Citizens' forum ponders the future of Indy

It was as much an experiment in format as anything else. Students from the masters program of the IUPUI School of Public Affairs held the Indianapolis/Marion County Government Issues Forum at the Indianapolis Red Cross as a set of discussion groups to consider the merits of three of the major proposals for the future of Indianapolis and Marion County. Jennine Elardo, from the IUPUI School of Public Affairs masters program, takes notes of common themes during the group deliberations.

The 40 participants divided into five groups that examined each proposal: Unigov, the current structure established in 1970; Indy Works, Mayor Bart Peterson's proposal to further unify city/county services; and the proposal by the Marion County Township Trustee's Association for greater township control.

"We are looking for you to work towards a decision weighing the pros and cons of each choice," said general moderator Kathryn Vignati. "There are tensions and conflicts to be worked through. We need to consider whether we can come to a shared insight on this issue."

The participants came from a wide range of backgrounds. My group included two attorneys, a pipefitter/welder, someone who works in realty and moderator David Schwartz.

"What we're going to do is try to record the trends," Schwartz said. "Even though they didn't commission a citizens' report, we're going to give them one."

The groups came up with a number of themes in common. Nearly every group wondered where the money was going to come from - Indy Works proposes a $34 million savings, but there's a $300 million shortfall in police and fire pensions alone, according to Schwartz - and what the effects of consolidating services might be, not to mention the issue of schools.

Group 1: "We recognize that there's a need for change, which is why none of us chose Unigov. And the schools weren't included in any of these approaches. The problem we did have with Indy Works is that it gave too much power to the mayor. It doesn't have options to tailor to the local level."

Group 2: "With Unigov, in 1970, there were probably a lot of good things about it, really innovative. But it's outdated. Indianapolis looks fantastic, it looks better than it did even five years ago, but looks can be deceiving. And if the sewer system's not working, if you can't get around the city, then what does it matter how good it looks?"

Group 3: "Most of us agreed that none of the three choices was the perfect choice. We liked ideas from all three, but all three were lacking in certain major areas. Government located closer to the people is more responsive to the people."

Group 4: "There were a lot of holes in each one. There were a lot of questions we had about the savings. There's more to measuring efficiency than just money. Responsiveness and accountability are things that are very important."

Group 5: "With Indy Works, we'd like to see where the money's saved and check the consistency."

"So there is a need for change," Vignati said in closing. "Where that change comes from, we're not exactly sure. Saving money isn't everything. The implementation aspect of any plan really needs to be spelled out better to all of us. Other key issues are being ignored. There's a need to evaluate short-term versus long-term fixes."

John Krauss, the professor overseeing the forum, said that this was an experiment in give-and-take discussions, as opposed to the single-speaker town hall format, and he hopes to do more such forums in the future.

"You came out of this deliberation with more information than you had when you came into the room," Krauss said. "This is what makes Indianapolis work."


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