Tuesday, January 5, 2010

This is Public Notice in Decatur Township

You know, this one has been sticking in my craw for a while. I thought I'd get it off my chest here.

In Decatur Township, the pictures above are the kind of public notice a concerned citizen can expect from Stephen C. Rink, the Decatur Township Trustee, and the Decatur Township Advisory Board. That tiny notice (the quarter sheet with small font...not the big flyer with picture) was posted prior to the meeting where the budget was passed in late October. I was one of three citizens in attendance that night along with the Decatur Township Fire Chief, Dale Henson.

We watched as the business of the township was done with little or no explanation. To be fair, the board did ask for public comment, but it was hard to really interject anything without much knowledge of what was being discussed. Perhaps they were nervous with all the attention, but six of the seven township board members voted yest to pass the budget with the other member absent for the vote (arrived late). When the time came to sign the budget, all six members signed under "no" instead of "yes" forcing a delay while new copies were made.

During the course of the campaign for Decatur Township Advisory Board in 2008, an examination of almost two years of advisory board minutes obtained by the Democratic candidates (after much difficulty) showed a number of these types of situations where business was conducted with an empty gallery of citizens. In fact, the minutes reveal mostly no one attending the meetings from the public from 2006-2008. Only on a couple of occasions did anyone attend, speak up, and say anything.

I would suggest that the problem does not lie with the public, but it lies with the public notice. The Decatur Township Trustee follows the bare minimum requirements to post notice for the meetings. Still, he makes it extremely difficult to get that notice. An unidentified source once called the Trustee's Office asking when a township board meeting was coming up. They asked to be contacted before the next meeting with the time of that meeting. The Trustee's Office never contacted the citizen. When the citizen inquired again, the Trustee's Office informed them the meeting had just occurred.

All of this comes at a time of belt tightening and government consolidation. As I've said before on this blog, the most local of local government only works when people care. If you stop Joe Blow Decaturite at Mickey & Bill's Pizza on Kentucky Avenue, could that guy tell you who the seven members of the Decatur Township Advisory Board are? Could that guy tell you what the Decatur Township Advisory Board does? Would he be able to tell you who the trustee is? Would he know that those entities control a good portion of your property tax bill?

It's hard to buy the township government's own arguments for the continuation of township government when it seems like township governments like Decatur's go out of its way to make it hard to witness the action.

The solution here is simple to me. Perhaps a larger sheet of paper with, let's say, 48 font posted on an exterior window of the Trustee's Office would make it easier for people to find out when meetings occur. Just posting it on the window next to the door to the office (which is inside a locked, common area during non-business hours) really seems like not enough to me. Even the school board, subject to the same rules, sends a notice to the local newspaper which is published for free.

I've only seen one such notice for the Decatur Township Advisory Board, and it was after the 2008 elections. It's not this way in every other township across Marion County. Most are better with user-friendly public notice.

I guess if I'm going to buy into the keeping township government argument, it sure would be nice to see them in action every once in a while. It's my opinion that, in Decatur Township, that's a very hard thing to do.


Anonymous said...

An apathetic public is the major reason this is occurring; this cannot be minimized or dismissed. Frankly, although the posted notice is scant, small and basically worthless, it still is within the confines of what is required by state statute. Indiana's public meetings statute is in desperate need of an overhaul. With technology available, such as the internet, there is no excuse that meeting notices shouldn't be plastered everywhere. However, until there are adequate legal protections, this type of conduct will continue.

Anonymous said...

The Decatur Township Advisory Board does a fantastic job with the limited resources available. Let's not overlook the good the Decatur Township Trustee does. Perhaps you could be more specific in your disagreement with the budget? There certainly must be specific items you have found to be unnecessary? Is that not, ultimately, the real issue and not the size of the font announcing the meeting?

Anonymous said...

Township Government needs to go away. Far away.