Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Trevor Wendzonka
Trevor Wendzonka
Trevor Wendzonka started writing for The Elkhart Truth when it was only available on paper. The key credentials: seven years covering local government, then seven more working for the government. Today, he's in communications with the Greater Elkhart Chamber. Please feel free to be critical of him for all of the above.

Relationship problems: The divide between Indy and home

Mutual understanding can get us past a "do no harm" defense.

Posted on March 20, 2014 at 1:31 p.m.

The best part of having friends in politics is they usually end up telling you exactly how you should think. They mean well – they just can’t pass on a chance to influence.

I hadn’t worked at the Chamber for two weeks before a dear friend approached me with a folded copy of our state legislative goals for the year. Those position papers closely resemble the winter days gone by – windy and gray.

“You’re here now. Make a difference,” she said, falling somewhere on the scale near loving discipline. Then she held up her paper and added, “This should be three words long. ‘Do no harm.’”

The General Assembly has a reputation. From tax caps to sewer contracts, local officials feel Indianapolis has stripped the authority to govern effectively. Lawmakers have the opposite view – if they do not step in, municipalities will overreach in the rush to grab dollars, land and power.

This struggle has chilled productive conversation on policy development. Instead, it’s become a public relations battle. With the “Replace, Don’t Erase” fight on business personal property tax this past session, cities and towns emerged with the upper hand on the bat handle of public opinion, but ultimately failed to have the state be responsive to their needs.

That PR campaign grabbed the attention of another persuasive friend, a lobbyist with connections on all sides. He had been hearing rumbles and grumbles from legislators that local officials should call off the assault or face even more legislative scrutiny in the long term.

It’s difficult to have a negative impact on a relationship that was poor to start. In the words of one local elected official, “Maybe it’s time for them to feel a little beat up. How much more damage can they do to us?”

Some don’t want to find out. There’s already talk of pulling together state and local officials throughout the summer with one expressed goal: mutual understanding. When that happens and the animosity expressed during this past session fades, our elected officials can work cooperatively for the good of our community and the region.

Perhaps then the legislative goals can be more productive – and extremely less guarded – than “do no harm.”

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