Tag Archives: local government

Tending to the Nitty-Gritty

Our televisions and Internet feeds are rapidly filling with coverage of the 2016 Presidential race.

It’s hard to fault the media for its fascination with our quadrennial political spectacle, especially since the Republican field contains no fewer than seventeen candidates (at this count—who knows what other hats may be flung into the ring), many of whom are happily demonstrating that they are spectacularly unfit for public office.

The outcome of the national elections—not just for President, but also for the House and Senate—will have an enormous impact on economic, social and foreign policy, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of electing people who understand the complicated and delicate issues they will face.

What frequently gets lost in arguments over the direction our national government should take, however, is the importance of governing structures much closer to home, and the competence of the people we elect to deal with issues affecting our everyday lives.

A prominent example of the importance of local government—and its impact on civic equality—is the current outcry over incidents of police misconduct. The ubiquity of cameras has generated visual evidence of abuses that might previously have remained “under the radar,” and that evidence has sparked a national conversation about policing: how recruits are selected, the adequacy of training, and the role played by racial stereotypes, among other issues.

These incidents are not spread uniformly across the country; they are generally, although not always, evidence of poor local governing practices.

The importance of good policing to poorer communities is obvious. In cities where crime is poorly controlled, it is generally those neighborhoods that bear the brunt; residents of gated communities and wealthy subdivisions can and do employ additional security (further exacerbating the troubling gap between the haves and have-nots).

Beyond police and fire protection, local government policies and priorities have an immediate effect on those living within their jurisdictions. The ways in which city hall deals with the myriad everyday challenges of municipal life may seem boring until your uncollected garbage draws rats and other vermin, or the wheel of your car is bent in an unfilled pothole, or failure to remediate lead in older neighborhoods permanently diminishes the intellectual capacities of your children.

When we go to the polls to elect Mayors and City Councilors, a focus on their commitment to efficient and equitable delivery of essential public services is important. Quality of life issues are equally important. Public transportation may be a lifestyle choice for the executive who leaves his car in the garage and rides the bus to work, but it is a lifeline for the entry-level worker who can’t afford a car, and one reason that worker’s employer chose to locate where it did.

Far too many Americans ignore off-year elections. This is ironic, because our votes count more in state and local elections and because the policies and performance of local governments have a direct and immediate effect on our daily lives. They matter.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about an effort to make non-off-year-voting Indianapolis residents understand why they should care about who runs our city.

 

 

 

 

Been There, Done That, It’s Not Quite So Simple….

In a recent post to Inforefront.comChris Cotterill plows some well-tilled ground, essentially pooh-poohing the notion that cities and towns need more taxing authority in order to provide a decent level of municipal services.

We just need to do more with less. It’s a tired trope.

Some of his recommendations are reasonable–consolidated purchasing and maintenance operations, for example. Some aren’t: outsourcing or outright sale of city functions (the “holy grail” of those who believe that the private sector can provide services more efficiently no matter what the nature of the service–a belief not supported by the evidence); a hiring freeze (several city departments are already headed for “decimated” status), the exclusion of spouses from healthcare coverage (you think it’s hard to get good employees now?), and outsourcing operations of golf courses (because that worked so well during the Goldsmith Administration).

These recommendations have been around–and many of them implemented–since I served in the Hudnut Administration. The problem is, even if they all worked as Cotterill thinks they would, they wouldn’t begin to generate savings sufficient to address the problems we face.

Of course, there are some major improvements that might generate substantial savings–although they didn’t make Cotterill’s list. The Kernan-Shepard report identified the incredibly wasteful Trustee system; and I’ve argued before for consolidation of the eleven school districts in Marion County that collectively serve fewer students than IPS used to enroll. Unfortunately, we not only lack the political will to make those changes, our antiquated taxing system–with its dedicated funds–wouldn’t allow those savings to be used where they are most needed.

Should government services be delivered efficiently? Of course. Are some local government priorities misguided? Yep. Will addressing either of those issues solve the very real problems facing our underfunded local government units? In your dreams.

Mayor Ballard defended the recent deal with the Pacers by pointing out that the money going to the CIB can’t be used for other things, like police. That’s true–and it’s a far bigger problem than a lack of consolidated purchasing.

We need meaningful home rule, and the ability to allocate tax revenues to our most pressing problems. Giving local government actual authority over its own decisions would also improve transparency and allow citizens to hold local lawmakers accountable.

Of course, our arrogant overlords at the General Assembly are unlikely to agree.