan, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who was the other co-chair, and the remaining five commission members.

The findings were not intended as a criticism of local government officials, Kernan said, but rather as an indictment of a structure that is more than 150 years old and which "doesn't make sense" today.

One of the commission recommendations would create a single-person elected county chief executive who would become responsible for administering the duties of what are now elected officials, such as the county auditor, treasurer, sheriff, assessor, recorder, surveyor and coroner.

Another would do away with township-level government by transferring those responsibilities, which include assessment, fire protection and poor relief, to the county executive.

What follows are excerpts from that conversation, abridged for the sake of brevity. The full text will be made available on The Tribune's Web site.

Q. If you do away with township government, how would persons in rural areas receive poor relief?

A. Doing away with township government does not mean that we would necessarily do away with convenient locations for some services to be delivered. We are not telling communities that the delivery of those services has to be centralized.

We recommend the reorganization of libraries on a countywide basis. We don't say and do not recommend that local libraries be closed. We've got Madison Township that has no library service at all. There are 400,000 people in Indiana that don't have any service. We are certainly not recommending that we close libraries. Nor are we recommending closing schools.

Q. Would there be one library system for St. Joseph County that would combine the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris, St. Joseph County, New Carlisle-Olive Township and Walkerton public libraries?

A. That's what we propose.

Q. Would it be under the St. Joseph County Library System?

A. It would be a countywide system. The local community would make the decision as to what that looked like and what it was called ... With four different administrations for the four different libraries, there has to be some economies of scale in having one administration and delivering those services countywide.

Even Don Napoli at SJCPL noted that there probably wouldn't be much if any cost savings in consolidating libraries (South Bend Tribune article12/1/07 "Smaller Libraries Worried.") What we need is to have all Townships in the state to be fully served by a library or library district.

Q. One of the most striking aspects of the commission's report is the amount of power and responsibility that is placed in the hands of the county executive for functions that are now the responsibility of many different people in county government. Is there any thought that might be too much responsibility to concentrate in one individual?

A. If you look at the responsibilities that the mayors of South Bend and Mishawaka have, I would argue that it's not that much different in terms of responsibility. ... It makes sense to have one executive that is responsible for the administration of all of those offices, with qualified staff.

Q. Do you think there could be a reduction in the county work force?

A. I would anticipate that you will be able to do things more efficiently, which will probably mean less people. It certainly will mean less elected officials.

Q. What do you think can realistically be accomplished in the General Assembly, given the resistance to some aspects of this?

A. You won't have any trouble finding people who are opposed to any or all of the things that we have proposed. There are a lot of people who have a vested interest in the status quo. ... We make these recommendations with the idea that they all be implemented. Will that happen? Probably not.

Q. With the amount of power the county executive will have in appointing individuals to the various offices, it could be construed as a return to the political patronage system, with all the possibilities for corruption that that implies. How do you keep that from happening?

A. I would venture to say that I am not aware of any evidence that having officials appointed makes any difference one way or the other, from a corruption standpoint, than having officials elected. What I do know is that it would be very clear as to whose responsibility it was.


... If there are tendencies in that direction, it will not be long before the community figures it out, elected or appointed.

Staff writer James Wensits:
(574) 235-6353

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