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General Assembly

House gets Allen County government revamp bill

– Allen County voters would get to decide on the structure of county government under a bill passed 9-3 Tuesday out of a House Committee – if it ever gets to them.

“It’s time we give folks in Allen County good government if they want it,” said Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.

He authored Senate Bill 475, which has already passed the Senate and now moves to the full House. It affects only Allen County and is being viewed by some lawmakers as a pilot project for the rest of the state.

Under the legislation, if at least two county commissioners adopt an ordinance to change the executive and legislative structure of county government, it would trigger a public referendum.

At least one commissioner, Nelson Peters, is on board. But counterparts Linda Bloom and Therese Brown have serious reservations.

A majority of voters would have to approve the changes. In general, it would create a single-county executive – similar to a mayor in structure – and a seven-member council with legislative duties.

The council would not have at-large districts, under an amendment added to the bill Tuesday. The implementation would likely take several years due to election schedules.

“The whole initiative makes a lot of sense to me,” said Peters, who has supported the measure for years. “Maybe it’s my business perspective. Things move quickly and efficiently in that environment.”

He was the only county commissioner to attend Tuesday. In fact, Bloom and Brown – reached by phone in Fort Wayne – said Peters did not tell them of the hearing or that he would be testifying.

Both Bloom and Brown support any decision being done by referendum rather than being mandated from the legislature.

But that does not mean they would first support an ordinance changing the structure – the requirement that would trigger a public vote.

“I don’t see it happening anytime soon,” Brown said. “At this point I’d say I’m not a fan, but we’ll see what it looks like.”

She specifically supports the system of having three county commissioners, saying the workload is too heavy for one person. And she doesn’t understand why the bill doesn’t affect all counties statewide.

Bloom agrees that it would put too much responsibility into one person’s hands.

“They say one vote is better than three, but I don’t think that’s right,” she said. “I always laugh when other counties have their own separate rules and regulations. I’m not sure why we should be any different.”

She added that a referendum is the only way to make it fair but that “I’m not a supporter of changing anything.”

Both of them questioned eliminating at-large districts, saying under an at-large system a resident with a complaint or problem has multiple people representing them to go to, not just the one person from the district where they live.

Peters said having specific council districts ensures equal representation for rural Allen County. The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce also supported the bill while the Indiana Farm Bureau testified against it.

Committee members from northeast Indiana – Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City, and Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion – supported the bill. Several Democrats voted against the measure.

nkelly@jg.net

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