Bills would keep government employees from holding office
By Chelsea Schneider Kirk firstname.lastname@example.org January 28, 2012 5:42PM
Updated: March 1, 2012 8:23AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation that provides for local government reform is moving through the Indiana General Assembly.
An aspect of that reform could force some Lake County officials to make a decision — give up their local government job or serve as an elected official.
Bills filed in the Indiana Senate and House restrict individuals from working in the same local government where they hold an elected office. The Senate has passed its version of the bill, and the House’s bill is waiting for a third and final reading. Similar legislation died last year.
The legislation doesn’t affect those running in the 2012 elections or elected officials from serving out their current terms.
But if those officials run for re-election and win, their victory now will come with a choice.
“Anyone can run anytime they want, it’s not a restriction,” said state Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville, who is a leader in the reform efforts. “They can run again but if elected they need to make that decision — do I want to be an employee or elected official?”
The legislation also restricts volunteer firefighters from holding an elected position in the same government. A Democratic-led amendment to exempt volunteer firefighters and reserve police officers making less than $200 a year from the government they serve was defeated. The legislation does allow individuals to hold offices in other local governments where they aren’t employed.
Separately, the legislation also aims to reduce nepotism in local government by banning individuals from directly supervising their relatives, but the bill doesn’t affect those employed by July 1 unless they take a break from being employed.
Another local government reform bill allows a county to move to a single county commissioner. State Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said the portion of the bill placing restrictions on volunteer firefighters is hard for her.
“We do have a lot of volunteer firefighters in my community who hold local office,” VanDenburgh said. “That’s the portion of the bill I really do not like. Everything else I fully support. I don’t believe officeholders should be able to hire family members ... so I support the rest of the bill wholeheartedly. Really it’s a shame it’s all together in one bill.”
State Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, said the perceived conflicts of interest the bill addresses are found in all levels of government across the state.
“Quite frankly, you get people who have the ability to set tax rates, have the ability to enter into multimillion-dollar buildings they are going to build,” said Mahan, who is carrying the bill. “The ability to vote on their pay, raises and benefits, those kind of things that certainly does put them in a conflict.”