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Too much, too soon

No need to rush Allen County restructuring

“Shall the county government of Allen County be reorganized to place all executive powers in a single county executive and to place all legislative and fiscal powers in the county council?”

– Referendum language proposed for Nov. 4 election

Allen County residents have had weeks to debate the merits of a proposal to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the Indiana Constitution. If the measure had been sent to a referendum this fall, most voters would be well versed in the consequences of the issue.

Not so for a measure rushing toward a county-wide referendum – one that would dramatically change the structure of Allen County government by replacing the three-member board of commissioners with a single county executive and expanding the authority of Allen County Council. A 30-page amendment, inserted into House Bill 1318 by the Senate Elections Committee Monday, would require an Allen County referendum in November. If approved, a county executive would be elected in 2018.

This page has long supported a move to a single county executive as replacement for an antiquated county government structure. As the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform concluded in its 2007 report, the streamlined structure would provide a single point of leadership, contact and accountability.

That said, a sound proposal can and should stand on its own merits. It shouldn’t be slipped into a bill that has nothing to do with local government reform and approved by a handful of legislators before it is made available to the public.

Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, said he did not have strong feelings for or against the amendment but rightly noted that it represents a remake of Allen County government. He voted no.

“I would prefer for it to move through the process like other bills,” he said.

A bill filed by Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, would have accomplished what the amendment sets out to do, but it did not advance. It should have received a hearing, a committee vote and consideration by the full House.

The intent of the renewed attempt appears to be to avoid lobbying efforts by those who fear government restructuring wouldn’t be limited to Allen County. In the end, however, it amounts to the sort of backroom legislative deal that breeds public cynicism. When the process is compromised, the opportunity for consideration and debate is cut short. Allen County voters deserve a measure that respects the legislative process in restructuring local government.