Some Indiana lawmakers are looking to consolidate township government in the state after multiple instances of corruption.
Indiana House Republicans announced a plan early this month to merge about 300 of Indiana’s 1,005 townships over the next five years, the Courier & Press reported. The plan would eliminate almost 1,200 elected positions.
The legislators aim to introduce the effort in 2018. Indiana’s legislative session began Jan. 3 and will adjourn by mid-March.
Reformers have long sought to curb township government because it gives elected officials unusual discretion to spend taxpayer money. The system’s origins are rooted in Indiana’s 1851 Constitution.
An investigation by the newspaper last year found township trustees have limited oversight and are given enough autonomy to abuse the privilege.
In 2010, Knight Township in Vanderburgh County had to institute its own controls after Trustee Linda K. Durham misappropriated nearly $70,000 in taxpayer money. Durham spent more than $47,000 of taxpayer money on concert tickets, flowers, movie tickets, gasoline, groceries, fast food and hair care items.
An audit conducted by the State Board of Accounts also found Durham responsible for almost $9,700 in undocumented disbursements and over $1,100 in overdraft fees.
Durham overpaid herself, her former chief deputy and two employees by more than $11,800. She also paid her salary in advance.
Durham went to prison.
“The township trustee has a lot more control of the day-to-day stuff than other types of government,” said Ryan Preston, audit services director of the State Board of Accounts.
Preston said township advisory boards don’t have the same oversight as other boards, like the County Council. Preston said council members have final approval over all checks before they’re paid, but a township advisory board doesn’t have that power or duty.
“The trustee just — when he has a bill, he writes a check and distributes it,” he said.