Bartholomew County Councilman Greg Duke is planning to introduce “county council bylaws” at the council’s next meeting, although county and state officials are skeptical about the legality of the move.
“I will be forwarding to you some proposals for the possible adoption of county council bylaws,” Duke informed the council during a Nov. 9 meeting.
Although the seven-member council has the ultimate decision-making power regarding fiscal affairs in county government, it is the Indiana General Assembly that determines their authority, according to county and state officials.
Bylaws are defined in the dictionary as “a rule made by a company or society to control the actions of its members.”
“I wasn’t aware that county councils had bylaws,” said Leslie Wells of the Indiana University Public Policy Institute. “They certainly can’t change procedures that are part of state law.”
Up until 1980, local units of government, including counties, were entirely dependent on the actions of the General Assembly for their authority, the Association for Indiana Counties states on its website.
When counties were granted specific home rule powers in 1980, it is the three county commissioners – rather than the county council – who were named custodians of those powers. The only exceptions were Lake, Marion and St. Joseph counties, according to the association.
After discussing the matter with legal experts, Wells said the only potential bylaw change allows county councils to create their own version of Roberts Rules of Order. These rules serves as a parliamentary guide for conducting meetings and making decisions as a group.
Another person who says he has never heard of a county council in Indiana creating its own bylaws is Bartholomew County Attorney Grant Tucker.
But Duke says he has done research on the matter, and both Tucker and Wells say they will wait to hear Duke’s specific proposals before making any judgement.
It’s possible Duke might decide to introduce his concepts through a proposed ordinance, rather than through bylaws, Wells said.
Duke say his general concepts for the bylaws are directed more toward additional appropriations, rather than routine county business. They include:
Improving transparency regarding bidding processes and additional appropriations. Duke said he wants a more complete and holistic description of each request that will allow the council to more effectively ask questions and deliberate matters.
Encouraging more public input and improve the public’s knowledge on council activities.
Making disclosure notices and other documents more consistent and regular in regard to contractors or service providers, so each council member will have better knowledge in advance each time an additional appropriation is requested.
Bartholomew County Council attorney Chris Monroe declined to comment because the council has not yet requested his opinion on Duke’s bylaws proposal, he said.
When the council adopted a $57.3 million budget in October, Duke presented a list of five proposed goals and policies that include reducing taxes, minimizing government debt, providing funds for purposes that fall within the obligation of local government, retaining four months of cash reserves and scrutinizing all proposed expenses.
That list was approved by the council, but only as non-binding guiding principles, not formal bylaws that are required to be followed by council members.