On March 13, 1969, Governor Edgar Whitcomb signed legislation enacting UniGov, consolidating Indianapolis and Marion County governments. For Mayor Richard Lugar and other UniGov advocates, this moment marked a pivotal step in reforming politics and encouraging economic development in the region. For UniGov's critics, the legislation represented a calculated partisan power play. Few people now disagree, however, that UniGov had a transformative impact, elevating Indianapolis from a city that attracted little respect to a leading metropolitan center. Mayor Lugar kept this framed photo of the signing in his office as a memento of one of the great achievements of his mayoralty.
Deputy Thomas Hasbrook and Mayor Richard G. Lugar (seen in this photograph with Michael Carroll) were principal participants in developing the strategy of city-county consolidation, later to be known as UniGov. Weakening economic conditions and shrinking populations were creating what many observers described as an urban crises in metropolitan regions, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, where shrinking manufacturing economies were exacerbating issues of urban poverty. Beginning in the mid-1960s, public officials in Indianapolis expressed frustration that local government was too divided into agencies and municipal districts to effectively address the comprehensive problems facing their metropolis. Lugar and Hasbrook, who was then Indianapolis City Council President, joined other Republican leaders and began outlining a plan for consolidated city-county government as a solution to economic and social problems in Indianapolis. Participants in the discussions included Lugar and Hasbrook, as well as John Walls of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, Marion County Council President Beurt SerVaas, business leader John Burkhardt, Republican Party leader Keith Bulen, Lawrence Borst and John Mutz of the Marion County Council, and Carl Dortch of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.
After his election as Mayor in 1967, Richard G. Lugar began taking concrete steps to implement consolidated government in Indianapolis. In 1968, he appointed a task force and charged them with the task of developing a consolidation strategy. In this letter to John Walls (who served as Deputy Mayor and Executive Director of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee), Claude Spilman (GIPC member) encourages the Lugar administration to consider the potential of consolidating city and county government and suggests the formation of a task force on the topic. Spilman acknowledges that Republican elected officials stood to benefit from combining the city and surrounding suburban voting areas (with their larger Republican voting blocs) into a single governmental area. Although a Democrat, Spilman volunteers to work with Mayor Lugar to explore the potential of combined metropolitan government.
William Hudnot, who would serve as Indianapolis Mayor from 1976 to 1992, accepts Mayor Lugar's invitation to serve on the task force considering city-county government consolidation.
Proponents of UniGov advocated implementing the policy through legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly, rather than a state constitutional amendment or local referendum. This placed particular importance on the state elections of 1968, since the victors would be sitting in the Assembly when UniGov was proposed. Across the nation as well as the state of Indiana, Republicans scored substantial victories. In this campaign photograph, Mayor Lugar joins Richard Nixon and his wife at a fundraising event in Southport, Indiana on May 2, 1968.
When Mayor Lugar formed a task force to analyze the concept, policy, and strategy of government consolidation, he chose to incorporate the group within the existing Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC), which had been established in 1965 to provide city political leaders with direct guidance from representatives of the private sector. Structured as a non-profit corporation, GIPC strived to provide non-partisan guidance to Indianapolis elected officials. These minutes from an early task force meeting demonstrate the extensive thought and planning that had gone into consolidation, including the suggestion to exclude the towns of Lawrence, Speedway, and Beech Grove from consolidated Indianapolis.
In its April 1969 cover story, Indianapolis Downtowner magazine explored the newly enacted UniGov legislation, which Governor Edgar D. Whitcomb had signed into law the previous month. The article lauds the concept of metropolitan that had been made against the proposal and raising questions about the constitutionality of its provisions. Critics of UniGov argued that white Republican politicians were using consolidated government to diminish the power base of Democrats in the city. Some African-American residents argued that the expansion of the electorate to include approximately 250,000 mostly white county residents would diminish the political influence of African-American leaders in the new consolidated region.
In December 1969, Marion County Republicans celebrated another year of political achievements. At the top of this list for 1969 was the passage of UniGov. The county Republican newsletter prominently displayed photos of the Mayor and his team of executive department directors.
Shortly after UniGov's implementation in January 1970, Mayor Lugar's office prepared a guide for citizens seeking information on local services, from garbage collection and rat control, to snow removal, street lighting, and block club organizing.
As a national organization, the League of Women Voters encouraged municipalities to explore the potential of organizational reform, including government consolidation. In Indianapolis, the local League responded to the implementation of UniGov by printing informational booklets on the new system. Of particular interest are the organizational chart for the consolidated government (page 8-9) and a map of the new city boundaries, highlighting City-Council electoral districts (pages 14-15).
The Lugar administration promoted UniGov as a central achievement and the basis for future economic development in the region. Presentations, pamphlets, and media campaigns used images of carefully orchestrated activity--planning and construction--as evidence of responsible, dynamic growth. This photograph was stored among office files in a folder labeled "UniGov at Work."
On the occasion of his 39th birthday, Mayor Lugar received this caricature of himself riding a rocket labeled UniGov. Observers within Indianapolis and nationally were predicting that the young city executive had begun a promising political career, and that UniGov would vault him into national attention. Lugar spoke nationally about UniGov, which attracted press coverage from newspapers, professional and academic journals, and national magazines like Reader's Digest.
In advance of the first municipal election since the enactment of UniGov, local Republican officials mailed this postcard, promoting the achievements of their party and of Mayor Lugar. Images on the front of the card include the new City-County Building, the new Indiana National Bank building, the Indianapolis 500 Raceway, the proposed Convention Center, and the Indianapolis Police motorcycle squad. The text on the back of the postcard refers to city-county consolidation and accompanying high rates of building and road construction, employment, and recreation opportunities.
Not only Mayor Lugar, but also his Democratic opponent John F. Neff focused on UniGov during the 1971 mayoral elections. According to Neff, Lugar had "forced [UniGov] on the people of Marion County." Neff was referring, in part, to the decision to enact UniGov via legislation voted on by the Indiana General Assembly, rather than presenting it before voters as a referendum. In response to Lugar's assertions that UniGov allowed for more responsive and effective local government, Neff accused the incumbent of centralizing power. Neff's press statement also refers to the controversial topic of school desegregation and busing, which generated significant attention during the 1971 city elections.
More than two years after its implementation, UniGov still generated debate in Marion County. In a response to Wayne Township Assessor Glen Burkhardt, Mayor Lugar notes the political sensitivity in the current proposal to consolidate the Marion County Sheriff's office with the Indianapolis Police Department. Mayor Lugar highlights the financial challenges in meeting the service needs in Marion County, particularly given escalating pension costs.
Inspired by UniGov's consolidated approach, Indianapolis officials developed the Unified Planning Program, which provided for a coordinated approach to planning and funding metropolitan development efforts. This program called for integration across agencies and a more streamlined system for consolidating funding from federal, state, and local sources. On September 18, 1970, Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Counsellor to President Richard Nixon, praised the new system as emblematic of the philosophy of New Federalism, which sought to transfer decision-making and funding powers from the U.S. government to the state and local levels.
Years after Richard Lugar left the Mayor's Office to represent Indiana in the U.S. Senate, subsequent Indianapolis mayors faced ongoing controversy and debate over consolidation, particularly regarding schools and fire and police services. Efforts to centralize control of fire services proved particularly contentious and state legislation to consolidate the Indianapolis Fire Department with 11 township fire departments failing to pass the General Assembly.
In the years following the enactment of UniGov, civic leaders in Indianapolis and elsewhere pointed to coordinated, consolidated government as a necessary ingredient for growth. Commentators credited UniGov with creating an environment conducive to economic development and private investment, thus laying the groundwork for projects like the Market Square complex and the Hoosier Dome. Expansion helped draw attention to Indianapolis as an internationally recognized metropolitan center. The city hosted numerous international events, including the NATO-sponsored Conference on Cities in 1971 and the Pan American Games in 1987. Here Mayor William H. Hudnut joins the local Girl Scout members in announcing Indianapolis's role as host for the Pan Am Games.