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A necessary change to county government policy

By Scott Tibbs, March 19, 2013

There have been a number of problems in county government over the last several years, from the abuse of county government credit cards to significant loss of revenue from improperly filing paperwork with the state. One of the reasons for this (but not the only reason for it) is the loss of institutional knowledge and experience from newly elected officials removing county employees and installing their own people.

This is a relatively easy problem to fix. Simply change the county's personnel policy to forbid elected officials and department heads from removing employees without cause, and implement a mandatory progressive disciplinary policy for termination of employees. This would protect both employees and taxpayers by preventing abuse. Obviously, exceptions would be needed for severe violations of workplace rules or ethics.

So why has this not been done? There are some within county government who have actually argued that it is impossible because Indiana is an "at will" state. This is just plain stupid.

The fact that Indiana is an at-will state in no way prevents private or public-sector employers from implementing personnel policies that prevent unjustifiable terminations. In fact, the county implemented an anti-nepotism policy in 2005, despite the fact that state law did not mandate it.

It has not been unusual for elected officials in administrative positions (which should not be elected at all, but that is another issue) to remove existing employees and bring in their own people for reasons of patronage. But county government is not what it was even thirty years ago. Government has grown bigger and the tasks employees are asked to do are more complicated, and technology has become more important. We need to move away from this cycle, both for the sake of employees and for the taxpayers they serve.

So why has this not been done? Why are some people in local government - including some elected officials - unwilling to even acknowledge the problem, much less attempt to solve it?