Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chicago Schools Chief Steps Aside As Feds Probe $20 Million No-Bid Contract

This potentially big scandal in Chicago was kept under wraps until right after Mayor Rahm Emanuel safely-won re-election to a second term. The woman he appointed to run the Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, has been forced to step down while federal prosecutors determine whether something nefarious occurred in the awarding of a $20.5 million no-bid contract to her former employer, SUPES Academy, to train principals. Federal investigators are seeking information about "financial benefits, gifts, honoraria, meals and reimbursements" received by Byrd-Bennett and her top advisers from the co-founders of SUPES Academy, Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas.

The scandal comes as the state's biggest school district faces a $1.1 billion shortfall and a $9.5 billion unfunded pension crisis. “In a school district that seems to be all about privatization, private entities continue to play a major role in its operations,” Chicago Teachers Union official Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Sun Times. “[A]nd if Barbara is the first to fall, then perhaps there are many others who should follow.” I believe SUPES Academy has been contracted by schools in Indiana, including IPS. Wouldn't it be nice if we had federal prosecutors here in Indiana who probed all of the corrupt insider deals that are happening in plain sight and that are raping and pillaging our state and local government?

UPDATE: This is even more intriguing when you see who the big wheels behind SUPES Academy have been. Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner once chaired the nonprofit's board and Mayor Emanuel served on its board of directors according to the Chicago Tribune. Other board members include the most powerful and wealthy of Chicago, including Ken Griffin (Citadel CEO), Helen Zell (wife of real estate magnate Sam Zell and Susan Crown (Crown family heiress), among others. Former Chicago Tribune publisher Scott Smith once ran the organization. Our public school systems have been taken over lock, stock and barrel by the most wealthy people in the country to use as their personal cash cow under the guise of improving the quality of schools.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tully Piles On Pence

Star political columnist Matt Tully has always been one of Mitch Daniels' biggest cheerleaders so it hardly comes as a surprise he would do all he can in his role to put the nails in Gov. Mike Pence's political coffin. His pitch in his column today is along the same lines we've been hearing from others in the media who regularly flack for Daniels and his cronies: Pence barely won election in 2012 capturing a tick under 50% of the vote, and his popularity today has tanked considerably from where it stood on election day in 2012. His hope of recovering from the damage is in question, or so goes the meme. The poll numbers Tully discusses I'll come back to shortly, but I wanted to point out what Tully reveals.
  • He conceded close Daniels allies have been flooding him with e-mails talking up a primary challenge. One of Tully's best sources over the years has been Angie's List CEO and former Daniels campaign manager Bill Oesterle, who has sent out minions to talk him up as that challenger. Oesterle lived just around the corner from Tully for several years, and he's as much of a member of the Matt Tully Circle Jerk Club as you can be. 
  • Tully also confirms rumors I've heard that Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard was taking a look at the race, particularly since his post-mayoral job at Cathedral High School fell through, primarily due to the negative reaction that prospect received from the school's alumni. Unfortunately, the easily duped mayor two months ago was talked into turning over $400,000, or about half of his cash on hand in his campaign committee, to the doomed candidacy of Chicago carpetbagger and political newcomer, Chuck Brewer, by Marion Co. GOP Chairman Kyle Walker, who will likely use the money to pad his and his wife's wallets the same way he's done with the party's and Ballard's campaign funds in the past.  
After Tully's column went online today, he tweeted that multiple sources tell him that Oesterle is encouraging Daniels to run again for governor instead of seeking the office himself.
I still don't think Daniels is interested in being governor again, but I could be wrong. That aside, Pence can't be happy with unfavorable poll numbers released since this entirely manufactured story regarding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") on the heels of the earlier manufactured controversy over his JustIn state news service. The Indiana Legislative Insight's Ed Feigenbaum reminds his readers that Mitch Daniels' poll numbers looked at least as bad, if not worse, at one point during his first term before he went on to defeat Democrat Jill Long by a wide margin in 2008. Daniels' poll numbers were well below 50% for at least a one-year period. In April 2006, Daniels' approval rating stood at just 35%, which is worse than Pence's 43% approval rating shown by one poll taken this past week. At that point in Daniels' first term, only three Republican governors in the nation were more unpopular than Daniels, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's approval rating by his state's voters paced well ahead of Daniels' approval rating at 47%. How quickly people forget about all of the "Not My Man" bumper stickers. 

Speaking of Indiana's RFRA law, a conservative Republican lawyer writes in The Federalist that Indiana now has the distinction of being the most anti-religion state in the nation thanks to "the fix" state lawmakers quickly passed and Gov. Pence signed into law to stem the media-driven criticism directed at the state portraying it as an intolerant state based upon false claims the law passed by the legislature gave a license to businesses to discriminate against gays. David Saffrin writes at The Federalist:
The hastily and stupidly crafted amendment they enacted during Holy Week provides that Indiana’s RFRA can never be used as a defense in any gay rights or other civil rights proceeding by anyone other than a clergyman, church, or religious institution. It’s in the same vein as a DC City Council proposal that would force religious organizations to hire or provide resources to people who diametrically oppose those organizations’ missions, which hundreds of congressional lawmakers are actively opposing, using Congress’s right to decide DC laws. Of course, until the advent of gay marriage there hadn’t ever been a single instance in any of the other 31 states with RFRA statutes or equivalent judicial protections using RFRA as a defense in a gay-rights case, much less in a case involving racial or other alleged discrimination. 
RFRA protections have been raised, however, without success, in a series of recent cases around the country in which government author­ities, acting under state or local gay-rights laws, have ordered creative professionals such as photographers, florist,s and cake designers with religious objec­tions to same-sex marriage to nonetheless provide their services for or at these wedding ceremonies or face crippling fines and “rehabilitation.” . . . 
But that’s not how Pence and his clueless company chose to proceed. Now Indiana—not DC, not California, not Massachusetts, not Vermont—is the most hostile state in the country to freedom of conscience in these cases. The irony would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

Indiana Lawyer: Ballard Offered Up To $50 Million In Projects To Five Councilors In Exchange For Support Of Criminal Justice Center Project

The Indiana Lawyer's Dave Stafford has a story that should be raising more than a few eyebrows with the Justice Department's public corruption task force. Stafford reports that five City-County Council members have been offered projects totaling upwards of $50 million in their council districts in exchange for their vote in support of the public-private partnership ("P3") agreement the Ballard administration inked with WMB Heartland Justice Partners, LLC to build a new criminal justice center that will cost taxpayers at least $1.75 billion over 35 years. During the debate before the Rules & Public Policy Committee meeting Tuesday night, Councilor Joe Simpson (D) made the allegation during a speech he gave in opposition to the proposal. The council's CFO, Bart Brown, confirmed the allegations to Stafford during an interview Wednesday morning.
Brown said five Democratic council members have said they’ve been contacted with promises of $10 million in projects in each of their districts if they vote to approve the 35-year deal between the city and WMB Heartland Partners. 
“In discussions with certain councilors, they said they were promised large infrastructure projects in their districts if they voted yes,” Brown said Wednesday, a day after a council committee rebuffed the proposal.
He said the offered projects include major improvements to parks, streets and sidewalks. “The talk is, it’s targeted to certain districts, so not all councilors are being offered,” Brown said.
Brown told Stafford that council members were perplexed and contacted him, wondering just where the administration plans to find that much money to fund the projects being promised to them in exchange for their votes. Stafford contacted Mayor Ballard's point man on the project, David Rosenberg, who denied the allegations. “That’s honestly the first I’ve heard of that,” Deputy Mayor David Rosenberg said in an email. “Not sure where any of that money would come from, so I’m not sure where the rumor is coming from.”

In January, Democratic mayoral candidate Larry Vaughn made a shocking allegation at a council meeting that ten council members had been offered $10,000 annuities payable to them in exchange for their votes in support of the P3 project. Vaughn later told Advance Indiana he met with an FBI agent to turn over the list of names he had been furnished, which he claimed included both Democratic and Republican members.

City-County Councilor Christine Scales had a fire department ladder truck pulled from her district earlier in Ballard's current term in office after she feuded publicly with the administration over some of his initiatives. Scales later claimed that Public Safety Director Troy Riggs had offered to return the ladder truck to her district if she voted for a certain candidate backed by the administration in the council president's race. Republicans booted Scales from their caucus after she refused to sell her vote and answered FBI questions about what she considered an offer of a bribe. Ironically, the Republicans never booted Lincoln Plowman from their caucus even after he was indicted by federal prosecutors for accepting a $5,000 bribe.

Republican minority leader Mike McQuillen has been frantically working the phone lines following Tuesday night's vote by the Rules & Public Policy Committee along party lines to kill the project. McQuillen is seeking support from at least 15 council members to discharge the criminal justice center proposal from committee for consideration by the full council. At least two Republicans have expressed opposition to it. In addition to Scales, Councilor Ben Hunter joined Councilor Mary Moriarty Adams (D) in calling for the administration to put the project on hold until after this year's election when a new mayor will be elected. Sources tell Advance Indiana that despite Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett's wish that the P3 project be dropped, Ice Miller lobbyist Lacy Johnson, who is lobbying on behalf of WMB, holds considerable sway over several black members of the Democratic caucus who are being targeted to buck council leadership and join McQuillen's bloc of Republican votes in support of the project.

UPDATE: Advance Indiana has learned that the five council members targeted by the administration and WMB lobbyists are all African-American, including: Stephen Clay, Monroe Gray, LaKeisha Jackson, Bill Oliver and Vop Osili. Osili is a member of the Rules & Public Policy Committee, which voted down the proposal Tuesday night. Osili joined other Democratic members of the committee in voting against the proposal.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Indianapolis City-County Council Candidate Reports $3,000 In Campaign Contributions From Church Groups

Churches and religious organizations are generally prohibited from engaging in political activity in order to maintain their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Advance Indiana was surprised to see $3,000 in campaign contributions listed on  campaign finance reports filed by Councilor Stephen J. Clay, the slated Democratic candidate seeking election in District 13. Clay was selected by Democratic precinct committee persons last November to fill the unexpired term of Steve Tally following his election as Lawrence Township Trustee. He is running unopposed in the May 5 primary election.

According to Clay's campaign finance report, his campaign committee, "Friends of Stephen J. Clay," reported receiving on April 8 a $500 contribution from Shalom Church, a large black interdenominational church in Florissant, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb abutting Ferguson. Today, his campaign committee filed a supplemental large campaign report showing two contributions from the Baptist Ministers Alliance on April 14, one for $1,500 and one for $1,000. Clay, who is the senior pastor of Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, formerly served as the president of the Baptist Ministers Alliance of Indianapolis and Vicinity. According to records on file with the Secretary of State's office, Clay incorporated the nonprofit organization on March 23, 2010. Former City-County Councilor Lonell Conley is listed as the nonprofit's registered agent.

Tully Endorses Brainard's Re-Election As He Announces He's Moving To Carmel

After spending the last decade advocating tax increase upon tax increase and every insider crony deal the downtown mafia could conjure up, Star political columnist Matt Tully uses his latest column to tout Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard's re-election bid to a sixth term and throw in the fact he and his family are moving away from their beloved Broad Ripple Meridian-Kessler neighborhood for the upper crust, gated communities of Carmel to live closer to his puppet masters.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard was talking quickly Tuesday evening. That was no surprise — although he is nearing the end of his fifth term, and currently seeking a sixth, he remains the region's most ambitious and idea-driven leader . . .
We were sitting at an outside table at Scotty's Brewhouse on Main Street. A few feet away, the Monon Trail bustled with families on bikes, twentysomethings out for a jog, and older couples taking a stroll. Main Street restaurants were doing a brisk business, and the scene seemed to endorse the vision Brainard had set in motion years earlier: To create a suburb that has not just great schools but also its own core and identity.
At one point, Brainard stood and pointed toward a large-scale redevelopment project south of Main Street, saying it would provide the much-needed connection between Main Street and the cluster of performing arts facilities several blocks away. He grew animated while talking about investments in parks and his efforts to better connect the city with trails. He talked to a man at the next table about the city's new bike-share program. And when a pair of high-schoolers asked to take a photo with him, he told them he hoped they'd stay in Carmel.
"You get passionate about things," he said. "We've worked for 20 years to try to make this place special and you just care so much about it. You have a lot invested in it. You care about the city, and you care about the people." . . .
But our conversation this week felt different because it came as my wife, my preschool-age son and I prepare to move to the city Brainard has led for so long. The decision to leave our beloved Indy neighborhood for Carmel wasn't an easy one, but it was made easier because of the work Brainard has done to create a vibrant city next to a much bigger city . . . 
Oh, isn't that special? Who needs a publicist when you have the Star' Matt Tully on your side? Tully remarks at what a popular man Brainard is and what a shame it would be if that awful primary opponent, Rick Sharp, should happen to win because too many people choose to stay at a home and not come out to vote in next month's May primary election, a less than subtle hint to Democrats to cross over to vote in the Republican primary to ensure the RINO mayor is re-elected to a sixth term in office.

ROC Owner: City Got A Heckuva Deal

The Indianapolis news media in typical fashion continue to ignore the debacle known as the Regional Operations Center ("ROC"), the 25-year, $20 million lease for the former Eastgate Mall that one city employee described as worse than war-torn buildings he encountered touring a tour of duty in Iraq. At the most recent meeting of the City-County Council's ROC Investigating Committee, committee members learned that taxpayers have shelled out at least $5 million in expenses associated with the ROC facility during its first 28 months of operation, including about $1.6 million in rent. The Ballard administration lied to the council and the public and claimed the City had to build the ROC in order to host the Super Bowl in 2012. Council members also heard from the owner's politically-connected owner, Alex Carroll, who insists taxpayers got "an amazing deal." Watch this brief clip of the council's chairman, Joe Simpson, sparring with Carroll and his attorney, David Brooks, and as Carroll explains the "amazing deal."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gannett Touts Oesterle's Political Ambitions

Eric Holcomb (left) and Bill Oesterle (right) behind Daniels in 2012 (Courier-Press Photo)
What could have been a bad day for any other corporate executive in America turned into a flurry of positive media reports in the local news media today for outgoing Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle. The 20-year old company he co-founded has never turned a profit and has faced a torrent of criticism from investors, dissatisfied members and outside critics. Ambitious class action lawyers have found the company ripe for opportunity. The Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star's Jeff Swiatek weighed in with his own words of encouragement should the former Mitch Daniels campaign manager decide to challenge Mike Pence for the Republican gubernatorial nomination next week or seek some other public office in a lengthy story titled "CEO Bill Oesterle wants to re-enter politics to restore state's image," which was emblematic of the positive spin today on his departure from Angie's List:
. . . Bill Oesterle is quitting as CEO of Angie's List, saying he wants to re-enter state politics and help repair the "shellacking" Indiana's image took from the passage of the "religious freedom" act.
The news caught both the state's business and political communities by surprise, and some see the move as a direct effort to unseat Gov. Mike Pence over his handling of the controversial issue . . .
Oesterle remains one of the only prominent Central Indiana business leaders to express unhappiness over changes the legislature hastily made to state law to assuage RFRA critics. Oesterle says the changes don't go far enough to shield lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination based on religious grounds . . .
Indiana's public image "took a shellacking" after passage of RFRA spurred widespread criticism from gay rights groups, much of the business community and others, Oesterle said. "Indiana was under significant duress and went through a heartbreaking situation."
Oesterle's announcement amounts to "an announcement of trying to unseat a governor," said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. "If you think about the individual positions that could have made a difference about this (RFRA), that's only one, that's the governor."
"That is somebody who is saying either he is running for governor or is looking for somebody to run for governor," Downs said of Oesterle. He said he sprang the news about quitting as CEO at a specially called telephonic meeting of Angie's board of directors Monday . . . 
He said he realized his position as CEO is incompatible with getting involved in politics. His 20th anniversary as Angie's CEO, he said, also put him in a reflective mood.
"You start to look around and see what you are going to do in your career," he said. "I can maybe do some things to help resolve some of the state's issues. I am going to take a little time and sort out what they might be." . . . 
Jeff Swiatek's story included encouraging words from one of his employees, Melyssa Hubbard, author of "Spanking City Hall":
.  .  . Melyssa Hubbard, a self-professed dominatrix who works in sales at Angie's List, said the company hired her in 2006 despite knowing about her work in sexual bondage. She wrote a book, "Spanking City Hall," about her conflicts with the city.
"I wish every place on earth was like this," she said in a recent interview. "The employees come from various walks of life. That's important to Bill. I've always told him how grateful I am to be working here.
"We have the conservatives and the liberals and really buttoned-up people and people with pink hair and tattoos. Bill creates platforms for people to self-actualize."
Oesterle said he keeps an autographed copy of Hubbard's book in his office.
"She found a job here. It's kind of a safe place for her. She is not being judged," he said. . . .

Another Misleading Headline Intended To Give Indiana A Black Eye

The headline in the Northwest Indiana Times reads, "Legislature Rejects Civil Rights Protections For Gays." The story is in reference to an amendment offered by State Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) to a public health measure regarding Medicaid coverage for prison inmates. DeLaney's amendment would have added "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected classes under the state's civil rights law. The House of Representatives never took a vote on the substance of DeLaney's amendment. The Speaker of the House ruled the amendment out of order because it did not pertain to the subject matter of the underlying bill. The only vote taken by the House was a procedural vote on a motion made by Delaney to discard a long-standing House rule based on the Indiana Constitution's single subject requirement for legislation. The House sustained the Speaker's ruling on a party-line vote. You can't always believe the headlines.

Oesterle Out As Angie's List CEO

Angie's List co-founder Bill Oesterle makes a surprising announcement that he is stepping down as the company's CEO, a position he has held since 1999, to pursue other interests. Oesterle made national headlines when he voiced strong opposition to Indiana's passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") and pulled plans to expand the company's headquarters in Indianapolis under a plan that included $18.5 million in incentives offered by the City of Indianapolis. Oesterle refused to support compromise language added to the law in the wake of the media-created firestorm over the law's passage, which clarified it did not permit businesses to use the law as a license to discriminate against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Wall Street is reacting favorably to Oesterle's planned departure. The stock is trading up 10% already today on the news, perhaps suggesting a sale of the company may be imminent. The company has never had a profitable year in its nearly two decades of existence and has been the subject of a number of class action lawsuits brought on behalf of shareholders and subscriber members of the consumer rating site.

UPDATE: The IBJ, which is owned by Mitch Daniels' BFF, Mickey Maurer, speculates that Oesterle may be gearing up to run for governor. Maurer, of course, sits on Angie's List's board, and Oesterle sits on Maurer's National Bank of Indianapolis' board. Oesterle managed Daniels' 2004 gubernatorial campaign. The pieces to the puzzle are falling in place. Gee, I wonder who is paying for the "Pence Must Go!" yard signs?

Election Complaint Against Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Dismissed

An election complaint filed against Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott, Jr., was dismissed on a unanimous 4-0 vote yesterday by the Lake Co. Elections Board according to the Northwest Indiana Times. The complaint filed by John Nauracy, Sr. questioned more than $300,000 in payments to McDermott's wife for consulting services, RV rental expenses and non-itemized reimbursements to McDermott exceeding $100. McDermott was present for the meeting, but he was not required to answer any questions. His lawyer spoke for him, who claimed the allegations in Nauracy's complaint were baseless. McDermott has admitted his campaign finance statements incorrectly identified an RV company in Albany, Indiana instead of one in Frankfort, Illinois as the business from which he rented RVs for campaign purposes after the business' owner said he had never rented an RV to McDermott. He also denied Nauracy's allegation he used the RVs for personal purposes.