Sunday, December 28, 2008

City Workers Voting to Increase Their Pay: Worrying About Peanuts While Ignoring the Elephant in the Room

Today's Indianapolis Star contains an above-the-fold, front-page story on local government employees serving on their own governing bodies, and, as a result, being able to vote on everything from their budget and the wages they will receive. As the Indianapolis Star suggests, this is a problem that has been growing worse. Over at Advance Indiana, Gary Welsh suggests that the practice is already against Indiana's Constitution. He may be right.

I would be the first to admit that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. But in terms of money and nefarious influence on public policy, the issue is peanuts compared to the problem of people serving in executive or legislative positions who are then in a position to influence (or oversee) government contracts and other benefits flowing to their employer or, in the case of law firms, to clients of their employer.

For example, Indianapolis City-County Councilman Lincoln Plowman is a fairly high ranking official in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. As a councilman, he is in position to vote on the budget and other things that may affect, at least indirectly, his employment at IMPD. While it can certainly be argued that he should at the very least abstain from votes affect the IMPD, any conflict Plowman has and the votes he takes are fully out in the open.

Politics in the open provide much less chance for unchecked conflicts of interest and abuse of power than politics behind closed doors. Compare now Plowman's situation, which is fully out in the open, to the situation involving the Indianapolis Mayor's Office. As reported by the Indianapolis Star last week, Bob Grand and Joe Loftus, two partners from a big downtown law firm, Barnes & Thornburg, sit in on every weekly meeting the Mayor has with key personnel. Many of these meetings undoubtedly involve policies affecting the firm's clients, including decisions with respect to granting and oversight of those city contracts. As one lawyer pointed out to me this past week, even if Barnes & Thornburg did not take a penny in legal fees, the opportunity for that firm to be in the position to control city contracting is worth millions to their clients.

That influence appears to have already shown up in the John Bales, Venture Real Estate, no bid contract, a client of Barnes & Thornburg. The contract which gives Bales the exclusive rights to commissions on the sale of city property is horrible public policy and a boneheaded political move that will greatly hurt the Mayor's re-election prospects and the Republicans' chance of retaining a majority on the council. But, hey, it is a great deal for the Barnes & Thornburg client who stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions off of the no-bid contract.

When you compare the dollars involved, the problem with public employees getting elected to legislative bodies where they can further help their public employment is peanuts compared to the problem of people in government, who have employment through a private company or a business relationship with that company, using their positions to influence the granting or oversight of government contracts those businesses receive. That is the real elephant in the room that nobody is addressing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul, you are so right about the Elephant in the room!

What people don't realize is that Barnes & Thornburg and Mayor Greg Ballard have agreed that Barnes & Thornburg would have to take substantially less in legal fees due to his campaign promises. They found a "workaround' though. (I might mention, for a meager $1500, and $1300 donation from Attorneys Robert Grand and Joe Loftus, for the life of me I can't understand how Mayor Ballard felt they deserved anything except a thank-you card like everybody else got.)

Moving on.

In return for Barnes & Thornburg helping Ballard with the transition, Barnes & Thornburg bargained for the right to lead the transition. As the lead, Barnes & Thornburg proceeded to STRUCTURE THE ENTIRE CITY to, not only line up with all their clients and Barnes & Thornburg lobbyist, but to also take the Mayors office in 2012. They accomplished this by immediately dismissing Ballard supporters, except a few financially broke and ethically challenged individuals: appointing current and past Barnes & Thornburg lawyers in power positions; having all the city departments re-route all cases handled by outside counsel back to city legal and over to Barnes & Thornburg, and of course, each department head was to give all contracts to Barnes & Thornburg lawyers.


Part of duties of the transition team was to "train" Ballard to be the Mayor. Barnes & Thornburg encouraged Ballard's desire to be out in the community operating as an ambassador in the neighborhoods and around the world; something his deputy mayors are charged to do. Barnes & Thornburg is the ambassador at City Hall while Ballard is in the 'streets' taking the heat for what Barnes & Thornburg is doing.

Barnes & Thornburg has trained/demoted Ballard to the functioning level of a ill equipped Deputy Mayor, and he doesn't even know...he's just packing on the weight and staying narrowly focused...just what Barnes & Thornburg wants.

If Barnes & Thornburg get their way, Ryan Vaughn will become president of the counsel; if the current president is no longer able to serve--which is a possibility due to the age of the current president; and Ballard's heart may not stand up to the pressure that Barnes & Thornburg has gotten him into; and it's going to get worse, Barnes & Thornburg will guarantee that.
Ryan could become Mayor if Ballard is unable to perform his duties.

Back to the City legal bills:

Based upon the decisions and comments made by Ballard so far, it's obvious that no lawyer reviewed the issues [and] provided a 'written memorandum of law'. Which should be required before certain costly decisions are made. Some bad decisions are so flagrant it's obvious neither Ballard nor his appointees sought legal advice or were intentionally given the wrong advice; which is possible since Barnes & Thornburg lawyers were appointed as the department heads and assistants.

So, the "savings in legal costs" is a scam and their is NO savings! In the end, the legal costs WILL go up as a result of the mistakes the Administration are currently making as it fails to get legal advice.

Ballard needs to assemble his ENTIRE original team, and take back the City of Indianapolis from Barnes & Thornburg!