Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Part III: My Days at the Department of Insurance; The Present Left By Governor Kernan and How Governor Daniels' Office Let Down This Republican

Atterholt did not come into the office until that afternoon, that fateful day of September 17, 2007. Within probably a ½ hour of coming in and reading my memo, he dispatched the IDOI’s general counsel to my office. The attorney told me that they needed me up stairs for a pre-deprivation meeting but that the meeting was merely a formality. The decision had already been made to fire me if I would not resign. He told me they could fire me for any reason they wanted, including wearing the wrong color shirt that day. It was obvious to me that the general counsel did not know state rules governing the termination of non-merit employees with more than 6 months of service, did not understand how to conduct a pre-deprivation meeting (you don’t start out by announcing that the meeting is irrelevant because the decision has already been made), did not know the state whistleblowing law, and did not know that, from a legal standpoint, a forced resignation was no different from a termination.

During the meeting, attending by Jim, Shirley, the aforementioned attorney and someone from state personnel, I asked for an adjournment to talk to the state personnel person at the meeting to see if the investigation I had arranged for would continue in my absence. For someone brand new to state personnel, she surprisingly had an immediate response: my request for an investigation could no longer be acted upon because I would no longer be a state employee. When I returned to the meeting I asked them to identify exactly why I was being terminated. The only response was that I was “out of line.”

I went from being a highly-lauded state employee to being escorted back to my office where my every move was watched. Upon return, I found out my computer had been seized during the meeting. (So much for the idea that a pre-deprivation meeting is where the termination decision is supposed to be made.) Then I was escorted out of the building.

Up until the pre-deprivation meeting, my response to the eternal IDOI mystery was that Jim Atterholt was simply too “nice” to do anything about Shirley. What I saw at the pre-deprivation meeting and have witnessed since leaves me with no doubt that conclusion was wrong. The Commissioner is genuinely terrified, for whatever reason, of crossing Shirley. The memo I wrote not only memorialized state personnel and legal violations, but also acted to “out” Atterholt on the numerous negative things he had said about Shirley. Now he is doing all he can to deny previous statemetns and positions he has taken regarding Shirley, even if that now requires that he perjure himself.

I believe I mentioned at the start of this tale that Shirley is a Democrat appointee of former Governor Kernan. She is, in fact, a liberal Democrat, a big fan of Michael Moore, and who as I was leaving in 2007, was trying to arrange the screening of the movie “Sicko” for employees in her unit. Jim Atterholt, a conservative Republican, is a direct appointee of Governor Daniels. I, who am also a conservative Republican, had my appointment was approved by Governor Daniels. I always believed that if the Governor’s people would simply take the time to look at what I was saying, they would find out that 90% of the problems at the Department of Insurance is being caused by a liberal Democrat upper-level supervisor appointed by Governor Kernan specifically to cause problems at the Department. But the Governor’s Office would not even acknowledge my claims, much less investigate them. After months, I was left with no choice but to sue.

I do not personally blame the Governor. Hopefully Governor Daniels has more important things to personally worry about than what happened tome. But at some point though his people need to actually acknowledge and investigate matters at the agencies when it is brought to their attention. Instead it was only months after being ignored and left with no choice but to file a lawsuit, that someone from the Governor’s Office finally took an interest, if only to suggest the lawsuit showed disloyalty to the Governor. Ahem.

The termination cost me not only a job I loved and was good at, but it left me unable to complete the 10 year service I needed to qualify for my state pension, a benefit that is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. While I am extremely confident of winning my case, back pay and a reinstatement order, it bothers me considerably that this battle has to be fought at all. If only someone from the Governor’s Office would have conducted an investigationi, the matter could have quickly been resolved with a simple directive from the Governor's office. Instead we are left with no choice but to spend a couple years litigating a case at the conclusion of which a court will likely order Commissioner Atterholt to do the very thing that Governor Daniels could have ordered Commissioner Atterholt from the outset, without the need for litigation. Oh, well. Life is a journey. I just wish I did not have to climb the hills during that journey.

***THE END***

Link to Part I
Link to Part II

Part II: My Days at the Department of Insurance; The Present Left By Governor Kernan and How Governor Daniels' Office Let Down This Republican

In 2007, I was notified that an attorney for a title company was threatening to sue the State of Indiana because of defamatory information published on the enforcement website maintained by Shirley. When I looked closely at the claim, I found that the attorney was indeed correct that the website contained misleading and false information regarding enforcement actions taken by the Department against licensees, and that we were definitely exposed from a legal standpoint. In short, in addition, to numerous inaccurate entries, the website identified as the “Violation” what the licensee was originally charged with, not what the licensee was later determined to have done. It’s akin to publicly stating someone committed the crime of murder when they were in fact convicted of battery.

I notified Commissioner Atterholt of the problem with the website. He was in total agreement that it needed to be changed immediately and that it exposed the State to considerable liability. We reviewed the Attorney General’s website which merely links to public documents rather than provide editorial comment was a far better model. When Shirley objected to any change in the IDOI’s website, Atterholt immediately backed down.

The greatest mystery at the Department was why Atterholt would not do anything to address the problems with Shirley and the unit she manages. People complained daily about Shirley and many went to Atterholt begging that he do something. Atterholt always acknowledged the complaints and would admit to everyone that Shirley is incompetent and a terrible manager. He admitted to me that Shirley’s unit by far has the lowest morale of any unit in the office. Those of us in her unit, saw Shirley go through wild mood swings, periods of depression, a difficulty focusing on tasks and remembering things from one day to the next. We would have meetings where she would spend the entire time talking about margins on documents or what male-female duo my co-manager and I most resembled. Throughout it all, Atterholt acknowledged Shirley’s problems, suggested that she would get better, and encouraged us to simply work around her, going to him directly on issues.

Near the end of my tenure, I complained to Atterholt that Shirley was berating a DOI employee for failing asleep and threatening to discipline him. The employee had a very serious and life- threatening health condition and was under heavy medication. I explained to the Commissioner that, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, we needed to make accommodations for employee’s with health issues and that we all would do that by simply waking him up if we saw that he dozed off. Atterholt agreed, but suggested that was simply how Shirley operated. She would unfairly target one employee for awhile, tire of it, and then move on to another employee in her unit.

I believe though the Commissioner though owed a higher duty to stand up for the welfare of the employees of Shirley’s unit. So my last Friday at the Department I went to State Personnel, and invited them to come over to the Department of Insurance to review the violation of state personnel rules by Shirley and to interview employees of Shirley’s unit to determine whether she had created a hostile work environment. They agreed to do so the next time Shirley was out of town. When I got back to my office, per their request, I emailed them with the dates of her next trip. That weekend I wrote the memo that would cost me my job.

That fateful memo outlined the violations of state personnel rules, the legal violations, and the suspected hostile work environment in Shirley’s unit. I believed, and still believe, I had a moral responsibility to protect the people I had recruited to work in the Title Insurance Division. I asked that the Commissioner to move my Division out of Shirley’s unit. Changes in organization happen all the time at the Department. But this requested change would have also resulted in Shirley no longer having her hands on the title insurance dedicated fund, which by now had accumulated nearly a million dollars. That is precisely why I believe the simple organization change was not supported by Shirley even though she had been repeatedly complaining to the Commissioner about having too many divisions to supervise. My division, unlike most of the others, came with money.

Link to Part I
Link to Part III

Part I: My Days at the Department of Insurance; The Present Left By Governor Kernan and How Governor Daniels' Office Let Down This Republican

In November of 2006, I started my dream job at the Indiana Department of Insurance. I, along with another attorney, was named head of the newly-created Title Insurance Division of the Indiana Department of Insurance. It was our job to create a regulatory structure for title insurance in the State of Indiana. Up until that time, title insurance had gone virtually unregulated, a problem that people in the title insurance industry wanted changed. They had gone to the Indiana General Assembly which passed a law providing that each title insurance policy contain and additional $5 charge that would fund the division. Our job was to invent the wheel. During my 10 or so months at the Division we went from being the worst regulated state in the country to receiving calls from states all across the country asking about the regulatory model we had created. That and the staff we assembled is what I am most proud of.

The Department of Insurance was and is still headed by Jim Atterholt, a former state legislator. I had known Jim from Republican politics for years. We both had been to each other’s houses and had ran for the Indiana General Assembly in adjoining legislative districts. Jim was not only a political ally, I considered him a friend.

Over the course of the next several months I had the opportunity to get to know how the Department of Insurance operated. The people almost to a person are impressive, dedicated public servants. I miss them dearly.

There was and is a glaring exception at the Department of Insurance though. My division, the Title Insurance Division, fell within another larger unit in the office. That unit was headed by a Chief Deputy Commissioner who is directly below Commissioner Atterholt. Because, unlike Atterholt, this person is not a public figure, I will give her the pseudonym “Shirley” for the purpose of this column.

Shirley is the only Democrat holdover from prior to Governor Daniels’ election in 2004. The story around the office was that Shirley was appointed as Gov. Kernan was going out of office, knowing that she would create problems for Governor Daniels and the new Republican head of the Department of Insurance. It was a story that I totally came to believe was true. In fact, several months into my employment I ran into several employees of the Attorney General’s Office who confirmed the problems she had created at the AG’s office before going to the Department. Fortunately for the AG, she was not in a supervisory role there.

Shirley is like no other supervisor at the Department of Insurance. (I am writing in the past tense though she is still at the Department and I have no reason to believe things have changed.) She would come in late virtually every day, was gone probably a 1/3 of the time traveling the country on trips of dubious value at taxpayer expense (she is supposed to be going on a taxpayer-funded trip to Hawaii in 2009), and would show up at staff meetings late. She would discipline employees within her unit and not notify state personnel, a violation of state personnel rules. She would move employees away from the position for which they were hired to other positions, again a violation of state personnel rules. She was permitted to keep dirt on employees in files separate from their state personnel files which are audited, another violation. Atterholt was repeatedly told about these problems by a former liaison to IDOI from state personnel and me. His response was to do nothing.

After several months passed, the Title Insurance Division was in need of secretarial help. A person applied for the position of Title Insurance Division Secretary and was hired. The person was immediately moved by Shirley to another part of the office and Title was not allowed to use her. I pointed out to the Commissioner that moving such an employee was a violation of state personnel rules and, further, that it was a violation of state law to use the title insurance dedicated fund to pay an employee’s salary who was not allowed to work in title insurance enforcement. Again, Atterholt's response was to do nothing.

Later I learned that Shirley had dipped into the title insurance fund to pay an “office planner” several thousand dollars to design new offices for her unit and was planning to use the title insurance fund to remodel her offices after the Title Division moved to another floor. I pointed to the Commissioner a specific statutory prohibition on Shirley using dedicated funds for purposes unrelated to their intended purpose, and that it could also result in a falsification of the reasons for the expenditures in for state budget documents, which, since those documents are signed under oath, could be a felony. He told me he was not concerned. Later a former supervisor at the Department of Insurance told me that Shirley has for years been permitted to spend dedicated funds (the Bail Bond and Title Insurance dedicated funds are within her control) for purposes unrelated to their intended purpose.

Link to Part II
Link to Part III

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Animal Adoption Stories; A New Philosophy at the City's Animal Shelter

This morning brings a letter to the editor pointing out to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) opposition to the "no kill" policy that Doug Rae, the new director of the Indianapolis' animal shelter has advocated in his past leadership positions.

Okay, I'm still trying to get my head around the idea of PETA, which has a radical pro-animal rights agenda, would be opposed to a no-kill animal control policy. I need more coffee before I can figure that one out.

Nonetheless, the letter reminded me of some of my Humane Society stories which demonstrate a bizarre philosophy toward the animals they take in. A Pike Township man owned a few acre farm (a rare thing for Pike, obviously) where he had a barn that had been overrun with mice. He decided he was going to the Humane Society to get an adult male cat to be a mouser in the barn. During the interview process he was asked why he wanted the cats. He explained to them his idea to have them catch mice in his barn. The Humane Society rejected him, saying that they would not permit any animal of theirs to be a "working animal." He tried to explain that to cats, catching a mouse is not "work," they actually find it enjoyable. No dice. The rejection stood. So they would rather kill that cat (people wanting to adopt adult cats is rare) than to allow the cat to live out his remaining days catching mice.

Another man went to the Indianapolis Humane Society to adopt a cat to be a family pet. During the adoption process he was asked whether it would be an indoor cat. He said "yes." Then he started thinking about his children constantly going in and out of the house and honestly answered that there might be times when the cat might run outside. This candor cost him the adoption.

Now a dog story, albeit from another state. A friend of mine went to the animal shelter to adopt a dog. It was near the Christmas holiday and her plan was to pick up the dog after January 1st. She had an accident over the holidays and was laid up for awhile. When she came to get the dog after the first part of the year, they refused to give her the dog, saying that since she did not "visit"him over the Christmas break it showed she was not a suitable person to adopt the dog. Application rejected.

Those are just a few of my bizarre animal adoption stories. As an animal lover myself, I do not always understand the philosophy of the people who work in the area of animal control and adoptions. Hopefuly Doug Rae brings a more enlightened attitude to the City's animal shelter.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Weather Radios and the U.S. Constitution

Today's Indianapolis Star brings a story on a bill requiring weather radios in mobile homes failing in the U.S. Senate. Kathryn Martin, whose 2 year old son who was killed during an Evansville-area tornado in 2005, was a driving force behind the legislation. During the 2008 legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill requiring the radios for new mobile homes sold in Indiana.

Martin said that she couldn't understand why the Senate couldn't pass such a "noncontroversial bill." Greg Corbin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, declared: ""I'll say unequivocally there will be lives saved if you put weather radios in mobile homes." Hmmm, is that the standard? Having a national speed limit of 10 mph will also "unequivocally" save tens of thousands of lives yearly. Does that mean we adopt such a law?

But this column is about federalism and the U.S. Constitution. State legislatures have the authority to pass laws unless the power to pass that law is specifically denied by the U.S. or the respective state constitution. (Unlike what some of my over zealous libertarian friends think, state laws, unlike laws passed by Congress, do not have to be authorized by a specific constitutional provision either in the U.S. or state constitution.) For our national government, i.e. Congress, to pass a law, that law must be based on one of the specific powers listed in Article I, Section 8.

Over the years, Congress has found ways to get around this requirement. One way is to stretch Congress' power to regulate commerce as a bridge to regulate activities not directly related to the commerce. That is how Congress applies the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, federal discrimination laws, the federal minimum wage law and other national laws to private businesses. If you look at each of those laws, you will find that in the opening language is an indication that the law applies to businesses (usually which have at least a certain number of employees) that are involved in "interstate commerce." Previous court decisions have concluded that anyone involved in business is involved in "interstate commerce."

Passing the weather radio requirement for mobile homes would have required yet more dubious use off the interstate commerce provision to regulate private business. Here the proposed law is not aimed at the commerce of selling and buying mobile homes, but rather a safety issue.

While the Commerce Clause has been stretched far beyond its original purpose, I see no reason to stretch it to this situation. Tornadoes are not a problem in all states equally just as hurricanes are not. There is no reason to believe this is a situation where we need a national law to deal with the problem. Our Congress should focus on national, not local, issues. Martin brought a problem to the attention of the Indiana General Assembly and the legislature responded by passing a law. That is exactly the way the system was designed to work.

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.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Global Warming and Dishonest Science

On the plane to Florida, I had the chance to catch up on my reading. One of the articles I read in the Indianapolis Star was Deroy Murdock's column about global warming, published on Tuesday of this week. I found a much longer version of the article, titled as "Whatever Happened to Global Warming?," on the National Review website.

In the column, Murdock points out that the year 2008 will be the coldest since 1997 and that the changing temperature has more to do with solar activity than carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Just before Halloween, southwestern Florida’s temperatures plunged to 47 degrees, October’s coldest readings since 1902. On October 29th, the United States set 120 new record-cold measurements and 63 new record-snow figures. On December 11th, eight inches of snow hit New Orleans, and stayed for 48 hours in some neighborhoods.

Faced with the reality that global warming temperatures could well be falling not rising, environmental extremists suddenly changed their tune, now using the term "climate change" to identify the purported threat for which they want nations all over the world to spend trillions of dollars addressing. It is a brilliant way of framing the debate. Unless the climate stays exactly the same year after year (which it never has for the 4.5 billion years), those advocating government action always have ample "proof" of their theory.

The fact is our planet has gone through periods when it was warmer than today and periods when it has been cooler, including times before and since man walked on the earth. Carbon dioxide levels have been higher than they are today and they have been lower. As pointed out by John Stossel in his 20/20 report, one thing that seems pretty clear is that carbon dioxide levels have historically risen following increases in temperatures not preceded them. The cause and effect relationship that Al Gore and his followers claim exists between rising CO2 levels and rising temperatures is not supported by timelines comparing the two.

Another dishonest approach taken by those who advocate the global warming model is to focus their analysis solely on the period when temperatures have been formally kept, a period of approximately the last 150 years. In the 4.5 billion year of the planet, 150 years is not even a blip. If you look at the history of this planet, there have been periods of global warming and ice ages. In between those periods, temperatures zig-zag back and forth, with each zig (which I am using here to represent an increase) and zag (which I am using as a decrease) representing centuries if not millennia. During the past 150 years, we could have well be in the middle of a normal "zig" in the pattern of temperature patterns and not a long-term, permanent increase in global temperatures. Scientists promoting the global warming theory use computer models to extrapolate the temperatures out assuming that current "zig" increasing temperatures will never be followed by a "zag." History says otherwise. As pointed out by Murdock, that zag may have already started.

We are also asked to accept it on faith that today's temperature is the ideal and that temperatures different from today's represent catastrophe for the planet. Again, history say otherwise. The greatest progress of man during the last millennium came during warming periods, which included temperatures warmer than today. Certainly warmer temperatures creates "losers" (think Florida's coastal areas) but also "winners" (think longer growing seasons in Minnesota and Canada.) On balance, history shows the warmer climate is preferred by mankind. People from Florida do not move to Michigan when they retire. People who live in Michigan move to Florida.

Those scientists and pseudo-scientists pushing global warming, and now climate change, as a basis for the governments of the world to take dramatic and expensive action that may devastate the world economy, are in fact are pursuing a political, anti-progress economic agenda. Some of those scientists are remarkably candid that they very well may be wrong about the science, but justify their actions on the basis that the changes they advocate to the way human beings live their lives would nonetheless be beneficial to everyone, even if it does not have an effect on climate change. The sad thing is that science has become politicized. The scientific method we all learned about in school has been tossed aside in favor of twisting and ignoring facts to fit a political agenda.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Review of the New Indianapolis International Airport: A Barely Passing Grade

Over the holidays, I have had to experience the new Indianapolis International Airport. Here are my observations.

My first observation is that it takes a lot longer to get to the Airport. The Airport used to be within minutes of I-465. Now you have to take I-70 west well past I-465 before you exit to the airport. But unlike before the airport is not right at the exit. You have to take a winding road through open fields for what seems like a couple miles before you can get to parking. I can only assume the wide open spaces are for some sort of expansion.

I pulled into the economy lot to park and then walked to a bus shelter to await the shuttle. The shelters are much more enclosed than before and you can turn on a heater at the top of the structure during a cold weather. A nice touch. Unfortunately, there is about a foot gap from the bottom of the shelter and the ground, allowing the cold outside air to flow into shelter thus offsetting the efforts of the heater to warm the structure.

I probably waited 15 minutes for a shuttle to arrive, longer than I ever waited at the old airport. After picking me up, the shuttle made several more stops until the bus was packed with so many passengers that people could not sit down. Our driver even had to leave passengers behind because there was no more room.

While before the shuttle driver asked which airline you were flying with and he or she dropped you off near that airline's ticket counter, now the shuttles just make one stop in the middle and drops off everyone. Fortunately, my walk was not far.

Check in went fairly smoothly (I flew Southwest), though, unlike at the old airport I had to wait several minutes before I could even get to a self-service, e-ticket computer terminal to get my boarding pass. Because I did not have checked luggage, I did got away quicker from the counter than a lot of other people.

I turned from the ticketing counter to look for Concourse B. I looked everywhere. Not a sign in sight. Finally, I had to walk over to an information counter to ask for directions to Concourse B. She pointed to the food court area. I looked in the direction she was pointing and still saw no signs for Concourse B. Finally the crowd of people walking through the food court parted enough for me to see this monument-type structure which had a sign at eye-level that Concourse B was through the food court and off to the left. There was no overhead sign for Concourse B.

I still had trouble finding the screening area for passengers. Finally a helpful TSA agent pointed me to an area where there was a line of passengers who were making their way through a maze to the machine screening luggage. Again, the wait for screening was longer than I have ever experienced at the Airport, probably 15 minutes, not a horrible wait, but disconcerting if you are pressed for time as I had now become.

Of course, my carry-on luggage was selected out for a special search as usually happens at the airport. Finally, I made my way out of the screening area and began looking for Gate B-4. Again, the signage was extremely poor. The few overhead signs were difficult to read and confusing. I took a right to join several people heading toward the Southwest Airline gates. Or so I thought. I walked right out of a "secure" area to an "unsecure" area. There was not a sign in sight to warn that I was leaving a secure area. I realized my mistake as soon as I approached a TSA agent directing people. He rudely told me that I could not turn around (even though he had seen where I had come from) and that I would have to go through screening again. Oh, well.

This time I got in a shorter screening line. As I was two deep in line, I heard the last call for my flight. The passenger ahead of me allowed me to go in front of him. But again my luggage was selected out for special screening. Also, they decided to do a special test on my shoes as well. I pointed out that I had already gone through this once (in fact my boarding pass had been previously marked when I went through screening.) I did not protest too much though. You can't protest too much at airports lest they lock you up. The agents were polite and seemed to really speed up what they were doing to get my through security, which I greatly appreciated. Pretty soon I was on my way to the gate and was the second to last passenger to board the flight. Being Southwest Airlines, and not having assigned seats, I ended up next to a large man whose size spilled over into my narrow seat. At least it was an aisle seat though.

During the last trip through security, I talked to a TSA agent about the airport. He said the No. #1 complaint about at the new airport is the poor signage at the facility. He said that the designers of the airport placed a premium on aesthetics, and did not want to hurt the "look" of the facility with the signage you see in other airports. Indeed, I have been to numerous airports in the country and the new Indianapolis Airport far and away has the worst signage of any airport I have ever been to. While it is a beautiful facility, shouldn't the No. 1 priority been making an airport that is easy for passengers to use? For passengers who use that facility on a regular basis, a lack of signage will not be a problem. But for passengers new to the airport, the lack of signage creates a big problem.

In short, budget for substantially more time when going to the new airport. If you haven't been there before, expect to ask for directions, maybe more than once. If you can, arrive an hour or so earlier than normal just to walk around and look at the facility. While the facility ranks very low as far as being user-friendly (unlike Indy's previous airport), it is beautiful. There are also a number of interesting retail establishments at the facility which I would have liked to have the time to visit. Hopefully, the operators of the airport though will make changes to make it easier for people to use. A good place would be to install better signage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Political Predictions for 2009

Here are my predictions for 2009 based on a little bit of inside information but mostly just guesses based on my gut instinct:
  • Carl Brizzi will choose to not run for a 3rd term as Marion County Prosecutor. (Politicians who have successfully been elected are generally risk adverse. With the 40% base vote Republicans had in 2008 county-wide races why risk losing?)
  • As Hoosier unemployment continues to skyrocket in 2009, Governor Daniels' popularity will sink. (Unfairly, I might add. There is very little a state Governor can do in the midst of a world-wide recession. But when you are on the hot seat, you not only get the credit when the economy takes off, you get the blame when the economy tanks.)
  • Behind-the-scenes, strong-arm tactics of the Mayor Ballard's administration on council Republicans who dare question what is happening on the 25th Floor will surface.
  • Instead of following his predecessor's lead, Greg Zoeller will take the Attorney General's Office in a more active direction, including using the office to assist prosecutors by investigating white collar crime. (This is more hope than anything.)
  • Sheriff Frank Anderson exploratory interest in the Mayor's Office will be derailed by questions relating to his receipt and expenditure of funds related to the operation of jails. (While yours truly raised questions on these pages recently about nearly a quarter of a million dollars being moved from one account to another to pay CCA which operates Jail #2, I have been told by several people there are a lot more issues out there regarding the handling of jail money.)
  • Expect a Republican reform movement, opposed to the Old Guard which has operated in Marion County for decades, to begin to get traction.
  • Tom John will be re-elected county chairman. Opponent Henry Karlson, if he runs, will get a protest vote of 25% to 30%.

Possibly more predictions later.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Attorney General Investigates Planned Parenthood

It was reported last week that Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter is investigating Planned Parenthood to see if an employee violated the law when a person pretending to be a 13 year old impregnated by a 31 year old man, was counseled to go to an Illinois where parental consent for abortion is not needed and not tell them the age of the man involved.

While I am all for the investigation, this falls into the catoregory of things I do not understand. Steve Carter told Secretary of State he had no authority to investigate voter registration fraud. He told Lafayette housewife and grandmother Diana Vice that his office had no authority to investigate whether Tremco was violating state bidding laws. His office has chosen not to investigate mortgage fraud and other white collar crime, again on the grounds that the Attorney General's Office did not have the legal authority. As with medical licensing issues involved in the Planned Parenthood matter, the Attorney General regulates appraisers, who are key players in mortgage fraud schemes.

Let's be perfectly clear about the what power the Attorney General has and does not have. The Attorney General does not have the power to prosecute. The AG, however, certainly has the power under IC 4-6-1-6 to investigate and turn over the results of the investigation to local prosecutors, as has been suggested would be done in the Planned Parenthood case. Likewise, IC 4-6-2-1 gives the Attorney General the power to file civil actions, such as an injunction, when the AG's investigation reveals illegal activity.

I have never understood the Attorney General's reluctance to get involved in a wide assortment of issues, despite clearly having the authority to do so. County prosecutors in Indiana simply do not have the time or the expertise to investigate white collar crime. They need an active Attorney General's office helping them build cases for prosecution. Hopefully Attorney General-elect Greg Zoeller will make that much-needed change when he takes office on January 1st.

See also:

"Attorney General Targets Unsolicited Faxes; But What About Mortgage Fraud and Other White Collar Crime?" (12/14/2008)

"Yes, the Indiana Attorney General certainly does have the legal authority to investigate voter registration fraud" (October 10, 2008).

My Experience in the Marion County GOP Organization; The Need for Change

Having worked in the Marion County Republican organization since 1986, I know how the leadership of the organization has historically operated. Republicans who were creative, outspoken, who had a message that could appeal beyond status quo Republicans, were not allowed to rise to the top. Instead the organization has almost always promoted people to elected office who could be controlled.

I for years paid my dues in the Marion County GOP thinking that was the ticket for getting an opportunity. I knocked on thousands of doors in Pike and during the 1990s probably registered more people to vote in that township than anyone. Because of my hard work, in 1994,I thought I had the inside track for the open seat state legislative seat on the northwest side being vacated by Joyce Brinkman, who had been elected State Treasurer. Instead I learned all about how slating works when I lost to Candy Morris, now Candy Marendt. I thought I was better qualified and had done more work for the party. But Candy had been around longer than me so I thought it was best to be patient.

By 1998, Candy had gone down to defeat. The demographics had changed substantially and by 2000 it was difficult for Republicans to find a candidate. I took on the task and got slated, only to find myself faced by Joyce Brinkman's son in the primary. The Brinkman name had a strong and positive association with the district and many thought I would go down to defeat. We worked hard though and scored an impressive victory in the 2000 GOP primary.

Due to the changing demographics, Republicans had written off the district for the general election. We worked our tails off though and during the campaign the enthusiasm caught fire. Republican polling in the district showed I was even with the incumbent Democrat Jeb Bardon, and suddenly my race became targeted. Personally I knew the polling was off. African-American voters, which had come to dominate the district, were polling very independent, when I knew they would probably vote Democrat in the upcoming presidential election. Sure enough, in 2000 my district got swamped by people voting against George Bush and I went down to defeat.

But the important thing, or so I thought, was that I had impressed the Marion County Republican organization with the race I had run. Shortly after the election, I was approached by two Republican legislators who said they were impressed by my campaign and asked to run for Marion County Clerk in 2002. Since I greatly enjoy administration and I knew there were a lot of challenging tasks with that office, I decided to do it.

Over the course of the next year and a half, I attended virtually every Republican meeting in the county and believe me, there are a lot of them. I was warmly received by virtually everyone in the organization, everyone that is but the leadership. In those days it was the triumvirate, John Keeler-Jack Cottey-Tom Schneider controlling the party organization. Up until a few months before slating, I was the only candidate for Marion County Clerk. Then I was told by party leadership that they would not support me because I was too "independent" and could not be "controlled." Yep, those are exactly the words that were used. Another candidate, Doris Anne Sadler, soon thereafter joined the Republican county circuit. Needless to say, with the support of the party leadership, she won slating and went on to serve one term as Clerk.

All along, I thought this was about being patient, paying my dues, and proving my mettle as a candidate which I had done in 2000. But in 2002, the Marion County GOP leadership picked a younger, less qualified candidate, who had not put nearly the time in at the grass roots level as me and who had never run before, someone who apparently the party leadership believed they could "control."

The year 2002 marked the end of Republican domination of Marion County. By 2008, the landscape in Marion County had changed dramatically. This most recent election saw the county GOP baseline races drop to 40%. Yet the majority party mindset continues within the leadership of the Marion County GOP. Leadership still promotes Republican candidates they think they can "control" after the election rather than focus in on whether those candidates can actually run a strong election and might have some appeal to independents and Democrats.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of the 2007 election was to give Marion County Republicans the false sense of security that they do not have to change the way they have historically recruited candidates in Marion County, and that all is well. Rather party leadership needs to be out recruiting people who are strong candidates and who have some independent appeal. Demanding that candidates pledge to support party leadership positions 100% of the time does not do any good if those candidates do not get elected because they only appeal to the Republican base vote, if that.

The next year will bring a new election for Marion County Chairman. Since those elections were dramatically changed in the middle 1980s (a story in and of itself), those elections no longer represent democracy at the grass roots level. Rather, county chairmen are in a position where they can pretty much pick many if not most of the party workers voting at the convention. Even though the re-election of Marion County Republican Chairman Tom John will almost inevitably happen, I hope a message will be sent to him that the status quo is not sufficient. Republicans need to be leading the way for reform of how this City does business rather than ratifying the sins of the past. To fail to latch on to that reform message, is to assure failure for the Marion County GOP for many elections to come.

How to Build A Carmel Park? First Thing You Need to Do Is Get Rid of the Trees!

Well, those great minds are at it again up in Carmel. A friend of mine, Ken, who lives in the area saw the City bulldozing a heavily wooded lot of off of Hazel Dell Parkway and joked that they were tearing down trees to build a park. Sure enough that is exactly what they were doing in their construction of Founders Park. Once they had those unsightly trees out of the way, they paved the area and planted grass.

The City of Carmel reports on their own website that, according to a study by the Indiana Department of Transportation, less than 10% of Hamilton County remain as woodlands and "very few original woodland areas survive in Carmel." Gee, I wonder why?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dear Mayor: "If You Want a Friend in Politics, Get a Dog."

During the course of my interview with the Star for the article , "When Ballard Won, So Did Law Firm," I was asked the "so what" question. The question was "so what" if one law firm, in this case, Barnes & Thornburg, dominates the current City administration.? What is the danger in that?

Well, the answer I gave did not make the cut, understandably given the amount of detail the reporter had on the subject. The answer is that having one law firm essentially come in and take over an administration, as Barnes & Thornburg partners Bob Grand and Joe Loftus have done with Mayor Ballard's administration, is to compromise the independence the Mayor needs in his decision-making. The Mayor needs to know that the advice he is receiving is impartial and objective, and not tainted by consideration private attorneys give to promoting their client's interests. Grand and Loftus have positioned themselves in the administration not just to get their law firm legal fees, but more importantly to control the fountain of government contracts that emanate from the 25th Floor.

Would Grand and Loftus make decisions to promote the interests of their firm's clients at the expense of the Mayor's political future? Well, Exhibit A is the Venture Real Estate John Bales no-bid contract that, in return for Bales advising to the Mayor on which city properties to sell, will give Bales, a client of Barnes & Thornburg, the exclusive right to commissions from those sales. To combine the consulting and marketing functions in such a plan is abysmal public policy. But the most important thing is that the move is a political disaster for the Mayor. The Democrats will, rightfully, wrap that issue around the Mayor's neck the next election. They had a choice on the 25th Floor to do something for a client of Barnes & Thornburg or to protect the political future of the Mayor. The client's interests won out and we Republicans are going to pay dearly for that choice.

Bob Grand would like for people to believe he had nothing to do with that contract, which since he is Bales' attorney and a top adviser to the Mayor, requires a suspension of common sense. The article, after all, points out though that Grand and Loftus sit in on weekly staff meetings. Why would Loftus, a lobbyist, and Grand, who supposedly is only an unpaid, unofficial adviser to the Mayor, be sitting in on the Mayor's meetings with his key personnel? Their presence inhibits the development and implementation of good, objective policy. When a private lawyer sits in on a meeting like that, the clients that lawyer represent in private practice are also sitting at the table. Mayor Ballard needs to kick Grand and Loftus, whose law firm has numerous clients with interests before the Mayor, out of these weekly staff meetings. While there are occasions for outside counsel or a lobbyist to attend a meeting, it is certainly not weekly meetings the Mayor has with his staff.

Mayor Ballard seems to believe that Grand and Loftus are only helping him out of the kindness of their heart and because they want to do what is in the best interests of the people of Indianapolis. The Mayor needs to be more politically savvy than that. The Mayor has been befriended because he is in an enormously powerful position and can do favors for lots of people. To paraphrase President Harry Truman, "Mayor if you want a friend in politics, get a dog." The fact the Mayor has fallen prey to this elementary political mistake speaks volumes about the need for this politically-inexperienced mayor to have a strong political adviser, one who comes unencumbered by outside interests, and who will tell him what is in his best interests, even when that advice runs counter to the Barnes & Thornburg partners.

Where did the Mayor lose his way? One only has to look at the transition. Bob Grand went in and seized power immediately. People who were part of Ballard's campaign and had been asked to be part of the transition, were pushed aside by Grand who did not return their phone calls or tell them when the transition team was meeting. Anyone who was independent-minded and strong-willed, and who might actually question what Grand and Loftus were doing, were not going to be part of the new administration.

As a result, the Mayor, a Marine, left many of his soldiers who had fought so valiantly for him on the battlefield. When a Marine goes on a mission, it is with the knowledge that the Marine won't be left behind. There is still time for the Mayor to live up to that Marine philosophy. Those men and women who helped him get elected are still out there on the field of battle, waiting for the Mayor to come back and get them. Let's hope he does so soon.

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.

Indiana's Version of Pay to Play: Barnes & Thornburg Wins Large City Legal Contracts

Today's Indianapolis Star contains a front-page, above-the-fold article entitled "When Ballard Won So Did Law Firm" which details how Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg, not only have received substantial legal contracts from the Mayor, but how the law firm has basically taken over the Mayor's Office. One of the revelations is that Bob Grand or Joe Loftus, both partners at Barnes & Thornburg, sit in on Ballard's weekly meetings with key staff. This column though will focus on the subject of legal fees.

Certainly the contracts received for legal services by Barnes & Thornburg are substantial. Although the Mayor claims cost cutting on the issue of legal fees, it should be noted that neither City Legal nor Barnes & Thornburg have exactly been open and up front about what legal work has been dispensed to Barnes & Thornburg. As one example, initially City Legal claimed that the discrimination legal work for the Coroner that had been directed to Barnes & Thornburg during Mayor Peterson's administration. It simply was not true. In April of 2008, City Legal demanded the cases back from Lee & Cossell, a small law firm in town, and immediately farmed them out to Barnes & Thornburg. The federal court docket show a series of Appearances and Withdrawals that document the transfer of the cases to Barnes & Thornburg attorneys. Additionally, the attorneys involved confirm that it was April of 2008 the cases were transferred, not during the Peterson administration.

This is but one example of the attempt to mislead. The fact is I have repeatedly heard things I knew were inaccurate or misleading. Now we are asked to believe them that Barnes & Thornburg is actually saving the City on legal fees? Sorry but I want full, honest disclosure before I'm going to believe that. And that disclosure needs to include billing records. For too long firms have been allowed to fleece the city for legal services, not just in the hourly rate they charge, but also in the amount of hours they charge for particular tasks.

Part of the article indicated that these huge legal contracts are standard practice for big law firms. (I would certainly disagree that it is standard practice for a law firm to basically walk in and take over an administration, which is the much bigger problem for Mayor Ballard and the subject of another column.) My response is, "So What?" Since when does two wrongs make a right? Why should we Republicans look the other way when fleecing of taxpayers by a law firm is done during a Republican mayoral administration? If another law firm can provide those services more cheaply and with as good or better legal representation (which I assure you is the case), then those cases should go to those law firms.

The suggestion that these big law firms are merely encouraging "civic involvement" is so much nonsense. Here is the truth. What these law firms is doing is taking a portion of the taxpayer money they receive from the City on bloated legal billings and kicking back that money to politicians so they can continue to receive contracts from the politicians. So much for "civic involvement."

What I find most upsetting is Marion County Republican Chairman Tom John's comment condoning the long-standing practice of big law firms receiving large contracts for legal services in return for polticial contributions. With all due respect to Tom John, he needs to look at the 2008 election results for the Marion County offices. If Indianapolis Republicans are going to have any chance of succeeding in 2010, the municipal election of 2011, and beyond, the GOP needs to be the party of reform and good government, not a party that simply endorses the status quo and certainly not the party that puts big law firms ahead of the best interests of the taxpayers. If that is the road we continue on, Republicans have no chance of holding on to the Mayor's Office or control of the City County Council.

"Pay to Play" is not just wrong in Illinois. It is also wrong in Indiana.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mayor Ballard Backs Registration for Indianapolis Gun Owners

I kept hearing from my conservative friends that Mayor Ballard had spoken favor of a gun registration law in Indianapolis. I thought it was just an Internet rumor that had gotten out of hand. But I was wrong. On Wednesday, Channel 8 reported the exchange with the Mayor, where while talking off the cuff, he suggested that Indianapolis might consider adopting a gun registration ordinance similar to New York City.

The Republican power structure has never been particularly supportive of gun rights. I remember walking into Prosecutor's Scott Newman's office and seeing framed posters provided by anti-gun rights groups. I have also heard from conservative friends, but do not personally know, that Prosecutor Brizzi shares his predecessor's views on guns.

Mayor Ballard's proposal is supposedly an attempt to get a handle on violent crime. Those types of gun restrictions never make a dent in crime, however. People who are wanting to rob a bank are not deterred from committing that crime because having a gun is illegal. The only people who are deterred from such gun measures are those law-abiding gun owners who have done nothing wrong. Apparently after a deluge of phone calls, Mayor Ballard has backed off the suggestion and is now just advocating tougher measures to get the guns out of the hands of felons.

That's funny. My client is not a felon. The police searched his house by mistake and took his guns. Now the City of Indianapolis won't return his guns unless he agrees to fill out a form and be fingerprinted, which fingerprints then go into a national database. The man did nothing wrong, yet now the City wants to impose additional requirements on him for possessing a gun in his own house. So much for Mayor Ballard's claim he is only against felons having guns.

An addendum: I will be a panelist on the radio show "Indiana View" today at 1 p.m. talking about the Mayor's gun proposal. It is 1430 AM on the radio dial. You can also listen to it over the internet by going to and clicking the link.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Need for Intellectual Honesty; The Unfair Knock Against Charter Schools

Recent reports have suggested that Indiana charter schools are failing to exceed regular public schools in performance or in some cases falling short..Those reports then proceed to use data that supposedly support the claim.

Russ Simnick, President of the Indiana Public Charter School Association, blows aways many of those statistics and the assumptions in a letter to the editor in today's Indianapolis Star. I would encourage people to read the editorial.

What I find disturbing is that this is another area where people are willing to distort statistics to support an agenda in favor of, in this case, the status quo in education. While that is understandable when you are talking about politicians, many of these people distorting the statistics are professional educators who should be held to a higher standard when it comes to intellectual honesty.

Unfortunately a lack of intellectual honesty is not limited to the field of education. You also see it in the field of science, where political correctness, peer pressure and often the allure of grant money silences contrary views and a real debate when it comes to the issue of global warming.

These are disturbing anti-intellectual trends. A fair debate and honest use of statistics are essential to adopting good public policies. When those statistics intentionally get distorted to promote a particular agenda, especially when done so by academics and scientists who the public has historically believed provide objective, unbiased analysis, we all suffer the consequences of the adoption of bad public policy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Join the Horsesh** Club and Help the Indianapolis Colts Make it Through the Recession!

The Indianapolis Colts announced they have started the "Horseshoe Club." According to the Colts, these are the "exclusive opportunities and experiences" that you receive in return for a 3 year membership, starting with the 2009-2010 season:

Gold Membership
Pre-game field visit
VIP pre-game tailgate party
Private practice viewing
Name on Colts Video Boards
Club Lounge passes
Kick-off Luncheon invitation
PRICE: $2,500

Silver Membership
Pre-game field visit
VIP pre-game tailgate party
Private practice viewing
Name on Colts Video Boards
PRICE: $2,000

Bronze Membership
Pre-game field visit
VIP pre-game tailgate party
Name on Colts Video Boards
PRICE: $1,500

Of course, tickets are not included.

You have to hand it to Jim Irsay and the Colts organization. They are always looking for ways to make enjoying the Colts more affordable for middle class Americans, especially during hard economic times like these.

You know, now that I think about it, the Horseshoe Club is awfully close to the Horsesh** Club.

Tuesday Trivia on Thursday

So it is only my second installment of Tuesday Trivia, and it already slipped my mind until today, Thursday. So better late than never here goes Tuesday's belated trivia, which focuses on little known facts about Indiana counties.

1. What is the largest county in Indiana in terms of square miles?

a. Madison
b. Marion
c. Allen
d. Vanderburg

2. What of the following is the smallest county in Indiana in terms of square miles?

a. Ohio
b. Delaware
c. Switzerland
d. Fayette

3. Which county contains the geographic center of Indiana?

a. Marion
b. Hamilton
c. Boone
d. Hendricks

4. How many Indiana counties bear the same name as an American President?

a. 7
b. 8
c. 9
d. 10

5. In which Indiana county did Lincoln live while growing up?

a. Harrison
b. Perry
c. Pike
d. Spencer

Again, no fair googling.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Electoral College: Let's Get the History Right

The Electoral College was back in the news the other day. Eleven electors, pledged to Barack Obama, recently appeared in the capitol city and cast all eleven votes for Obama.

I hear a lot of comments about the Electoral College and why it was set up by our Founding Fathers. Many of the remarks discussing the historical reasons miss the mark. Some proponents of the Electoral College assert proudly it is working exactly as the Founders intended. Actually that's far from true. Alexander Hamilton wrote Federalist Paper No. 68 explaining why the delegates to the convention adopted the Electoral College:
"It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

"It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place."
Hamilton continues on with my favorite part of Federalist Paper #68:

"The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue."
I think after nearly 220 years of Presidential history we can conclude that Hamilton's assurance the the EC would result in the Presidency being filled by people with "ability and virtue" turned out not be well off the mark.

As Hamilton illustrates, the Electoral College was established by our Founding Fathers quite simply because they did not believe the average person was wise enough to make a decision about who should be President. They expected the electors to be an enlightened body of men (sorry, no women then) who would make a detached, wise decision on who would be President. They expected them to deliberate on who would be the best President, certainly not just ratify the popular vote in that particular state. Further, the Founders expected that elections would often be thrown into the House of Representatives (another body the Founders called "enlightened") because no Presidential candidate had a majority of the electoral votes. They did not envision the development of the two party system which has almost always assured that the winning presidential candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes.

The Electoral College has had a lot of unintended positive effects, not the least of which is that it forces the Presidential candidates to campaign in less-populated states they might otherwise ignore. Another positive effect in my opinion is that should a recount happen, it would be isolated to a state or two instead of the recount be subject to every precinct in the United States.

I could probably think of several more good reasons for the Electoral College. But to say it is operating exactly as the Founders intended, well that could not be further from the truth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ethics Reform and Government Contractors; Let's Not Leave Out the Law Firms

Today's Indianapolis Star features an editorial by Jason Barclay, an attorney for Barnes & Thornburg, applauding the ethics agenda of Governor Daniels. Certainly Governor Daniels ethics reforms are a move in the right direction, though I would question whether the particular Inspector General he appointed has sometimes allowed partisan considerations to interfere in an honest, even-handed approach to enforcing the Ethics Code.

Having said that, I can't help but note the irony of an attorney from a large Indianapolis law firm that makes millions off of providing legal services to the City of Indianapolis among other government entities talking about the need to isolate decision-makers from the contractors soliciting business from government. Large law firms have a history of making contributions to candidates then walking away with large contracts for legal services after the grateful candidate proves to be successful in the election. Then the taxpayer money received for the legal services, are kicked back to the elected official in the form of more contributions.

While all the large firms do it to some degree in Indianapolis, no firm does it more than Barclay's very own Barnes & Thornburg. The conflicts of interest and lack of independence resulting in the domination of Barnes & Thornburg on the current city administration, from top to bottom, is disturbing. It is the albatross around the neck of Mayor Greg Ballard that will not only doom his re-election chances, but will assure that the Democrats control the council for years to come. No one is going to pay a bigger price than Marion County Republicans who want to win in 2011 and beyond.

I take Mr. Barclay at his word though and invite him to join me in reforming how law firms doing City of Indianapolis does business. Quoting from my column "Fleecing of Taxpayers by Big Law Firms," I make suggested reforms in how law firms do business:
"[A] reform agenda should include the support of a requirement by the Mayor and the Council that any law firm contracting with the city or county official have their contracts put on-line for review. Further, the actual bills submitted by the law firms need to be made public and scrutinized by an outside body, not just elected officials beholden to the law firm which is kicking back money to the politicians...."
Taxpayers have far too long been fleeced by the outrageous legal bills submitted by local law firms, who are not coincidentally big contributors to the elected officials with whom they are contracting.

In addition, while we are on the subject of legal ethics, I would also like to invite Barclay to support another reform, the inclusion of an anti-SLAPP provision in privatization contracts, which provision would penalize those government contractors who hire big law firms to aggressively target private individuals who dare to speak out about whether those contractors are complying with their contracts and the law. No one doing business with the State should be permitted to go after a private citizen in such a fashion. My proposal on the anti-SLAPP legislation can be found here. Law firms with an opportunity to take such a case, need to learn to say "No." There ae some things people, and law firms, should not do no matter how much money is placed on the table.

Those are real reforms that will make a real difference in how contractors interact with government. Let's hope Jason Barclay is sincere in his efforts for real ethics reform and will support the proposals.

Back to the Future; Why the Success of the Republican Party Rests on Reviving the Legacy of Teddy Roosevelt

The 20th Century produced two great Republican presidents who transformed the nation: Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and Teddy Roosevelt who was president during the first several years of the 20th Century. Reagan is someone I admired greatly. He was the first President I voted for and his vision of limited government inspired me to throw off the Democratic leanings of my parents to become a conservative Republican in my college years.

As the years pass, Republicans continue to hope that another Ronald Reagan is just around the corner. I have wished for the same thing, only to be sorely disappointed by every Republican presidential candidate who has run since Reagan. In the aftermath of the disastrous 2008 elections, Republicans are busy re-evaluating the party and what needs to be done to turn things around. Several Republicans have suggested that the GOP needs to return to the principles for which Reagan stood.

I think those who argue a return to Reagan-type politics are correct that President George Bush II's policies have strayed far from those limited government principles advocated by Reagan. What they are not right about is their argument that Reagan conservatism would sell in the early 21st Century or is what is needed at this point in history. Historians will tell you that great Presidents are those who provide the country exactly what it needs in a particular point in our nation's history. The calm presence of Washington was perfect for the country's early days. Lincoln's strong leadership was what the country needed in the Civil War. FDR's optimism was critical to the nation surviving the worst depression in our nation's history.

As much as President Reagan was the perfect President for the 1980s, Republicans would be wise to turn the pages of history back further to another great Republican President of the 20th Century, Teddy Roosevelt, as an example of what is needed today. TR was a man who fought tirelessly against entrenched business interests which then controlled the nation's economy in the form of trusts and other monopolies. He was a crusader against government corruption and took it on even when doing so stepped on the toes of fellow Republicans. TR did not get ahead bowing to the interests of party bosses and big money. He succeeded by pursuing reforms which, while not popular with powerful interests of the time, were enormously popular with the people. TR is the populist, reform-minded candidate model that Republicans should look for as they seek to find a winning formula.

While the challenges of today are slightly different than in TR's time, they demonstrate the need for a Teddy Roosevelt. In TR's day the issue was whether government should intervene to correct the concentration of wealth in a few large companies that dominated the economy. Today's challenge is that government has grown much larger than in Teddy's day and has become a tool to funnel taxpayer money to large powerful business interests that often kick back some of that money in the form of campaign contribution and other "benefits" to the government officials making the decisions on where the taxpayer money goes. Corporate welfare, as it is known, has grown to dominate much of government policies. Indianapolis is a perfect example of a community where policy development has become dominated by wealthy business interests and the taxpayers' interests are secondary at best. Private-public partnerships and privatization (which is a good idea horribly managed in practice) has become a tool to channel our tax dollars to big companies.

When government gets involved picking winners and losers, rewarded by our tax dollars, we have the makings of an inefficient economic system and a government that is ripe for corruption. We see an example of what happened in Illinois with the scandal surrounding Governor Rod Blagojevich and his pay-to-play schemes. What I find disheartening though is how people assume what the Illinois Governor did is that much different from what is going on in states and cities across the United States. Pay-to-play politics is the norm. The only difference between what Governor Blagojevich did and what is going on elsewhere is that Governor Blagojevich brazenly made transparent what everyone else in politics is smart enough to not mention out loud - that there is a quid pro quo when there is taxpayer money handed out to private business interests. Politicians expect something in return for the taxpayer dollars they send to big companies. Make no mistake about it.

If Teddy were around today he would have railed against the corruptive influence corporate welfare has has on government policy and how it has damaged free market competition so essential to the success of our capitalistic system. TR would have stood squarely for good government reforms that both parties thus far fiercely resisted. If the Republican Party wants a model for how to succeed in today's political environment, they might turn back the pages of history and study that other great Republican President of the 20th Century, Teddy Roosevelt.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Did Sheriff Anderson Mislead the Council Into Giving Private Jail Company Nearly a Quarter of Million Dollars It Was Not Entitled To Receive?

This weekend, I watched the video of the Public Safety Committee Meeting of the Indianapolis City County Council which took place on November 19, 2008. During the meeting, I ran across what turned out to be a very interesting proposal:

PROPOSAL NO. 558, 2008 - approves a transfer of $223,683 in the 2008 Budget of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department (County General and County Misdemeanant Funds) to pay for inmate meals and other contractual costs relating to jail facilities
In presenting the proposal, Doug King, CFO of the Marion County Sheriff's Office, explained that Proposal No. 558 was actually a request by the Sheriff to transfer money from one account to another so that nearly a quarter of a million dollars could be paid out to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for contractual obligations related to the running of Jail #2. However, neither the summary (above) of Proposal No. 558 or the full proposal mentions CCA or Jail #2.

I can only surmise that this omission was deliberate so as to not tip off the public and people, like myself, who had actually read the CCA-Sheriff Contract to run Jail #2 and would have contradicted the claim.

Proposal No. 558 was sponsored by Councilors Ryan Vaughn and Dane Mahern. In Councilor Vaughn's defense (though you have to wonder why he sponsored it to begin with), when he learned that it involved CCA, he immediately, and rightfully, recused himself because his law firm, Barnes & Thornburg, represents CCA in the numerous pending lawsuiits against the company for its operation of Jail #2.

According to King, the specific reason the money was needed was so the Sheriff could, pursuant to his contract with CCA, pay the private company for an inflation adjustment CCA had decided to take and for inmate meals at the privately-run Jail #2 facility. The total bill for taxpayers: $223,683.

The problem is that the Sheriff-CCA contract to operate Marion County Jail #2, which I have read and re-read, does not say that at all. It is CCA (the "Contractor"), not the Sheriff, i.e. the taxpayers, which is responsible for providing meals at Jail #2 under the contract. That is part of the per diem paid by the county to CCA for each inmate. Although King, in response to a question, agreed with the suggestion that the Sheriff has a contract to provide the meals at the facility, in fact CCA contracts with Aramark to provide meals at Jail #2. See excerpted pages 3 and 4 below which discuss CCA's responsibility to provide meals to Jail #2 inmates.

As far as the inflation adjustment in the contract, that happens under the contract automatically on January 1st of the year. The adjustment is that the per diem for inmates at the facility, which is paid every month, gets increased by 3% or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher, again on January 1st. King talks about the CPI provision as if it were some "option" CCA has now, late in the year, chosen to exercise, which supposedly results in the Sheriff owing CCA a large lump sum of money. That makes no sense and is simply not in the contract. Again look at the pages of the contract I have posted below. The second page below (the third page of the contract) contains the only provision relating to a CPI or inflation adjustment in the contract. The provision CCA supposedly chose to exercise resulting in a large lump sum payment by the Sheriff is simply nowhere to be found in the contract.

During the November 19, 2008 Public Safety Committee meeting, one counselor asked some good questions but he did not go far enough. Unfortunately, many of the councilors on the Committee apparently do not know the exact nature of the contractual relationship between CCA and the Sheriff. I doubt anyone on the council has ever read the contract. The councilors simply took the Sheriff's word, delivered through Mr. King, that the Sheriff had contractual obligations that required the Council to allow the Sheriff to pay CCA $223,683 out of his budget. That simply is not correct.

At the December 9, 2008 Council Meeting, Proposal 558 passed 25-0. Nobody asked the questions that should have been asked, namely that someone point to the section of the contract that obligated the payment of more of our tax dollars to CCA.

The council should demand to be told the truth. Who in fact is receiving the $223,683 that the council just approved the Sheriff to pay to CCA? What is the money being used for? Is some of that $223,683 of taxpayer money actually going to end up in the pockets of CCA's attorneys? (According to the contract, CCA is supposed to be reimbursing the Sheriff for legal expenses when CCA and the Sheriff gets sued over Jail #2, not the other way around.) Why is CCA getting paid above what is supposed to be paid under the contract? Have there been other payments to CCA out there not authorized by the contract that have yet to be other words is this just the tip of the iceberg?

As far as Sheriff Anderson, why is he involved in helping a private company secure nearly a quarter million dollars of taxpayer money not owed to the company? Why did Sheriff Anderson's representative misrepresent to the council the "contractual obligations" he had with CCA for the operation of Jail #2? Why was there no mention of the recipient of the money and what the money was to be used for, CCA and Jail #2, in the proposal?

In light of the "pay to play" scandal involving Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Council members need to be a lot more diligent about this sort of thing. It is certainly not unheard of for private companies with contracts to kick back money, stock and other perks to the person responsible for obtaining and/or overseeing a privatization contract. Not saying that is happening here. But there were already serious questions why Sheriff Anderson is completely AWOL when it comes to monitoring CCA's compliance with the contract to operate Jail #2. (The Sheriff has not even bothered to do an audit of the facility for the last 3 years and, in 2007, signed a new 10 year lease for CCA to run Jail #2 despite several deaths at the facility the previous year.) Now he appears to have intentionally misled the Council so that he could pay nearly a quarter million dollars from his budget to the private jail company, money that was not even owed.

Below are pages from the contract discussing the key provisions. You can click on the pages to make them larger. The entire contract can be found here.