A Terre Haute mayoral candidate wants to see a consolidation of city and county governmental powers in Vigo County to increase efficiency and reduce “wasteful” overlap.
Pat Goodwin, independent candidate for Terre Haute’s 2019 mayoral race, presented his ideas for a unified government — such as Indianapolis’ Unigov — at a public forum Wednesday evening at the Vigo County Public Library.
The former city engineer said the current model of city-county government is outdated and needs to be revamped to cull the most from its resources.
“We’d be crazy not to do this,” Goodwin said. “It’s not that we should do it or that it’d be nice if we do it. We must do this, our community’s future depends on it. We can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them the last 50 years or more and expect to get a better outcome.”
Goodwin said under a unified government structure the jurisdictions of the city and county would be stripped away in favor of a pool of employees and resources that could be used countywide.
The elected positions would also see changes, whereas now the mayor is the executive head of the city and the commissioners head the county, the position would be unified into one elected position.
He used Indianapolis and Marion County as an example — which popularized Unigov in the early 1970s — noting its unified government is headed by just the mayor. A unified city-county council serves as the chief legislative body.
The unification of elected positions is one of the last steps of the process, Goodwin noted, saying many smaller steps need to happen before the state legislature will ratify a united government proposal from Vigo County-Terre Haute.
To begin a unification process, agencies from the city and county would have to begin coordinating their efforts and cooperate when possible, Goodwin said, using a pyramid illustration to note this step being the base upon which all subsequent steps are built.
From there the city and county could begin enacting inter-local agreements that would allow a city agency to perform a county task at cost and vice versa.
The third step in Goodwin’s five-step plan would see city and county government draft a unified code that could be applied countywide. He said caveats could, and in his estimation should, be added to ensure the sovereignty of towns in the county.
The penultimate step is one of the trickiest, Goodwin said, with the combining of duplicate departments in city and county government.
And while hesitancy should be expected from folks leery of being cut in a consolidation, Goodwin said if done at opportune times, a unification is possible and seamless.
“A recent example is a really easy one,” Goodwin said. “In our weights and measures departments there were two part-time jobs and the guy with the county decided to retire. And Mark Bird, who was the city weights and measures guy, said he could take on the role for both city and county.
“The city and county did a inter-local agreement, and Mark Bird became the weights and measures inspector for both the city and county. And guess what, a gallon of gas weighs the same in the city as it does the county.”
The final step in forming a unified government is seeking approval from the state legislature. Goodwin said Terre Haute has suffered some black eyes via financial mismanagement in recent years, and it would be necessary to complete the previous four steps to prove Terre Haute and Vigo County were serious about the effort.
Along with outlining the steps it would take to establish a united government, Goodwin briefly touched on some misnomers about combined city-county governments.
He said a unified government is not an effort to get county residents to pay for the city’s financial mismanagement.
It does not reduce or combine public safety; nor does it change rules for a rural area and establish a one-size-fits-all code
Neither does it strip outlying towns of their identities and abilities to tax for special projects
In Goodwin’s estimation, a unified government is the most natural fit for modern governance and a way to simplify processes for Vigo County.
“If right now I said that we have this 375-square-mile box, 25 miles north to south and 15 miles east to west, and 180,000 people inside this box and we needed to establish a government, would we be doing it the way we’re doing it right now?” Goodwin asked the more than 30 people in attendance.
“I don’t think you could find a person to say yes. We have a 200-year-old system of government, so we are working under city and county [codes] that have been continually modified since the early 1800s. If we could do it all over again, we wouldn’t do it like this. We can turn it into how we want, and if we do, we will really set ourselves apart from other Indiana and Midwest communities.”
Reporter Alex Modesitt can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarAlex.