When Democrats swept to power in last year's Council elections, the new Council Majority has wasted no time in making history. They elected the first female President of the Council in Maggie Lewis, but also they are taking up issues that have been largely ignored in Marion County.
I attended Wednesday night's meeting at the Decatur Township Democratic Club, and I was pleased to see over 60 people there to watch freshman City-County Councillor John Barth talk about his first few months on the Council.
Barth talked about the struggles to get things through the process all the way that seemed like common sense ideas. He talked about his efforts with the smoking ban that was derailed by Mayor Greg Ballard. Barth said the proposal was crafted by charting out Ballard's previous public positions on the matter and trying to make the legislation meet what the Mayor had said in public.
Obviously, Ballard did not agree and vetoed the proposal over his concerns about private clubs and veterans halls being able to retain smoking and to allow children into those establishments. That proposal, which received bi-partisan support as a handful of Republicans joined the Democrats, is now dead. Barth said he has not given up on the issue and will soon be rolling out another proposal to try to curb smoking in public places in Marion County.
Barth said that a proposal passed through committee to charge a $40 fee to out-of-county people surrendering an animal in Marion County. Because Marion County was free, Barth said that other similar agencies in other counties would send unadoptable dogs to Marion County because they couldn't do anything with them. Now, a revenue stream has been developed that will exists to deal with controlling the pet population. Barth said the dollars generated from this new fee will go to spay and neuter programs to try to reduce enforcement issues for ACC. He also said that the ordinance will be written to allow ACC to work with those surrendering an animal to lower the fee if they cannot afford it.
Of course, Barth spent some time on the upcoming budget battle and what is predicted to be a big shortfall. Because some of the TIF districts were raided to "honestly balance" 2011's budget, that money is not available this year. Also, Barth said that public safety budgets have been poorly funded including $10 million missing from Sheriff John Layton's budget to pay for inmate health care in the Marion County Jail. In short, Barth says that the opposing parties in different branches of government has brought much needed oversight to the budgeting process.
Joining Barth at the meeting were fellow At-Large Councillors Zach Adamson and Leroy Robinson. Over and over again, Adamson and Robinson talked about getting public input and that they want to have a wide range of opinions on the issues that affect Marion County residents. The Democrats have revived the Community Affairs Committee, and that will meet out in the townships or away from the City-County Building. Dems also have a bi-partisan agreement to bring Councillors into the neighborhoods as well so that ideas are more readily shared.
In more ways than one, the change in party signified a new way of doing business on the Council.