The News-Enterprise: Well-Defined Rules Vital to Unification Debate

The following editorial first appeared in The News-Enterprise on August 23, 2011. The full, online version can be seen here: www.thenewsenterprise.com/content/well-defined-rules-vital-unification-debate

Beginning this week, Hardin County United will make formal presentations to local governments on the subject of unification. The informal organization’s volunteer members also have about two dozen presentations scheduled before civic clubs and community organizations.

The challenge before them is significant. It was sharply defined when the Radcliff City Council took a stand against the idea before an appointment could be scheduled for a formal presentation.

It appears unity can be a divisive topic.

Proponents must remain focused on the perceived values, be straightforward about any downside and avoid displaying defensiveness when assaulted by inevitable questions.

After months of research and analysis by its governance committee, Hardin County United’s membership chose to propose a single governmental structure for the entire community. Hardin Fiscal Court and officials elected countywide comprise a government of the whole but, if approved by voters, a united structure could merge county government with all six municipal governments into a single unit.

Discussions and disputes from different voices are not problems. The process can serve to fully explore a concept and reveal the best solutions in a sea of options. The path to unity does not require 100 percent harmony but it does require reasonable minds, listening ears and a willingness to compromise for the greater good.

Another necessity is a clear set of rules.

The question before local officials is not unification. Voices challenging that concept are a little ahead of the debate. HCU is asking for local governments to participate in the formation unification review commission to formally study the idea.

Based on rules defined by state law, the review commission would contain between 20 and 40 members. It would be charged with crafting a charter to outline the various aspects of how the new government would be organized, elected and conduct business. It could be crafted to suit the unique needs of this growing community and be as detailed or as general as necessary.

The final authority rests with the voters alone. No change will be made without formal referendum of voters. Hardin County has seen that process in recent years as the county has switched from the magisterial system to a commissioner form of government and back again.

While state law is clear on some matters regarding unification, it appears the 2006 legislation defining the process leaves a few details less than clear.

In a pair of introductory forums, Circuit Judge Ken Howard described the unification review commission’s members as appointees who do not hold elected office. Upon further study, the citizen-member definition may apply only to the commission’s chairman – not it’s entire membership.

Another topic of uncertainty carries even more significant weight. HCU officials believe if a city voted against unification it would remain independent of the whole. However, what happens if a city votes no but the total county vote is yes?
HCU thinks clarity on that point is needed.

We agree and consider it essential. So essential that it would seem impossible for various city councils to make a reasonable decision about participating in formal unification talks.

Clarity can be achieved through new legislation passed by the General Assembly.

Until a clear answer is available, let’s apply the brakes on unification discussions. The merits of the idea will be the same next year after the legislature meets.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.

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