This Day in Dayton, 6 August

In August 1983, a full section of the Journal and Courier was devoted to the township trustee controversy. The article pointed out that the system had long roots in English law and the office was first known in the 1790 Acts of the Northwest Territory, which established rules for Indiana and neighboring states, as “Overseer of the Poor.” Within five years, able-bodied recepients were required to work for their payments. In the 1980s, townships sometimes had to float bonds to pay for their poor relief. Sheffield township was arranging for a $28,000 bond that year. Urban townships (like Fairfield, which included Lafayette) were running further in the red than more sparsely populated rural townships, and advocates for the poor were complaining about inequality, inefficiency, corruption, and nepotism. Trustees complained of low pay, and former Sheffield township trustee Bruce Biery was quoted as saying, “I don’t know where you’d get anybody [to do it] any cheaper.” Defenders saw the office of trustee as a last bastion of local rule and worried that other trustee responsibilities would be neglected if the office were abolished.

Susan ClawsonComment