Many of my friends and relatives are obsessed with Texas. Some believe Texas has got it right, leading America where it needs to be. Others see Texas as spreading a virus that will destroy civic virtue in this country.
The fact that Texas is a large and fast growing state only intensifies the hopes and fears of these two groups.
Therefore, I was delighted to find something of real worth in Frisco (just north of Dallas) that could be copied all across Indiana. City Hall 101 is a 15-session introduction to local government that seems free of ideology, indoctrination or partisanship.
Before we get into the details of this program, let’s take a step back. Several persistent problems have plagued Indiana for many years.
First, Hoosiers have limited understanding of or interest in local government. Most county governments are ossified and hostility to urban areas is evident statewide. Often the central city, the economic driver of the county, is seen as the enemy of suburban and rural areas.
Second, counties, townships, cities and towns continue to exist when some consolidation would make good sense. Can we justify Beach Grove, Lawrence, Speedway and Southport in Marion County? Why are Elkhart and Goshen separate cities? What advantage is there to 11 cities and towns in Lake County? South Bend and Mishawaka — really? Fishers, Noblesville, Carmel and Westfield — get real.
Third, we have a steady decrease in the ability of local governments to set their own paths to the future. Since the early ‘70s, the General Assembly has stripped or limited the powers of local governments. Schools are now wards of the State. Property tax caps, frozen levies and other measures have made local governments prisoners of the state legislature.
Fourth, citizens expect quality services from local governments, but are unwilling to pay the taxes and fees necessary to support them. Potholes bring forth protests, but ignorance reigns about the immense complexity of modern local government responsibilities and capabilities.
The Frisco City Hall 101 programs offer citizens excellent opportunities to learn about local government. The weekly, free sessions in 2016 will run from January to April. Virtually every city activity is covered with sessions starting with the mayor, the city council and the city manager. Then specific activities are explored in detail with sessions devoted to the fire department, the police department, the school district as well as parks and recreation, the library and public works.
Those are the basics, but what makes this program so valuable is the breadth and depth of the topics. There are sessions on convention and visitors activities, economic and community development, information technology, engineering and capital projects, financial services and human resources.
Perhaps I’m not well-informed, but I don’t know a single locality in Indiana that offers anything like the Frisco program. If I’m missing something, please let me know.
With new local administrations taking office next month, perhaps it’s time for Hoosier cities and towns to follow the model of a Texas community.