Friday, August 29, 2014

Bosma Dumps Eric Turner From His Leadership Team


Apparently State Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) has become too toxic for House Speaker Brian Bosma, who today announced that he had removed Turner as Speaker Pro Tempore, the number two person in his Republican leadership team. Bosma stated in a release to the media today that he had removed Turner many weeks ago due to his "irreconcilable conflicts," which refers to the constant self-dealing Turner has engaged in since becoming a state lawmaker to build his family's nursing home business into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Turner, a former Democrat, only switched to the Republican Party back in the 1990s when it became apparent to him that he could not win office as a Republican. I've never understood the rationalization of members of the House Republican caucus to elevate him to such a high level of their leadership team knowing what they knew about his self-dealing tendencies, saying nothing of his insincere affiliation with the Republican Party. Here's the text of the statement released by Bosma today:
“There is no more important precept in a free democratic system than the expectation of impartial decision making by elected policy makers.  In a part-time legislature we each carry with us our own personal conflicts and influences and we must continually be on guard to set them aside, or recuse ourselves entirely from influencing that matter.   Our greatest concern must be the confidence of the public in their elected officials. 
“Given the recently disclosed magnitude of Rep. Turner’s personal and family financial interest in the outcome of the nursing home moratorium debate, any involvement in the decision-making process, whether in public debate or through private discussions with fellow elected officials, presented an irreconcilable conflict.  Rep. Turner should have recused himself entirely from influencing the matter in any way given the personal financial stake involved.  I have no doubt the House Ethics Committee review of this matter was thorough and resulted in the correct conclusion; however, it also revealed significant gaps which must be addressed.  In consultation with our colleagues across the aisle and in the Senate, I intend to present a comprehensive ethics bill to address many of these issues during the 2015 session. 
“Calls for resignation or removal at this point mean little, as the General Assembly is officially adjourned until after the November election.  The public can rest assured that I made the decision many weeks ago that Rep. Turner will not be part of our leadership team come November.  My greatest concern is restoring the confidence of the public in their elected officials.” 

Mourdock Quits Before End Of Term

I think I've let it be known in the past just how little respect I have for public officials who quit the public office to which they were elected for selfish reasons as opposed to compelling personal reasons. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is leaving office four months before the end of his four-year term supposedly so he can take advantage of a change in the law governing public employees retirement benefits. It's one thing if he had left the office to which he was elected because the voters had elected him to another office; it's quite another to quit your elected job just so you can draw a higher pension benefit after just shy of eight years as a state officeholder.

Gov. Mike Pence moved quickly to name Dan Huge to finish the remainder of Mourdock's term. Huge is the former CFO of the Capital Improvement Board and current chief operating officer of the Indiana Finance Authority. In a manner of speaking, he's a stooge for Barnes & Thornburg's Bob Grand and Brian Burdick, who in case you didn't know it are the people who are actually in charge of running the State Treasurer's Office. Most recently-elected State Treasurers were all under their thumb, with the exception of Joyce Brinkman. When Brinkman refused to take orders from Grand and Burdick, they saw to it that her butt was kicked to the curb and that she was permanently banished from Republican Party politics in this state. Grand and Burdick tried unsuccessfully to install their handpicked candidate, Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold, to the office but were thwarted by state GOP delegates when Seybold lost out to Mourdock staffer, Kelly Mitchell. It remains to be seen whether Mitchell can run the office herself if she wins in November, or whether she's been told in no uncertain terms who has to be in charge if she knows what's good for her political future.

I feel similarly about the decision of Gov. Mike Pence to name State Rep. Steve Braun (R-Zionsville) as the state's new director of the Department of Workforce Development. Braun is a candidate for re-election this November and, although Pence announced his appointment this week, he won't actually take office until after he wins re-election in his safely-Republican district. It's too late to name another Republican candidate to take his place on the ballot; therefore, he'll just pretend his running for re-election. Then the Republican precinct committeepersons will be called together to name his successor, who will have the privilege of serving a full two-year term without before ever having to face the voters. This practice is becoming way too common, allowing lawmakers to be chosen in backroom deals by political power brokers rather than the voters.

UPDATE: Kelly Mitchell released the following statement about being shocked and surprised about learning of Mourdock's resignation today. She says she told Pence not to appoint her to the office she is now seeking. Who does she think she's kidding? She was never offered the appointment. Pence is, after all, Bob Grand's stooge.
“I was shocked and surprised by the news of Treasurer Mourdock’s resignation today. Since I learned of this, people have approached me asking if I would be interested in being appointed by Governor Pence to finish the current term. I gave this serious thought. Because I care deeply about the office and state, the prospect of joining the office immediately and helping Hoosiers in that new role is exciting.
“However, for nearly a year, I have been making my case to voters that I have the experience and vision required to be voted the next State Treasurer. I’m confident I can earn their trust, so I have called Governor Pence and asked not to be considered to be appointed at this time.
“Given that the next 60 days are the most intense days on the campaign trail, my focus right now is to be sure that the voters of Indiana get to know me and my values, and that I work hard to earn their vote on Election Day. I look forward to continuing to share my vision for the office and earning your trust between now and November 4. I would be humbled to be elected your next Indiana State Treasurer and to begin my service to our great state then.”

Visit Indy Board Member and Former Ballard Chief Of Staff Wants More State Subsidies For Downtown Convention Business


UPDATE: Apparently the downtown mafia is not satisfied that state taxpayers are carrying their share of the burden in propping up Indianapolis' downtown convention business if the musings of Chris Cotterill, former chief of staff to Mayor Greg Ballard and Visit Indy board member, are any indication. Cotterill, a lobbyist for Faegre Baker Daniels, blogs about the state needing to "invest a little to make a lot more." Some online survey claims that Indianapolis is the number one convention city in America so that's further impetus for remaining on top, or so the argument goes.

Cotterill wants the state to establish an "event incentive fund" that would make millions of state tax dollars available in the form of a grant every year that the CIB and Visit Indy could tap to offer incentives to lure even more conventions to Indianapolis. Texas has such a fund so it must be a good idea according to Cotterill. In addition, Cotterill says the convention center needs to be expanded again for the umpteenth time to keep up with the Joneses. Current occupancy is running at about 65%, but that's supposedly a high occupancy rate by industry standards. Cotterill says the plans already exist for an expansion of the convention center, which is interesting because during a recent meeting of the CIB, the municipal corporation's CEO, Barney Levengood, claimed there were no current plans for expanding the convention center. Cotterill thinks the state should provide an extra $20 million to the CIB for convention center expansion by making a one-time bump in the annual subsidy the state provides to the CIB. "That's a rounding error to a state budget surplus of $2 billion, but we don't have to dip into the state's reserves."

Here's what I think of Cotterill's snot-nosed idea.

Here's some additional trivia about the salaries earned by Visit Indy's top executives according to their 2012 tax return:

Leonard Hoops, CEO (Salary-$422,000, Bonus-$55,000)--$477,000
Susan Townsend, Sr. VP, Visitor Experience (Salary-$153,000, Bonus-$28,600)--$181,600
Michelle Travis, Sr. VP, Sales (Salary-$263,000, Bonus-$42,000)--$305,000
James Wallis, Executive VP (Salary-$223,000, Bonus-$42,000)--$265,000
Matthew Carter, VP, Market Intelligence (Salary-$154,000, Bonus-$37,000)--$191,000
Dustin Arnheim, Director, Convention Sales (Salary-$138,000, Bonus-$34,000)--$172,000
Janet Arnold, VP, Partner Relationships (Salary-$173,000, Bonus-$33,000)--$206,000
Christopher Gahl, VP, Marketing/Communications (Salary-$117,000, Bonus-$32,000)--$149,000
Mary Huggard, VP, Tourism Development (Salary-$129,000, Bonus-$21,000--$150,000

Keep in mind that this doesn't include their lavish travel and entertainment allowance. If you saw how much these people get to spend eating out at the best restaurants and staying at luxury hotels all over this country, in addition to the special events entertaining they get to do with our tax dollars, you would be appalled. Their board members are entangled in conflicts of interest. Visit Indy spend tens of thousand entertaining at Pacers' games. Of course, Pacers Sports & Entertainment's President, Jim Morris, also serves on their board. They spend over $120,000 a year at the IMS at the same time the IMS' then-President Jeff Belskus served on their board. They spent another $70,000 on Maribeth Smith & Associates where another board member works, Ellen Saul. They've got at least a $15 million budget, more than a third of which is spent on entertainment-travel related expenses.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh Involved In Single-Car Crash

BUR 0827 freeh 3.jpg
Photo: Rick Russell/Vermont Standard
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh sustained serious injuries earlier this week after the SUV he was driving down the highway in Vermont suddenly veered off the road and struck a tree. Emergency workers had to cut off the top of his vehicle to extricate him. The 64-year old was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire where he was admitted in the intensive care unit under armed protection due to his past work on terrorism cases while running the FBI from 1993 to 2001. Vermont police tell the Burlington Free Press that drugs or alcohol were not a factor in the crash that occurred around noon on Monday. Vermont State Police also say they don't believe Freeh's GMC Yukon had been tampered with. Curiously, an unidentified FBI agent just happened to be one of the first persons on the scene following Freeh's crash according to the newspaper report. The Burlington Free Press said it was unclear what the extent of Freeh's injuries were or how much longer he would remain hospitalized.

Freeh was in charge of a number of controversial cases while serving as FBI director, including the Ruby Ridge incident, the Waco massacre by the government of members of the Branch Dividians, the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, the charging of an innocent man for the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, the crash of TWA Flight #800 and the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. After leaving the FBI, Freeh started up his own private consulting and investigative firm, Freeh Group International Solutions. His most notable recent work was a highly-criticized investigative report he prepared for Penn State following the arrest and conviction of serial child molester Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach under the late, long-time head football coach, Joe Paterno.

Some people have questioned Freeh's close associations with the Saudi royal family. He defended Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. who married into the House of Saad, in the investigation of an arms deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia. Russ Baker's WhoWhatWhy has more on Freeh's curious car crash here. Some believe that Freeh's pre-9/11 handling of counter-terrorism efforts made it possible for 15 of the 19 Saudis allegedly involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to gain entry into the country and participate in the terrorist attacks. Critics of the 911 Commission Report have long complained that commission members deliberately ignored overwhelming evidence of Saudi involvement in the events leading up to 9/11.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

City Council Members Lobbying Police Officers For Support Of Public Safety Tax Increase At IMPD Roll Calls

Advance Indiana has fielded numerous complaints from police officers and other concerned citizens that rank-and-file IMPD officers are being forced to listen to City-County Councilors make political speeches to them urging support of Mayor Ballard's public safety tax increase proposal at their district roll call meetings. Police officers were given no choice other than to sit and listen to the political speeches. Police officers tell Advance Indiana that it is unprecedented that political speeches in support of a particular legislative proposal are made on duty during official department meetings. Historically, such political speeches are only permitted at the FOP lodge on Shelby Street during FOP meetings while officers are not on duty. The City's ethics code bars city employees, appointees and council members from using city resources to engage in political activities, or from engaging in political activities while on city time. Some believe the actions of the councilors violates the spirit, if not the letter of the city's ethics code.

This comes within a week of IMPD's media affairs office allowing Councilor Leroy Robinson to send a department-wide e-mail using Sgt. Kendale Adams' e-mail account to members of the police department defending his and other councilors' actions in hanging "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" signs at the council members' desks during last Monday's city-county council meeting where the full council had a remembrance of the tenth anniversary of the shooting death of Officer Jack Laird. Robinson boasted of his past support from the FOP in the department-wide e-mail. Robinson's e-mail set off heated reaction in follow-up e-mails from a number of police officers responding to Robinson's comments. On Monday, Chief Rick Hite sent an e-mail instructing IMPD personnel not to comment further on the matter using the department's e-mail system in response to the heated exchange generated by Robinson's e-mail.

Meanwhile, the Public Safety Committee voted 6-4 along party lines to raise the public safety local income tax from 0.35% to 0.50%. The current local income tax rate is 1.62%. This hike will take the new rate to 1.77%., an increase of about 9.2%. The tax hike will generate another $30 million supposedly for the purpose of hiring more police officers, even though we know that it a total lie. It is a bait-and-switch just like the last 65% increase in the local income tax for public safety back in 2007. That tax increase resulted in fewer, not more police officers despite Mayor Ballard's phony promise to make public safety job one. This tax will be needed to pay for proposed pay increases in future years for public safety officers and health care costs, as well as higher future annual layouts that will be required to pay for the proposed privatized criminal justice center, which is nothing more than a big kickback scheme for political insiders that guarantees multi-million dollar payoffs to them as a benefit of having our politicians in their back pockets. Except for Councilor Christine Scales, the Republican members only voted against the proposal because it didn't also include a hike in property taxes by eliminating the homestead property tax credit to fund the mayor's pre-K education initiative, which Scales correctly argues shouldn't be paid for with city tax dollars. This clowns can't even fund basic city services, and now they want to raise taxes to fund education expenses that are the responsibility of state government and local school districts, not city government.

UPDATE: It looks like Chief Hite sent a letter to council members advising them to use an alternative venue for giving their political speeches than IMPD roll calls.

Star Continues Pre-K Propaganda

It's no wonder that the Star's readership has collapsed under Gannett's ownership and management of the newspaper. The outsiders brought into run the newspaper have no qualms about using both its news pages and editorial/commentary pages to flack for whatever its flavor of the day is, making it no different than a partisan interest group lobbying Congress, the state legislature or city hall. The only difference is that it's not required to register as a lobbyist and report its lobbying activities like others in that profession. For whatever reason, the Star has determined that it's now the principle purpose of city government to fund pre-K education, and it's going to shoehorn any argument that serves that aim regardless of its absurdity. There's yet another editorial telling Indy to "get it done" when it comes to raising taxes as proposed by Mayor Ballard for that purpose.
It’s the opportunity to significantly improve thousands of lives for years to come, to help struggling families secure a strong foundation for their children and to reverse in the long term the horrific surge in violent crime that plagues our city.
The opportunity to accomplish all of this came in an unlikely package — a public safety plan recently proposed by Mayor Greg Ballard, which includes, along with more police officers and tougher prison sentences, a call to invest $50 million in public and private money in early childhood education . . .
Eli Lilly and Co. also has stepped forward in a big way. The company recently pledged to raise $10 million over the next three years from the business community, including $2 million from its own foundation, to invest in high quality preschool programs.
Yet, there’s still misguided resistance to the plan on the City-County Council. This past week a council committee shot down, for now, a proposed funding mechanism for the preschool expansion, a move that puts the entire plan in jeopardy.
Opposition to the proposal is driven by council Democrats who fear giving a Republican mayor a key policy win a year ahead of the next election. Such blatant partisanship -- which shamefully puts political concerns ahead of children’s needs -- has become increasingly frustrating to key leaders in the city . . .
The Star's editorial makes no acknowledgement whatsoever that it has never been the responsibility of city government to fund public education. And far be it from the editors to ignore convincing evidence that children receiving some form of pre-K education are no less likely to drop out of school than those who don't. Yet anyone who opposes the mayor's pre-K initiative is doing so for partisan purposes only. The Star's editors simply pretend that the only real Republican on the City-County Council, Christine Scales, is not also against the idea. It has to be that she just doesn't like the mayor, right? No, she offers very cogent reasons for not distracting the city from its core municipal functions, but the Star allows no room in its publication for opposing viewpoints. Can't have that.

By insisting on characterizing pre-K funding as a public safety initiative, the Star shatters all credibility. It even suggests that part of the package council members are being asked to support is tougher prison sentences when it knows full well that city government has absolutely no control over sentences that are handed out to criminal offenders.

Once again, it uses the mantra that Eli Lilly wants it. Ergo, it has to be good for the city, right? Who in the hell is Eli Lilly to be telling Indianapolis city leaders it must raise taxes to fund education initiatives, particularly when the mammoth-sized tax abatements it successfully obtained from city government on the promise of more jobs that were never produced is partially responsible for fewer dollars being available to fund basic city services, including public safety?

The Star's political columnist is back again with yet another column touting the mayor's pre-K initiative. This time he snarkily acknowledges that his wife works for Lilly after this blog pointed out that his wife works in a high-level capacity for the company, and that she also chairs the board of the Day Nursery, which is likely to be one of the beneficiaries of funding to be offered under the mayor's proposal. Her role with the Day Nursery still gets no nod from Tully because he says she doesn't get paid for her volunteer work there.
The mayor has proposed an ambitious preschool program with a modest price tag. It’s $5 million a year, matched over the first five years by corporate and nonprofit money. Eli Lilly and Co. (yes, my wife’s employer) has already for the effort.
Tully's favorite Democratic councilor, John Barth, explains to him that it's a matter of priorities among spending ideas. The good news Tully tells us is that Barth and the mayor's deputy mayor for education, Jason Kloth, are taking the lead on negotiations concerning the issue. Kloth serves on Day Nursery's board of directors with Tully's wife. Again, Tully knows of this obvious conflict of interest in Kloth making policy decisions for city government and, at the same time, trying to push initiatives that benefit a specific nonprofit organization of which he's serving in a fiduciary role. If Kloth were advocating something Tully or the Star opposed, you can bet his conflict of interest would be front-page news and the subject of tongue-lashing editorials and columns.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Another Simon Mall Faulters

Simon Property Group abandoned Indianapolis' first mall, Eastgate Consumer Mall. Next came Lafayette Square Mall's demise on Northwest side. Now Simon has walked away from its Washington Square Mall on the city's East side, along with more than $27 million in debt owed on it. How much will Indianapolis taxpayers wind up paying in efforts to redevelop the blight left behind by all of these malls abandoned by our good corporate citizens? Taxpayers are paying close to $20 million to prop up the politically-connected owner of Eastgate in a disastrous effort to shoehorn the Regional Operations Center and the East district IMPD headquarters into the ill-suited site. Unsuccessful efforts were made to locate a new criminal justice center at the site of Lafayette Square Mall. What bright ideas will they come up with for Washington Square Mall, which is already about half vacant?

Monday, August 25, 2014

High-Paid FSSA Consultant Has Two Masters: Who Would Have Thought?

Seema Verma leading a state health care policy panel discussion 
Those of you familiar with my reporting on this blog know that I've discussed the Family & Social Services Administration and the tangled web of conflicts of those entrusted at the highest levels of the agency. I devoted considerable time discussing former FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob, who left a high-paying executive job at ACS to run the agency at the beginning of the Daniels administration. Roob knew that he planned to privatize the agency's welfare services when he took the job, and by no accident his former employer wound up in the driver's seat on that lucrative contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Similarly, one of Roob's successors, Mike Gargano, had a history of performing work both as a consultant to FSSA and to others like ACS who did business with the agency before he joined the agency the first time, and during the short period of time he left the agency during Debra Minott's brief tenure at the beginning of Pence's administration.

It turns out that there is another high-paid consultant who has been with the agency since the days of the O'Bannon administration who has an equally troubling conflict of interest. The Star's Tony Cook has an excellent investigative story describing the two masters FSSA consultant Seema Verma has been serving for some time. Verma is the owner of SVC, Inc., a business which lists its business address at her upscale home in The Woods at Williams Creek subdivision in Carmel where I'm pretty sure the covenants don't permit you to operate a business. As Cook's story points out, she and her company's employees share offices within FSSA's state office building offices downtown to perform their high-level health care consulting role for the agency. Prior to becoming an FSSA consultant, Verma served as Vice-President of Policy & Planning for the Marion Co. Health & Hospital Corporation where Mitch Roob once served as CEO. According to Cook, Verma has assumed the state's lead role in developing the Healthy Indiana Plan, Indiana's alternative health insurance plan to Obamacare.

So what's the problem? Well, according to Cook's story, Verma has been consulting another IT company doing business with FSSA at the same time she and her employees occupy offices in the state office building as a captive agency contractor. Under a contract with HP, Verma can earn up to $1 million, which is a drop in the bucket for the nearly $500 million HP has won in state contracts during her tenure as FSSA's chief health policy consultant. Verma's state contracts for health care consulting have totaled more than $3.5 million to date, over $1 million of which she earned in the last year alone. What is disturbing is that Verma's role as a consultant to HP was fully disclosed and signed off on by state officials as totally kosher. A spokesperson for Gov. Pence defended Verma, noting that she has "played a valuable role in the state's health care policy since the O'Bannon administration." Verma's paid spokesman, Lou Gerig, tells Cook that her role as a subcontractor to HP was spelled out in HP's contracts with the state.

According to Cook's story, her power and influence within FSSA cannot be understated. It sounds like her obvious conflict of interest might not have even come to light had she not butted heads with former FSSA Secretary Debra Minott. It was Minott who lost her job, not Verma. Cook says that Verma's contractual role with HP came as a big surprise to Minott when she discovered it in 2013 after a dispute over one of its invoices. According to Minott, HP dispatched Seema to visit the agency's CFO about resolving the disputed invoice. "I was troubled because I thought Seema was our consultant," Minott told Cook.

Ethics experts agree there is a problem with Verma serving two masters. State lawmakers to whom Cook spoke were also surprised to learn of the arrangement, both as to the size of her contract and the dual, conflicting consulting role. Cook's story doesn't touch on this point, but I noticed that several of the employees listed on SVC's website are former employees of FSSA. Stephanie Baume worked in the Office of Medicaid Policy & Planning where she administered the Hoosier Heathwise plan before joining SVC. Nicole Spears worked as an integration manager within OMPP before joining Verma's company. Kelly Greene served as FSSA's general counsel before she joined SVC. It's no wonder she wields so much power within the agency. People can leave the state payroll and join her firm as consultants to their former employer earning more than they earned in their prior roles as state employees.

British Newspaper: Experts Agree Foley Beheading Video Was Staged After Internet Sleuths Expose

Brave journalist ... James Foley on assignment in Aleppo, Syria. Picture: Nicole Tung
The mainstream media has been exploiting a video supposedly released by ISIS terrorists allegedly showing a British man beheading American photojournalist James Foley who was allegedly captured in Syria in 2012 and had been held captive since. Various Internet sleuths were quick to point out how obvious it was that the events taking place in the video were staged--the use of a stage prop dummy that didn't even resemble Foley, green screen effects and all. Jihadi John, the British rapper turned terrorist who supposedly beheaded Foley, was a lieutenant of Osama bin Laden we're now told, which makes him a more likely candidate to be working for MI6 or the CIA than a true terrorist. The UK Times now reports that experts agree that the video was staged, although we're to believe the actual beheading of Foley really occurred.
The video of a British jihadist beheading an American hostage was probably staged, with the actual murder taking place off-camera, according to forensic analysis.
Footage of James Foley’s death at the hands of a man with a London accent provided a powerful propaganda tool for Islamic State — formerly Isis — when it was uploaded on to the internet and broadcast around the world last week . . .
“I think it has been staged,” said one expert in visual forensics, after he was commissioned by The UK Times to examine the footage.
“My feeling is that the execution may have happened after the camera was stopped.”
Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum think-tank, said over the years ISIS militants have improved the production quality of their videos.
Firstly, no blood can be seen, even though the knife is drawn across the neck area at least six times. Secondly, sounds allegedly made by Foley do not appear consistent with what may be expected.
The forensic analysis expert said that no incision could be seen on Foley’s neck, though the right hand of the jihadist partially blocked the shot.
While the forensics company, which asked to remain anonymous, did not reach a definitive answer they did conclude that at some point an execution of Foley did take place . . . 
The truth about James Foley also raises serious doubts as to whether he was a legitimate photojournalist. It has been revealed that Foley worked for USAID and Teach For America in Iraq. USAID was long ago exposed as nothing more than a CIA front organization. This was not the first time he was captured by terrorists. His capture in Libya in 2011 was exploited to promote American military intervention there as evidenced in this staged interview with Faux News' Bill O'Reilly.


If you had any doubt about the James Foley beheading story being nothing more than a staged hoax, check out the interviews of his siblings, who looked and acted more like a cat who had just swallowed the canary than a grieving brother and sister. It's just further evidence that you can't believe anything that is reported by the mainstream media anymore.
 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Star Columnist Neglected To Disclose Conflict Of Interest In Writing About Pre-K And Lilly

UPDATED: SEE TULLY'S RESPONSE BELOW
Star political columnist Matthew Tully had nothing but glowing comments to say about Mayor Greg Ballard's plan to raise taxes to fund a new pre-K education initiated and backed by Eli Lilly. Here's a sample of what he recently wrote:
Mayor Greg Ballard recently proposed, as part of an anti-crime package, an ambitious effort to invest in early childhood education. If approved by the City-County Council, the plan would spend $50 million, half of it from government funds, on preschool scholarships over the next five years for 4-year-olds who come from low-income families.
The rest of the money would come from corporate, nonprofit and other private contributions. Making clear that there is a willing public-private partnership waiting to be formed, Eli Lilly and Co. has stepped up to both demand action and promise significant financial support for the initiative.
If the Republican mayor and the Democrat-controlled council can work out a deal to approve the mayor’s plan, or something equivalent, Lilly will work with other businesses to raise $10 million over the next three years for the preschool plan, pitching in the first $2 million from the Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation, company officials said Friday. The offer is a reminder that the business community has helped lead the push to improve the state of education in Marion County in recent years, and that there is a growing frustration with the deep partisanship that has stalled action on crucial issues, from public safety to infrastructure repairs, at the City-County Building.
“We can no longer afford this small-ball politics that has defined how we address problems,” said Robert Smith, president of the Lilly Foundation and the company’s senior director for corporate responsibility. “The message our CEO is sending is that this is critical to the future of our community. And while we can be catalytic, this is the responsibility of our elected officials to sit down and get this done.”
Smith said company CEO John Lechleiter has sent “a clear directive” that Lilly should use its unique position in the community to convince political leaders “to do this now.” With a potential council vote in September, and a need to secure long-term public funding at the Statehouse, he said this will be a major focus of the company.
So to make things clear: If the council plays games with this issue, or if the mayor fails to create a healthy dialogue with council leaders, they will leave a promise of $10 million on the table — $10 million that could set thousands of kids on a better path toward the future. While our city’s leaders should do the right thing for the right reasons, it’ll be nice to have this added incentive to help out.
Lilly’s leaders will soon pitch the idea in detail to CEOs and other business leaders in the community and plan to host an event on Sept. 12 focused on the vast and proven benefits of early education — benefits that help students socially and academically, while providing companies with stronger schools and talent pools, and communities and schools with savings on everything from remedial classes to incarceration. Smith said preliminary discussions with the business community about corporate contributions to get the preschool program started have attracted “strong conceptual support.”
The effort comes “at an inflection point in time in the city,” said Lilly executive Ed Sagebiel, noting that concerns about crime and dropout rates are mixing with a growing understanding of the role early learning plays in shaping a child’s future. While Democrats have long argued in favor of public funding for preschool, the state’s conservative governor, Mike Pence, has of late become the state’s most important champion of it, pushing a preschool pilot program through a skeptical legislature this year. Ballard, meanwhile, has taken the political risk of seeking to raise taxes for preschool a year before the next election.
Mike O’Connor, a Lilly lobbyist who served as the chief of staff in former Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson’s administration, said the data on preschool has guided the decision to put the company’s weight behind this effort. While the company will continue to support efforts to improve K-12 education, he said it is clear that reaching further back into the lives of many children is also a necessity.
“This is an opportunity to engage in what has proven to be sound public policy, to set aside partisan politics, and to do something in a bigger way than has been done before,” he said. “We can move the needle in a bipartisan way.” . . .
There are valid questions about how the city should pay for Ballard’s proposal, and a smart public debate could lead to improvements in the plan. But it is indisputably clear that more children need access to high-quality preschools, and that too many children in this city arrive at kindergarten already at a high risk of failing in school.
That reality is both heartbreaking for those children and devastating for the city’s future. To alter it, big and bold moves are needed. And it is nice to see leaders in this community stepping up to help make it happen.
It's "indisputably clear" according to Tully that raising city taxes and spending it on pre-K education spending proposal backed by Mayor Ballard and Eli Lilly will keep at-risk kids from failing in school. Was Tully leaving something out that might have some influence over his sweeping conclusion?

Now here's what Tully didn't tell you but should have told you as an ethical journalist. Tully's wife, Valerie Tully, is employed at Eli Lilly as a Global Public Policy Director  where she is responsible for "reviewing legislative and administrative proposals to determine corporate position and enable external engagement in support of that position" according to her LinkedIn profile. In other words, she's paid to influence what supposed journalists like her husband communicate to us.

It gets better. It seems Valerie Tully also serves as chairman of the board of directors for the Day Nursery Association of Indiana, a nonprofit which operates eight Indianapolis area child care centers that provide day care and education services daily to more than 800 children. Day Nursery gets its funding from parent fees, federal Title XX funds, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Step Ahead councils, United Way, corporate and foundation grants and private donations according to the nonprofit's website. Suffice it to say that Day Nursery will be the recipient of any new tax dollars generated for Ballard's pre-K initiative. And did I mention that Jason Kloth, Mayor Ballard's deputy mayor for education, who was responsible for fashioning the administration's pre-K proposal, also sits on Day Nursery's board of director with Tully's wife? Conflict of interest? Any other questions?

UPDATE: Lilly executives Mike O'Connor and Robert Smith were guests on Amos Brown's radio talk show last week to pitch the pre-K tax and spend plan. O'Connor actually identifies the Day Nursery by name as providing the type of early childhood education that would be funded by the program. O'Connor, by the way, was one of the architects of Peterson's 65% local income tax increase that sank Peterson's re-election bid who once derisively referred to Ballard as a "jar head." He now has nothing but glowing comments for Ballard's tax and spend plan. Of course, O'Connor will be supporting Ballard's Democrat opponent next year and will be happy to see Ballard's knuckle head of an idea help sink his re-election bid.

Matt Tully has e-mailed me concerning his response to my blog post. Here's his reply:
Thanks for raising important issues. You didn't ask me for comment but I thought I should share some information. 
First, my wife is a volunteer board member at Day Nursery. She is not paid -- rather, she does this because she believes in the value of early learning for at-risk children. We have absolutely no financial interest in Day Nursery. The volunteering is a huge time commitment for her, but she does it gladly. Personally, I could not be more proud of, or inspired by, the volunteer work that she does. 
Second, the Linked In page you reference is outdated. My wife now works in Six Sigma at Lilly and has no involvement whatsoever in the company preschool effort I wrote about, and she never has been involved in that in her job.  
Third, I ran this by my bosses prior to writing about the Lilly pre-K effort to make sure they were comfortable with it. They were, based on the reasons outlined here. 
Fourth, I have been very vocal in support of public funding for preschool for several years. It has been one of the most consistent themes of my column since the beginning. It was an issue, for example, in the 2007 mayoral campaign and in the 2014 General Assembly. I was a strong advocate for expanded access to preschool in both of those cases.  Although I generally don't write about Lilly, I did in this case because this crossed into a non-business issue I care deeply about (and that I was already firmly on record supporting). It is important to pause here and note that I wasn't writing about earnings, the FDA or other regulatory issues. I was writing about a push to increase access to preschool for low-income kids. 
Finally, I believe there is nothing more important in this city than improving the chances that at-risk children have access to high-quality preschool. I have written that over and over. And that's why I wrote this column -- because it encourages Democrats on the City-County Council to work with the Republican mayor to get this done. I will continue to loudly support this effort going forward, and I will praise any group, company, politician or individual who embraces that cause.
I appreciate Matt taking the time to respond. It doesn't really change my concerns. I assumed his wife wasn't paid to serve on Day Nursery's board of directors, although her volunteer role there would be looked upon very favorably by her employer given its long history of support for the Day Nursery since its founding. I assumed her Linkedin page was up-to-date, but again, it doesn't change the fact that she is still employed in a high-level capacity for Lilly. As I had indicated in one of my earlier comments, I was certain that his bosses at the Star were well aware of what his wife did for a living and had no qualms with him writing on a subject that touched on an issue advocated by her employer because it's a position supported by the editorial management of the newspaper. Matt's personal view on the value of pre-K education speak for itself. Matt was a bit less contrite in his Twitter post on the subject, where he falsely claims I called for him to be fired from his job:

I wrote this response to the bloggers who want me canned: Now I need to get to work.