Monday, November 30, 2009

The Revolving Door on the 25th Floor: Mayor's Chief of Staff Paul Okeson Takes Job With City Contractor & Political Contributor Keystone Construction

As the Indianapolis Star continues to shine a light on the legislative revolving door, the practice of sitting state legislators resigning then immediately becoming legislative lobbyists, the Star is ignoring an even worse revolving door situation in its own back yard.

It was announced last week that Mayor Greg Ballard's chief of staff, Paul Okesen, is leaving city government to begin work with Keystone Construction. Keystone is a major city contractor and a contributor to Mayor Ballard. In fact, a representative from Keystone accompanied Mayor Ballard on his latest overseas trip.

Prior to accepting the Chief of Staff position, Okeson had been manager of the Indianapolis office of Bernardin, Lochmueller and Associates, an Evansville-based planning, engineering and environmental firm that currently holds contracts with the Indianapolis Department of Public Works.

In short, Okeson went from a position with a city contractor to Ballard's Chief of Staff and is now leaving to work for another city contractor. His journey is the epitome of the executive revolving door.

For state employees, there is a one year waiting period before they can begin employment with a company doing business with the state. There is no such rule for municipal employees. Even the ethics code adopted this year by the Indianapolis City-County Council does not prohibit revolving door employment.

While the legislative branch revolving door is a problem, the executive revolving door in local government presents even more of a conflict of interest. Mayor Ballard like other Republican and Democratic mayors who proceeded him is aggressively seeking political contributions from those companies doing business or wanting to do business with the city. The relationship between those political contributions and who ultimately receives lucrative city contracts grows increasingly closer with the passage of each year. Indeed that relationship has become so close that the only apparent difference between Indianapolis insider politics and the pay-to-play politics of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich seems to be that Gov. Blagojevich was more open about what he was doing.

The fact that contractors seeking city business can curry favor with the current administration by making political contributions is bad enough. But when those political contributors can also dangle lucrative jobs in front of key administration staffers, it creates yet another opportunity for undue influence with the administration. While Paul Okeson undoubted has strong qualifications for the position he received at Keystone, there is little doubt that, where it not for his influence and contacts within the Ballard administration, he would have been just another unsuccessful job seeker.


Downtown Indy said...

Okeson is now on the board of the CIB, too. Right?

Okeson to be added to CIB

NUVO reported last year that Okeson would need to move into Marion county within 6 months to be employed as the Chief of Staff. Did that ever happen?

Okeson appointed Mayor's COS, is not resident of Indy

or could that be another reason he's left that position?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Thanks, DI. I knew he had been with a city contractor prior to becoming chief of staff but I didn't have the name of the ocmpany. The link you gave provide me with that info. I've updated the post to reflect it.

Yes, in January Okeson will be part of the CIB.