Year after year voters go to the polls and often fail to understand their own local government, so I decided to write a little on it and continue to learn for my own benefit. Last year city offices were filled, and, this year, it is the county’s turn. The county has two basic bodies, and each is obligated to look after the affairs of the county, which often includes issues impacting Fort Wayne residents as well as county residents.
The Allen County Council is composed of seven members – currently all Republican. Four members are elected from specific districts and three are elected “at-large” to serve the entire county. The county council has a number of duties; however, all are tied to fiscal issues - none is tied to social wedge issues.
County Council is responsible for establishing an annual budget for county government and is also responsible for appropriating funds for the operation of county government. The following is a list of actual duties:
- Exclusive power to fix the tax rate for county purposes and for all other purposes where the rate not fixed by law is required to be uniform, and impose the tax levy.
- Exclusive power of making appropriations to be paid out of the county treasury.
- Adoption of the annual budget after receiving estimates submitted by the various county agencies through the county auditor, subject to the modification by the State Board of Tax Commissioners.
- Incurring county indebtedness within the constitutional limitations.
- Appropriation of additional funds arising after the budget is adopted.
- Re-appropriation of surplus funds which might be surrendered by one department of county government.
- Fixing of salaries of officers, deputies, assistants and employees whose salaries are payable from any county fund, with certain exceptions as provided by the statutes granting this authority.
- Levying taxes to provide funds for erecting new jails and repairing, remodeling, and enlarging of old jails.
The body of county commissioners exercises both executive and legislative powers: a powerful combination that leaves little check and balance on their decisions (and one that was feared by our Founders, yet here it is tucked away under the guise of the County Commissioners’ office). The group is much smaller than the county council and sports only three commissioners as compared to the seven members on county council. Again, all Commissioners are Republican. Anyone sensing a trend here? All ten county officials are Republican as well as the occupants of the other county offices of Treasurer, Auditor, Clerk, and Assessor.
The following is a run-down on the duties of the commissioners as found on the Allen County government website.
As the executive branch, the Board of Commissioners may approve policies that affect nearly 1,350 full-time county employees and another 400 part-time employees.
As the legislative branch, the Commissioners pass ordinances that primarily affect unincorporated (not within a city or town) areas of the county.
It is the only body in all of county government that can receive bids for projects and services and sign contracts.
- Receive bids for projects and services and sign contracts.
- Authorize all claims on county budgets.
- Decision-making authority over planning and zoning in the county.
- Supervise construction and maintenance of over 1,400 miles of county roads and 1,300 bridge structures.
- Issue bonds or approve lease-purchase agreements to borrow money for the county.
- Serve as the Drainage Board, which oversees the legal drainage system in the county.
- Operates and maintains all County facilities, including the historic Allen County Courthouse.
The commissioners include Nelson Peters, Linda Bloom, and Therese Brown. If the names sound eerily familiar, they should. All three have run time after time for various offices, playing musical chairs – with their commissioners’ seats simply being the latest in a long string of government work.
Here are the commissioners and their links.
Linda Bloom: http://www.allencounty.us/linda-k-bloom
Nelson Peters: http://www.allencounty.us/nelson-peters
Therese Brown: http://www.allencounty.us/therese-brown
All three commissioners have literally played “musical offices” for years. When an office is term limited, the soon-to-be ousted official simply gets in line for another office, gets elected, and then runs out the terms on that office. Then on to another lucrative office and possibly two more terms of uninterrupted official bliss attendant with all those nice goodies that go along with the offices.
Which brings me to the issue that sort of started this journey to shine some light on the county offices – a survey floating around that is based on “wedge” issues: issues that cannot be governed by the local county offices. The county council must worry about a county budget, and, while the county commissioners have a more diverse variety of chores, they also do not deal with wedge issues for the most part.
Yet, the anti-choicers have popped out of the woodwork again to demand that their “litmus” test of social conservatism on gay marriage, abortion, and any other item deemed morally threatening to society be opposed by any candidate who runs for office. The fact that the office holders cannot impact many of the wedge issues weighing so heavily on the anti-choicers’ minds fades into the background haze as they shake their clenched fists and gear up to make sure that those ten little Indians continue to fall in line.