Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ballard Administration Loses Budget Vote To Eliminate Executive Director Of Telecom Agency

Indianapolis' 2010 budget includes a reduction in the budget of Indianapolis' Telecom & Video Services Agency. Specifically the Ballard administration had proposed to do away with the job held by the Executive Director of that agency, Rick Maultra, a 25 year veteran.

It was from the beginning a strange decision. The Telecom & Video agency can more than earn its keep by pursuing rights-of-way fees and franchise fees that public telecoms are paying in other cities. Councilor Joanne Sanders rightfully expressed puzzlement why Indianapolis is not pursuing these fees, which could provide millions in revenue to the city. Elimination of the Executive Director meant the chief advocate for the collection of those fees and the person most knowledgeable about telecom law and practices, would not longer be employed by the City.

It was high drama at the Administration and Finance Committee as the proposal was heard yesterday evening. Chairperson Marilyn Pfisterer made the inaccurate claim that changes in state law had simply eliminated the need for Maultra's job. When a Democratic member of the committee and Libertarian Ed Coleman asked to hear from Maultra, the person most knowledgeable about the very subject the committee was discussing and who would have quickly corrected Pfisterer's claim, she refused to let him speak. Pfisterer's actions later were likened by an observer to those of Monroe Gray when he refused to allow public comment on the COIT increase.

Pfisterer and Councilor Ryan Vaughn thought the votes were lined up and the budget, as is, which included the elimination of Maultra's job, could be summarily passed through the committee. They thought wrong. Councilor Sanders outmaneuvered them. She offered an amendment that would reinstate Maultra's job as executive director, which was quickly seconded. Republican at-large councilor Barb Malone, who had earlier in the meeting voiced concern about the elimination of Maultra's position, then crossed over to vote for the Sanders' amendment restoring Maultra's job.

A lot of people deserve credit for the vote for good government. Councilor Ed Coleman is chiefly responsible for bringing up the problems with the elimination of Maultra's position. He showed that a Libertarian, especially one on a council as closely divided as the City-County Council, can play a role in highlighting issues and putting together a winning coalition. Certainly Joanne Sanders deserves credit for thoughtful comments on the issue and proposing the amendment. Finally, all the credit in the world goes to Councilor Barb Malone who bucked her party's directive on the issue and simply voted the way she knew was right.

Regarding the latter, I know what life will be like for Malone. The powers to be like elected officials who can be "controlled." If you get out of line, they start by trying to buy your support, offering you favors if "you play ball." If that doesn't work they start threatening you. Then if that doesn't work, they go after family members, which is usually the Achilles heel for most people.

Those intimidation practices for elected officials displaying any sort of independence need to be laid to rest. The merits of proposals should prevail on their merits, nothing more nothing less. The elimination of the Executive Director position was at best wrongheaded and at worst was motivated by troubling conflicts of interest within the Ballard administration. Either way the proposal deserved to be voted down and Maultra's job restored.


Sean Shepard said...

It's worth noting that a lot of the fees that get collected are considered compensation for communications companies adding additional wear and tear on the road and filling up public right-of-ways.

Otherwise, this burden would get spread across each and every taxpayer regardless of their use of these right-of-ways.

From that perspective, under the current system of government owned roads and right-of-ways, it makes sense that there be an advocate for ensuring that those using them pay for that use.

Coleman and Sanders did a great job working to get all of the facts and understand some of what was going on behind the scenes.

While others may look at this as a lost opportunity to downsize government, this department pays for itself and ensures at least some of the cost burden is placed on those entities that use up resources not just the public at large.

jabberdoodle said...

Kudos to Malone, Sanders, and Coleman. Its nice to see folks of each party willing to do the right thing - and not play behind closed doors politics that do nothing to benefit the public at large. We need much much more of this.