PRINCETON — Mayor Brad Schmitt told a Patoka Township resident who wants details on a study exploring the concept of merging Patoka Township and the City of Princeton governments that he's being “intentionally vague” out of respect to members of the Patoka Township Advisory Board and county officials, who haven't been apprised of the full study commissioned earlier this year.
But city council president Jan Ballard said council members — who were informed on July 26 of the study that explores a proposed merger of the two governments, possibly by voter referendum in the fall of 2018 — are getting questions from the public.
“The quietness has got to go away,” he said.
Council members were asked not to discuss the findings of the study until township and county officials were informed
Cecil “Bob” Allen came looking two weeks ago for answers about reports of the study, and returned to the common council meeting Monday, looking for answers from Schmitt, who commissioned the study by Reedy Financial Group LLC.
Schmitt told Allen the idea goes back to a local government reform report commissioned by former Gov. Joe Kernan and former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard, but he learned about the reorganization tool at a seminar presented by the Indiana Association of Municipalities last summer.
The mayor, who formerly served as Patoka Township Trustee, said he saw areas where services could be provided with less overhead. He told Allen that if such a concept benefited just Princeton and not Patoka Township, he would not be in favor of a merger.
Schmitt told Allen that he was being “extremely vague” about details and won't discuss them publicly until township advisory board members have been presented the details.
“They deserve the right to know,” he said.
He told Allen that the public has about 1 percent of the details at this point, that most of what's being talked about in public are “just rumors,” and he's trying to arrange meetings next week with township and county officials.
“I want their feedback,” he told Allen.
He said he wants to have the consultants who did the study present to answer questions.
“I know it sounds vague,” Schmitt said, but added that the information would be presented publicly at some point after the township and county elected officials are informed.
“That's about as vague as it can be,” Allen said. “I see potentially no value … no benefit to Patoka Township” in a merger.
Schmitt reviewed some of the goals of the Kernan-Shepard report developed to eliminate what the committee members said were layers of government for efficiency, and said he believes there are aspects of a local merger that would allow services to be provided more efficiently.
“We can go in my office and I can tell you everything about it,” he said to Allen, but declined to go into details at the public council meeting.
Ballard said council members, who learned of the study after questioning a bill presented by Reedy Financial, were told nearly a month ago that other officials would be informed of the details soon.
“You need to get the information to the public,” Allen said.
“That's what I said,” agreed Ballard.
Schmitt said there's been some delay in arranging meetings because the consultants didn't want to invest more time and money in the study until they were paid.
Council member Sheri Greene disagreed, noting that Reedy Financial was paid after the council learned what the bill was about, because the city has a contract with the firm.
Schmitt said he would have a conference call with the consultants to discuss scheduling meetings, and he has invited news media to attend.
“You're spending money on a study that the council hadn't even approved?” Allen, a former Gibson County Councilman, asked Schmitt of the study. “That's between you and the council.”
Allen suggested from his experience serving on the county's fiscal body, that's not how government spending should happen.
“There's money in the budget for these types of things,” Schmitt said, denying any impropriety. “I will have any conversation you want outside chambers.”
“No, I'll wait for the public meetings,” Allen said.