News and Tribune

Editorials

September 20, 2012

OUR OPINION: It’s time for Clarksville to consider becoming a city

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — The town of Clarksville has always operated a bit differently.

It’s the third-largest municipality in Clark and Floyd counties and a major retail and restaurant center.

There are few towns operating in Indiana with a population of more than 20,000, like Clarksville. Fishers, Merrillville and Brownsburg — all of which have seen great growth over the past decade — come to mind. But, it’s far more common for a municipality of Clarksville’s size, or even smaller, to operate as a city.

There’s one big difference in being a city versus a town. A city has an elected mayor to serve as the executive, whereas a town like Clarksville has an elected town council to carry out legislative functions, and the president of the council serves as the town executive, thus giving that person dual powers.

The town system is one that is lacking in checks and balances because there is no true separation of legislative and executive powers, as is the case with a mayor and council city configuration.

But there is hope, and the time is right for Clarksville to seriously examine becoming a city.

The Clarksville council is right in the middle of a debate about whether it should move from townwide voting to district voting. At present, every Clarksville voter gets to choose candidates for the entire council, even though the town is divided into districts.

Some council members want to change that and provide more localized representation for residents, as well as encourage more people to consider running for office, since it is less expensive to fund a campaign in a district than across the whole town.

The council voted 3-3 to move to district voting at its last council meeting, with Councilman Bob Polston ducking for cover by abstention.

But, discussion at that meeting also centered on bringing the issue of becoming a city to the voting public via referendum. That idea drew support from both sides of the district voting issue.

“The [Indiana] Association of Cities and Towns has indicated they would love to come down and talk to the community about the benefits of becoming a city and do a pro-and-con meeting,” Council President John Gilkey said. “I think we need to embrace that offer, bring them down and get the entire community involved. This is a big decision for Clarksville. It’s not something you do lightly.”

Gilkey voted in favor of district voting.

Paul Kraft, who voted against district voting, also spoke this week of being open to exploring becoming a city.

“I think as large as we’re getting now, we may have to consider that as an option, because right now the council is the legislative and executive body,” he said. “And with a city situation, you’d have a mayor which everyone would have to vote for, and you’d have the districts that [proponents of district voting are] wanting.

“That’s automatic when you become a city. You’d run out of a district and live in a district.”

Kraft’s last statement is key, in that becoming a city would negate the debate over townwide versus district voting. And this can be done by putting the decision in the hands of the people, where it belongs.

Polston, in abstaining, said he did not have a good enough grasp of how his constituents felt about the voting issue to vote on the matter himself.

If the town gives its residents the opportunity to hear the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a city, and then lets them vote on the issue via referendum, Polston won’t have to wonder.

If the town council makes the right move and thoughtfully explores becoming a city, we’ll all know how Clarksville’s residents wish to be governed.

Editor’s note: Look for more coverage of this issue in an upcoming edition of the News and Tribune.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy and Assistant Editors Chris Morris and Amy Huffman-Branham.

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