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Thomas finds first weeks on new job busy

Monday, February 28, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The newly created state inspector general's office has launched about 50 investigations in its first month of existence, looking into complaints of ethics violations, misuse of state money and possible criminal conduct.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says the office needs more power -- including the right to prosecute state employees in some cases -- to discourage such unethical or illegal behavior.

But Democrats say it's wrong to give a person appointed solely by the governor the authority to pursue criminal charges.

Daniels created the inspector general position in January by executive order and appointed former Clay County Prosecutor David Thomas to the job. Thomas said recently the office has received some 100 complaints by state employees, and that half of them had enough merit to begin investigations.

Daniels said some state government employees had the attitude that no one was watching over them and that several other states have written permanent inspector general positions into state law.

"It's no accident that Indiana has been the scene of far too many scandals," Daniels said. "We need an inspector general, an effective one to deter this conduct in the future."

The legislation that Daniels is backing would allow the state inspector general to prosecute a case when a county prosecutor on the case does not file charges within six months. Under the bill, a state Court of Appeals judge also would have to approve the inspector general as a special prosecutor.

House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, a South Bend Democrat, said other states that have inspector general offices do not give them prosecutorial powers.

Bauer said the bill gives powers held by the judicial branch to an appointed executive branch official, instead of the county prosecutor who would normally handle the case.

"It's a major change in the balance of power," Bauer said. "I do think it's unconstitutional in its present form."

Daniels said he considered the bill one of the legislative session's most important.

"A vote against this bill is a vote for corruption," Daniels said.

Bauer said Daniels crossed the line by using such strong words.

"That very statement is a threat to any legislator who dares to say the governor should not have his own prosecutor," Bauer said.

Both Daniels and House Speaker Brian Bosma said they were optimistic about the bill's chances for approval. The bill could come up for consideration by the full House this week. It passed out of a committee Feb. 10 on a 6-5 party-line vote.

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