Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's Failed Leadership

This morning's Indianapolis Star brings with it an op-ed piece by Tom John, Chairman of the Marion County Republican Party. In the piece, Tom John points in detail that Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard inherited significant problems from former Mayor Bart Peterson and that he has exercised strong leadership in trying to clean up those messes.

Well John has it half right.

Mayor Ballard absolutely did inherit problems from former Mayor Bart Peterson. The left over problems from the Peterson administration include the Capital Improvement Board and water company messes. John rightfully accounts for them. Then his piece falls apart when he claims that Mayor Ballard has risen to those challenges.

I have been involved in some of those left over Peterson issues. First came a situation last year when we noticed that the CIB was giving away public property in the RCA Dome to a private company, the Indiana Sports Corporation. We filed a lawsuit on the matter. Although the CIB never even bothered to put that decision in writing when it was made and it was undoubtedly done during Mayor Peterson's administration, Mayor Ballard fell on the sword for Mayor Peterson and then CIB President Fred Glass, defending the deal.

Next we learned that during the final week or two of Mayor Peterson's administration, after Mayor Peterson had lost re-election, a resolution was sneaked into a pile of resolutions considered by the Metropolitan Development Commission. The resolution changed a 22 year old agreement between the City and the Indiana Sports Corporation. The effect of the change, which is at best of dubious legality, was that it allowed the ISC to sell the property without paying the City a $6 million payment for early abandonment of the Pan Am plaza.

What has been Mayor Ballard's response to these last minute shenanigans regarding Pan Am? He has steadfastly defended the alteration of the 22 year old agreement to the point where he is using taxpayer funds to fight taxpayers who are seeking to recover the $6 million for the city that the ISC walked away with.

Mayor Ballard inherited one of the most restrictive gun return policies in the Midwest, and which is of questionable constitutionality. What was Mayor Ballard's response when it was challenged? Not only has he defended it, he has also suggested that Indy gun owners should have to undergo registration. Someone should tell Mayor Ballard that taking on gun owners is not a good move for a Republican.

Then you have the situation with the CIB. The CIB is in a deep financial hole because of the sweetheart deals negotiated with the Pacers and even more so with the Colts. Although we have or will be left with the cost of maintaining and operating Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, we have given away to the Pacers and Colts almost all the revenue associated with the buildings.

What has been Mayor Ballard's response? Has he used the occasion to demand concessions from the Pacers and Colts to close the gap? Absolutely not. First, Mayor Ballard accepts without question that city taxpayers should give $15 million more to the Pacers, even though as demonstrated in the analysis of the Pacers' contract by Corey Schouten of the Indianapolis Business Journal, the team has almost no leverage to force the City to pick up the $15 million in operating costs as the team would have to pay an enormous penalty for cancelling the contract.

Instead of demanding concessions from the teams, at the threat of CIB bankruptcy if necessary, Mayor Ballard proposed a whole host of tax increases, including many hospitality taxes. And what is the spin he uses? It is extremely disingenuous. He claims that the CIB bailout is not about the sports teams at all, even though demonstrably the deficit is almost entirely due to the Pacers and Colts giveaways. Mayor Ballard says it is about downtown and the convention business. He talks about 66,000 hospitality workers in the Central Indiana area. Mayor Ballard ignores study after study that says that investing in professional sports is a bad investment.

Mayor Ballard talks about dominoes falling. Apparently he has not considered that increasing hospitality taxes further, which increases will put Indianapolis at the top of the cities when it comes to such taxes, might actually hurt the convention business, tourism and those very hospitality workers he claims to be trying to help. Now if you want to talk about falling dominoes, try raising taxes and see what effect it has on the city recruiting convention business.

What is to be made of the direction of Mayor Ballard's administration? On election night, Mayor Ballard talked about the end of "country club" politics in Indianapolis. That was the last we ever saw of the populist Greg Ballard. He was ushered off the stage by Republican insiders who have been deeply involved in the City's penchant for corporate welfare, which both parties have eagerly signed up to promote. Mayor Ballard, or a stunningly accurate look-alike, then reappeared after the election as the antithesis of the populist candidate Greg Ballard, zealously defending corporate welfare at every opportunity, even when doing so turns his back on the very taxpayers and activists who helped him get elected.

As a Republican, I have strong feelings about Mayor Ballard's rejection of his populist roots in favor of the country club politics which has dominated Indianapolis since the 1970s. This isn't the 1990s. There is no longer anything close to a Republican majority in the county. Mayor Ballard and party leaders like Tom John though had a golden opportunity to cement a new Republican majority in the county by embracing a more populist approach to governing and supporting good government/ethics reforms. Instead they rejected that approach, and went down the road of supporting yet more corporate welfare and raising taxes to do so. Mayor Ballard's administration, filled to the brim with appointees with enormous conflicts of interest not the least of which is President of the CIB and attorney for the Simons, Bob Grand, belies the Mayor's campaign promises of running a more ethical adminstration. My Marion County Republican Party will be paying a heavy price for years to come because of Mayor Ballard and his new-found country club friends selling out the very principles upon which the Mayor was elected.


jabberdoodle said...

I think Mr. John's letter is just the opening salvo in a campaign to divert the public's wrath from Ballard's lack of leadership followed by his support of increased taxes to the failures of the Peterson Administration.

I think they underestimate the public's capacity to hold both accountable.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I know he will be held accountable as well as the Republicans on the council. My question is though are we simply going to replace and elitist, country club Republican with an elitist, country club Democrat? Both parties are guilty of selling out the city.

jabberdoodle said...

How does the public exert its influence on any administration? I think long term the problems are structural and we need to change parts of the system whereby we choose our leaders. That's why I put up 'Had Enough Indy?' But, not everyone who wants to be Mayor or Councillor is an elitist.

I know of two Republicans who considered running for Mayor, but decided otherwise, who I think would have been oriented much more to the public's opinions and interests than Ballard is. They would have been more forthcoming with information not only to the public, but to the Council as well.

And while Ballard does not seem to care for the folks he serves, a number of the people he put in key positions respect the opinions of the public and are much more comfortable with public participation.

There are good people on the Council as well - I hate to paint with too broad a brush. BTW, party affiliation does not a good or bad Councillor make.

The truely depressing aspect of Ballard's only term is that he has killed his chances of reelection so very early in that term. But, the flip side of that coin is we, the public, have more time to look for the right person to succeed him.

If the people who care about good government give up, then all chance for good government is gone with them.

Crossed said...

Yes , but take it further. I remember is was Goldsmith and possibly Hudnut who took a pass on funding the Police Pensions and the CSO problem. Causing Peterson to raise taxes to fund them. But Goldsmith certaily spent himself in a hole with his building better neighborhoods with contracts to his friends at Oscar Robertson Smoot.

jabberdoodle said...

Maybe someone with talent could put the sins of each administration in a song. Like 'Charlie on the MTA' back in the folk-song days.

Don't forget the hole in the ground that Hudnut left Goldsmith, and the incomplete unigov Lugar left Hudnut, and the United TIF Deal Goldsmith and O'Bannon left Peterson, and the vacant grounds of the MSA that Peterson couldn't develop and left for Ballard.

Starting to look like a time-honored tradition !