Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Creating A New Government Culture: The Search for Champions

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Creating A New Government Culture: The Search for Champions

Article excerpt

The Situation

In January of 1997, a newly elected governor appointed a new Chairman of the Indiana State Board of Tax Commissioners. The three commissioners of the Tax Board are responsible for overseeing and approving the budgets, levies, and local property tax rates for the 2300 taxing units in the state. This includes schools, county and local units of government as well as other special taxing units and districts. The Tax Board is also responsible for administering the assessment of property in Indiana including training and certifying all local assessors and the equalization of local assessments in all 92 Indiana counties.

The new commissioner was appointed by the governor to implement the governor's "Smaller and Smarter Government" initiative. The commissioner's task was to analyze the agency and make changes that would improve the performance of the agency while making the Indiana property tax system simpler, fairer, and conducive to economic development. At a briefing of state agency heads in March of 1997, the governor directed all agency leaders to "find ways to enable citizens and local officials to do things, rather than create impediments that prevent them from getting things done." It was clear that the new governor wanted agencies to facilitate action on the part of citizens and local officials, and to not focus on flexing their regulatory and watchdog muscles.

This would definitely require a change in the thinking of the employees at the State Board of Tax Commissioners. The Tax Board was created in 1831 and was the first tax regulatory and watchdog agency of its kind throughout the United States. Since the early 1970's, the Tax Board was encouraged to aggressively implement the state tax controls passed in the 1973 legislative session. This legislative initiative placed levy controls on schools and local units of government. It also linked the portion of state funding given to schools to the quality of local property assessments conducted by local assessors. It was the Tax Board's responsibility to implement these levy controls and measure local assessment quality. Because of these two responsibilities, the culture of the Tax Board became very regulatory in nature. Tax Board personnel believed that it was their job to prevent local officials and local taxpayers from doing the wrong things.

Immediately following the appointment of the commissioner to the Tax Board, the Indiana Tax Court had twice declared the Indiana true tax value system of assessing property unconstitutional. After the Tax Court's first ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Tax Court asking the lower court to indicate specifically what was wrong with Indiana's true tax value assessing system. Again the Tax Court ordered the State Board of Tax Commissioners to change the assessing practices of the state indicating that there were two many subjective factors in the Indiana assessing process. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the Tax Court's decision.

When the new commissioner came to the Tax Board, the Board was under attack from legislators, township and county assessors, county auditors, homeowners, and large businesses. Their criticisms included untimely service, errors, and general inefficiency. The General Assembly complained that the Tax Board was a bunch of bureaucrats who were unresponsive to constituents and to legislators. They also believed that tax board personnel were not professional and in some cases less qualified and knowledgeable about assessing than the assessors that they were supposed to certify and regulate. Added to this was the criticism of the backlog of real estate and personal property appeals (or cases) that were appealed to the Tax Board from the county appeal boards. It was not uncommon for an appeal to be at the Tax Board for seven or eight years before the case was decided. At a tax study committee meeting, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee asked the newly appointed chairman the question "what would happen if we just eliminated the State Tax Board? …

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