Monday, November 24, 2008

Going in the Right Direction: Councilor Ryan Vaughn's Op-Ed Piece

This morning's newspaper brings an editorial from Councilor Ryan Vaughn in which he discusses his sponsorship of the Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's effort to stop and reverse the increases in the county option income tax (COIT) that were part of the reason Mayor Greg Ballard's predecessor Mayor Bart Peterson was defeated in 2007.

The proposal certainly signifies an indication that administration is moving in the right direction and should be applauded. However, the Mayor's strategy as reflected in the editorial is missing a key ingredient: a willingness to confront and reverse the corporate giveaways that have for the last few decades been governing philosophy of Republican and Democrat administrations. It is exactly because of that corporate welfare mentality that there has been such a pressure on spending. While the Mayor might not want to go down this unchartered road, the fact is unless he takes this populist course his chances of re-election are slim and none.

Here are some agenda items the Mayor should latch onto if he wants to fight for the taxpayers:
  • Put the contracts for all vendors doing business with the city on-line where they can be seen by everyone. Full disclosure should be a requirement of doing business with the City.
  • Open up the records of the Capital Improvement Board. The Board, which is the source of much of the corporate welfare, still believes it can operate without the full scrutiny applied to other governmental entities.
  • Remove the leadership of the CIB, Bob Grand, who is the managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg. Grand has far too many conflicts of interest to have ever been appinted to that position. In addition to his job with a law firm which receives substantial business from the city, he represents the Simons, owners of the Pacers (who will be renegotiating their deal soon with CIB), and sits on the board of the Sports Corporation which benefits from money directed by CIB to the Sports Corporation. Replace Grand (and other members of the Board when possible) with individuals who are willing to fight for Joe Taxpayer and against the entrenched corporate interests who are simply after more taxpayer money.
  • Start demanding that the Colts foot the bill for the operating deficit in the new Lucas Oil Stadium.
  • Do not agree to give away more taxpayer money to the Pacers when they come knocking at the door for the same giveaways the City gave to the Colts.
  • Stop fighting taxpayer efforts aimed at recovering taxpayer funds Mayor Peterson's administration successfully and, we have argued in a lawsuit illegally, diverted to the Indiana Sports Corporation during the last few days before he left office. The Mayor's Office should not be using taxpayer money (i.e. City Legal) against taxpayers in an effort to get the lawsuit dismissed. One has to wonder who would have advised the Mayor to take the fall for last minute shenanigans pulled by the Democrat Peterson administration in favor of Democrat Susan Williams who runs the Indiana Sports Corporation. Quite likely it is someone who benefited from the deal and does not want to see it exposed during the discovery process.
  • Demand full disclosure of law firms receiving city legal business. Their contracts (all of them) need to be made public as well as their billing records. Those of us in law know how those firms regularly inflate their bills when taxpayers are the ones paying. Note: Mayor Ballard told me before the election that the fleecing of city taxpayers by the big law firms would cease under his watch. Well it has not. Barnes & Thornburg, which has connections at virtually every level of the current administration, is the worst offender. Vaughn, who had been an up and coming member of the council, would have been the ideal person to speak out against this and in favor of taxpayers ... except that a month after becoming chairman of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee he was hired by, you guessed it, Barnes & Thornburg.
  • Demand full accountability from private vendors who contract with the city. I know from my experience in corrections litigation that privatization contracts are simply not enforced, including provisions requiring that those vendors indemnify government for attorney's fees and judgments when the vendor's wrongdoing results in government getting sued. (Quite often these private companies are shelling out big campaign contributions not only to secure the contract to begin with, but to entice government officials to look the other way when it comes to their compliance with the contracts.) The City could recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions if it simply enforced these provisions.
  • Appoint a bipartisan commission to study the corporate welfare and giveaways in this county that are adding to our tax burden. The Commission needs to be made up by people who truly represent taxpayers as opposed to those with corporate ties.
The public-private partnerships touted by the City leaders the past few decades have too often been nothing more than a convenient excuse to channel taxpayer money to private companies. In return, those private companies hire big law firms connected to the city and kick back campaign contributions to the City's politicians. It is the ultimate revolving door. If Mayor Ballard decides to challenge the corporate welfare culture that exists in this City, he has a solid chance at re-election in 2011. If he chooses not to, my Marion County Republican Party is due for a big defeat in that election.


varangianguard said...

I have to be a bit cynical here. Why should "the powers behind the throne" care two cents for your proposals?

No matter who sits behind the big desk on the 25th floor, the real movers and shakers have their tentacles firmly entwined in most every important part of government (City-County Council included). Changing anything would only diminish their own interests, and the general taxpayer doesn't even make their list.

Open Doors, public accountability, minimization of conflicts of interest are all taking food out of certain persons childrens' mouths (that's sarcasm).

I supported Mayor Ballard's campaign to replace former Mayor Peterson, because I believed that the former Mayor had sold out to the special interests. So sad for me to find that said very same special interests immediately glommed onto the Ballard bandwagon, right after the victory.

For them? Business as usual, taking advantage of a well meaning, but inexperienced first timer. I could just hear their reasoning, and the Mayor bought it, hook, line and sinker.

Vision? Change? Progress? Only if it furthers the special (monetary) interests of a minority of (really) apolitical users and takers.

For my part, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Mayor Ballard to change course.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I don't think for a second that the "powers behind the throne" are going to support these measures. I don't think they have to support them with the right elected official in charge. Ultimately it is the elected official, in this case the Mayor, who can call the shots.

For all the talk about the "power behind the throne," the fact is that the person who actually sits on the throne is the one with the real power to call the shots...if that person so chooses. I think Mayor Ballard is a great guy who has a chance to do wonderful things for the City. But he has to realize at some point that those people around him do have their own financial interests and not his best interests in mind. When a Democrat is elected in 2011, as I'm sure those powers behind throne expect, they'll simply use their Democrat contacts to latch on to the new Mayor.

A skillfull, experierced politician running for re-election in a district where his party only has a 40% minority of the vote, would know that he has to be a populist in order to win re-election. Going down the same corporate welfare road Hudnut, Goldsmith and Peterson went down will doom Ballard to one term.

I don't know if Mayor Ballard is a person who has the political skill set to come to that conclusion. He seems tethered to 1990s era advisors who have never been involved in winning campaigns in an environment where the Democrats have a solid majority in Marion County.

M Theory said...

Best column you've written so far Paul. I'm contemplating making it a permanent link over at HFFT.

I'm so glad you are blogging.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Really? I just threw together those proposals off the top of my head. Unlike a lot of Ballard supporters who have written him off because of the direction he went after the election, I am much more optimistic he can turn things around. I think the Mayor is a good man with tons of potential as a Mayor. He just needs to assert himself and take his administration back from those who took it over during the transition period. The appointment of Vane is a move in the right direction as was the tax cut, albeit modest though it was. Long term though, he needs major personnel changes and his unpaid, conflicted and self-interested advisors from a certain big law firm need to be kicked off the 25th floor.

varangianguard said...

Still, once one climbs aboard the tiger, it isn't so easy to get off again.

Citizen Kane said...

Your comments reflect my thoughts over the last ten years in Indianapolis and my previous ten years in Indiana observing Indianapolis. The mayor needs to be confronted with these types of thoughts in a public forum like his Mayor's Nights Out that he holds. And there needs to be several people making these points again and again and again.