Commentary: Andrew Steele: In case townships, politics is too local
By Andrew Steele firstname.lastname@example.org March 20, 2013 9:46AM
Updated: March 20, 2013 9:46AM
Last week legislation regarding the town of Griffith’s dissatisfaction with Calumet Township’s management was introduced in the state Senate.
The legislation differs from the House version in that it doesn’t allow “secession,” but provides for the imposition of an appointed manager if a township’s poor-relief tax collection is more than 10 times the state average for three years.
The original legislation would’ve allowed a municipality to leave a township if the poor-relief spending was deemed too high, and as long as a neighboring township was willing to take the municipality into its borders.
This is another instance of everyone knowing something is wrong, but no one knowing a good way to deal with it.
The original bill made two propositions: (1) that at some point, poor-relief spending becomes a problem of a difference in kind, rather than a difference in degree — 10 times the state average is not just relatively expensive, it’s absolutely unfair; and (2) that a municipality has the appropriate standing to withdraw from a township (as opposed to a neighborhood, a precinct, an individual property owner, or whatever).
The Senate bill, as of this writing, rejected the second, and replaced it with the old “distressed unit” language that would open the possibility of bringing in an outside manager.
It’s been suggested the two can be combined somehow, to let Griffith out of Calumet but provide for outside managers to come in and clean up the remnant.
There’s a tension in that idea, though, that might be difficult to overcome. If the problem with Calumet is administrative, why isn’t the “distressed unit” idea sufficient? One might suspect that administrative deficiencies are simply the wedge to solve the real problem — relatively rich Griffith is in a township with a whole lot of poor people.
The arbitrariness of township boundaries (and perhaps of townships themselves) is unfair, and Griffith property owners bear a burden that isn’t fair.
But the Senate bill raises what’s probably the real question here — how do we provide assistance to people in need of short-term help, or who’ve gotten into a long-term state of dependency?
Ultimately the burden is probably going to need to be spread, not concentrated (as the so-called secession bill would do). Griffith’s efforts on its own behalf are understandable, but go in exactly the wrong direction.
The Senate’s version, by addressing the issue as an administrative one, also only puts off the real question.