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General Assembly

County government revamp bill confounding

– Confusion about the position of the Allen County commissioners regarding a bill moving to a single county executive has caused a key statewide group to reverse course and oppose the measure.

Meanwhile, an effort to expand the bill statewide also threatens to kill the legislation.

“People are undecided,” said Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, sponsor of the bill in the House. “Change is tough.”

Senate Bill 475 would allow two of the three Allen County commissioners to pass an ordinance changing the structure of county government to a single county executive similar to a mayor. It also would alter the duties and districts of the county council.

If this ordinance were adopted, then voters would get to approve or reject the change in a referendum.

Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters has been a longtime advocate of the move, while Commissioner Linda Bloom has opposed it.

Commissioner Therese Brown’s position is a bit murkier. She supports the inclusion of referendum language over a mandate, but generally doesn’t agree with moving away from three county commissioners.

It has been difficult for some – including Carbaugh – to understand her exact position.

He thinks she might be supportive of the bill in terms of setting up a framework for a possible change in the future but personally wouldn’t support an ordinance triggering the process.

“I’m getting verification,” Carbaugh said.

Adding to the confusion is the statewide element. Many legislators don’t want to see the bill opened up to include all counties. An amendment has been filed in the House to do so, but Carbaugh said he will oppose it because it would jeopardize support for the bill.

On one hand, the director of government affairs for the Allen County commissioners has told the Indiana Association of County Commissioners in several emails the Allen County commissioners support the bill and aren’t working to make it statewide.

But Brown sent a March 20 email to the state association suggesting the state organization’s board should seriously consider opposing the bill.

“Commissioner Peters did not testify on behalf of our county but as an individual. Please do not consider this as a position of the full (Allen County) board that we are advocating its passage in this form,” Brown said. “Both commissioner Bloom and I believe it should be an option statewide.”

Heather Willey, lobbyist for the Indiana Association of County Commissioners, said because of confusion over where Allen County stands on the bill, the association voted Monday to actively oppose the bill in all forms.

She said the association fully supports the three-county commissioner system but was willing to stand quietly neutral on the bill if all three Allen County commissioners were united in support and the bill remained specific only to Allen County.

That no longer seems to be the case, though.

“We’ve had some mixed communication with Allen County,” Willey said.

Calls to Brown and Peters were not returned Tuesday.

nkelly@jg.net

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