Panel discusses fallout from UniGov 53 years after it changed Indianapolis
There is no going back in time to undo UniGov, either scrapping it altogether or tweaking bits and pieces, but the legislation that reshaped Indianapolis overnight has continually molded the city. Some of the questions and controversies are apparently here to stay. Fifty-three years after the Indiana General Assembly voted to consolidate city and county […] The post Panel discusses fallout from UniGov 53 years after it changed Indianapolis appeared first on Indianapolis Recorder.
There is no going back in time to undo UniGov, either scrapping it altogether or tweaking bits and pieces, but the legislation that reshaped Indianapolis overnight has continually molded the city. Some of the questions and controversies are apparently here to stay.
Fifty-three years after the Indiana General Assembly voted to consolidate city and county government, a few of the key architects and detractors who are still alive discussed the legacy of UniGov during an event May 15 at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
The panel offered insight into how the legislation was crafted and answered age-old questions about race, education and equity.
Attorney and civil rights activist Fay Williams lamented the fact that UniGov did not get a referendum. It was one of the popular detractions in the late 1960s as well. Williams referenced the Declaration of Independence and the principle of “consent of the governed,” saying people were shut out of the process.
“It did not foster democracy in this community,” she said.
Few people claim UniGov was entirely good or bad. One point of agreement seems to be that the consolidation helped revive Indianapolis, a city people said they drove through to get somewhere else.
The legislation doubled the city’s population, gave the mayor more authority with a larger jurisdiction, created single-member council districts and consolidated most government services that had previously been disjointed.
Critics have also pointed out UniGov brought into the fold mostly white suburbanites and lessened the chances that Indianapolis would elect a Black mayor — as had just happened in Gary in 1968.
Whether UniGov would have survived a referendum is unclear, though former Republican Rep. Ned Lamkin, who helped craft the legislation, said it wouldn’t have passed. Lamkin compared it to the U.S. Constitution, which he said also wouldn’t have passed a referendum had everyone been allowed to vote on it.
An especially contentious feature of UniGov — then and now — is that it didn’t consolidate school districts. The panel spent most of the time talking about why schools weren’t included and what it’s meant for education today, especially in Indianapolis Public Schools.
Billie Breaux, a former state senator who was also a teacher at the time UniGov passed, said issues such as funding and student performance can be directly linked to the city-county consolidation. UniGov was at least partly a response to people leaving the city at the peak of “white flight,” but the state’s largest school district did not get to reap the benefits of the expanded tax base UniGov created.
City-County Council President Vop Osili said his mother, an educator, and others had to swallow the “bitter pill” of consolidation that didn’t include the schools.
John Mutz, another former Republican representative who worked on UniGov, said the initial group of people who met to figure out how to unify city and county government wanted to include schools. That included then-Mayor Richard Lugar.
“The fact of the matter is,” Mutz said, “we couldn’t pass it that way, and we knew it.”
Education seems to have been a victim of compromise since the feeling back then was legislators wouldn’t have supported the bill if it consolidated schools.
“There was no way we could handle schools,” Lamkin said.
For many of the people on the panel and in the pews, their accounts represent a shrinking number of firsthand reports on how consolidation came to be and what the impact was. They left the church having completed another in a long list of UniGov chapters.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
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