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11:47 a.m. - October 11, 2006
The Drainage Bored
Leaders are all around us. But some of the most obvious leaders in our communities are the leaders of the local government, both city and county.

With that in mind, the Leadership Academy here requires that we attend two of these community meetings at some point during the tenure of the school, whether it is a local school board, a council meeting, or another government meeting.

Liz already observes the Crawfordsville School Board for the League of Women Voters, and she has other meetings with other boards and volunteer organizations when I'm not writing for the local paper, so night time meetings are pretty much out for me.

So I chose a couple of local meetings that I could get to easily and disrupt my regular phony baloney job: The Crawfordsville Board of Public Works and the Montgomery County Drainage Board.


The Board of Public Works was held today. I, Engineer and I both attended (she lives a bit away from town so she's in the same boat I am as it comes to attending these meetings). This one was a slam bang whiz of a meeting.

The mayor called the meeting to order, the minutes were approved, and old business was discussed. A house was being demolished, FINALLY, two years after a fire but the dumpster at the site was full, and now the second floor of the house was falling onto the yard and sidewalk. After some murmuring and discussion, it was moved to cite the owner for being a dumbass…er…creating a hazard. I think this house will be demolished by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil, and not sooner.

The only other agenda items were setting the hours for Trick or Treating. "We did 6 to 8 last year? Does that work with everyone? OK?" and also approving a portion of a sidewalk be blocked off downtown so an owner can restore the facade of a building and do some remodeling work. Well, since the owner already blocked off the sidewalk and put a boom there, um, yeah, go right ahead dude.

It was over within 10 minutes. Heck, I, Engineer and I had a longer discussion about the snacks we are bringing to the class on Friday.

But yesterday, hold me back, it's the Drainage Board.

Drainage? Well, you city slickers may not be so hip to the issues that drainage has for us here in BFE land. Well, those of us (not me) who have farms and land out there in the hills and hollars of BFE land.

Basically, the issue is this, as far as I can see. There are a lot of drains (ditches or tile drains) that have been constructed in the county to drain off water from the land. These drains are part of the watershed here in the county (I THINK, I, Engineer would know more. I am not a water person) as well as some of the various creeks that flow into Sugar Creek which flows into the Wabash River.

Landowners are assessed on their tax bills for upkeep and maintenance of these drains. Also, there are private drains that have been either legally hooked up to the existing drains (with permission of the county surveyor) and sometimes the illegal drains cause a big mess with the flow of the water and causes issues on land that is trying to be used for farming.

So yeah, people really do give a crap.

Each drain has a 'fund' for maintenance and repair, but the county surveyor had been taking money from some drains that have a positive balance, and transferring the money to the general fund to do maintenance on drains that have a negative balance. Oh, and he did this without telling anyone. Oh, and he also misses about 2/3 of these meetings, too.

And you know, in Indiana, the county surveyor is elected, and does NOT have to be a licensed surveyor. Just like the county coroner can be a hot dog stand owner, or a potted plant, just as long as he can look at a body and say, "He's dead, Jim." before he pukes his guts out as Jim's head was split in two by a backhoe. Friends, don't drink and construct.

(I digress – but I must say this – that when I was in high school the alleged leader of the KKK in the state of Indiana ran for county coroner. I can just see it now, some African American had some nefarious deeds done to him leading to his demise, and he would go, "Ah, natural causes. The bullets were always in his spleen and kidneys.")

So the drainage board added a member who was an observer for the LWV and she dove into the finances of each and every drain. Oh, what fun that was. Anyway, the mess is getting solved, but the assessments on each drain are changing. So they proposed some new assessments and will have a public meeting on these in December. Friends, that one should be a hoot.

Oh, and all the drains have names of the old landowners on them. So there's the John Gobin Drain, the Nancy Hollingsworth Drain, etc. etc. What a legacy, to have a ditch where runoff water can collect and move out of farmland.

This meeting was held in the County Commissioners room in the courthouse, which is actually a cramped little room. There are five members of the drainage board (the commissioners, a lay person, and the county attorney), and also there is a secretary and the surveyor's office is supposed to attend. The auditor attends as well, but his office is adjacent to the room so if he's needed he can pop in.

There are members of the press, observers from the LWV, and concerned citizens. And since this meeting precedes the normal County Commissioner meeting, there are citizens in there for that meeting. So it's cramped.

This meeting took 75 minutes and it was all talk about drains and watersheds and the like.

There were people wanting to know what they were going to do about an illegal drain that was hooked up to an existing drain, and thus they are not being assessed and causing issues. That has to be looked at by the board before a decision is made, but if you get three of the five members of the board together, that constitutes a meeting, and public notice must be given and an agenda published, blah, blah. So they will have "Drainage Board On The Road" at some point. It's a one tank trip, for sure.

There were people disputing that their property is in the watershed for a particular drain. This required a survey, and after the survey these people can dispute the findings. But it costs money for a survey, because the county surveyor IS NOT a surveyor. And there is no more money in the 2006 budget for special surveys. So they can't do the survey, or at least get billed, until January 2007.

Government, in action, or inaction. Got to love it.

At the end of the meeting, a gent asked about some issues on his property. It seems that in the 80's, when work was done on a drain that runs through his property, they damaged a bridge on his property. The surveyor at the time said that they would repair any harm done.

Well, no one did, and he said he wants the bridge taken down. So, the county will have to remove the bridge.

Oh, after this meeting, I dreamt of runoff water, for sure.

Anyway, this was an interesting experience of government at the local, grassroots level. And it reinforced one thing for me.

I am NEVER running for County Commissioner.


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