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Alone With J

March 26, 2012

By J SWYGART
    Readers who were paying attention — and especially those sitting members of various public boards and commissions — get a nifty civics lesson earlier this week, courtesy of the Berne City Council.
    It seems that a couple of discharge pumps at the city’s wastewater treatment plant are in dire need of replacement. Council members agreed as mucåh during a meeting last month when the situation was first brought to their attention, and authorized the city’s powers-that-be to proceed with the purchase of two new pumps.
    Having done business in the past with Company A on similar projects, that company was approached regarding the pump purchase. Company A established a purchase price, and all was seemingly right with the world.
    End of discussion. Or maybe not.
    As luck would have it — luck for the taxpayers of Berne, that is — a member of the state auditor’s staff has basically taken up residence of late in the office of Berne Clerk-Treasurer Gwen Maller for a lengthy but otherwise routine municipal audit. The auditor apparently overheard a conversation surrounding the pending pump purchase, and placed a call to his superiors in Indy. The higher-up in the auditor’s office, while setting forth no outright mandate, said they would “prefer” that the city obtain a second quote before purchasing the pumps.
   And so another quote was solicited. The proposals were opened at a recent meeting of the city’s Board of Public Works — one from the aforementioned Company A, and another from Company B.
    In the final analysis, Company A, with which the city had preferred to do business in the first place, submitted a quote that was substantially lower than Company B’s. But — and here’s the real kicker — the quote, according to one city council member, was some $7,000 lower than that same company’s earlier stated purchase price.
    Ahhh ... what a little competition will do.
    The Indiana Code sets forth dollar limits that, below which, municipalities and public boards and bodies are not required to put projects and purchases out for bid. But in many instances those limits are ridiculously high.
    While it is not the intent here to suggest that every board should subject every purchase to the bidding process, the Berne City Council did learn a valuable lesson about life in the current economic setting. A sum of $7,000 is no small amount to a city Berne’s size; it’s not exactly chump change to any public body.
    Hopefully members of public bodies will think a little longer and harder about upcoming decisions which in the past have been at times little more than routine. The guidelines laid out by the Indiana Code for the bidding process are helpful. But sometimes common sense is more so.

    Adams County Superior Court Judge Pat Miller earlier this week presented the annual State of the Judiciary speech to Decatur Rotarians. The judge correctly hit the high points — and there are many — of efforts between the courts and other branches of the judicial and law enforcement community to hone programs that will best serve to rehabilitate criminal offenders. The list of achievements and new programs is lengthy and impressive and points to the compassion that often times is missing in the overall administration of justice across the state and nation.
    Miller, we were happy to hear, also did not sidestep the problems currently facing the courts in Adams County — from a superior court building badly in need of replacement to security measures that are woefully lacking.
    But we would have liked the judge to talk about one more matter: the failure of the Indiana General Assembly to address badly-needed sentencing reforms statewide. That conversation would have tied in neatly with his warning that state lawmakers are likely in the near future to make counties responsible for the incarceration of fifth-degree felons.
    From things we’ve read elsewhere, sentencing reform has been shelved in part because prosecuting attorneys around the state do not want to be viewed as being soft on crime. And that’s simply not a good enough reason to forgo reasonable reform.
    Miller correctly pointed out that, should low-level felons be returned to the county, “our little jail would not be able to handle the influx.” The judge said such a move would require either jail expansion or a new jail facility.
    But here’s a thought: Maybe local police officers are simply making too many arrests. Or maybe the prosecutor’s office is overly aggressive in some cases. Being “tough on crime” is a nifty campaign slogan, but it carries a nifty price tag as well.
    While not suggesting that serious crime be ignored, it is reasonable to believe that some, perhaps many, cases could be handled in a manner that puts less of a strain on our courts, our jail and our wallets.

    The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.

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