Tag Archives: Township Trustees

Old News–Again

The Evansville, Indiana Courier Press recently ran an “expose” about Indiana’s Township Trustees.

I put expose in quotes because the article repeated and confirmed practices that have been widely criticized since at least 1967, when a law review article disclosed that every dollar of poor relief that Trustees distributed cost Indiana taxpayers another dollar and a half in “overhead” costs.

The Courier Press fleshed out the picture:

What kind of job doesn’t have any competition to apply, lets a person keep their brother employed, gives their husband (who helps approve the budget) a mowing contract, gets paid to use their house as a seldom-used office and have part of their phone paid for? And, oh yeah, it’s all on the taxpayer’s dime?

The job is rural township trustee.

The paper’s investigation found that more than half of the 38 Township Trustees in Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey and Gibson counties employ relatives, award contracts to relatives or have a Trustee’s relative on the advisory board that (theoretically) oversees the office.

Twenty-seven of 38 area township governments are based out of the trustee’s house. The average number of households those trustees helped in 2016 was 14, with a median of 6. More than half of the townships based in homes helped fewer than 10 households last year.

Four township offices didn’t provide any poor relief in 2016: Armstrong and Union townships in Vanderburgh County and Wabash and Washington townships in Gibson County.

They also can be reimbursed for Internet and telephone usage.

Taxpayers paid about $60,000 last year for rent paid to trustees working out of their homes in the four-county area.

Hundreds of the 1,005 townships in Indiana are managed in similar ways.

In fairness, Governor Daniels tried. When he convened the Kernan-Shepard Commission to study government reorganization, one of its recommendations was elimination/consolodation of Indiana’s 1008 townships. Townships are an artifact of the days when travel to the county seat (by horseback) took half a day. Township responsibilities have steadily shrunk, and today they do very little; a few manage fire departments and most administer (with documented inefficiency) poor relief.

Poll after poll confirmed that most Indiana voters agreed with the Commission. Abolishing townships should have been a no-brainer–except we still haven’t managed to do so.

The problem is that, although a large majority of voters agreed that townships should go–that they wasted money better used elsewhere–it was a rare individual for whom this was a burning issue. For the Township Trustees and members of their Advisory Boards, however, it was issue #1. Eliminating townships would eliminate the livliehoods of the Trustees (and the relatives so many of them employ). It would eliminate the inflated fees paid to Advisory Board members for attending three or four meetings a year. Those Trustees and Advisory Board members focused like lasers on lawmakers, marshalling their forces, bringing in people to testify, hiring lobbyists and calling in political favors.

And Indiana still has townships.

In Washington, this same scenario plays over and over. Most Americans disapprove of the special tax breaks that benefit Big Oil, to offer just one example, but how many of us have written or called our Senators or Representatives about it? Very few–it is just one issue among many for most of us. But it is issue #1 for Big Oil (and Big Pharma and Big Banking, etc.), and they have  actively worked to protect their subsidies. When those with lots of resources focus those resources on lawmakers, they tend to get what they want.

When ordinary citizens care enough about an issue to create and donate to grass-roots organizations, call their Representatives, enlist their neighbors and friends–they can prevail. But they have to care enough.

When it comes to Township government, they evidently don’t.