EDITORIAL: Lawmakers Again Shelve Local Government Reforms

Buried in the scrapheap of unsuccessful bills from the Indiana General Assembly are proposals that would have transformed local government, making it more efficient, more transparent and more accountable.

But so much was made over education reforms and the House Democrats walkout that bills designed to implement the recommendations in the Kernan-Shepard report died quiet deaths. When asked, most Hoosiers don’t know who their township trustee is, where the office is or what the official’s responsibilities are.

Some might correctly guess fire protection, and township firefighters have been fierce supporters of the status quo. Some on township fire departments spread fear that the rural volunteers might be disbanded if Kernan-Shepard recommendations become law.

That’s not true. A county panel of emergency experts would assume oversight responsibility for all rural departments, allocating funds to best equip all rural departments.

After all the news stories about township government, some might recognize that township trustees provide assistance for the poor. But how much assistance and who receives help is highly subjective. It is often up to the trustee whether a person receives help. How much assistance can be paid out also varies from township to township.

If, as Kernan-Shepard recommended, this assistance was operated by the county, those in need of help would have one place to find for help, and the office would be open during business hours — a time many township trustees are busy at their regular jobs.

The Kernan-Shepard commission’s report was released in late 2007. Since then, many state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have given lip service to the benefits the proposed reforms might bring. But few have demonstrated the political will to retire an antiquated and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and political patronage.

That’s a pity and a disservice to those who each year pay for an inefficient and often unaccountable layer of government.