Friday, March 4, 2011

Guest Blog Post: Citizens’ Outcry Finally Persuades Council’s Republicans to Replace Variance Board Overlord

The following is a guest editorial from community activist Clarke Kahlo.  They do not necessarily represent the views of the author of this blog.


At the February 15th meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals, Division 3, chairman Alan Retherford stepped down after 20 years on the board. His departure was an unwritten condition to his contested and long-delayed re-appointment by the Council last August, following a 7-month period following his ouster vote by the Metropolitan Development Committee. Our citizens group initially challenged his re-appointment at the Committee’s January 25, 2010 hearing because of his domineering demeanor and disrespect for neighborhood remonstrators.

After 20 years of service on the variance board, we also felt his reign had naturally run its course. Yet Mr. Retherford did not step down willingly, and he and his son, a local zoning attorney, were vocal in their behind-the-scenes denunciation and attempted discrediting of the citizen critics.

A defamation of character lawsuit was hinted at by Mr. Retherford’s son, but not filed.

The March 2nd SCOTUS decision (in Snyder v. Phelps, 8 to 1) reaffirmed the protection of speech about public affairs, which, as Justice Roberts noted in the opinion, is “the essence of self-government”. Our challenge to Mr. Retherford’s re-appointment occurred on public property in the City-County Building in an official meeting of the Metropolitan Development Committee wherein the public was invited to comment on the proposal. Our speech was clearly intended to stimulate positive change needed in the hearing of proposed zoning variances. The threat of a defamation lawsuit was an obvious attempt to intimidate and threaten the elder Retherford’s critics.

Those who hold political power over others almost never want to give it up, and as we’ve seen recently in the Middle East, will often resort to extreme measures to cling to it, even in the face of overwhelming public opposition. Unfortunately this applies to unpopular presidents of nations, military dictators, the recently indicted Indiana Secretary of State, and the former chairman of a local variance board.

We found by this ordeal that occasionally the local political powers will respond to the betterment public good, but it can be an exceedingly tedious and painful process for those seeking the change of business-as-usual. It’s little wonder that we have so much public apathy and citizen disengagement.

Painful as it was for the protagonists, this ordeal established a valuable governance precedent in and for Indianapolis. It is believed to be the first instance in which citizens have mounted (and eventually succeeded in) a vigorous public appeal to the City-County Council to remove an appointee of one of the variance boards. Thus, there might be hope for the future, if the precedent is recorded and memorialized.

Yet, by this year-long experience, we were surprised and dismayed by the circle-the-wagons mentality of the Republican dominated Council and its Metropolitan Development Committee. It’s that power (and power-over-policy) dynamic showing its ugly head again.

Clarke Kahlo


Ghostwriter Judiciary said...

Isn't Clarke the president of Protect our Rivers Now, or P.O.R.N.?

Concerned said...

Finally a victory. Thank you Citizens' and Council.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Yes, I do believe so, Bill.