The Senate amended a local government bill last week to give voters the option of choosing to keep their current structure for county officials, rather than forcing a change.
Senate Bill 506 gives the three-member county Board of Commissioners the authority to change their structure to one of two options:
The county council would become the legislative branch of county government and voters would elect a county executive, who would appoint people to handle various government functions. The structure would be similar to a city mayor/city council system.
The commissioners and council would be scrapped in favor of a seven-member board of supervisors, which would handle executive, fiscal and legislative functions and appoint a county manager to handle day-to-day tasks. That would be similar to the structure of town government.
Under the amended bill, the commissioners could defer the choice to county residents, who could vote to keep the existing structure.
Indiana State Representative Nancy Michael told the Banner Graphic she wants to see the decision on this issue to be made at the local level.
"I don't believe we at the statehouse should be mandating that at the local level," she said.
Michael, who has experience at the local level as the Mayor of Greencastle prior to being elected state representative, understands the difficulties of allowing the state to make local decisions.
"Voters like to make that decision. If we make that decision, the voters think we don't need their voices and we do need them," she said.
As originally passed by a Senate committee this month, voters would have been forced to choose between the two new structures. Now they have some say in who will run their county.
Some officials are concerned that those in the economic development field may get frustrated navigating different government setups across the state.
Marilyn Schultz is executive director of MySmartGov.org, a group promoting government streamlining, including the county executive legislation.
She said MySmartGov.org supports the referendum amendment "if that's what it takes to keep the bill moving."
Schultz said state legislators are entitled to change the form of county government, a system they created in the first place. But, she conceded, "There may be different ways to do things depending on the size of the county."
More than 3,000 elected township officials would be eliminated under the amendment added to the local government-restructuring bill.
The amendment also requires the State Board of Accounts to prepare an annual report on the fiscal condition of each of the state's 1,008 townships -- but not in Marion County -- to aid county councils with their new responsibilities.
The bill retains an anti-nepotism clause.
SB 506 is now eligible for a vote by the full Senate.