Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On The Other Hand, Fishers

Lest anyone conclude I've made up my mind on the Fishers city vote, I'll now look at the other side of the argument.

City Yes PAC has been advancing the cause of making Fishers a City from the beginning of this latest push to do so. They list five issues on their website:

1. Elect Your Mayor. Every other community in Indiana gets to elect the City executive. As one of the largest communities in Indiana, Fishers should have this basic democratic right.

I completely agree, but this was one of the specific questions of law the lawsuit inexplicably lost on. I thought it was our strongest point. Alas. If the vote for a city wins, the popular vote of the mayor will NOT happen. The Council will then select the mayor. I can't get excited about that.

2. Council Districts. As a City, Fishers would have real district representation, with 6 districts representing their neighborhoods, plus 3 at-large seats.

Again, as Fishers won the lawsuit, I don't see this happening. If they vote for city wins, the voter gets to choose between the Fishers 'hybrid city' and nothing, as I understand it.

I've understood this from the beginning to be the heart and soul of the reason Fishers Democrats want the City form. Currently, all seats on council are elected at-large, which is a sham, for it favors the dominant party. It makes challengers not only win their district, but the entire municipality, which makes campaigning vastly more expensive, and virtually impossible for Democrats or Libertarians to win. It has resulted in very few General Election challenges for Council seats, and very unaccountable Council members.

I could get excited for this change, but again, as I understand it, when Fishers won the suit, they won the ability to present their form of city on the ballot at the exclusion of all others, including that described on this point. Please- someone correct me if I am wrong.

3. Accountability. With an elected Mayor and real district representation, the government of Fishers would be more accountable to the voters.

As shown in my previous post, this has not been the experience in the other similarly Republican dominated cities that were towns not too long ago, Westfield and Carmel. The mayors there are exceptionally unaccountable. The councils have effectively been rubber stamps for the mayors. There are occasionally oppositional members of council, but nothing even approaching effective opposition to provide genuine checks and balances.

Now, I can take the long view, and try to convince myself that over time, as areas urbanize they tend to move to the left, and Dems could win some seats in time. However, if the 'hybrid city' wins at the ballot box, the checks and balances hoped for by real districts aren't any more possible than they are now, reducing this to a nice talking point, and not really viable. Again- correct me if I'm wrong on the form of city that will appear on the ballot in November.

4. Checks and Balance. As a City, the Mayor would have veto power over unwise council actions. With enough votes, the Council can override the veto. This separation of powers is completely absent in Town government.

Completely agree, and this is the one point that keeps me from advocating for defeat of the Yes/No question. The Town Council currently acts as both legislative and executive, utterly lacking checks and balances. This may be the only positive thing that would come out of any vote in favor of the city form. See my concerns above in Points 2 & 3, though, for the real life play out for the next 30 years. The best we can hope for there is one-party factionalism to provide real checks and balances, which isn't really all that exciting.

5. Economic Development. An elected Mayor is the leader of the City and can negotiate with businesses who wish to locate here. The Mayor is the leader for economic development, something we currently lack.

Again, referring back to my previous post, this is exactly what I fear most. I don't want a Mayor Brainard for Fishers. I don't want pet projects that we will subsidize forever. I don't want politically businesses getting tax abatements while the unconnected pay full freight. We're better off for lacking a Mayor on these points.

So, clearly, I'm not sold on the other side, either.

When I joined the lawsuit, I was the odd man, as both Joe Weingarten and Glenn Brown were very much in favor of the city form of government, while my interests were different. I signed the City Yes petition not because I was sold on the city form, but because I believed the people of Fishers had the right to settle the question at the ballot box, and that the Town Council wasn't going to advance the question unless a valid petition went forward. It's all about representative government to me.

Unfortunately, we lost in court and are now left with two very weak choices, in my opinion. I'm open to suggestion from anyone who wishes to make the case for either side, provided you don't lead with "You're wrong". You'll push me to the other side with that.


Greg Purvis said...

Mike, there will be either one or two questions on the ballot.

First is the "CityYes" question, which is "Shall the town of Fishers become a City?" If this passes, then Fishers becomes a traditional second-class city with an elected mayor and council elected by districts.

Second is the "hybrid" or "merger" or "sham city", which says, "Shall the plan of reorganization between the town of Fishers and Fall Creek Township be approved?" If that passes, then the "mayor" is appointed by the council as a figurehead. No districts, all at large, and the first City Council is APPOINTED, not elected.

What happens if both pass? Good question. Faultless claims that they win then too, and the sham city becomes law. I am not so sure, but after the Supreme Court case, he might be right.

Mike Kole said...

As a result of the Supreme Court case, my impression is that if it is a yes, then the only option presented is the hybrid/sham city, yes/no- because that's what the victors perfer. That leaves open the key questions, "what happens if no, then?"

If both pass, no question the status quo is preserved, in as much as it could have been given a change. So, what is there to get excited about?

Greg Purvis said...

Mike, it is a simple answer. Vote yes for a City, vote no for the merger. Then you get a real city with an elected mayor and real districts, and no merger and reorganization, and no appointed fake mayor.

If they really wanted a merger, they should have avoided fooling around with the government issue. I think this is all just to block the "CityYes" vote.

Unknown said...

Mike, on point 2 I understand the argument against at large seats related to party chances. I would remind you that one incumbent lost her seat to a challenger in the Republican primary and a candidate that ran with the incumbents slate lost as well. So incumbency is not a lock. So long as, like all campaigns the candidate is a good one the voters can relate to, and they run a strong campaign they can win.

I'm not sure a Libertarian or Democrat would have any better chance with the district set-up either just because of the demographics.

A positive of the at large set-up is the council doesn't get into horse trading, but does what is best for the whole Town, not just what is good for their district, or trade a vote with another councilor to get a pet project for his/her district. I would think that would be a positive for a Libertarian.

My basic thing is this form of government has served the Town of Fishers well. Keep the best parts of Town government and add the positive parts of being a city, thus a hybrid that is a win/win.

By merging two layers of local government, the Town and Fall Creek Township you remove an unneeded layer of local government and the expense that comes with it. Anywhere between 200K and 1 million a year.

The only people who use the term "sham city" are some of the city yes folks in order to delegitimize the concept. but lets have a fair/informed debate and not distract voters with hyperbole.

Dan Rieke said...

Sorry, unknown is me, Dan Rieke. This is the first time I have commented on Google blog and apparently I don't know how to post my picture. Although when I go onto my personal profile there is a picture of me. So please forgive me. I did not mean to be anonymous.

Dan Rieke said...

Go figure now it works!

Mike Kole said...

Hi Dan!

Sure, the demographics are what they are, and a Libertarian or Democrat would have a good chance really only if the Republican was doing a poor job of representing the district. As you point out, right now, the only way to mount a meaningful challenge is to do it in the Republican primary. That doesn't do actual Ls or Ds any good, and that's as well known to the Rs who make the rules here as to the Ds who make the rules in Lake County.

The more I think about it, the more I'd be happy with keeping the Town, and redrawing the district map as a pure grid, with districted representation. That's a compromise I could live with.

Please show your work on the $200,000 to $1 million savings. Because if it's the savings on fire districts & the IRS that you're speaking of, I'll wager you right now dinner at Morton's that it will never fly. It's been tried before and failed every time. No reason to think it won't fail here again.

I'm torn on mergers. They promise so much, and deliver so little. This could be one place where it works, because the functions handled by the townships are so few that to absorb them would eliminate redundant administration. They also make accountability more difficult, because the elected official is elected by a larger body rather than smaller, and as I know too well, the larger the body, the harder to un-elect.

Dan Rieke said...

Mike, The 200K came from a study an accounting firm did for the reorganization committee. I don't have it electronically, but it is due to the eliminated expenses from dissolving the township.

The Township contracts with Fishers already so the reduction in costs has nothing to do with fire service. The additional $800k comes from the removing public safety officers from Social Security and placing them in the 1977 fund. Some will say that is rarely allowed, but my understanding is there are indeed cases where that has been implemented and the feeling is there is a very strong possibility it will be accomplished for Fishers. The firefighters are all for this change. I will admit I am not fully versed on all the ins and outs of this. Regardless there are still savings from reorganizing.

I will be happy to get you some examples if you desire.

The rules for voting are the same for everyone and statewide. You have a primary and a general. After the parties have selected their candidates they run against each other, Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, Greens, whoever. I know you know that, don't mean to insult you, just saying the general rules are the same here as Lake county. I will grant you the Libertarians have a difficult path with the two party system, but the good news is they get enough votes for Secretary of State where they are on any ballot they choose to run on.

The good news for me is the people will get to choose what they want, no back room deals. Navigating the choices will be confusing, but that is why the different factions will need to educate the voters. If we all do a good job of that we will know what the voters want.

Mike Kole said...

Dan- I think the savings should have been put out there from the beginning, in plain form. You are absolutely correct- this is complicated, and the voters need to be educated. Doing so will be extraordinarily difficult this year, because rising above the noise of a presidential, gubernatorial, and US Senate race will be daunting, to say the least. If this had been done last year, without all the competing messages to deal with, it would have been vastly easier to educate the voters. We may have more turnout this cycle, but it will likely be rather unaware of the particulars of this issue, unfortunately.

I have much else to say about the side items (for instance, I was the 2006 Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State, and could comment at great length about the differences in treatment, in terms of rules and official judgments), but will keep it to the topic as much as I can. We can discuss the tangential stuff over a beer at Bill Smythe's place sometime soon, if you'd like. :-)

Dan Rieke said...

Mike, I would enjoy that immensely! Let's make a commitment to do that. I am interested in your story.

Anonymous said...

Dan, you are the Fall Creek Township Board president. Why are you waisting $200,000 per year? Why not do something about it?