FROM THE POST TRIBUNE
GRIFFITH -- Gov. Mitch Daniels is fed up with Lake County government and he's tired of pretending he isn't.
During a wide-ranging question-and-answer period with locals at Griffith High School on Friday, Daniels returned time and again to one point: Lake County will remain alienated from the rest of the state until voters here hold public officials to a higher standard.
"You are entitled to all the lousy, crummy, graft-ridden government you want and are willing to pay for," Daniels told a crowd of about 450 people, one of the largest turnouts he said he's seen at such a forum.
Daniels was invited to Griffith by Team Hammond, a property tax reform group, to discuss tax caps and township government reform.
The governor said those issues are symptoms of the broader political culture that makes Lake County a black sheep in the eyes of many Hoosiers.
"Ultimately nobody, not me, not anybody, can advocate for Lake County and Northwest Indiana unless there is some evidence the people here are prepared to clean up the act that has made the rest of the state look sideways at Lake County for a long time," Daniels said.
Some local officials in the audience bristled at Daniels' characterizations, with North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan Jr. calling it "unacceptable" for Daniels to sling arrows at Lake County elected officials as a group.
"I have made my career of five or six years at the township about reform, lowering payroll and cutting taxes," Mrvan said.
With Lake County's public transit systems in peril, Mrvan said local township offices that provide poor relief are becoming ever more important to people who'd find it difficult to travel to the county government center in Crown Point if the service gets centralized there.
"It takes 42 minutes to get to the county from my township," Mrvan said.
Some in the audience shouted for Mrvan to sit down.
Others applauded and yelled, "He has a right to speak."
Daniels also faced skepticism from residents who questioned the real benefit of eliminating townships.
Rita Jackson of North Township asked how the governor can guarantee she would actually see a lower tax bill if her township ceases to exist.
"There are no guarantees," Daniels said, before he guaranteed that poor relief could be more efficiently distributed than it is in Calumet Township.
The governor agreed that most of Indiana's elected officials have the best interests of their constituents at heart.
But he returned to his frequent complaint that Indiana's patchwork of 1,008 townships is a hopelessly antiquated, inefficient system that must be retired.
And he agreed his rhetoric on Lake County is getting harsher the longer he sees resistance here to change.
"I guess after five years of trying to speak always to the positive and encourage people to move in a positive direction, that I'm trying to express candidly my thought that I'm a little tired of waiting," he said.