It has been nearly four years since the Kernan-Shepard Commission, a bipartisan group of Indiana leaders, studied the structure of Indiana government and issued a report. A genuinely bipartisan effort, the commission was led by former Governor Joe Kernan and Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who accepted the task at the request of Governor Mitch Daniels.
The Commission’s recommendations were sensible, but hardly novel or surprising. As I noted at the time, “It is telling that the Commission’s recommendations closely mirrored those made by Gov. Paul McNutt—in 1936. Never let it be said that Hoosiers rush into anything.”
Decisions about structuring Indiana government made in 1816 and 1851 are still in effect, and as a result, Indiana citizens pay for, and are governed by, more than 10,300 local officials. The state “boasts” 3,086 separate governing bodies, hundreds of which have taxing authority. When we compare Indiana to 11 other states our size, we have more levels of government than all but two of them.
In Indiana, we don’t put tax revenues to work enhancing our quality of life. Instead, we use them to pay for 1008 Township Trustees and other officeholders we no longer need. And despite the credentials of those who served on the Kernan-Shepard Commission, despite polls that show large majorities of Indiana citizens supporting elimination of Township Trustees, our legislature has stubbornly refused to act—and many of us have scratched our heads, wondering why.
An article in this morning’s Star may offer a clue.
A previous story had reported that the Township Trustee in Hamilton County had paid 10,000 (from tax monies!) for seats at the gala opening of Carmel’s new Palladium Opera House. This morning’s story noted that the Trustee’s lawyer had advised him to repay the money. And who was that lawyer? None other than Brian Bosma—Speaker of the Indiana House.
That reminded me of something I was told by a Kernan-Shepard commissioner a couple of years ago. He noted that several of the Trustees paid large sums of money with some regularity to well-connected lawyers, for “legal services.” Given the relatively simple legal issues Trustees deal with, he concluded that what they were purchasing was clout—political insurance, you might say—rather than legal counsel.