An Indiana legislative majority still has no stomach for taking on their friends in township government, but they did deliver some surprisingly tough tweaks to local government during the 2012 session. While lawmakers were still arguing about whether to ban smoking in bars and whether to allow resistance to police entry into residences — a truly ridiculous issue — they did quietly deal a blow against nepotism and conflicts of interest in local government.
Legislators passed and sent to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels a bill which would prevent public officials from hiring relatives to work in the government offices they head and would prevent public employees from serving on the elected boards that oversee the departments where they are employed.
In other words, a firefighter could not serve on the City Council which approves the budget for the fire department. Evansville only has one such example currently, with City Councilman Al Lindsey serving also on the fire department. However, over the years, Evansville has had both firefighters and police officers serving on the Council.
The recommendation for this legislation came out of the 2007 study of Indiana local government by the commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Randall Shepard and former Gov. Joe Kernan, as did the proposal to prevent officials from hiring their relatives.
While the new law would pertain to most local government, its advocates surely had in mind township government. The Kernan-Shepard commission recommended the end of township government in Indiana, but short of that, its study inspired lesser steps that would at least reduce its size.
In recent years, various media looks at township government have found examples where elected township officials sometimes hire spouses as their office staff (and pay themselves rent for rooms in their own homes for office space).
And even though the Legislature helped get rid of most township assessor offices two years ago, the assembly has been reluctant to lessen the roles of township trustees and township advisory boards. The trustees hand out emergency assistance to people needing help. But for many, their unwritten responsibility is helping local and legislative officials with their election campaigns. That probably explains the reluctance of lawmakers to back any legislation against townships.
For several sessions, the Legislature has declined to eliminate township advisory boards, while turning over their budgetary responsibilities to county councils.
But lawmakers did vote to end nepotism, a move that should cut into the nepotism now practiced in some townships.
We have no doubt that Gov. Mitch Daniels, now serving his last year in office, will sign the bill, given his strong support for the Kernan-Shepard commission.
But we hope the next governor is able to finish the job, and completely flatten a level of government no longer needed by Indiana taxpayers.