Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random Observations on Article "When Ballard Won, So Did Local Law Firm"

I plan to write more on the Brendan O'Shaughnessy article tomorrow, concentrating on the dangers of one law firm dominating the Mayor's Office. The previous column below deals with the big law firms being allowed to fleece city taxpayers with outrageous legal bills in return for political contributions, a "pay to play" practice that Mayor Ballard has not stopped. The two concepts though while related, are in fact distinct. The former issue to be addressed tomorrow is by far more troublesome. This second installment deals with random comments or observations regarding the article:

The article greatly overstates the notion that the Barnes & Thornburg made contributions to Ballard when no one thought he had a chance to win. My friends who worked on the Ballard campaign tell me the opposite...that it was only when the polls turned and it looked like Ballard had a chance that B&T quickly jumped into action raising a modest amount for the mayor. One of the things they makes the Ballard campaign workers the most angry is that Bob Grand and Joe Loftus were not early supporters of Ballard and that Grand ruthlessly pushed aside the long-term Ballard supporters during the transition.

I thought the reporter did a good job of showing how Barnes & Thornburg has come to dominate the administration and the number of key individuals who have ties to the law firm. One thing that was missing from the report was that the attempt to influence and dominate is not limited to the executive branch. They have also sought to influence the City County Council. Ryan Vaughn, an attorney was appointed chairman of the Public Safety Committee in January, a committee which has direct and indirect responsibility as to a several Barnes & Thornburg clients. He received a job from the Barnes & Thornburg in February. While I don't for a second think Councilor Vaughn went into the job or the committee chairmanship with plans to advance the interests of his employer's clients, I certainly am not naive enough to think his job and the committee chairmanship are unrelated. I have been around long enough to have seen this game before.

Bob Grand wants us to believe he had nothing to do with the no bid contract received by John Bales, Venture Real Estate Deal. Yet John Bales is a Barnes & Thornburg client, and according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, is also personally Grand's client. Grand advises the Mayor and apparently sits in on weekly meetings. Yet we are supposed to believe he had absolutely nothing to do with the contract. Grand's comments always leave one thinking that he believes everyone around him is stupid and should just believe whatever he says.

The previous point highlights the biggest danger in the Barnes & Thornburg influence. While the steering of legal business is a problem, the far bigger problem deals with the domination of Barnes & Thornburg over the granting of city contracts, many of which will end up going to the firm's clients.

From Mayor Ballard's comments that Grand and Loftus are acting in the city's best interests, it is apparent he has not yet developed political street smarts. If Grand and Loftus were working in his best interest, they would not have advised him to enter into a no-bid contract with a client of Barnes & Thornburg granting that client the exclusive right to commissions for selling city property. The Democrats will kill Ballard on that issue in 2011.

Also, if they were working in the Mayor's best interest they would not have advised him to take the fall for last minute shenanigans pulled by the Mayor Peterson administration when, in late December 2007 after he lost the election, Peterson's people quietly slipped through a resolution which purported to change a 22 year agreement so that another Democrat, Susan Williams, could sell the Pan Am property on behalf of the Indiana Sports Corporation without paying the City $6 million owed pursuant to the agreement. Those advisers not only have Mayor Ballard taking the fall for the former Democrat Mayor, but also using taxpayer resources, i.e. City Legal, to go after taxpayers. At best, Grand and Loftus are giving the mayor very bad political advice. At worst and more likely, the advice is slanted in favor of what is in the best interest of their clients, not what is in the best interest of the Mayor.

Some of the Republicans' comments condoning the Barnes & Thornburg influence on the Mayor's Office lead me to believe the Marion County GOP has a long way of going before it realizes it is in the minority and that the old way of doing things is not going to work anymore. Unfortunately the 2007 election has led some to believe that the standard way of operating will do and that there doesn't have to be changes. Sorry, but the 2007 election was an aberration, an aberration brought on by a Democrat Mayor who decided to commit political suicide the last few months before the election. But even though it was an aberration it was also an opportunity for the Republican Party to show it could govern in a way different from the party has in the past, in a way that would reach out to independents and Democrats. Republicans are quickly blowing that opportunity.


Diana Vice said...

I can't wait to read Part III. Maybe the Indy Star should investigate the fact that the Wilson Education Center refuses to release its Barnes & Thornburg billing records and contracts. Could it be the fact that they want to hide details of the illegal no bid scheme that they engaged in because there might be incriminating evidence? It sure makes me wonder why they won't release public records.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Didn't you read Barnes & Thornburg attorney Jason Barclay's piece on ethics? Given that, as a contractor, they shouldn't have a problem with public scrutiny of billing records. After all, their legal bills are being paid with taxpayer dollars. I doubt, Diana, they practice what they preach.