Saturday, April 6, 2013

Senate Bill 621 Sacrifices Republican Long-Term Interests in Marion County to Increase Mayor's Power for 2 1/2 Years

I have yet to write on Senate Bill 621, the so-called "power grab" bill.  This morning I had a chance to look at the latest version of the bill which is now set for a final vote in the House.  If it passes in the House, it will likely end up in conference committee before going back to the Senate and House for a vote on any compromise that committee reached.

During a recent interview, Governor Pence has begun to weigh on the bill, expressing skepticism.   And he should - because the bill appears to sacrifice Republican long-term interests in Marion County/Indianapolis government in exchange for increasing Republican Mayor Greg Ballard's powers in the remaining 2 1/2 years of his term.

Here is what the bill does:
1. It gives the Mayor two more appointments to the Metropolitan Development Commission while removing appointments by the Marion County Commissioners. 

2. Allows the Indianapolis controller to have the authority to alter he budget passed by the Council. 

3.  Remove the  Council's right to vote on annual reappointments of deputies and directors.  (The Council still has to approve the initial appointments.) 

4.  Requires counties with more than 325,000 people to count absentee ballots at a central location unless there is a unanimous vote of the bipartisan Election Board in that county.
 Here are my comments regarding the four provisions:
1.   The MDC, which is supposed to be a independent body, is already a rubberstamp.  (When has it ever rejected anything pushed by the Mayor's Office.)  This would make the situation even worse.

2.   I'm not sure why the bill designates the Controller instead of the Mayor. After all, the Controller is not an independent person - he is appointed by the Mayor and serves at the Mayor's pleasure.  If the Controller weren't doing what the Mayor wanted, he could just fire him and appoint a new Controller.  Regardless this is extraordinary powers to strip from the legislative to the executive. It comes very close to making the Council simply an advisory body on budgetary matters.

3.   I remember during the debate over Public Safety Director Frank Straub's reappointment, the Mayor's Office insisted that the Council's reappointment vote was advisory only because deputies and directors serve "at the pleasure" of the Mayor.  As I pointed out at the time, that's a misreading of the statute - that "at the pleasure" means that the Mayor may remove that individual from his or her position before the end of the one year term, unlike many appointments where the Mayor cannot fire someone until the end of the person's term.  I also pointed out that the legislature would not have included the mandatory requirement that the Council approve the reappointments only for that provision to be rendered meaningless.  Apparently my interpretation was correct which is why it's now being changed.

4.  While Democrats insist this is some Republican plan to rig the vote in Marion County, I'm not sure how that would work.  There are Democrats at the central location and throughout the process of collecting and counting the votes.  Where it does help Republicans though is in Lake County where there is much greater concern over absentee ballot fraud at local precincts.  By counting absentee ballots at a central location in Lake County there is an assurance that a significant Republican presence to ensure there won't be fraudulent absentee ballots counted.

No. 4 might be a good idea.  However, Nos 1-3 seem very short-sighted.  Marion County continuees to become increasingly Democratic.  Last election the baseline Republican vote was less than 39%.  It's unlikely in the future that there will be a Republican Mayor of Indianapolis after the 2015 elections.  The Republican power then will go to the Council where Republicans are likely to have a significant presence albeit not a majority. Senate Bill 621 will strip that Republcian council minority of power in dealing with future Democratic Mayors.

Not sure why Republicans would want to sacrifice the future for a short-term gain lasting 2 1/2 years.

1 comment:

RhondaLeeBaby69 said...

#3 is the biggest joke of all. Upon initial appointment the Council has no idea how the appointee will perform. The ability to revisit the decision is paramount.