Township government issues show need for fix

Indiana’s system of township government is more than 150 years old. Simply, the time is long overdue for changes.

Actually, many changes were proposed 10 years ago. Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels charged the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform to provide recommendations for a leaner local government structure. Former Gov. Joe Kernan and then-Indiana Supreme Court Justice Randall T. Shepard co-chaired the commission, and with the assistance of the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment published on Dec. 11, 2007, a report containing recommendations.

One of note was transferring the services performed by township personnel — assessment, poor relief, fire protection, emergency medical services, cemeteries — to county governments. The idea was to create a clearer, more accountable structure with fewer elected officials.

The report noted that Indiana had:

  • 1,008 townships in its 92 counties
  • More than 3,000 independent local governments
  • About 2,700 local governments authorized to levy taxes

The report also said:

Public anxiety about the cost and competence of government is extraordinarily high

The state’s patchwork system of local governments does not deliver the most effective service at the lowest possible expense

Although many of the comments and recommendations in the report have gathered dust, unfortunately, they still have importance. And several township fiascos in Bartholomew County over the past few years illustrate that an overhaul of township government is needed.

  • David Buzzard is the latest example. The Indiana State Board of Accounts audited the former Rockcreek Township trustee and his wife, Jacqueline, and determined there were financial overpayments to both. The audit showed the Buzzards were paid $54,141 from the start of 2012 through late summer 2016, but should have been paid no more than a combined $26,000. David Buzzard repaid $12,825 before resigning Sept. 12, 2016, but the State board of Accounts is requesting another $27,541. Also, a special prosecutor is determining whether to file criminal charges against David Buzzard.
  • In October 2014, former Clay Township Trustee Christa Acton was ordered to spend a year in jail and pay $19,160 in restitution in a case involving missing funds over a three-year period that turned up in a 2011 audit. The month prior, the townships’ former deputy trustee, Laurie L. Baker, was ordered to spend six months in jail and pay $6,000 restitution.
  • Wayne Township Trustee Clint Madden resigned in October 2016 when he was the subject of an audit of the township’s financial records. No results have been released yet.
  • Former Clay Township Trustee Rebecca A. “Becky” Smith was accused of receiving $3,459 in various forms she wasn’t entitled to. The case is pending.

It’s time to eliminate the township system of government and consolidate it at the county level to create a more streamlined system that creates better accountability. Taxpayers deserve that, not more problems.