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Work by IU institute takes center stage as Indiana considers government reform

Gov. Mitch Daniels is pushing the General Assembly to take dramatic steps to streamline local government in Indiana. As he does, he relies on work done by the Center on Urban Policy and the Environment, part of the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.

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The Center and Institute have done work for more than 200 client agencies in at least five states, but their highest-profile task involved providing staff support and other services for the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, appointed by Daniels and chaired by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. The commission report, released in December 2007, included 27 recommendations for streamlining and modernizing local government.

Now Daniels is asking the General Assembly to adopt 20 of the recommendations, including:

  • Replacing each three-member county board of commissions with a single county executive.
  • Eliminating township government.
  • Replacing some elected county officials with appointed officials.
  • Consolidating school districts with fewer than 1,000 students.

In a speech last week to the Rotary Club of Indianapolis, Daniels said the current economic crisis makes it all the more important to enact the commission's proposals this year. "They become 'must' items now, in the context of tighter budgets," Daniels said. "There are benefits -- principally in terms of making government more effective and accountable and transparent -- but they also save money."

Last month, IU President Michael McRobbie announced that Lilly Endowment Inc. had awarded the university $2 million over three years to support the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment and its work through the Public Policy Institute, both of which are based in Indianapolis.

"This award reflects the hard work being done by everyone at the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment and the Public Policy Institute and shows confidence that our work is having a positive impact on real people in communities throughout Indiana," said John Krauss, who directs the Center and Institute. "With this continued support from the Endowment, we can pursue the kind of groundbreaking research necessary for well-informed policymakers and, ultimately, smarter public policy."

Krauss is a faculty member at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and an adjunct professor of law at the IU School of Law-Indianapolis. He said the Lilly Endowment grant will enable the Indianapolis-based Center and Institute to advance their efforts to provide independent, original research and program development in such areas as housing, land use, government reform and economic development.

The IU Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, established in 1992, works with state and local governments and their associations, neighborhood and community organizations, community leaders and business and civic organizations to identify policy issues, analyze options and develop strategic plans for responding to challenges.

The Public Policy Institute, affiliated with IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), was created in May 2008 and draws on the expertise of faculty members and professional staff at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and IU Bloomington. Its mission is to provide leaders in business, government, academia, philanthropy and nonprofit organizations with the information they need to address the challenges communities face every day.

The Public Policy Institute includes the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, the Center for Health Policy and the Center for Criminal Justice Research. For more information on the Public Policy Institute and its Centers, see http://www.policyinstitute.iu.edu/. To read the Kernan-Shepard Commission report, see http://indianalocalgovreform.iu.edu/recommendations/index.html.