Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Marion County GOP: The Battle Brewing Over the Populist Future of the Party

It is apparent from the past year that there is a growing tension behind the scenes over the direction of the Marion County Republican Party, a tension that has spilled into the public arena on blogs and a few stories in the Indianapolis Star. It is important to understand what that tension is about, and what the two camps represent. It is not as some have wrongly labeled it, a struggle between conservative and more moderate Republicans, who, in fact, are in both camps. Rather the stand-off is a classic struggle between an elitist brand of Republicanism and one that embraces a more populist approach.

Elitism is defined by as a belief that that society should be governed by an elite class of individuals. An elitist believes that a select group of people at the top should make the decisions regarding the direction of the city, and public opinion is a secondary consideration at best. An elitist is not so much concerned about liberal or conservative political philosophy, but rather is instead interested in using the tools of government to benefit the elite class (which benefits they believe trickle down to the common man and woman.) An elitist doesn't believe the average voter has the intelligence to make good decisions. Elitists are not concerned about taxpayer outrage over the CIB's sweetheart deal with the Colts and the decision to give the Pacers more money. They believe they know what is best.

Populism on the other hand is the political philosophy that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite. These are the people who were behind the taxpayer revolts over higher property and local income taxes in 2007. They are the ones expressing displeasure with the Colts' sweetheart deal and the CIB plans to give more money to the Pacers. They believe in more open and transparent government than elites who prefer their decisions made behind closed doors, outside of public view. Populists are very much against corporate welfare schemes that often take the form of public-private "partnerships."

For those of you history buffs, quite simply Alexander Hamilton was the classic elitist, while Thomas Jefferson was the quintessential populist.

A populist Republican approach is far better at getting independent and Democrat votes than one based on elitism. But in the aftermath of Uni-Gov, Republicans were blessed with a large majority in Marion County that would give the GOP control of the Mayor's office and majority-control of the City-County Council. Republicans dominated and there was no need for the party to move in a more populist direction. Elitist Republicans (sometimes called "country club Republicans") dominated the era. That elitist Republican era began to fall in 1999 with Democrat Bart Peterson's election as Mayor in 1999 and was culminated in Republicans losing control of the council in 2003.

In 2007, Greg Ballard, running as a populist Republican and aided by enormous Democrat missteps that year, won the election for Mayor of Indianapolis. Republicans also won a majority on the council. But while it was populists (including some very dedicated Democrats and Libertarians) who did the grunt work to elect the Mayor, it was elitist Republicans who quickly maneuvered to win the transition. With Ballard being a political novice and naive about his new-found friends, he was an easy target for influence. Those advisers have put Mayor Ballard on a traditional elitist governing path, far from the populist approach that resulted in his election.

It is a course of action that, while good for the entrenched business interests that have for decades been eating at a trough filled with taxpayer money, gives the Mayor no chance of putting together a majority coalition to win re-election in 2011. (In fact no Republican has won the Mayor's office running on a non-populist since 1995.) With the fall of Mayor Ballard, so too goes the Republican majority on the City-County Council. An even worst case scenario is that a lack of control within the Mayor's Office leads to "pay to play" schemes that leave an indelible stain of scandal on Marion County Republicans for years to come.

That is what the upcoming battle is about.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Escape from New Castle; Failures of Correctional Privatization Mount

Another success of correctional privatization:

Guard Charged with Aiding Prison Escape

That was sarcasm. The GEO Group is a private corrections company that runs the prison at New Castle.

Here locally Marion County Jail #2 is run by Corrections Corporation of America. Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson, which contracts with CCA to run the facility, has been notified of safety problems at the facility: radios not working, TV monitors and cameras not working, razor blades left in open waste baskets where they are fished out and made into weapons, nurses required to escort inmates throughout the facility and to go see inmates in their without security. Even though it is a hostage situation made to order, Sheriff Anderson, refuses to even look at the situation much less order changes.

Sheriff Anderson has not audited Jail #2 since at least 2005 and gave CCA a new ten year contract in 2007 even though several inmates died at the facility in 2006. In late 2008, Sheriff Anderson convinced the City-County Council to allow him to pay CCA nearly a quarter of a million dollars for inmate meals at Jail #2 and for an inflation adjustment CCA chose to take on the contract. Only throuble is that, per the CCA-Sheriff contract, inmate meals are, in fact, paid by CCA, not the Sheriff, and the inflation adjustment is automatic at the start of the year.

I requested that CCA produce legal invoices to see if that taxpayer money from the Sheriff was, contrary to the representation made to the City-County Council, being diverted to pay for the legal fees of CCA. (CCA has had 13 lawsuits filed against it for its operation of Jail #2 since 2005.) Even though the public access counselor has several times ruled that these legal invoices to companies with privatization contracts are open records, CCA refuses to provide them. Ironically, the Sheriff-CCA contract has an indemnity provision which requires CCA to pay the Sheriff's legal fees and judgments should they get pulled into lawsuits because of CCA's actions or negligence. Yet taxpayer money appears to be going into the other direction...landing in the pockets of a private company and/or its law firm.

If government is unwilling to monitor private companies providing a public service pursuant to a contract, the whole idea of privatization is doomed to failure.

See also: Did Sheriff Anderson Mislead the Council into Giving Private Jail Company Nearly a Quarter of a Million Dollars It Was Not Entitled to Receive (12/15/2008)

Ogden Truth Squad

This is so cool. You know you've arrived and are making a difference when someone starts an anti-website to specifically counter what you're saying. Wow, the truth must be hurting.

Thanks Mary Jo!

P.S. Couldn't you at least though spring for $10 to buy the domain so you can get rid of "blogspot?"

Indianapolis' Snowplowing Problems; Is Privatization Around the Corner?

There is little I hate more than the issue of snow removal in local elections. So much of what happens, or doesn't happen, is outside the Mayor's control, yet the Mayor gets the blame when things go wrong. It is sort of like the President being blamed for the economy, when in fact he is only one of many whose decisions impact the economy.

Nonetheless, it is hard to give the City a passing grade on the latest snowfall. Everyone knew the storm was going to hit and it was not so cold that salt would not have worked to melt the snow. As a side note, whatever happened to the rubber-tipped plows they used to put directly on the surface of the road when they plowed?

At about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, six hours after the snow had stopped, I finally got out of my neighborhood to the city's streets. (I, in fact, live very close to Mayor Ballard on the northwest side of the City.) I headed down to 38th Street. I missed my exit for the interstate and continued on 38th Street for awhile long to get another exit. The road was in horrible shape, even though it is a major thoroughfare through the city. I didn't think too much about it though. I knew when I got downtown the city's streets would be clear as they always are.

Wrong. The city's streets were clogged with snow, almost as if they had never been plowed. I got stuck twice on downtown streets, trying to get to my office. When I came back the next morning, it looked like the streets still had not been touched. It was only on the afternoon of the next day that apparently salt was applied and the snow on the streets melted. It was yesterday evening, traveling home after teaching at the University of Indianapolis, that I saw my first snowplow. The truck's blades were not down however.

Being a conspiracist, let me throw out this possibility. The City, after taking substantial criticism for its snowplowing efforts during the 2008-09 snow season, decides to privatize snow removal. Potential contractors kick a bunch of money to the politicians in the hopes of getting the lucrative contract. The City awards a 10 year, exclusive contract for snow removal, generating more political contributions from the tax revenue flowing from the contractor. The following years, with a 10 year monopoly contract in hand, the private company cuts corners to make more profit. Residents complain but to no avail. After all, the private company has a long-term, exclusive contract and the politicians, wanting to keep the kickbacks, whoops, I mean "contributions," coming, do not want to take on the private company.

Okay, even I don't believe the City would privatize snow removal by giving a contractor a long-term, exclusive contract. At least I hope not.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Attack on Senator Mike Young

Another blogger this morning launches an attack ("Mike Young's Act Is Still Old") on Senator Michael R. Young, R-Indianapolis, spurned on by his amendment to exempt the Speedway and Beech Grove library systems from county-wide consolidation of services. While I generally do not agree with Senator Young on his opposition to consolidation, I believe he is just representing the strong feelings of his Speedway constituents. Isn't that his job?

What I take issue with is the attack on Senator Young's character as it relates to his opposition to Tom John becoming Marion County Republican Chairman in 2007. I have worked in Marion County politics for years, and worked with Mike Young on the Rex Early campaign in 1996. Mike is one of the few Marion County Republicans who has survived the Marion County slating gauntlet election after election without having to sell his soul to county chairman and other Marion County Republican leaders like John Keeler, Tom Schneider, Jack Cottey and now Tom John. And that ticks off a lot of people. You may not like Senator Mike Young's conservative politics, but he is a man who is willing to tell it like it is. His willingness to publicly oppose Tom John as chairman in 2007 is a testament to his character.

During the 2007 election season, Chairman John's support of now Mayor Ballard was tepid at best, and he only actively supported one of the Republican at-large council candidates. Past sins could be forgiven if they led to changed behavior. But this past past year, Chairman John had an extraordinary opportunity to work behind the scenes to set this Mayor on a populist course that could lead to his re-election and the re-election of a Republican majority on the council. Instead he has stood idly by while the Mayor's Office was taken over by a local law firm. Did he utter a ward in opposition? Not only did he not, he publicly condoned the takeover of the 25th Floor by Barnes & Thornburg. As one Republican explained, "Tom John wants to be the next Bob Grand." And therein lies the problem.

The Marion County Republican Party can no longer win county-wide elections playing the game of using local government to transfer taxpayer money to local law firms and their big corporate clients. Yet that is exactly what is going on and continues as the Capital Improvement Board has apparently already decided to give more taxpayer money to the Pacers, a client of Bob Grand who is sits in on regular meetings with Mayor Ballard and is chairman of the CIB. Yet, where is the Republican county chairman on the issue of defending taxpayers against the big corporate interests that run Indianapolis? Nowhere in sight.

What is getting "old" is the corporate welfare schemes and law firm control of city government that Tom John wants to perpetuate at the expense of the future of the Marion County Republican Party. Mike Young told the truth in 2007. The Marion County GOP needs more truth, not less.

Time For Indiana Supreme Court to Allow Electronic Service of Documents

Rule 5(b) of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure rule that deals with the service of documents in Indiana courts. Whenever you file something in a county circuit or superior court, the trial courts in Indiana, you are required to serve the opposing party counsel with a copy of whatever you filed. Almost always this involves mailing the document the old fashioned way - via "snail mail." A lot of attorneys or their clerical support also will draw up a cover letter instructing the recipient of what is in the envelope (which I have always thought was pretty silly since it is obvious what the filing is.) All in all, service via regular mail can be quite time-consuming and at 42 cents a pop, very expensive for the clients.

Service via regular mail also fails to provide much in the way of proof that service was actually made. On a few occasions, I have had lawyers file motions which I am fairly certain they intentionally never served me with or delayed sticking in the mail for several days. When the court does not get any opposition to the motion, the judge grants the motion. After an attorney had pulled that stunt several times in a contentious divorce case to vacate or continue hearings, the court ordered that service of all court filings be by certified mail.

Hopefully Indiana will eventually get around to having an electronic service for filing document in Indiana trial courts. In the meantime though, the Supreme Court should modify Trial Rule 5(B) to allow for electronic service of court filings on legal counsel.

The End of Six Day Mail Service?

In testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee yesterday, Postmaster General John "Jack" Potter indicated the U.S. Postal Service may have to cut back to five day a week delivery. Potter cited rising costs and the increased decline of mail made worse by the ongoing recession. Obviously the increased use of electronic mail has played a major role in the decreasing volume of mail.

Potter's suggestion, if enacted, would likely would mean the elimination of mail on Saturday or Tuesday, the slowest days of the week for the Post Office.

That's a change I think most people could live with. I receive some of my bills electronically and pay all my bills over the internet. The one area where the daily mail delivery continues to play an important role is in the practice of law. The state rules still require that attorneys who file documents, serve opposing counsel the old fashioned way - "snail mail."

Hopefully, the Senate will also revisit the idea of ending the postal monopoly on the delivery of first class mail.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The CIB and Sports Venues Continued

This morning, Brendan O'Shaunnessey of the Indianapolis Star had an expanded version of his article published on-line yesterday.

The first thing, I noticed is the placement - front page and above the fold. That's prime time in a newspaper. Very happy about that.

The next thing I noticed was the subheading "Board Could Try to Renegotiate with Teams, Seek New Taxes." In the newspaper business, the editors write the headlines and they are supposed to concisely summarize something in the story. In the story though, Bob Grand, President of the CIB, said he was not planning on trying to renegotiate the Colts' sweetheart deal. The CIB's only other plans regarding renegotiating was to change the Pacers' Conseco Fieldhouse contract to give the Pacers more money. So the the suggestion of the subheading that the renegotiation of the sports venue contracts to cut the deficit is on the table does not follow from the article or the CIB meeting I watched.

Near the end of the article, O'Shaughnessey unfortunately repeats the bogus City-CIB spin that they were caught unaware of how to pay for these operating costs because they had planned to pay for them with a Downtown casino. While during negotiations Mayor Peterson tossed out the idea of a downtown casino to generate revenue, it would have required legislative approval and never even got to first base. It is disingenuous to suggest that the City was somehow caught off-guard because the downtown casino didn't happen.

The Colts would be wise to come to these discussions with a much better attitude than the "let them eat cake" type suggestion Colts Vice-President Pete Ward offered last year. Outside of winning games, the Colts' organization has done little to develop positive PR in the city. The minute those wins stop coming, Indy residents are going to want to run the team out of the City on a rail.

See also: CIB plans to Seek Money from Indiana General Assembly to Cover Losses (1/27/09)

Advance Indiana: CIB Bankrupt: Grand Won't Ask Colts to Shoulder Burden and Early Wants to Give More to the Pacers (1/27/09)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CIB Plans to Seek Money From Indiana General Assembly to Cover Losses

I had the opportunity to watch the video of today's Capital Improvement Board meeting tonight. The subject was an outlining of the financial "challenges" faced by the CIB. Challenges is a kind word. It is apparent that the CIB is deeply in debt and the situation has grown much worse over the past year. Presently the operating deficit of the CIB is $25.3 million dollars. With the plan to shoulder more of the Conseco operating cost from the Pacers and other plans, the operating deficit of the CIB is expected to rise to $43.3 million dollars. That is before you even get into the debt-related costs which amount to $77 million. Cash reserves for the CIB have dropped by more than 25% the past year and with operating costs increasing dramatically, those reserves may be wiped out completely in the next year or so. It is unquestioned that the amount of debt serviced by CIB will have to increase substantially.

During the meeting former City Controller Ann Lathrop, who did the presentation reviewing the CIB fiscal situation, indicated that the CIB will be asking for help from a "legislative body." That means the Indiana General Assembly. She also built into her future calculations of operating costs. assumption that the CIB will take over from the Pacers $15 million more of the the cost of operating Conseco Fieldhouse. It appeared from the discussion that it is already a "done deal" to give more money to the Pacers.

CIB Chairman Bob Grand told Indianapolis Star reporter Brendan O'Shaughnessey that he has no plans to ask that Colts owner Jim Irsay renegotiate the overly generous deal that dramatically increased the value of the Colts' franchise and left the CIB with an enormous operating deficit. Disingenuously Grand suggests that reviewing grants given to the the arts would be an alternative to asking for concessions from the Colts. While the CIB has no business contributing money to the arts to begin with, the kind of numbers involved in giving to the arts and the money going into Bob Irsay's pocket is not remotely comparable.

The Simon brothers who own the Pacers are clients of Bob Grand. As noted by Advance Indiana, Grand has already violated his promise to recuse himself from discussions regarding the Pacers' future. Given that the interests of the Simons' Pacers are so intertwined with the CIB, chaired by Grand, it was never a conflict that reastically could have been avoided by recusal anyway. The ethically-challenged Grand has amply shown over the past year he lacks the competence to run the CIB. Mayor Ballard should demand his resignation.

To summarize, CIB is deeply in debt and has a huge operating deficit that is getting much larger. Even though CIB gave the Colts a sweetheart deal that has allowed Irsay to become fabulously wealthy, the CIB won't ask for a renegotiation of that deal. Oh, and the CIB plans to give the Pacers more money. CIB is also going to the Indiana General Assembly and ask that it be bailed out of the mess it created. Meanwhile, there is absolutely no consideration by the CIB for the taxpayers who are footing the bill.

Today the Star reported today that Indiana unemployment rate jumped by a full percentage point to 8.1% and experts believe it will hit double figures in 2010. (I'm guessing the fall of 2009.) Nonetheless, the CIB has sent a clear message that it intends to continue with the corporate welfare that is the tradition of Indianapolis city leaders. But in the background you are hearing the rumbling of angry taxpayers, the same taxpayers who elected Mayor Ballard and may well take him out in 2011. If CIB members think they can dig even deeper into taxpayers' pockets to give more money to millionaire sports owners without a fight, they are going to be in for quite a surprise.

Corporate Welfare Run Amok: a $500 Million Jet and $35,115 Toilet

Two recent news stories of corporate welfare run amok:

Reuters reports that Citigroup which received $45 billion in bailout money is going through with the deal to buy a $50 million dollar private jet for the company.

CNBC reports that former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain resigned under pressure from Bank of America when it was revealed that he rushed out billions of dollars of bonuses in to Merrill Lynch executives on his last day as Merrill Lynch CEO. Bank of America, which received bailout money, asked for and received an additional $20 billion from the government to offset losses from Merrill Lynch. The brokerage lost $15 billion in the fourth quarter and more than $27 billion for the year.

Thain also spent $1.22 million to remodel his office. CNBC breaks it down for the readers:

"When John Thain became Merrill Lynch’s CEO in early 2008, he hired Michael S. Smith Design to revamp his office suite, spending approximately $1.22 million according to documents.

The following is a list of the items in his suite:
— Area Rug: $87,784
— Mahogany Pedestal Table: $25,713
— 19th Century Credenza: $68,179
— Pendant Light Furniture: $19,751
— 4 Pairs of Curtains: $28,091
— Pair of Guest Chairs: $87,784
— George IV Chair: $18,468
— 6 Wall Sconces: $2,741
— Parchment Waste Can: $1,405
— Roman Shade Fabric: $10,967
— Roman Shades: $7,315
— Coffee Table: $5,852
— Commode on Legs: $35,115"

Unfortunately, the same thing goes on here in Indianapolis. Too often "public-private partnerships," touted the last several decades by Republican and Democrat leaders as the savior of this city, have become an excuse for politicians to transfer taxpayer money into the pocket of big business, which often kicks back some of that taxpayer money in the form of campaign contributions. There is no more blatant example than Jim Irsay, the owner of the Colts, and local political leaders used taxpayer money to make him fabulously wealthy. Not surprisingly, he is also a big contributor to state and local candidates.

To gain majority status, Republicans locally and nationally need a populist agenda that will appeal to the common man and woman. Number one on that populist agenda needs to be condemning corporate welfare and, locally, bringing an end to public-private partnerships designed to make the corporate friends of politicians wealthier at the expense of taxpayers.

Tuesday Trivia (Miscellaneous)

This morning I bring you miscellaneous trivia.

1. Why are the keys on a keyboard/typerwriter organized the way they are?

a. Because the typewriter was invented in a foreign country with a different language.
b. To maximize the speed of the typist.
c. To slow down the typist.

2. The first man married in Indianapolis did which of the following?

a. Married his cousin.
b. Married attorney Calvin Fletcher's daughter
c. Was married at the newly-built Statehouse
d. Walked from Indianapolis to Connersville to get the marriage license.

3. What did 38th Street in Indianapolis used to be called?

a. Main Street
b. Oak Avenue
c. Maple Road
d. Turner Avenue

4. Of the following townships in Indianapolis, which has the most population?

a. Washington
b. Center
c. Lawrence
d. Wayne

5. Which is the first election in which more African-American voters voted for the Democratic presidential candidate than the Republican?

a. 1884 Grover Cleveland
b. 1912 Woodrow Wilson
c. 1932 Franklin Roosevelt
d. 1936 Franklin Roosevelt

Again, no googling the answers.

Congratulations Katie Stam, University of Indianapolis Student

I only saw a brief portion of the Miss America pageant, but since she is a student at the University of Indianapolis where I teach, I have to saw congratulations to Katie Stam, who won the contest and will be wearing the crown for the next year. What would have been great is if she would have been asked a difficult political-type question and nailed the answer due to something she learned in my political science class. But, alas, she never was in my class so any knowledge she displayed during the constest had different origins. It's sad that the Miss America pageant has fallen so far it can only be found on a low-rated cable channel. Nonetheless, congratulations to Ms. Stam.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Indianapolis' Coming Insurance and Budgetary Crisis; Was the Indianapolis City-County Council Misled?

As someone who used to have an active Indiana insurance license to sell health insurance, I took great interest when, on October 6, 2008, a proposal passed the Indianapolis City-County Council that authorized City Controller, David Reynolds to, as of January 1, 2009, establish a self-insurance group health plan for county and city employees.

Since then, about 1/3 of the Indianapolis/Marion County employees (mostly uniformed employees such as police officers and firefighters) have become part of the city’s self-insurance plan. The City insured part of its catastrophic loss by purchasing a 12/12 re-insurance contract when it set up this plan. This means that very large claims that are both incurred and paid during the 12 month 2009 policy period are covered. The claims incurred during 2009 but not paid in 2009, are not covered. Thisrisk to the taxpayers has not been disclosed and this unfunded liability has been excluded from the current budget.

Here’s the problem. While the turnaround time for paying most bills is generally within 30 days, medical bills are much more complicated and take much longer to process, often 90 days or more. So medical bills incurred during the latter part of 2009 will not be paid until 2010, and will not be covered by the current catastrophic insurance contract. What this means is that the city has about a 3 month unfunded liability for such medical bills, which translates into about a $4.6 million shortfall in the budget. In insurance lingo this is called the unfunded run-out liability. Was the City-County Council informed of these facts? It is doubtful.

This $4.6 million budget slight of hand is short-lived and only benefits the current year. In 2010, the City will need to budget for the whole amount and will have to find ways to make up the $4.6 million shortfall.

One way to make up for the shortfall is to use the same deceptive budgetary scheme again and self-insure the rest of the city/county employees starting in 2010. The shifting of that liability would continue, with another three months of bills incurred in late 2010, and tens of millions of more in unfunded liability, being pushed into 2011.

In short, although there is a reinsurance policy covering catastrophic health problems, the City did not purchase a policy that covers the months of unfunded liability.

Hopefully, Anthem, which provided the stop-loss policy, will continue to write the reinsurance after this year. Hopefully. Given the fact that Anthem quoted the city a 50% increase on their fully insurance plan for this year, it is quite likely that Anthem will choose not to continue providing the stop-loss insurance or will price it so high the City cannot afford it. If that happens the City may have to go “naked,” which means the City will have to assume the full risk of all the employees covered by the self-insurance group health plan. Translation: Indianapolis taxpayers will be footing the risk of all catastrophic health problems.

The problem is that the shifting of unfunded health insurance liability from one year to the next can only happen so long. Eventually the piper has to be paid, a year when the bills come due and there are no accounting tricks that can be used to further shift liability to another year. When that year arrives, the city will have a budget shortfall of tens of millions of dollars. The City health care plan could likely implode leaving police, fire, and civil employees with bad coverage at best, and the Mayor and City-County Council dealing with a financial fiscal fiasco, faced with the unpopular choice of drastically slashing services or raising taxes. It appears the year the manure hits the fan will be 2011, the same year the Republican Mayor and Republican-controlled Council will be asking voters to continue GOP control of the city.

Who is to blame for the bad advice regarding the insurance for the city’s employees, advice that might well explode in the faces of Republicans seeking re-election in 2011? Well, try a Democrat. Rather than replace Mayor Peterson’s highly-compensated benefits consultant from Hamilton County, who supported Peterson rather than Ballard, Bob Grand, managing partner of the law firm Barnes & Thornburg and the Mayor Ballard’s unofficial advisor, insisted that the consultant be retained. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure which law firm that consultant is a client of. Once again, Mayor Ballard seems unaware that there is a fox in the city’s chicken coop.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Republcians Criticizing Republicans

While most of my Republican friends have expressed appreciation for my candor in speaking out about problems on the 25th Floor, I do have critics in the GOP who believe that publicly pointing out problems a Republican Mayor is having is tantamount to treason. Now is as good time as any to review why we should not be silent and should demand that our Republican Mayor do better.

In 2007, Marion County Republicans had an unknown candidate go up against a popular two-term Democrat mayor. Then the Republicans were given a gift. Mayor Peterson, who had become arrogant and unwilling to listen to concerns of the public, decided to commit political suicide by sharply raising local income taxes right after a public outcry over soaring property taxes. Then we had a Democrat-controlled council led by an ethically-challenged council president who, like the Mayor, thumbed his nose at public opinion. As a result, Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, the aforementioned unknown, won the election.

For Republicans faced with a substantial partisan deficit in the county, it was the opportunity of a generation. Elected with virtually no strings, Mayor Ballard had a chance to show the voters a new kind of Republican, one who did not practice business as usual, who pursued an ethics agenda, who fought for taxpayers and against the big law firms and business interests whose power had continued to increase during the last several Republican and Democrat administrations. If he was successful, Mayor Ballard could have cemented a new Republican majority in the county, and been the most transformational Indianapolis Republican politician since Richard Lugar won the Mayor's office in the late 1960s, before Unigov.

While some people saw the promise of the Ballard administration and the opportunity to forge a new Republican-majority coalition in the county, others saw the inexperience, naivety of the Mayor as an opportunity to be exploited. Shortly after the election, a couple partners of a downtown law firm, swooped down on the Mayor and convinced him the Mayor needed them to run things. Reportedly, they even conned the Mayor into signing a "transition contract" that gave exclusive authority to their law firm, Barnes & Thornburg, to run the transition and set up the Mayor's Office. When complaints came to the Mayor-elect about what they were doing during the transition, Ballard's response was that there was nothing he could do as he had signed away the right to decide how the Mayor's Office would be set up.

Since taking office the Barnes & Thornburg influence has continued, to the point where B&T partners Joe Loftus and Bob Grand, who are not part of the administration, regularly sit in on key meetings the Mayor has with staff. It is no surprise that many of those mayoral decisions regarding contracts like the bone-headed Venture Real Estate deal have been to the benefit of Barnes & Thornburg clients. When it came to the RCA Dome auction and Pan Am deals, both schemes hatched by Democrats during the latter days of the Peterson's administration, Ballard's B&T advisers had him fall on the sword for Peterson (and most likely on behalf of their clients) rather than take a very popular stand for taxpayers.

Some suggest that the right thing to do is to look the other way while some Republicans use their influence with the Mayor to line their pockets and the pockets of their clients. Some suggest that the right thing to do is to look the other way while the Mayor Ballard throws away the ethics and transparent government agenda he ran on. Some suggest that the right thing to do is to not speak out because this is the way Republicans and Democrats have always ran the city, a way that puts taxpayers interests secondary to the interest of corporations and big law firms.

Why speak out? Mayor Ballard's administration has dropped the ball and is in the process of doing serious damage to any chance the Republicans will have of regaining a majority in Marion County for years to come. Worse yet, the chance of building a winning Republican coalition in the county is being overtaken by an even more serious concern that unchecked conflicts of interest in the Mayor Ballard's administration is heading inevitably toward the land of scandal and corruption. Pay to play politics on the 25th floor is already rearing its ugly head. Any perception of scandal or corruption on the part of the Mayor's administration will permanently stain the reputation of every Marion County Republican for years to come.

In short, Republicans can clean up their act now or suffer the consequences at the polls in 2011 and for years to come. The only way to address the problems now is to be honest about those problems, not sweep them under the rug hoping the Democrats won't find them. They most certainly will.

Mayor Greg Ballard's 2008 Campaign Expenditures

On Thursday, the Indianapolis Star did an article on the Mayor's recently filed campaign report. Although it was barely mentioned in the article, there is one number in the report that stood out above all the others as being unusual: $435,622 spent in an off-year, three years before an election. Since there was $835,037 raised during the year, that means the campaign is spending more than half the money in a year where there is not even an election.

I decided to look at Governor Daniels' campaign finance report in 2005, which was also a year three years before his re-election effort. Governor Daniels's campaign spent $515,179 in 2005, and he's governor of all 92 counties, not just one. Although the Mayor' final report covering the last 2 1/2 months of 2007 is not on the Clerk's website, it appears that his campaign expenditures in 2008 are almost certainly more than double his expenditures in 2007, the year of the election.

Normally campaigns immediately scale down drastically after an election, employing a skeleton staff, if any, until a year or so before the next election. Mayor Ballard's appears to have geared up after winning. During my review of the report, I found about 10 staffers on the payroll during 2008 as well as several contractors. Many of those employees were paid $30,000 to $40,000. in expenditures listed as "payroll."

Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on travel, including airline tickets and charter bus service. $53,251 was paid to the Indiana Ballroom and $15,316 was paid to the Embassy Suites, $12,835 paid to Eagle Creek for a golf outing, and $922 to the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Additionally, tens of thousands of dollars were spent for flowers, cookies, and for dining out. While it may be argued that the Mayor was leveraging his position to raise money, the fact is that once in office, he did not need to have lavish events in order to raise money. When you are Mayor of the 13th largest city and you have millions of dollars to give out in government contracts, the money rolls in without having to put on huge, expensive events.

It should also be noted that "unitemized" expenditures, were $6,272.31 in the 2008 report, which is more than 10 times the "unitemized" expenditures noted on the last available 2007 report. While you are not required to itemize expenditure (or contributions) less than $100, the practice of most large campaigns is to itemize everything. For example, the 2005 Governor Daniels' finance report lists $0 for unitemized expenditures and contributions. That's a practice that the Mayor's campaign team should be employing. If not, you expose yourself to the political charge of covering up payments.

Hopefully Mayor Ballard has been advised that campaign funds must be related to a political purpose. While I assume that's the case, he does need better political advisers, who most certainly would have advised him of the importance of scaling down expenditures during the political off-season. In the weeks before the 2011 election, the Mayor may well look back on those off-year expenditures and wish he had the money back.

City Legal Refuses to Comply With Indiana's Open Records Law

Reported in Behind Closed Doors today is a blurb about the head of City Legal, Chris Cotterill, himself a former Barnes & Thornburg attorney, refusing the Indianapolis Star's open records request for emails between Barnes & Thornburg partners, Bob Grand and Joe Loftus, and the Mayor. The request was made on November 13, 2008. The article was published on December 21, 2008.

The Behind Closed Doors blug, in its entirety, is published below:

Hey, it's private

Mayor Greg Ballard and his team have made a big deal about transparency in everything government does, pledging since they took over last year to lay open their records and their financial books.

In that vein, Ballard held the latest of his quarterly budget reviews last week and, as he has in the past, invited the public. During the campaign for mayor, Ballard had complained repeatedly that the budget process under Democrat Bart Peterson had been shrouded in secrecy.

So it was curious that on Tuesday, the city's top attorney sent an e-mail to The Indianapolis Star denying a records request for e-mails between top city officials and two attorneys from the Barnes & Thornburg law firm, Joseph Loftus and Bob Grand.

The request, sent on Nov. 13, was part of research for a Star story about
the close relationship between Ballard's administration and the firm, which includes sitting in on staff meetings and contracts to represent the city as its lobbyist and attorney.

Chris Cotterill, a former Barnes & Thornburg attorney and now the city's top attorney, said he identified hundreds of e-mails in response to the request. He said he was not able to review them before the story was published Dec. 21.Last week, Cotterill said none of the e-mails was "disclosable."On the phone, Cotterill said the decision should not be surprising considering that all communication with the firm falls under attorney-client privilege, one of the reasons state public-records law allows for a denial.

So, for the record, the request is made on November 13, 2008. By the time the article is published on December 21st the documents had still not been provided. Even though Cotterill identifies hundreds of emails in response to the request, it takes him 9 weeks to conclude that ANY emails between Loftus/Grand and the Mayor are subject to the open records request.

To paraphrase Rex Early, some of us were born at night, but we weren't born last night. Is there any doubt that the timing of this response by Cotterill was deliberate so that the refusal to provide the open records requests would not become a part of Brendan O'Shaughnessey's story in the Star?

Nonetheless, Cotterill is dead wrong about the law. First, under IC 5-14-3-3(b)(2), the attorney client-privilege ONLY applies to work product of attorneys who have been appointed by the public agency. Second, "work product" is defined by IC 5-14-3-2(1) as follows:

(q) "Work product of an attorney" means information compiled by an attorney in reasonable anticipation of litigation. The term includes the attorney's:
(1) notes and statements taken during interviews of prospective witnesses;
(2) legal research or records, correspondence, reports, or memoranda to the
extent that each contains the attorney's opinions, theories, or conclusions.
Unless the City can show that Grand and Loftus were appointed to represent the City in litigation and the emails concerned "information compiled by an attorney in reasonable anticipation of litigation" the exception does not apply and the records need to be produced.

Further, even if City Legal were correct that the emails fall within the attorney-client work product exception (which clearly they do not), that exception is one of the discretionary open records exceptions outlined in IC 5-14-3-4(b). In other words, the City could still produce the emails if the Mayor chose to do so.

This isn't the first time the City and Barnes & Thornburg have snubbed their collective noses at the Open Records Law. With actions like this, the Mayor is tossing aside his campaign promise of open and transparent government.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

CIB Claims Budget Shortfall is Due to the Economy; Advance Indiana Instead Points to Bungled Colts Deal

Advance Indiana this morning hits a home run with a column criticizing the Capital Improvement Board's new claim that the budget shortfall is due to the economy. As Gary Welsh points out, the real reason for the shortfall is the one-sided Colts deal negotiated by Fred Glass, former Chairman of the CIB, where he gave the Colts a sweetheart deal where the Colts could keep not only game day revenue but half of the revenue from other events and all the advertising revenue at the facility.

Welsh concludes:
The answer to this problem is really simple. You go back to Irsay, just like Peterson and Glass should have done before construction began on the new stadium., and tell him he will have to give back some of the taxpayers money. Sorry, Jim, but you are the biggest welfare recipient in the state of Indiana. You're going to have to cut back on your lavish lifestyle just a little and share this burden with the rest of us.
Amen, Gary, amen. The CIB can also stop giving taxpayer money away for grants to the arts and giving money to the Indiana Sports Corporation for its operating expenses.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mayor Ballard Makes Mockery of Diversity Awards; To Be "Diverse" You Have to Be a Client of Barnes & Thornburg

Yesterday, I reported that at the 8th Annual Celebration of Diversity Luncheon Mayor Ballard gave Barnes & Thornburg a diversity award for community relations, and that none other than B&T managing partner, Bob Grand, sat on the small committee picking the award winners. The same day, Barnes & Thornburg did a press release touting the firm's receipt of the award. I noticed that one of the firm's lawyers, an African-American man, accepting the award had, a few years earlier, argued that my black client should not have been offended by a noose in the workplace.

Apparently that was only part of the story. Diversity Awards were given in five areas: The Sam Jones Award, Community Relations, Development, Leadership and Workforce.

As noted, Barnes & Thornburg won the "Community Relations" award. Now let's examine three of the remaining four winners:
  • Simon Property Group - A Barnes & Thornburg client, and Bob Grand's personal client
  • Veolia Water - Barnes & Thornburg client
  • Turner Construction - Barnes & Thornburg client

The only winner I could not confirm is a client of Barnes & Thornburg is Community Health Network. While many people I talked with suspect Community is also a B&T client, I'll give the company the benefit of the doubt.

I'm sure though that it was a big coincidence that Bob Grand served on the selection committee and Barnes & Thornburg winning a diversity award while the firm's clients won three of the other four awards. No sense jumping to conclusions or believing in a "conspiracy." FYI, that was sarcasm.

The sad thing is that the Mayor took an important cause like diversity, and made a mockery of it by letting Bob Grand use the luncheon to reward his firm and his firm's clients. At some point, one would hope that Mayor Ballard would figure out that he is being used by people who do not have his best interests at heart. So far that has not happened.

See also: Mayor Ballard Gives Barnes & Thornburg Diversity Award (1/22/2009)

Consumer Complaints and File Cabinets; Congratulations to IDOI for a Job Well Done

The last few days, the Indianapolis Star has reported on the positive work that the Department of Insurance has done in investigating and, yesterday, revoking the license of Marcus Schrenker. Today's article provides a summary of the charges:

Forging signatures on annuity applications. Selling insurance in states where he wasn't licensed. Failing to tell clients about early withdrawal penalties. Doctoring documents and lying to cover up his wrongdoing.

Those of you who know me or read this blog regularly know that for ten months I was an employee of the Indiana Department of Insurance, particularly the head of the Title Insurance Division. Events surrounding my sudden dismissal are in litigation. As has been detailed, the Commissioner, for reasons nobody understands, allows an upper level supervisor, a Democrat holdover no less, to basically run wild at the Department, doing whatever she wants. While everyone complains about the supervisor, and the problems she creates in doing their job, the Commissioner's response is always to agree that she's a bad manager, assure IDOI employees she will get better, and instruct them to work around the troubled manager.

Hopefully the litigation won't leave my friends at the Department of Insurance with the wrong idea that it is aimed at them. During the ten months I was employed at IDOI, I was extraordinarily impressed by the professionalism and dedication to public service of the IDOI employees. Unlike some agencies, the IDOI does not simply put consumer complaints in a file cabinet. They aggressively investigate consumer complaints and punish wrongdoers. When these folks are allowed to do their job by the troubled supervisor, they are fantastic advocates for consumers and help to create a fair business environment for insurance companies to operate.

Yesterday, I was in a court proceeding at which we discussed medical problems at a privately run jail. A nurse reported to the Attorney General numerous problems with medical care at the facility, including numerous specific rules and regulations that were being violated by the medical professionals at the facility. This is an area that clearly falls within the jurisdiction of the Attorney General's Office. From the Attorney General's website:
Medical Licensing – This section investigates and prosecutes complaints against health care practitioners and mediates complaints not appropriate for prosecution. There are 20 boards and committees that regulate health care practitioners, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nursing home administrators, veterinarians or other health care practitioners.
Yet the Attorney General's Office never held an investigation. The complaint, as with many consumer complaints at the Attorney General's Office during Steve Carter's term, simply went into a file cabinet. In the absence of an AG investigation, the problems at the facility continued, with some inmates have getting hurt as a result of not getting their medication or medical care, some have even died. Between 2005 and 2008, approximately thirteen lawsuits have been filed against the company running the facility, many due to health care issues. Numerous other lawsuits would be filed as to if the private corrections company running the jail let inmates complete the internal grievance process, a requirement before filing a lawsuit.

As Greg Zoeller charts a new course for the Attorney General's Office, he would be wise to take a look at the aggressive approach the Department of Insurance takes to cases. When a consumer complaint is made at IDOI, it is not just shuffled off to a file cabinet. Rather it is taken seriously and investigated. If regulatory action is warranted upon completion of the investigation, IDOI does not hesitate to take action against those insurance licensees. That is exactly the type of aggressive approach we need in the Attorney General's Office.

Lobbying Reform Bills Biting the Dust in State Senate

Today's Indianapolis Star editorializes about the apparent demise of four Senate bills aimed at lobbying reform. Three of the bills have been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, which is typically a graveyard for bills that Senate leaders do not want heard. The fourth sponsored by Senator Delph is not expected to get a hearing. The editorial provides a good summary of the bills:

Senate Bill 17, which would reduce the minimum for reporting to $25, has been assigned to the Senate Rules committee, frequently a sign that the leadership has no intention of moving the legislation forward.

SB 242, which would require lobbyists to file weekly reports on their contacts with legislators and staff members, was dealt a similar fate.

So too was SB 15, a proposal authored by Sen. Pat Miller that would establish a one-year cooling-off period before a former legislator could work as a lobbyist before the General Assembly.

Another of Delph's proposals, SB 73, would treat university officials who lobby legislators as, well, lobbyists, meaning that existing requirements and restrictions would apply. That bill escaped assignment to the Rules committee, but Delph doubts that it will advance out of the Commerce and Public Policy Committee.

The leadership of the State Senate and House have had a tin ear when it comes to lobbying reform. But out in the real world you are seeing growing support for good government reforms not only for those proposed here, but also to curb the unspoken "pay to play" politics that is increasingly distorted privatization efforts.

The one encouraging thing for me is to see two Indianapolis-area Republicans, Senators Pat Miller and Mike Delph, leading the charge. Marion County GOP politics have in the past has created a climate where the politicians slated and ultimately elected are status quo types lacking in leadership and creativity. Kudos need to be given out for Senators Miller and Delph as well as Republican Phil Hinkle in the South for their willingness to rock the boat and take on the status quo. Keep up the good work legislators.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mayor Ballard Gives Barnes & Thornburg Diversity Award

Today was the 8th Annual City of Indianapolis Mayor's Celebration of Diversity Awards Luncheon, moderated by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz. Bob Grand, Managing Partner of Barnes & Thornburg, was on the small committee selecting the winners for the Mayor. (After all, who better to judge racial diversity than a wealthy white man like Bob Grand?) So who do you think won the first award for diversity at the luncheon? If you guessed Barnes & Thornburg, you would be correct. Yep, the law firm won for promoting diversity in the community.

I could not attend because I had a deposition for one of the eight African-American nurses I represent in a lawsuit against a big corporation based, in part, on allegations they suffered racial discrimination at their place of employment. What law firm is representing the big corporation? Barnes & Thornburg, of course. A lot of big companies hire Barnes & Thornburg to aggessively go after African-Americans and other minorities who have filed lawsuits against those companies alleging discrimination. But hey, Barnes & Thornburg deserves a "diversity" award. After all, the law firm does not discriminate among the big companies they represent, as long as they come in the door with plenty of green in hand.

I have to admit, Bob Grand and company have chutzpah. There is no shame at 111 South Meridian Street.

Mayor Ballard's Campaign Report

This morning, Indianapolis Star reporter Brendan O'Shaughnessy, sheds some light on the Mayor's 2008 campaign contribution report which showed Ballard raising $835,037 last year. On some other blogs this is being touted as proof of that they believe in the Mayor's re-election.

Uh, no. Rather when people are contributing to a candidate, especially a Mayor, 3+ years before an election, it is because they are trying to get a piece of the action during the current administration. The Mayor is able to hand out millions of dollars in contracts, many of them no-bid, and companies and law firms are ponying up in the hopes that they might also get contracts. In other words, those companies believe, rightly or wrongly, they have to pay in order to play.

Another blogger makes a big deal of the fact that Barnes & Thornburg apparently gave only $12,000, while law firms Baker & Daniels and Bose McKinney & Evans gave twice that. This supposedly proves there is no "conspiracy" involving Barnes & Thornburg. Apparently pointing out that, contrary to previous administrations, two partners of Barnes & Thornburg regularly sit in on meetings with the Mayor's staff where key decisions are made and the fact that city contracts have been steered to B&T clients, are facts that if you report them are equivalent to talking about the moon landing being faked.

That aside, the whole point that several Republican critics of the Mayor have been making is that Barnes & Thornburg partners Bob Grand and Joe Loftus have embroilled the Mayor in a series of embarrassing conflicts of interest to benefit their firm's clients at the expense of any chance of Mayor Ballard getting re-elected. In short, they are selling the Mayor and the majority Republican Council out to benefit themselves and their law firm. Pray tell, knowing he won't be re-elected in 2011 and they already have massive influence in the administration, why would they contribute heavily to Ballard now? Barnes & Thornburg will invest heavily in the Democrat mayoral candidate in 2011. Mayor Ballard is going to find out how quickly his friends, Grand and Loftus, disappear when he is out of office in 2012 and can't do them or their firm's clients any favors.

There is a huge story in the report that is missed. Mayor Ballard's financial report shows that he spent $435,622 in 2008. That is an astonishing figure for a campaign to spend during an off-year. With Ballard's election in 2007, he was in a position to milk his position for thousands of fundraising dollars, without the necessity of holding expensive campaign events. To spend over a dollar for every two dollars raised, in an off-year no less, is possibly the sign of a campaign with serious management problems or people with their hands in the till. Possibly there is some explanation behind the numbers for expenditures, such as repayment of large amounts of debt from the 2007 election. Regardless, O'Shaughnessy should have reported on that in his story. That actually might have been a bigger story.

Follow-up: I briefly checked out Mayor Ballard's campaign finance report this morning. O'Shaughnessy's figures regarding contributions from law firms was based solely on contributions in the name of the particular firms. He did not include in his figures indivdiuals at those law firms who gave in their own name. That is, in fact, the way many lawyers at the big firms contribute to candidates.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Privatization at FSSA

Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, has filed a bill to stop the Family and Social Services Administration from automating welfare intake in any counties beyond the original 59 counties where it has been introduced, until lawmakers have been satisfied that problems have been fixed. Senator Vaneta Becker R-Evansville has indicated that she will sponsor the bill should it make it to the Senate.

Bravo. Rep. Crouch and Senator Becker have taken a lot of grief over their opposition to the Governor's privatization initiative. But unlike many of the protests against privatization led by Democrats, which are based more on the undermining of government unions rather than the quality of the service provided by the private company with the government contract, Crouch and Becker's motivation seems to be the stories of poor welfare services provided to their constituents. For these two Republican legislators to take on a newly-reelected Republican governor on this issue, the complaints about FSSA privatization in their districts must have been overwhelming.

Whether or not the FSSA privatization can be made to work is an open-ended question that should be investigated. As I have said many times before on these pages, Republicans have repeatedly dropped the ball when it comes to privatization. When privatization became popular in the 1980s, it was about the idea of taking a government service and subjecting the provision of that service to the competion of the marketplace. Instead Republican office holders, and in some cases Democrats, have forged ahead with privatization giving private companies long-term contracts that, instead of instilling market competition into the delivery of the service, grants the company a government-mandated monopoly that shields the company from competition.

The inevitable result is that the company cuts back on the services provided. An example locally is the privately run jail in Marion County, which eliminated one of three rounds medication to inmates not because it was in their best interest, but because they did not want to replace medical staff that had formerly passed out the medication. Translation: the company wanted to make more money. So what if you were supposed to get your blood pressure medicine three times a day and now can get it only two times daily?

Elected officials have also failed miserably when it comes to overseeing privatization contracts. Rarely is a contractor sanctioned or called on the carpet for failing to live up to its contractual obligations. When it comes to long term privatization contracts, the ten year contract for example, government has almost no leverage to get out of the contract and turn the service over to another company or back to the private sector.

Privatization is the new 2% patronage club. The privatization of government services has resulted in companies seeking those contract to infuse the political system with large political contributions. In return those companies walk away with contracts. Armed with taxpayer dollars, those companies then shovel more money into the political system for the unspoken purpose of currying favor so that oversight of the contract is little and that the contract will eventually be renewed.

It's a shame that privatization, a great idea on paper, has been so bungled in implementation. While the privatization of some services simply does not work because of the nature of those services, it would work in many instances. But privatization has to be about bringing market competition into the delivery of a service. When government grants private companies a long-term monopoly to provide a service, the privatization effort is anything but an effort to instill market competition into the delivery of that service . Rep. Crouch and Sen. Becker should be applauded for standing up for their constituents and asking that there be a closer review of the privatization effort at FSSA.

Robert Decareau, RIP

Robert Decareau, a man who helped invent the microwave, recently died in Nashaua, New Hampishire. Decareau was 82. The microwave is a great invention which revolutionized food preparation during the 20th Century. Certainly his passing is noteworthy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Enjoy Watching History Being Made: The Inauguration of Barack Obama

While many of my fellow bloggers are continuing to fight against the Obama presidency, I think it is time to take the day off and ponder the history of what is happening. Up until 145 years ago, black men and women were brought to this country in chains and sold into slavery. Although slavery ended in 1865, for over a 100 years African-Americans continued to be denied the right to vote in many southern states.

While laws mandating legal discrimination, known as Jim Crow, are but a memory to most, blacks still live disproportionally in poverty and are incarcerated at higher rates. There still remains an education gap between blacks and whites that limit the progress many African-Americans can make in society. That a black man can ascend to the highest office in the land is a symbol of hope for many African-Americans that any remaining limits on African-American progress have been lifted. As I have stated before, one of the greatest things Barack Obama can do has nothing to do with the powers of the Presidency, but the unique opportunity he has to act as a role model, a symbol of the importance of hard work, education and family to success in life.

Republicans lost the election. But as I've said on these pages before, while many Southern Democrats played a role in perpetuating the legacy of Jim Crow, the Republican Party was virtually united in fighting to end legal discrimination and making today possible. Today is the culmination of what Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, set in motion when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the most divisive war in our nation's history. Let's celebrate the moment.

Indianapolis Public School Segregation & Dr. King

The following is part of a letter that that Gregory Wright sent to his pastor, Dr. Kent Millard, the Senior Pastor of St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Indianapolis, just prior to January 15, 2008 in anticipation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. It is such a poignant story that I asked him if he would allow it to be reprinted here. He agreed.

By: Gregory Wright

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day has a special meaning for many Americans. I personally honor his memory for two reasons: first, he was a great American, speaker and writer; and second, because he followed his heart, went bravely against the conventional wisdom of his peers, and thus fostered positive change. This change has helped people of color gain the rights of others and thus help repair some of the psychological damage caused by segregation. I know a little – only a little – about segregation. Here is my personal account of the ugly face of segregation when I first entered the Indianapolis public schools.

In 1948 or 1949, when I was about six years old, the American Indian grandmother that had raised me, Alpina, took me to live with my mother and her new husband at 1458 South Lee Street in Indianapolis. The next morning, after breakfast, she took me to see IPS school #46, the Daniel Webster School, which was one block west of my new home. To get there we walked a few doors south to Howard Street and turned east for a block to the school. It was on Reisner Street and faced Howard. She pointed out the fine brick two-story brick building that could become my school. It was impressive.

We next retreated along Howard Street; and, at Lee street, instead of turning North toward my new home, we turned and walked to another school that was located a block to the south. This was the Indianapolis Public School colored children attended. The school “campus” consisted of a collection of pre-fab metal buildings called Quonset Huts that had been used during WWII by the U.S. Army Air Force at nearby Stout Field as barracks. Some of the windows were cracked. The buildings had never seen paint and were rust-stained. I was later told that heat came from a Franklin-style stove at the end of the classroom room. It was fed Indiana coal from a small coal bucket that was replenished by the older children from a stack of coal that had been dumped outside.

With her back to the colored school, Grandma Alpina kneeled to look me in the eyes. She said to me in a firm even voice that I should not tell anyone at the Daniel Webster School that I was part Indian. If they found out, they could make me attend the school in front of me. My new father enrolled me in the Daniel Webster School. He had red hair and said that I was his son. I did as I was told and denied my Indian heritage for many years even after desegregation.
That happened 60 years ago. But, for me to tell this story even today, it is sometimes difficult to maintain my composure. Even today, when I read these, my own words, I again hear my Grandmother’s voice in my mind, and recall that day and experience a combination of emotions.
The more I learn of Dr. King, the more that I respect his work. He not only helped African Americans, he has helped all people of color. He helped not only us; I believe that he helped all Americans.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Trip to Mississippi

Some of you may have noticed the absence of any posts on Saturday and Sunday. This weekend, a co-worker and I traveled to Mississippi to attend the funeral of the grandmother of a dear friend of ours and to lend support to the family which has been so good to us.

It turned out to be an amazing experience. The grandmother was a woman named Ola Mae Bailey. Born in 1914, she, an African-American, raised ten children in the segregated south, living through the depression, both world wars, and the civil rights struggles which had Mississippi as the epicenter.

Through all the struggles, she taught her children about the importance of hard work and not letting the segregated society they were growing up in hold them back. All ten children went on to go to college and have had successful careers, a remarkable achievement especially in light of the fact that many colleges and job opportunities were closed to blacks at the time. Although the weekend was a sad one as family members mourned the passing of the family matriarch, it too was a joyous one as family members, children, grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces reunited and reminisced about the past that had brought them to the present. As a history buff, and as someone whose family was one of the first to settle Mississippi decades before it became a state, I found the stories fascinating.

One of the lines on the written tribute to Ola Mae Bailey at the funeral caught my eye. In addition to her proud family accomplishments, it was noted that she had been a registered voter in the county since 1971. By my math that means she did not register to vote until she was 57 years old. Although she would have been eligible to register to vote her entire life, Mississippi was one of the southern states that employed horrific discriminatory tactics to make sure that most blacks, although making up large numbers in the state, never were able to cast a ballot.

Today is a holiday celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., who played a major role in helping to break through the segregation and discrimination in the South that Ola Mae Bailey and her children lived through. Tomorrow is the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black President, a partial fulfillment of King's dream that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. While both days represent great accomplishments, to me Ola Mae Bailey had the greatest accomplishment of them all, raising and nurturing with love and devotion ten children in the face of extraordinary adversity. Although she will never have a holiday devoted to her, her character and spirit live on in her children, grandchildren and other family members, whose lives she touched and made better.

Friday, January 16, 2009

10 Degrees Below Zero

That was the temperature when I woke up this morning. Where is that global warming when you need it?

On these pages, I have previously scoffed at the argument that man is causing devastating global warming argument that will destroy the planet. This severe cold snap should not be construed as part of a long-term trend any more than a couple 100 degree days should. But maybe, just maybe, it will cause people to consider the far greater dangers posed by a cooling planet than one that is warming one. Recent reports suggest that we're not heading toward a warming planet, but toward another ice age. One thing that is clear from studying the climate history of the planet is that man's fortunes generally improve when the planet warms and decline when it cools. That was before the modern world we live in today. Think of ice sheets coming down from the polar regions covering up cities like Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis.

The reason why central and northern Indiana is flat is because a glacier once covered those areas during an ice age. Even the city of Indianapolis could be under ice during a new ice age.

There are other possible climate events that pose a much greater danger to mankind than global warming. The super volcano in Yellowstone is past due on its 600,000 year eruption cycle and is showing signs of activity. If that goes off, which it eventually will, it could kill millions of Americans and devastate the lives of billions of others as the ash blocks the sun and cools the Earth by several degrees for years. Then you have an asteroid that is on a confirmed collision course for the Earth, just a few decades in the future, well within the lifetime of many people living today.

It does seem like the global warming hysteria is fading. That's a mighty good thing. There are far more serious climate threats to worry about.

See also: Global Warming and Dishonest Science (12/26/2008)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Breakfast with the Capital Improvement Board and the Indiana Sports Corporation

This morning I grabbed some breakfast, spent about 15 minutes reading the Indianapolis Star from front to back, and then flipped on the television. There for my viewing pleasure on Channel 16 was a meeting of the Capital Improvement Board. Pat Early and not Bob Grand was chairing the meeting. Not sure why. Even when I tried to play the recording back on my computer the explanation wasn't there or cut off. But something of the things I saw were interesting.
  • Susan Williams, President of the Indiana Sports Corporation came before the CIB asking for $150,000 for the Sports Corporation's general operating fund. Now why in the world should CIB be giving money for the operating fund of the non-profit corporation, especially since the Lucas Oil Stadium is "bleeding cash" and the CIB does not have the money to cover its operating expenses?
  • During her presentation, Susan Williams again referred to the Indiana Sports Corporation as a "charity." I guess she believes if she repeats a lie enough people will start to believe it. The Sports Corporation is a non-profit corporation and not a "charity." I'm sure Williams knows the difference but she continues to mislead the public including the media. Fortunately most people in the media I have talked to are not buying her claim the Sports Corporation is a "charity."
  • Susan Williams has a lot of nerve coming before the CIB asking for $150,000 in taxpayer money when she, working with the outgoing Peterson administration, screwed taxpayers out of millions of dollars on the sale of Pan Am Plaza by in late December of 2007 sneaking through a change in a 22 year old agreement.
  • The CIB approved the Sports Corporation grant. However, to the benefit of board members, there seemed to be a growing reluctance to continue these payouts.
  • During the meeting Barney Levengood, Executive Director of the CIB, talked about ways to spend the "CIB's money." No, Barney, that is taxpayer money.
  • The meeting included a presentation from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. The representative wanted to show what a great job they were doing around the city. Although this particular meeting was not a request for money, the Arts Council talked about appreciation for the past generosity of the CIB. Why in the heck is the CIB giving money to an arts organization?

An observation: The CIB really needs people on the Board who will be assertive and dare I say question some of the things Bob Grand and the CIB have done in the past and are likely to do in the future. Of course, that's probably why those kind of people are not on the Board.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Open Records Request for Mayor's Transition Contract

I have heard disturbing reports from several Republicans who were close to candidate Greg Ballard and worked on his campaign that after his election the Mayor-elect signed a contract with for the law firm Barnes & Thornburg to handle his transition. The story is that in the contract the Mayor completely ceded all authority to run the transition and organize the executive department of the city to Barnes & Thornburg. Republicans who went to Ballard because of concerns over how the transition was being handled were told by the Mayor-elect that he could not interfere because of the contract he signed which gave exclusive authority to Barnes & Thornburg.

I am a great believer in open records and sunshine on government operations. When people in government insist on operating in secrecy it is almost always because they are doing something wrong and often self-serving. If there is a transition contract out that may have led to one law firm dominating city government and using the firm's position to benefit clients at the expense of taxpayers (which certainly appears to be the case,) people have a right to know. Republicans have the most to lose by having these embarrassing exposures taking place in 2011 rather than in 2009, when those problems can be addressed. If the GOP is going to have any chance to win the Mayor's office and retain a majority on the council in 2011, Mayor Ballard needs to fix the embarassing the problems with his administration now. Those problems originated with the transition and have continued since.

I know that if the below request were privately made, it would be ignored and I would spend weeks fighting to get my hands on the contract. For that reason, I am making my open records request public. We need honesty and full disclosure. No more excuses.

Paul K. Ogden
Attorney at Law
3525 W. 55th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46228
Phone: (317) 297-9720

January 14, 2009

Mayor Greg Ballard
City-County Building, 25th Floor
Indianapolis City-County Building
Indianapolis, IN 46204

RE: Open Records Request for Barnes & Thornburg Transition Contract

Dear Mayor Ballard:

Pursuant to Indiana's Open Records Law, IC 5-14-3 et seq, I am requesting the following:

A copy of any contract(s) signed by you (or your representative) with the law firm Barnes & Thornburg for work done during the transition period between your election on November 6, 2007 and your assumption of the Mayor's office on January 1, 2008, which contract(s) includes but is not limited to the work performed by said law firm partners, associates or contractors in setting up and organizing the executive department of the government of the City of Indianapolis.
If you are claiming the document requested is subject to an exception to the Indiana Open Records Law, please identify that exception and provide an explanation as to why you believe the exception applies.

Because this request is being made by mail, IC 5-14-3-9(b) provides that you have seven days to respond.


Paul K. Ogden
Attorney at Law

The Hybrid Debate Revisited; Was Pay to Play Politics Involved?

At the end of the last year, Mayor Greg Ballard's administration announced that it had chosen to buy 85 hybrid Camrys from Andy Mohr Toyota rather than buying cheaper Malibu hybrids from Penske Chevrolet.

I thought the administration had a good response that the Camrys, although initially costing $148,000 more, could perhaps produce savings on gas in the long run, assuming gas prices rise beyond $3 a gallon. However, the savings has to be balanced against the importance of supporting locally-owned businesses. Parts of the Malibu are made in Indianapolis and Bedford, while the Camry hybrid is made in Kentucky. If the GM stamping plant in Indianapolis goes out of business, the loss in property tax revenue would make any gas savings look like chicken feed.

So I had mixed feelings about whether it was a good deal...that is until I started hearing the rumors that pay to play politics might have been involved in the decision. The information I have is that it has been confirmed by some high-level Republicans, that Andy Mohr Toyota is indeed a client of Barnes & Thornburg, whose partners Bob Grand and Joe Loftus, regularly sit in on meetings with the Mayor, meetings where this kind of decision would have likely been discussed.

Joanne Sanders, minority leader on the council, has asked questions about how the bidding process was done. They are legitimate questions. Bob Grand, Joe Loftus and the Mayor's Office need to disclose whether Andy Mohr is indeed a client of Barnes & Thornburg. There should be zero tolerance for secrecy in such matters. Questions regarding whether Andy Mohr is a client of Barnes & Thornburg, and the influence of that fact on the decision-making process, need to be answered, and answered honestly.