Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sometimes the Public Process is Just As Important As the Public Policy

The more important a public policy is, the more important it is to have a robust public process to gauge the wisdom and details of that policy.

So it is with SB 621, which would do many things, including taking Council authority over the City budget and giving much of that real authority to the Mayor through his Controller, taking Commission appointments to the MDC and giving them to the Mayor, and eliminating the 4 At-Large positions on the Council - among other things.  This bill, authored by State Senator Mike Young at the behest of Mayors Ballard and Vaughn, passed out of the Senate and is in the House for consideration.

There are legions of folks lining up to oppose SB 621, but whether or not the Legislators will listen to any of them is yet to be seen.

One thread in the comments of the most recent opponents is the public process, or lack thereof.

Commenting only on the elimination of the At-Large positions, former Senator and Mayor, Richard Lugar, told WFYI that the public process used to create Uni-Gov provided protections to all voters.   "This was a good way when we brought together the entire community to make sure that the entire community had a vote."  (thanks to Jon Easter at Indy Democrat for the quote and link).

Ruth Hayes, on behalf of the Nora Northside Community Council, recently sent a letter to House Speaker Brian Bosma:
Dear Sir:

I write as president of the Nora-Northside Community Council, Inc., (NCC) a 46 year old community "umbrella" organization in North Central Washington Township, Marion County.  With a roughly 12 sq. mile area of interest, we have long been active in working with Marion County government on issues of concern to the 25 to 28 thousand citizens of the area. We are nonpartisan in all matters.

This note is to respectfully call your attention to what I consider a reasonable and thoughtful letter in the March 23 Star by Prosecutor Curry regarding SB 621.  I believe that the most important sentence in the letter states:  "I am opposed to a bill  that seeks to permanently alter the structure of local government without a shred of public outreach and input."  The community has been given no opportunity to discuss, approve or not, revise, etc.  this major reorganization of Unigov.  Dr. Beurt SerVaas, Charlie Whistler, and Richard Lugar gave great thought to the legislation which created the current form of Marion County governance, seeking to assure important checks and balances and provide representation for all citizens and areas of the county .  There were public hearings and media coverage to explain the initiative.  No less should be done now.

Trusting in your sense of fairness and commitment to open and transparent government, we respectfully urge you to not call a hearing on what many community leaders consider to be an ill-conceived and blatantly partisan proposal.  If it's a good idea, then it can surely stand the test of summer study.  We will welcome the opportunity to review and discuss the pros and cons of this initiative.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.
"There were public hearings and media coverage to explain the initiative.  No less should be done now....  If it's a good idea, then it can surely stand the test of summer study."

Councillor Christine Scales, a Republican member of the City-County Council, penned a letter to Senator Young which stood up for the power and authority of the Council itself.  It said in part  (Paul Ogden at Ogden on Politics reprinted the entire letter) :
If SB 621 passes in its current form, the fundamental commitment to a system of governmental checks and balances will be severely eroded.  The Council’s oversight and advisement of budgets and departmental appointments and other policy decisions is already compromised by politics. There always exists a tension between what’s good for a political party and what comprises good governance. Votes for desired initiatives can be bartered for with promises of political perks or threats of punishment.  This sort of vote kowtowing already offers undue leverage and control to an executive branch of government- a tighter grip on power does not favor the public that is served. Extra care must be taken to ensure that processes providing accountability and transparency in government are not trampled on.

If there is a determined desire to reset the equation of county governance, then let there be a commitment to more time and input as to what a new city-county government model would look like and what weight voices of elected officials would carry. It is imperative that crafting of new policies doesn't conflict with traditional tenets of a democratic republic, which I fear SB621 does.
All of these comments honor and value the public process, especially in crafting or dissembling these proposed changes in policy and governance.  The public deserves to be heard; not just through letters, but out in the open where the pros and cons can be discussed by those who will be affected.  The public is not well served by this power grab by the Mayor ensconced in SB 621.  It is even less well served by the lack of an open and honest public process airing the wishes of the citizens of Indianapolis.

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