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General Assembly

County government overhaul derails

– A move to change the structure of county government in Allen County was blocked Thursday by the House – likely ending the debate for this legislative session.

The House voted to send the issue to a summer study committee.

Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, the sponsor of the legislation, said confusion and concerns over the bill forced the move.

“I am supportive of having a good honest and open dialogue with all parties and I am hopeful this study brings a good solid recommendation that will help bring us clarity about our direction with local government,” he said.

He told his colleagues on the House floor that he hopes it’s a “real” study that recognizes different counties have different dynamics and it’s OK to have diverse forms of local government.

Senate Bill 475 cleared the Senate with little discussion but has hit roadblocks in recent weeks.

The Senate author, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said he was disappointed by the maneuver and seemed resigned to the end of this year’s discussion.

“Regardless of whether you believe a single county commissioner should replace the current system, few people can argue against citizens deciding for themselves which form of government they want for their particular county. It’s unfortunate this bill wasn’t able to provide that right,” he said.

“I’m hopeful that the interim study committee will focus on this issue and reach a conclusion that includes this idea.”

The bill was drafted to affect only Allen County. It would have allowed the county commissioners to adopt an ordinance to change the executive and legislative structure of county government.

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.

The bill stalled when people began questioning whether the Allen County commissioners supported the bill. Nelson Peters has been a longtime advocate and has testified in support. Linda Bloom has been opposed.

Commissioner Therese Brown said she supported the public referendum in the bill but wasn’t clear on whether she would vote for a reorganization ordinance. She also sent an email to the Indiana Association of County Commissioners saying she supported expanding the bill statewide to all counties.

That forced the state group to come out and formally oppose the bill because it supports the three-county commissioner system. Many lawmakers have also expressed concern about it applying statewide.

Brown and Peters sent a letter to Carbaugh on Tuesday that made clear the Allen County commissioners supported the bill in its current form. But the move came too late.

Bloom did not sign it.