Indiana News

Democratic Officeholders Ask Pence to Veto Marion County Government


Marion County Democratic officeholders gather outside Gov. Mike Pence's office. ( photo: Eric Berman)

Marion County's Democratic officeholders are urging Governor Pence to veto a bill expanding the powers of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.


Most of the attention has focused on the elimination of four Democratic-held at-large seats on the City-County Council. But the bill makes eight other changes to Marion County government, five of which either strengthen the mayor or limit the council. The list ranges from allowing the mayor to reappoint agency heads without the council's approval to giving the mayor a majority of the appointments to the nine-member Metropolitan Development Commission.

The bill gives the mayor and the council the two appointments currently made jointly by the county auditor, treasurer and assessor. The commission would still have to be divided 5-4 between the political parties.

Prosecutor Terry Curry says there's not a single provision in the bill Democrats can accept. He's particularly incensed about a provision requiring the city controller to review county officeholders' budgets twice a year, and authorizing him to withhold money if necessary to keep the budget balanced.

Curry suggests since the prosecutor and other county offices are established by the state constitution, it may be illegal to reduce their control over their budgets. He says a non-elected official with no public safety experience shouldn't be allowed to dictate spending for the prosecutor and sheriff.

Pence has said he has concerns about the bill and will study whether to sign or veto it -- but the budget oversight provision is one he's specifically praised. He notes the governor's office enjoys similar power, and says it's been a critical tool in keeping the state in the black.

Marion County Clerk Beth White objects to a provision requiring Marion County to count its absentee ballots at a central location instead of in the individual precincts. White says the last attempt to do that, by Republican clerk Doris Anne Sadler in 2003, resulted in a two-day delay in determining the winners of several council races. Since then, early and absentee voting has grown more than tenfold.

The bill allows votes to be counted at the precincts with unanimous approval from the county election board, but the board has divided on partisan lines in recent years over satellite locations for early voting.

Democrats hold every countywide office in Marion County except the mayor's office. Indianapolis Representative John Bartlett says the party would still oppose the changes even if a Democrat became mayor.

Nine county officeholders and city-county councillors joined seven of Marion County's 12 Democratic state legislators in a news conference outside Pence's office.

The bill's other provisions include outlawing council Democrats' attempt last year to extract payments in lieu of taxes from the Capital Improvement Board.

The bill is still gathering required signatures en route to Pence's desk. Once it reaches him, he has a week to sign or veto it.


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