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Wrangling the Cowboys

Marla Ailor-Vice President


Crucial institutional resources are necessary to provide legislatures (also known as your City or Town Councils) with oversight of the executive branch and important program evaluations. Required of and by the federal government and its many bureaucracies, the legislative and fiscal bodies in and around Hamilton County, seemingly lack more time to truly engage in the process of oversight. In fact, on the occasions where it has occurred, it appears the executive branches (the Mayors) are rarely interested in discussing oversight recommendations provided by their Councils, however typical or practical it may be. There appears to be latent capacity for oversight, but more audits need to be conducted and more evidence produced; Indiana Code provides legislative bodies with investigative powers.

Oversight committees act as an additional layer of the government’s system of checks and balances and are an essential part of the legislative process and act as the investigative authorities within their jurisdictions. Agencies are required to provide masses of information to legislative bodies to support their quest for ferreting out mismanagement and saving tax dollars. Many councilors, frustrated by inept administrators, are attracted to roles in oversight with the hope of improving government’s function. This begs the question, "Where are these committees and are they acting in a proactive or reactive way?" Monitoring must be supplemented with a variety of other activities to ensure not only effectiveness, but responsiveness and to ensure that problems are resolved quickly, yet we see things drag out for months and sometimes years.

While the history of State Boards of Accounts is too voluminous to mention Indiana’s State Board of Accounts (SBOA) is a strong auditing agency originally designed “to help ensure that policymakers and the public have access to timely and accurate information”. The SBOA further states it holds “government officials accountable to their constituents for financial reporting and following the Indiana Code when making any type of decision that relates to taxpayer dollars”.

Unfortunately, Indiana’s SBOA tends to run two years behind in its audits due to a suggestion that they are understaffed, underbudgeted, and/or overworked. Furthermore, they are NOT the only ones who can audit! City and town councils can audit.

There are several dimensions of oversight which include but are not limited to oversight by analytics; oversight through committees; through the legislative process; through the administrative rules process; through advice and consent; oversight through monitoring of contracts; and automatic mechanisms such as sunset legislation or other types of provisions; yet none are as powerful as the ability to provide oversight through appropriations and budgets.

While I'd be the first person to argue the significant differences between business administration and public administration (sounds like another blog post for the near future), some representative councils are allowing mayors to behave like cowboys. (You'll have to decide for yourself which definition applies in this case.)

In conclusion, it appears fiscal conservatism and professional management are being cast aside, along with the critical capacity for oversight, to make way for "legacy" projects despite pragmatic and historic considerations related to budgeting that yields massive cost overruns. Some legislative bodies appear to be ducking their collective heads in the sand in favor of spending a dollar to save a dime which could easily be avoided by taking command of their ability and authority to properly exercise oversight with regard to executive decisions and the evaluation process.

The Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County is a watchdog organization in Hamilton County, Indiana residents who are volunteers focused on fiscal policy and fiscal issues. It is free of outside control by any individual, organization or group. It exists to distribute opinions on issues affecting Hamilton County residents. Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the FCoHC or its board members.

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