Keeping our government transparent and accountable is the best way to keep it honest.
That’s why we agree with the intent of an Indiana legislative study committee that recently decided to continue work on drafting a proposal for a statewide hotline for reporting possible corruption by local government officials.
The Times of Northwest Indiana reported the committee wants the hotline proposal to be considered during the 2020 session of the General Assembly that begins in January.
Sen. Victoria Spartz, R-Noblesville, said Indiana taxpayers may not know where to turn if they suspect officials are being unethical. She believes a single hotline for the general public to report financial or criminal misdeeds by county, city, town, township or school leaders would ensure their concerns are investigated.
“We have so many things in the government,” she told The Times, “and it’s hard for people to know where things are.”
Spartz suggested the hotline be run by the State Board of Accounts in conjunction with the office of the Indiana Inspector General. The Board of Accounts audits the spending of all local governments, while the Inspector General investigates corruption by state officials and workers, so we think it makes sense for them to be involved in the operation of such a hotline.
State Auditor Paul Joyce, who heads the State Board of Accounts, told The Times his office already receives reports from local government employees of alleged violations of the law or misuse of public resources. He says he welcomes the public to contact his office with such concerns as well.
While the idea of a single hotline is being met with some skepticism, News-Sentinel.com believes the benefits would outweigh other concerns in the effort to uncover public corruption.
Joyce, for example, warned that creation of a hotline likely would likely require doubling his current staff of 15 investigators and changing state laws to set standards for what must be investigated as well as to protect the anonymity of whistleblowers.
The Times also quoted Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, who thinks such a hotline might lead to an excessive number of false reports from citizens who may just be upset about their local officials’ decisions.
“I have neighbors who don’t even know what branch of government I’m in, let alone whether the clerk-treasurer of the town is absconding with money,” Lehman said.
While Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, pointed out that Indiana already has several separate hotlines to report child abuse, elder abuse, Medicaid fraud and other crimes, she thinks the Legislature should look at merging all the hotlines into one that would refer citizen reports to the proper state agency.
An editorial in The Times said Northwest Indiana residents have seen the damage caused by the actions of corrupt government officials in “a revolving door” of elected officials or their cronies who have been convicted in felony public corruption schemes through the years.
“Establishing a hotline for the public would provide another layer of weaponry beyond the federal prosecutors who frequently step in to hold bad local government accountable,” the newspaper said.
We agree. And we think it’s worth the extra effort of our government to implement it.