When Alfonso Salinas decided he and his fellow Streets Department foremen in Hammond deserved a $5,000 raise last year, he did more than just ask for it.
As a Hammond city councilman, he offered the motion amending the city budget, then voted to give himself the money.
Although other states have banned the practice, it's legal in Indiana for local government employees to serve on their own governing bodies -- and, as a result, vote on everything from department budgets to their own wages.
Actually, I believe the practice is already banned in Indiana by our state constitution. Unfortunately, the applicable provision has essentially been written out of the constitution by lack of enforcement. Article 3 of the Indiana Constitution establishes the separation of powers doctrine for state and local government. It reads:
The powers of the Government are divided into three separate departments; the Legislative, the Executive including the Administrative, and the Judicial: and no person, charged with official duties under one of these departments, shall exercise any of the functions of another, except as in this Constitution expressly provided.
Article II of the state's constitution also bars a person from "holding more than one lucrative office at the same time." The argument over what constitutes a "lucrative office" has been the subject of numerous court decisions. Earlier in our state's history, these two provisions worked to prevent the very problem visited upon by allowing a city worker like Salinas to serve on a city council. At some point, a couple of courts decided the provision only applied to state workers and not local government workers. This opened up the floodgates to local government employees seeking election to city and county councils. You need look no further than Indianapolis' own City-County Council to see the corrosive impact it has had on local government. The worst example is East Chicago, the city with the history of the most corruption in recent memory where every council member is also a government employee. The legislature should do what it failed to do years ago and legislatively ban what it is already banned by our constitution but not enforced by the courts.
Naturally, a double-dipper like House Speaker Pat Bauer opposes the change as do the lobbyists who represent local government workers, such as police and firemen. "One of the reasons that we allowed those local employees to be part of this process is that these are really part-time jobs, too," Bauer told Schneider. Slowly but surely, the people are being further and further removed from the democratic institutions we established for self-governance. It's happening at all levels of government. This is just another sad example of it.