A new group consisting of city, county and civic leaders has been formed to evaluate government efficiency and help the community progress.

Called Terre Haute Competes, the group has been formed in response to a proposal put forward in April by local business and civic leaders who were especially concerned about the city of Terre Haute’s financial challenges.

According to a news release from Terre Haute Competes, city and county government leaders have “enthusiastically embraced” the idea of conducting a wide-ranging review of current city and county operations. 

“The objective is to ensure that citizens are getting the highest level of services at the most competitive price,” according to Thursday’s announcement. The initiative is still being finalized.

<\z14> Terre Haute Competes will be jointly administered by representatives of the private sector, the city and county. The steering committee is chaired by Paul Thrift, CEO of Terre Haute-based Thompson Thrift.

<\z186667> Other members include Mayor Duke Bennett, City Council President Todd Nation, Vigo County Commissioner Brad Anderson, Vigo County Council member Bill Thomas, Indiana State University President Dan Bradley and Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau Board President Greg Gibson. Additional members may be added to the steering committee at a later date.

<\z186667>”I’m excited because all the stakeholders are at the table,” Thrift said in an interview. “I’m hopeful that by having open, honest and candid dialogue about our community as a whole, we can accomplish some big things.”

<\z14>The ultimate goal of those who drafted the letter in April is a growing and thriving community and “right now, we don’t see that is happening and we are concerned,” Thrift said.

<\z14>A major source of concern is the health of local government and in particular the city of Terre Haute and its finances. “We have some challenges in front of us,” Thrift said.

<\z14>Terre Haute Competes may identify opportunities for cost savings, sharing of services or restructuring.

<\z186667>Thrift anticipates the steering committee will have quarterly public meetings. “We are not a legal entity,” he said, describing it more as an ad hoc committee. “We plan to be very transparent.” 

<\z186667>At the same time, there could also be meetings that are not open to the public.

<\z186667>Mayor Bennett said Terre Haute Competes “is an exciting opportunity for all of us. We want Terre Haute to compete globally, and we need to start at home and make sure we’re doing all the things we need to do to invest in ourselves and make sure we’re running efficient government here.” 

<\z186667>A first step is to hire a consultant, Faegre, Baker Daniels, which is expected to begin work later this month, Thrift said. “They have worked with communities throughout the country and have a deep understanding of our community” and local government, he said. 

<\z186667>The consultant will spend about six weeks collecting data and interviewing stakeholders that could include public employees, officeholders, vendors and private citizens. It also will look at city and county budgets. 

<\z186667>It will then identify areas for potential cost savings or improvements that could extend beyond local government, Thrift said. “It could be any initiative that would improve the community.”

<\z186667>The list will be presented to the Terre Haute Competes steering committee, which will prioritize some of the areas and have study teams look at them more indepth.

<\z14> The study teams will make recommendations and forward them to the steering committee “for its review at public meetings,” according to a release. Approved recommendations will be forwarded to the appropriate unit of local government for consideration.

<\z14>Terre Haute Competes is a recommending body. “We have no power or ability” to implement recommendations, Thrift said. 

<\z14>The important thing about the effort is that it opens lines of communication, evaluates the status quo and may even challenge the status quo, he said. Issues will get dialogue and scrutiny that might not happen otherwise.

<\z14>The effort may uncover areas that need change or improvement but it also may validate efforts that are already underway, Thrift said. For example, as a result of the group’s work, the public might have more confidence that “what the mayor has been telling us is exactly true.” 

<\z14>One steering committee member, Todd Nation, said he hopes “the work of this group will give us a better idea of how the city and county can cooperate to meet our mutual financial challenges.”

<\z186667>As Nation speaks with Wabash Valley political and business leaders, “Many of them make the point that Vigo County is Terre Haute and Terre Haute is Vigo County. I think we need to work together,” Nation said.

<\z186667>Brad Anderson, county commissioner, said the group is just getting started and most of the work to-date has been its formation. “We’re looking at seeing if there is anything we can do to work together, the city and county ... We’ve always done that,” he said. 

<\z186667>Anderson hopes Terre Haute Competes will help keep the lines of communication open and potentially identify other areas where the city and county can work together.

<\z14>In April, 20 business, education and community leaders concerned about Terre Haute’s financial challenges sent a letter to Mayor Duke Bennett asking him to establish a commission to evaluate local government efficiency.

<\z14>Pointing to the city’s “financial woes,” the group wanted the mayor — working with other city and county elected officials and private sector representatives — to look at potential ways to achieve savings and efficiencies “before further taxing our citizens.”

<\z14>Those signing include representatives of business/industry, banking, higher education and hospitals.

<\z14>In the letter, community leaders asked that a commission look at opportunities for cost savings through various ways that could include restructuring, combining city/county services and/or privatization.

<\Iz14>Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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