The (Munster) Times. August 17, 2018

Congress must keep pushing for Dunes national park designation

Don't give up.

It's the edict all Region leaders and residents, who value the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, should shout to Congress regarding the quest to obtain full national park status for one of our Region's most treasured assets.

During a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday, acting National Park Service Director P. Daniel Smith said the service doesn't support full national park designation for the Dunes.

Congress has the ability to move forward anyway, and it should.

Such a designation already has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and enjoys bipartisan support throughout Congress. It now awaits Senate approval and deserves to receive it.

We've argued several times in recent years that the Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the most frequented features of the national park system network, deserves the designation.

Combining attendance figures for the National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park, about 3.6 million people visited the facilities in 2017. That puts it just below internationally acclaimed Yellowstone National Park, which saw 4.1 million visitors in the same time period.

The Dunes are home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem and drive more than $73 million in tourism spending to its gateway communities each year, according to the National Park Service's own annual financial reports.

Proponents of the full national park designation, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky and Republican Sen. Todd Young, rightly argue it would draw more prestige and visitors to the Region and state.

So why not?

Acting Director Smith argued the national park designation is preferred for units that contain a variety of resources and encompass large land or water areas.

Located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and boasting more than 15,000 acres, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore fits those characteristics in spades.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is the nation's newest national park designation — containing a mere fraction of the Indiana feature at only 193 acres.

The Senate should move forward in approving this plan, and the bipartisan delegation of Hoosier congressional leaders should continue leading the charge.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. August 15, 2018

A click away

Government transparency was a hallmark of Tera Klutz's tenure as Allen County auditor. Now, as state auditor, she's spreading more light with improvements to the Indiana Transparency Portal, the online resource for information on state government.

The transparency portal was created in 2010 and has served as a helpful tool since. But Klutz's office, working with the State Budget Agency and Management Performance Hub, began an overhaul last year, meeting with focus groups to determine what information would be helpful and how it should be displayed.

The result is a cleaner, more-navigable site with user-friendly links to find information on state expenses, finances, employees, assets and more. Data are continually updated, but if information can't be found, there's a handy list of agency officials to contact by email. From the site, you also can find links to Indiana Gateway, the portal for local government and school district finances and to transparency portals operated by quasi-governmental agencies, including the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

Klutz was in Fort Wayne Tuesday to show off the improved transparency portal in a demonstration at the Allen County Public Library. She walked through the steps to track distributions to universities and organizations with specialty license plates, noting that Indiana University collected $1.5 million in the last fiscal year through license plate sales; Purdue collected $1.2 million.

"Now I'm going to put in my alma mater, IPFW," Klutz explained. "I noticed this one actually went down - it's only $7,900. I can only think it's because they went through the transition, that people are less inclined to get IPFW license plates because it doesn't exist anymore; or they are angry, or they all switched to Purdue plates."

Jared Bond, public information officer for the auditor's office, said the data on the portal pulls from PeopleSoft, the financial management software used by the auditor's office to track revenue and expenses across all state agencies. The portal has seen about 11,000 visitors from outside state government since the improved version was launched in late June, he said. Employee salaries and state assets were the most-visited links.

"Recently, we've had inquiries into the attorney general's expenses," Klutz said, referring to controversy involving Attorney General Curtis Hill's defense against allegations of misconduct.

Some of the work required in posting information is time-consuming, she said, including redactions to conceal credit card account numbers, for example. But the effort is worth it, according to the state auditor.

"I think it's great when people care - when they want to dig in and want to get answers," she said.

One thing the Indiana Transparency Portal doesn't provide is an accounting of how the resource saves taxpayer dollars, but it's hard to imagine it doesn't. Klutz said she was surprised to learn how many of the portal users came from within state agencies, which means they are now going online to access information that might previously have required meetings, phone calls or emails.

But its greatest strength is the window it opens to the business of Indiana government. Hoosiers benefit when state government operates in full transparency. Klutz's efforts to expand public access should be replicated across state government.

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Kokomo Tribune. August 14, 2018

Gun permits are needed

Law enforcement in our state is tasked with keeping Hoosiers as safe as possible. So, it made sense a move last year about this time to strip the state's handgun permit laws elicited a strong rebuke from officers.

Of course, there's the financial cost of getting rid of such permits. The state cleared more than $9 million in fees in 2016 alone. More than 800,000 Hoosiers have permits, with a new lifetime personal protection permit costing $75, according to CNHI Statehouse reporter Scott L. Miley.

But that's not reason enough to keep the current permitting system. There's also accountability and security to consider. Permit-holders must register online with the state and turn in their fingerprints.

Last summer, a joint Senate and House Judiciary and Public Policy Committee looked at repealing Indiana's handgun permit law. That committee weighed whether Hoosiers should be allowed to carry a handgun, either concealed or openly, without a license. Such an allowance, known as constitutional carry or freedom to carry, is in 12 states, although each has separate requirements concerning identification.

Police organizations told the committee to keep Indiana's handgun licensing system.

Second Amendment absolutists will argue any restrictions on a constitutional right are wrong, but support of sensible gun safety measures shouldn't be a partisan issue. (Unsurprisingly, National Rifle Association state representative Chris Kopacki spoke in favor of the repeal.) When it comes to tearing down such prohibitions, these hard-liners don't ask why they were instituted in the first place, but why we should keep them at all.

No one last summer was saying Hoosiers can't have handguns. And no one was even proposing more restrictions than are currently in place. All that was asked by law enforcement personnel is to leave what we have.

And let's keep it that way in the next legislative session.

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. August 15, 2018

When will county building costs reach the top floor?.

Going up?

If you're referring to the cost of renovations at the Madison County Government Center, then yes, you're correct.

The most recent bad news for taxpayers is that the building's two elevators need replaced, with costs up to $200,000 each.

With months of renovations, didn't anyone foresee the wear and tear of the elevators?

Did anyone check?

A consultant hired by the commissioners has agreed that the elevators must be replaced.

"The consultant said replacing the elevators had nothing to do with the remodeling work in the courthouse," Commissioner John Richwine said. "They are worn out."

And don't forget to add in the consultant's fees as project manager, which will be around $20,000.

So far this year, Madison County has spent $4.4 million to remediate asbestos in the Government Center. That includes remodeling, a new heating and air conditioning system, lighting and flooring.

How do all of these unforeseen costs keep cropping up? The county should be comprehensive in its approach to building maintenance and improvement.

"We have to renovate both elevators because they communicate with each other," Kent Odom, properties manager, said. "They are just old, and the replacement parts are no longer available."

And, with only $560,000 in the county's rainy day fund, where will the money come from?

Foresight and planning could chart out expenses such as this, enabling the county to set aside money without being blindsided by something new each month.

"We were kind of hoping that all the major work at the courthouse was completed," said Council President Anthony Emery, R-4th District.

Taxpayers thought the same thing. At some point, costs of this renovation should be going down, not up.

With hearings for the 2019 county budget under way this week, this should be priority No. 1.

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