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Legislation providing oversight for township trustees passes committee vote

 Former Wabash Trustee Jennifer Teising clashed with the Wabash Board over budget issues
Ben Thorp
Former Wabash Trustee Jennifer Teising clashed with the Wabash Board over budget issues

By Benjamin Thorp
Legislation providing oversight for township trustees passed out of a House committee Wednesday on a unanimous vote.

The bill is one of two introduced this session in response to trustees in Wabash and Fairfield Townships in Tippecanoe County, who lawmakers say have acted with little oversight or accountability.

In Wabash Township, now-former Trustee Jennifer Teising faced questions regarding her residency. Last week, Teising was found guilty by Judge Kristen McVey on 21 counts of theft for illegally taking her trustee salary while not a resident of the township.

Rep. Chris Campbell’s (D-West Lafayette) legislation would require that if township boards do not approve a new budget, township finances will then have to be approved on a monthly basis. Under current law, if boards don’t approve a new budget the township defaults to a previous year's budget - which Campbell said gives boards little input if there are problems with the existing budget.

“It will force them to cooperate and work together and make decisions on that budget,” she said. “If they should not come to an agreement you cannot just default to that prior budget. If the trustee should decide to just not submit a budget, every appropriation would have to go through approval by your board.”

During the hearing, lawmakers asked how widespread problems were with township trustees, and whether they were “rampant” across the state.

“Our situation really highlighted that,” Campbell said. “I think we really highlighted that the trustee has ultimate power when it comes to budgets and there are really no ramifications if they [the board] do not approve the budget.”

Debbie Driscoll with the Indiana Township Association voiced her support for the bill, calling the current budget rules “a loophole.”

“We believe that it will encourage compliance and empower the township boards,” she said.

After the hearing, Campbell, a Democrat, noted she was glad her bill got heard.

“I think it’s a good sign that some of the Democrat folks are actually getting a hearing this year,” she said, laughing. “It’s my first bill in four years here.”

The legislation is expected to be taken up by the full House next week.