Columbus residents live in Bartholomew County. And county residents come to the city for work, play or services. That means they have a symbiotic relationship.
The city and county governments should have a similar relationship based on collaboration. Unfortunately, this year hasn’t seemed like a collaborative one.
For example, Mayor Kristen Brown and County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz had stark differences of opinion related to the stream gauges, which provide up to four hours’ warning of impending flooding. Kleinhenz said he repeatedly tried to contact Brown when the deadline was approaching for paying the local portion of the maintenance cost. The city and county had been splitting the $14,300 local cost. Kleinhenz received help from Columbus Regional Hospital, which agreed to pay the city’s portion. Brown said the county never requested a joint payment.
Tuesday night at the Bartholomew County Council meeting, Brown asked the County Council to pay all the costs for three countywide services: primary emergency ambulances, maintenance of stream gauges on Haw Creek and the 911 Emergency Operations Center.
Her argument was that city residents are paying twice for the same services through property taxes. She presented the same argument earlier this year during discussion about emergency ambulance services.
The mayor asking for a change in the portion the city pays for these services is not the issue, although paying some amount would seem fair. It’s the approach that is the issue.
The mayor has a right to ask that city residents pay amounts that she considers fair. However, the requests have come across negatively, as if the county needs to pull its weight more because city taxpayers are shouldering too much of the load.
It would be fair to say discussions the mayor has had with the County Council and the Bartholomew County Commissioners have been contentious at times and her relationships with them strained.
Friction also has been apparent in the mayor’s dealings with the Columbus City Council and Columbus Regional Hospital.
The most recent City Council meeting was contentious as most council members rejected her wish to spend $35,000 in bonuses on seven city employees, six of whom are department heads. Brown said the council doesn’t trust her; council members said she had no criteria in place to justify bonuses, and they were unfair because other department heads were excluded from consideration.
Negotiations for the city’s emergency ambulance contract were rocky, and with Columbus Regional Hospital sometimes feeling as if it didn’t really know what the mayor wanted.
Early in the process, Brown said the locations of the hospital’s ambulance stations were problematic and needed to be relocated to city fire stations. Hospital administration said that issue wasn’t mentioned to them by the mayor until it was time to negotiate a new ambulance contract.
All of this is unfortunate, doesn’t serve city and county residents well and only fuels negative perceptions of local government.
Moving forward, a stronger collaborative effort is needed.
Collaboration has been a foundation for this community. Public-private partnerships, for example, have resulted in many investments that have benefitted city and county residents.
But collaboration cannot work if both sides become adversaries.
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