Thursday, February 24, 2005

POLITICS AND SAUSAGE. Yesterday, Sheila Suess Kennedy talked to the students in my Indianapolis Peace House class (thanks, Sheila!) about the formation of UniGov--the 1971 consolidation of many municipal authorities and governing jurisdictions, and township services in Marion County that created a unified, county-wide system of government. Kennedy, who served as Corporation Counsel for Mayor William Hudnut and who writes a fiesty bi-weekly column for the Indianapolis Star, spoke of the pros and cons of UniGov planning, deal-cutting, and implementation. "Two things you don't want to watch being made are politics and sausage," she quipped.

CONSOLIDATION AND EXCLUSION. Many municipal services that were consolidated, but because of competing political interests or stiff local resistance, several entities were "excluded." A few small municipal governments were permitted to continue with very limited authority--Speedway, Beech Grove, Cleremont, and Lawrence. It was agreed that the Indianapolis Police Department would have jurisdiction over Center Township and the Sheriff's Department would provide law enforcement in the other eight townships (to this day residents in Center Township have to pay a tax both for IPD and the Sheriff's patrols). Likewise, the Indinapolis Fire Department would serve Center Township and the other townships would be served by their volunteer fire systems. The township Trustee system was not touched (and continues to be a laughable platform of political patronage).

WHY WEREN'T SCHOOLS CONSOLIDATED? But the most outstanding exclusion to UniGov was the public school systems. By failing to bridge the gap between urban and suburban township school districts, UniGov effectively "locked in" the race and poverty prejudice-driven segregation that existed at the time. It also immediately resulted in Federal Court Judge Hugh Dillin calling for desegregation of school systems throughout the county through a forced busing plan--an order that still holds sway, though it has been revised in recent years. The disparities in quality of education throughout the county point back to this "exclusion."

INDIANAPOLIS WORKS. Currently, Mayor Bart Peterson is calling for the Indiana State Legislature to enact provisions that would finally consolidate law enforcement and fire departments. His proposal would also consolidate many of the township Trustee services. Taxpayer savings with Indianapolis Works is substantial. But the larger reason is that it is just sensible for our civic life. I hope Indianapolis Works in enacted. Now, about the disparity in education for our city-county's children....?

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