Indiana News

At-Large Council Seats Will Remain, But Dems Still Object to Bill

4/2/2013

A House committee has killed a proposal to eliminate the four at-large seats on Indy’s City-County Council. But Democrats don’t like the revised bill much better.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is seeking the right to appoint department heads without council ratification, expanded budget review powers for the city controller, full control over public safety, and two additional appointments to the commission that approves commercial development requests. Democratic legislators and county officeholders charge the proposal shifts too much power to the mayor, and accuse Republicans of exploiting their supermajority in the House and Senate to strengthen a Republican mayor.

Senator Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) added the proposal to abolish the at-large seats. The Senate passed that version, but House Government Reform Chairman Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City) deleted it, noting it appears to be the provision that’s sparked the most controversy.

Even without that provision, Lowell Republican Rick Niemeyer, a former Lake County councilman, joined Democrats in voting no. He says he’s uncomfortable with the legislature stepping into local government affairs.

And Columbia City Republican Kathy Heuer says she’ll back Democrats’ expected effort in the full House to let a study committee review all aspects of Indy’s combined city-county government. She says she’ll vote against any bill that seeks to make those changes immediately.

Legislators from both parties acknowledge the at-large seats were created as a means of assuring Republican control of the council, at a time when the GOP had a hammerlock on the mayor’s office. In past decades, it’s been Democrats who tried to abolish the seats, in the legislature and in the courts.

But Democrats control those four seats now, and owe their one-seat council majority to them. And the original expectation that the mayor’s party would control those seats hasn’t held true since Ballard’s election in 2007. Democrats won one of the four seats that year, and captured all four in 2011 despite Ballard’s reelection victory.

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