Sunday, August 31, 2014

Attorney General's Position In Charlie White Appeal Poses Greatest Threat To Voter Disenfranchisement

When the Indiana Recount Commission unanimously agreed that Charlie White had legally registered to vote prior to the 2010 election at which he was elected the state's Secretary of State, Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office made compelling arguments to the state's Supreme Court defending the Commission's conclusions that White was legally registered to vote in successfully convincing the high court to overturn Marion Co. Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg's contrary conclusions. Now the Attorney General has done a 180-degree turn and is arguing to the Indiana Court of Appeals that a Hamilton Co. trial court did not err in finding White guilty of multiple felony charges, including vote fraud. In essence, the Attorney General is arguing that the standard for proving vote fraud in a civil proceeding is much higher than the standard it believes Indiana courts should apply in determining a voter's criminal liability for vote fraud.

The entire criminal case against White focused on the prosecution's argument that White had committed perjury and vote fraud by registering to vote and casting a single ballot in one primary election in March, 2010 using the Fishers address of his former wife on Broad Leaf Lane instead of a new condominium he purchased in 2010 on Overview Drive. White had given up an apartment he rented following his divorce from his first wife with the plan of moving into the Overview Drive condominium once he and his second wife were married. White's then-fiancee' moved into the condominium with her children in early 2010 a few months prior to their marriage on Memorial Day weekend. White claimed he did not make the Overview Drive his permanent residence until after the couple were married. White says that he spent many nights sleeping in the finished basement of his ex-wife's house where his son lived and other places while he was busy traveling the state campaigning for the Republican nomination for secretary of state. In September, 2010, White changed his voter registration to the Overview Drive condominium in accordance with Indiana law

The prosecution argued that White committed vote fraud and perjury by claiming the Broad Leaf residence rather than the Overview Drive residence as his residence when he registered and voted using that address in the May, 2010 primary election. During the appeal of the civil case seeking White's removal as Secretary of State, the Attorney General flatly asserted in the brief it filed with the Supreme Court that White was legally registered to vote at the Broad Leaf residence and did not commit vote fraud by casting a ballot using that residence in the May, 2010 primary election. The Attorney General criticized the Marion Circuit Court's conclusions to the contrary as "fail[ing] in its obligation to abide this Court's tripartite command to liberally construe election statutes to effectuate their purpose of securing free and equal elections, uphold the will of the electorate, and prevent disenfranchisement."

In the Recount Commission case, the Attorney General contended that White's residence at Broad Leaf was a legally permissible "nontraditional residence" under Indiana's Election Code. “He was also properly registered at the Broad Leaf house," the Attorney General argued. Continuing, he explained that White "had abandoned all other residences to which he could return." "Broad Leaf was also the home of his immediate family because his son lived there." "Generally, Broad Leaf was a 'nontraditional residence,' which election law defines as not fixed or permanent. He intended to live there until he was married and moved to the Overview Drive Condominium." The Attorney General observed that the question of where White was registered to vote and when he voted using that address are "both technical and formal." To find that White's voter registration and ballot casting using the Broad Leaf residence amounted to fraud was a "an absurd and arguably unconstitutional result" that "the legislature could not have intended."
The Indiana Code defines a person’s residence as “where the person has the person’s true, fixed, and permanent home and principal residence; and to which the person has , whenever absent, the intention of returning.” Additionally, the code provides standards to assist in the determination of the person’s residency. A person’s residence may be established by their origin or birth, intent and conduct to implement the intent, or operation of law. A person does not have residence in more than one precinct. Once a person obtains residency in a precinct, they retain residency there until they abandon the residency by 1) having the intent to abandon the residence, 2) having the intent to abandon the residency, and 3) effectuates that intent by actually establishing a residence in a new precinct. These provisions codify much of this Court’s discussion of residency and domicile in State Election Board v. Bayh . . . 
Other statutory provisions create rebuttable presumptions assisting in determining a person’s residence. . . White had abandoned all other residences to which he could return or intend to return. . .For example, the place where a person’s immediate family resides is the person’s residence. White’s only immediate family was his son, who lived at the Broad Leaf house. The Commission properly found that this qualified White to declare the Broad Leaf house on his voter registration . . . 
The Election Code provides for a person to have a “nontraditional residence” which may be the best description of White’s living arrangements . . . an individual with a nontraditional residence whose residence is within a precinct, but is not fixed or permanent, resides in that precinct  . . .White intended that Broad Leaf house to be his principal residence from the time he abandoned the Pintail Lane  apartment and until he was married and moved into the Overview Drive condominium with his then-fiancee. He had his mail forwarded to the Broad Leaf house, lived in the finished basement, had 24-hour access to the house through a key and a security code. He changed his driver’s license to reflect the Broad Leaf address. Whether a traditional or nontraditional residence, the Commission’s factual determination that the Broad Leaf house was White’s residence from June 1, 2009 to June 1, 2010, is not arbitrary or capricious and the trial court erred in reversing. The Commission’s determination finds support in this Court’s jurisprudence as well. (citations omitted)
At trial, the jury was instructed to rely solely on White's "true, fixed, and permanent home and principal residence; and to which the person has , whenever absent, the intention of returning” as the definition of residence for both his voter registration and ballot casting. In his reply brief in White's appeal of his criminal convictions, the Attorney General concedes the existence of statutory and case law defining the varying legal standards that are to be applied in determining a person's residence as argued by White. Nonetheless, he argued that the narrow instruction the trial court provided to the jury in White's case was "accurate, broadly applicable, and could be understood by the jurors." A more detailed instruction that would have allowed the jurors to consider the varying standards would have only "confused" the jurors he argues, and it was an objection White's attorney, Carl Brizzi, had failed to preserve for appeal the Attorney General argues. The convictions based on the jury instruction on the narrow definition of residence can only be overturned if the appellate court finds that the trial court committed fundamental error because of Brizzi's failure to preserve his objection to the jury instruction.

Similarly, the Attorney General is dismissive of White's claims that jurors were incorrectly instructed on the application of the vote fraud statutes, which make it a crime to fraudulently complete voter registration applications or cast ballots fraudulently. Jurors were instructed that the applicable statutes applied to a single voter registration application or a single ballot despite the fact the statute was written in the plural to apply to "applications" or "ballots." The Attorney General's brief in the Recount Commission case emphasized the fact there was no question that White was entitled to register to vote in Hamilton County and was in fact a registered voter at all applicable times in that country. Yet the Attorney General claims it would be absurd to think the legislature only meant to prosecute people for vote fraud if they completed more than one voter registration application or cast more than one ballot.

The overriding purpose of the voter registration laws is to ensure the constitutional principle of one man, one vote. How can you convict White of two felony counts of vote fraud and two felony counts of perjury for registering in a precinct in the same town within the same county and casting a single ballot in one election when the Attorney General concedes he was a legally registered voter of that town and county entitled to cast a vote on the basis that he should have registered and voted in a different precinct than he was registered and voted? Does that not fly in the face of the Attorney General's previous argument that our election laws are to be "liberally construed" to "prevent disenfranchisement"? Is that the form of vote fraud the legislature intended that persons could be prosecuted for when they enacted those laws? I think not. Lest we forget that the Marion Co. Election Board determined that former Sen. Richard Lugar had illegally registered and cast ballots repeatedly from an address at which he had no legal claim for arguing was his legal residence for 35 years. Was he prosecuted? Absolutely not. In fact, this same Attorney General actually defended Lugar's clearly illegal voter registration as legal.

Other arguments proffered by the Attorney General in his brief are equally as concerning. White was found guilty of felony perjury for listing the Broad Leaf address instead of the Overview Drive address on the marriage license application he completed for the Hamilton Co. Clerk's Office. The Attorney General agrees that White was a resident of Hamilton Co. when he completed the marriage license application but that he made a material misrepresentation on the application by listing the Broad Leaf address as his residence. The Attorney General cites no cases in support of its argument that a person's address on a marriage license application can be the basis for finding a person guilty of perjury but chides White for not providing any cited cases for the proposition that his county of residence was the material information requested, not a more exacting, "true, fixed and permanent" address at which he resided. I venture to guess that many unmarried persons shacking up prior to their marriage use different addresses on their marriage license application, none of whom are ever prosecuted for having done so.

The marriage application also asks for your place of birth. Undocumented aliens are allowed to marry in Indiana despite their illegal status; however, it would not surprise me if some of them misrepresent their place of birth, which the license also requests, due to the misapprehension that their license application will be turned down if they were born outside the country and aren't either a lawful permanent resident or legally visiting the country. The primary purpose of the marriage license application is to establish that applicants are who they represent themselves to be, and that they are legally eligible to marry. Logic would dictate to me that the use of aliases, misrepresentations of dates of birth and one's marital status are the only material misrepresentations that lawmakers contemplated could serve as the basis for a criminal charge arising out of the completion of a marriage license application.

Another felony conviction White is appealing is a theft conviction regarding the fact that he drew a paycheck as a Fishers town council member during a several month period after he had moved out of the district from which he was elected to serve before he resigned from the council. White was elected at-large by all residents of Fishers, although he represented a geographically-defined district. Although White returned the salary he earned during the months he continued to draw after he moved out of his district, the attorney for the Fisher's town council argued that he was under no obligation to return it. White had continued attending meetings and otherwise fulfilling his statutory duties. The town council never exercised its authority under state law to remove him from office, and nobody initiated a quo warranto action seeking a judicial determination that he was not eligible to hold the office to which he had been elected and duly sworn in. White relies on case law that holds that a person holding office under color of law is a de facto elected official entitled to exercise his duties and receive compensation for his services even if later determined to be ineligible to hold office. The acts of a de facto elected official cannot be voided on the basis that a person was later determined to be ineligible to hold office.

This exact scenario has played out on multiple occasions in Indiana and elsewhere. No elected official has ever been charged and convicted of theft in Indiana on this basis prior to White's conviction. The Attorney General is correct in citing a state statute providing that a person is deemed to have vacated his office as a town council member when he ceases to be a resident of the district from which he was elected to serve. The Attorney General argues that White's office was vacant the day he moved out of the district because he forfeited the office under operation of law, and that he committed theft by continuing to draw his salary from that day forward. The Attorney General argues that a resolution of the town council declaring White's seat vacant or quo warranto action are merely alternative and not exclusive remedies that could have been undertaken to remove White from office.

Was Patrice Abduallah prosecuted for theft after he drew his $15,000 a year salary as an Indianapolis City-County Councilor for more than three and a half years before he resigned his office after this blog reported that he didn't reside in his district? Was he prosecuted for completing a voter application and casting a ballot from a home in which he did not reside? No on both counts. A city council member in Mitchell, who didn't even live within the municipal boundaries of the city let alone the district to which he was elected, successfully sued and won back the salary that had been withheld from him on the theory that he was a de facto council member until legally removed from office. I don't recall the Attorney General stepping in to argue otherwise in that case. Taking the Attorney General's argument at face value, Brownsburg town council member Rob Kendall, who has been accused of violating the state constitution's prohibition against holding more than one lucrative office at the same time, could be charged with theft because he continued drawing his town council salary after he accepted appointment to another lucrative office. That's because he would have been deemed to have vacated his town council seat the moment he became ineligible to serve as town council member after he began holding a subsequent lucrative office. It seems to me a civil, not a criminal remedy, has always been the rule in Indiana until White's case.

White's appeal raises a number of other issues that I've not discussed, including ineffective counsel by his attorney, Carl Brizzi, at trial, and prosecutorial misconduct. Despite acknowledging that Brizzi made prejudicial statements suggesting White's guilt during voir dire, failed to raise numerous objections and preserve issues for appeal, mistakenly failed to enter stipulated documents into the record because he was unaware stipulated evidence still had to be formally proffered at trial, and failed to offer any defense, including exculpatory evidence, the Attorney General argues that White was not the victim of ineffective counsel. In the Recount Commission case, the Attorney General argued there was substantial evidence to support the Commission's conclusion that White resided at Broad Leaf, even if as a "nontraditional residence." In the criminal case, the Attorney General argues that there wasn't sufficient evidence in the record for a jury to conclude White had intended to reside at Broad Leaf instead of Overview. Could that be due to the fact that his attorney neglected to offer the evidence that allowed the Commission to reach a different conclusion?

It is beyond me why the powers that be in this state cannot see beyond their hatred of Charlie White to see the long-term legal ramifications of allowing White's convictions to stand. The ACLU of Indiana gets all worked up about a law requiring voters to furnish a photo identification when they appear in person to vote on election day but is silent when those same voter registration laws are strictly applied to criminally prosecute a person who nobody questions was legally eligible to register and cast a vote in the town where he was residing in Indiana. The ACLU of Indiana gets all worked up about a state law that prevents same-sex couples from being allowed to be issued a marriage license legally recognizing their marriage in Indiana but is silent when someone legally entitled to marry in this state is prosecuted for a felony simply because the person listed one address in the same town instead of another address on his marriage application when nobody argues with the fact that the person had resided at both residences within that same county at different times. If White were black, gay, Jewish or Muslim instead of being a white male Christian, do you think the ACLU would have remained silent. I think not. Civil libertarians and fair-minded persons in the rest of Indiana's legal community should be ashamed of themselves for the absence they've taken from the outrageous and politically-driven prosecution of Charlie White.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tony Stewart's Return Press Conference

Here's the full video of yesterday's press conference where Tony Stewart announced he would return to NASCAR racing this weekend at the race in Atlanta. Stewart's emotional comments were very brief. He said he has suffered "a sadness and pain I hope no one has to experience in their life." He called out Kevin Ward's Jr.'s family members by name, who he said he thought about every day and prayed for. He said he took time off "out of respect for Kevin Ward and his  family" and "to cope with the accident in my own way." Stewart said he missed his team, teammates and being back in the race car, and he thought by returning to racing it would help him get through it. He declined to answer questions based on the ongoing investigation into Ward's death.

Brett Frood of Stewart-Haas racing took a few questions from reporters following Stewart's announcement, but we learned very little new. Frood said it has been Stewart's decision to sit out the last three races. He said NASCAR has cleared him to race this weekend, but he declined to respond to a reporter's question about what that clearance process entailed. Frood indicated that Stewart had not spoken directly to the family of Kevin Ward, Jr. since his death, although he hoped to do that at some point in the future as part of the healing process.

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.