By Joseph S. Pete, Daily Journal of Johnson County
A push to upgrade Greenwood city government to second-class status has been resurrected.
Mayor Charles Henderson again is promoting the idea, which would split the clerk-treasurer position into two jobs, add two council members and allow the city to award government contracts without competitive bidding for projects of up to $75,000.
Critics say the shift would increase spending, add bureaucracy and eliminate the accountability of having an elected clerk-treasurer.
Currently a third-class city with about 47,000 residents, Greenwood qualified for second-class city status after its population exceeded 35,000.
An upgraded status would mean the mayor would appoint a controller to handle finances while an elected clerk would maintain records.
With a switch, Greenwood could hire a city manager, a deputy mayor and deputies in other departments. Greenwood already has a director of city operations, who effectively performs the administrative duties of a city manager.
Greenwood also could create a separate sanitation taxing district, which would include those who get sanitation service from outside city limits.
The issue is relevant now that the city is studying a potential merger with the unincorporated Center Grove area, which potentially would double its population, Henderson said.
Greenwood Clerk-Treasurer Jeannine Myers said an upgrade would make city government more expensive for taxpayers and remove the accountability of having an elected financial officer instead of one appointed by the mayor.
Henderson has pitched second-class city status to two past city councils without success. He said before last year's municipal election that he planned to revive the proposal to see if the new council is interested.
Keith Hardin and Jessie Reed, council members who often opposed changing the city's status, decided not to run for re-election last year.
Henderson brought an Indiana Association of Cities and Towns representative to discuss the idea Wednesday during the first council meeting since the death of council member John Gibson.
Gibson voted against second-class city status in 2002.
Association legislative representative Ann Cottingim said second-class city status would increase the cost of city government to taxpayers.
At the least, a second-class city would entail hiring a professional controller and two new council members. Council members now make $11,812 per year.
Council member Ron Bates believes a controller likely would be paid $90,000 to $100,000 a year.
Cottingim said there were benefits to second-class status, such as a professional controller who could focus more on long-term financial planning.
More financial data needs to be sorted out as a city grows in population and expands its municipal services, she said.
In good company
Indianapolis is the state's only first-class city. Nineteen Indiana cities have second-class city status, including Lawrence, East Chicago and Gary.
"It's an elite group," Cottingim said. "It's my impression that at the Statehouse it gives political clout, though there's no reason for that. It does put you in a group that gets you more attention from lawmakers in my experience."
Carmel and Columbus both have looked at moving up from third-class status, but neither has moved forward, Henderson said.
Upgrading to second-class status would mean no additional funding from either the state or the federal government, Cottingim said.
Federal funding is based on population, and the class of the city is not a factor, she said. State officials distribute local road and street, motor vehicle highway and cigarette tax money based on population, road miles in a city and other formulas unrelated to a city's class.
Changes in government
If the city upgraded its status, the mayor would hire a professional controller who did all the city's accounting and financial reports.
An elected city clerk would maintain all the city's records, such as ordinances, resolutions, agreements and contracts. The city clerk would process all public records requests and prepare agendas, packets and minutes for council meetings.
The clerk also would keep records and maintain the docket for the city court, administer oaths and affix the court's seal to documents.
In some second-class cities, the clerk can register people to vote, accept absentee ballots and perform wedding ceremonies, Cottingim said.
An upgrade in status would also add a sixth council district and a third at-large council seat.
City staff would need at least a year to redraw the district maps, Henderson said.
Council member Ron Deer said he believes that staffers should look at two maps: one that would redistrict the city as it is now, and another that would redistrict the city if it were expanded to include the Center Grove area.
If the council moved forward with second-class city status, it would not take effect until after the next election in 2011. The clerk-treasurer would serve out the remainder of her elected term, and the new council seats would not be filled until the next election when new district maps were drawn up.
Council member Brent Corey said the council would need more in-depth information, such as about the pros and cons of a sanitation taxing district.
Second-class city status would be needed more if the city were to merge with the Center Grove area, which would create a need for more council seats, Corey said.
"We heard a very basic presentation, and there are a lot of questions," he said. "This isn't something that will happen overnight."