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Q&A: DeLaney on township government reform

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This story was published in Capitol Watch, a supplement to Indiana Lawyer daily.

A longtime Indianapolis attorney who's a freshman lawmaker with the Indiana General Assembly is embracing what he calls the most significant local government reform issue expected this session.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, is introducing legislation that would abolish township government throughout the state. The reform follows similar attempts during the 2009 session, and comes on the heels of a 2007 report co-authored by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard that called for sweeping changes to Indiana's local government setup.

While it hasn't been officially filed yet, DeLaney says his proposal calls for transferring all township functions to county government beginning Jan. 1, 2013. He expects it to be filed by Monday.

He took a few moments during the first week back for the 2010 session to speak with Indiana Lawyer about his legislation.

IL: Why introduce this?

DeLaney: These townships are political clubs without any social importance. They have hundreds of millions of dollars that sits and no one really knows how it's used. We can and should do better.

IL: How would this work?

DeLaney: County officials would take over these fiscal and legislative responsibilities. This would completely eliminate township trustees, instead establishing a single county executive to handle those duties. It specifies how excess funds could be used to provide additional property tax relief and streamline how people get emergency services. An elected advocate position would be created in each Indiana county to operate and oversee these areas. The legislation could also lead to changes in how fire departments are set up, but that's not certain at this point.

IL: Why is this important to introduce now, when Indiana's budget woes keep worsening?

DeLaney: It's important to talk about this anytime, but especially now. Government must function efficiently and use money in the best ways, and in the case of townships we can literally do more for less money.

IL: What does this mean for lawyers and the legal community?

DeLaney: Aside from the fact that the report was co-authored by the top justice, it would have significant impact for those involved in local government operations and bonding law. Not to mention that we're advocates for the poor. ... Lawyers help us all understand what this means and how it's applied. We represent people whose voices might not be heard and who could be impacted by all this, and that's why lawyers should keep watch on this.

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