Murphy identifies at least a dozen properties the trustee's office owns worth in excess of $10 million, including the Center Township Healthplex (formerly Fall Creek YMCA) near IUPUI, Trustee's office at 863 Massachusetts Avenue, a vacant Career Development Institute building at 875 Massachusetts Avenue, the Julia Carson Government Center at 300 E. Fall Creek Parkway, 6 vacant lots in the Fall Creek area, 6 parking lots and one rental home on which $150 a month rent is paid.
Drummer said his main focus is helping township residents in need, as spelled out in state trustee guidelines—whether that means passing out food vouchers or paying for funerals when family members can’t. But he also believes in revitalizing neighborhoods and fostering economic development.
That broader approach—plus a habit of parking race cars and friends’ vehicles in a township owned garage—raises questions among those who say the trustee’s office could do more for the 24 percent of township residents who live in poverty.
“I’m just not convinced that the rewards of revitalizing the community are worth what we’re spending,” [Center Township Advisory Board member Jon] Elrod said. “I just think it could be better used on other things.”
Nevertheless, Drummer makes no apologies. His office has held on to many of the parcels for years, he said, because it wants to find the right use for them. “We at Center Township have always thought outside the box,” he said. “We believe that government should run like a business.”
Murphy notes that Drummer inherited most of the real estate portfolio from Julia Carson for whom he worked as deputy trustee prior to being chosen as her replacement in 1996 following her election to Congress. Drummer's belief that government should "run like a business" means less relief for the needy. While Center Township is the state's largest township with a population of 167,000 and nearly a quarter of those residents live below the poverty level, it provides less support for the needy than smaller urban townships. Gary's Calumet Township ranks 5th behind Center Township in population with a similar-sized needy population, but it spent $6 million in assistance to the needy compared to Center Township's $2 million. Drummer, meanwhile, rates as the highest paid trustee in Indiana at $90,000. Murphy omits, however, the take-home car Drummer gets courtesy of the taxpayers. His office spends $2.35 for every dollar of assistance it delivers according to Murphy--the highest in the state based on a study performed by the Chamber of Commerce.
Center Township's Assessor Jim Maley (D) tells Murphy he is "aghast" at the size of Drummer's portfolio. "Government entities ought not to acquire any more properties than they need to perform the functions of their office," Maley tells Murphy. Other township trustees and government officials echoed Maley's concerns according to Murphy. Murphy reports that Drummer is planning to increase the township's budget by 8% next year, or $1.1 million to $14.7 million.
What I found particularly shocking was Murphy's revelation that Center Township is sitting on $11.1 million in the bank. "That's 'an extraordinarily high balance' for an entity that collects only $5 million in taxes a year, said Dan Jones, assistant budget director at the state agency, which approves tax rates." Hey, if you don't need all the money you are collecting from us in taxes, then let's give it back to the taxpayers. No, Drummer amasses a $20 million fortune for the township in real estate and bank deposits. That makes a lot of sense.
And what about all that free parking and storage for Drummer's expensive car collection which Jocelyn Tandy has been complaining about in comments on this blog for months now. Murphy fills us in on the details. He writes about another matter Carl Brizzi's office needs to investigate while its investigating Drummer's shady dealings with the owners of the illegally constructed 300 East Bar in the Julia Carson Government Center:
There’s a parking lot out back, but Drummer lets friends and employees keep vehicles in an empty garage at the rear of the Massachusetts Avenue building, a habit that strikes some as improper. To the trustee, it’s a chance to do a favor, mostly for workers who use company cars. However, two ex-employees saw more than commuter cars stored there.
Former security guard Norman Matthews remembers seeing some sort of race cars in the garage before he left in 2003. He didn’t know who owned them. Darlene Taylor, an employment specialist who also left in 2003, saw car trailers parked there as well. “These ain’t no cheap trailers, either,” she said. “I’m talking way-up-in-themoney trailers. It’s something one of them race car drivers use.”
Consider Drummer a car buff. He owns race cars and serves as vice president of the United Council of Corvette Clubs, an organization of black Corvette owners. In fact, he lists his Center Township e-mail on the club’s Web site as a contact point. But the trustee said he never parked trailers in that garage. Race cars are different. “I’m not going to tell you that they’ve never been in there,” he said. “They have not been stored in there.” Stored, he said, means kept for “a period of time” or longer than a couple of days.
The same can’t be said of other cars. Three tarp-covered vehicles sat parked against a garage wall one recent morning, across from a shiny Ford pickup and a couple other cars. Drummer said the pickup belonged to John Patterson, a Small Claims Court clerk who used to park a Corvette there.
A friend of Drummer’s has stored another car in the garage for eight months. “He wanted to get it out of his back yard,” Drummer said. “It’s an old Volkswagen that he was restoring. You know, the winter was hitting, he wanted to get it out of his back yard.” Drummer wouldn’t let a reporter look under the tarps during a tour, but he said none of the vehicles was his.
The free parking was news to Elrod. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for the trustee’s office to use facilities for friends and acquaintances,” he said. Drummer said the parking doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime because the otherwise empty garage would be lit for security, anyway. “It’s dry storage space,” he said. “The building is set to be, you know, hopefully torn down and something great built on it, so why not?”
But to Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar, the arrangement smacks of impropriety. “In the grand scheme of things, is it a big deal?” he said. “Probably, no. But why is that property being taken off the tax rolls and being used to provide storage space for him and his friends … in a way that’s not available to taxpayers in general?”
Murphy also asks why a township is involved in running a health club, which isn't operating as a recreational center for neighborhood kids as some had originally thought it would be. And what about the township property which is leased to private entities, such as Key Bank at the Julia Carson Government Center. For-profit entities are supposed to pay property taxes on their leased premises, even if the property is owned by the government. Nobody bothered assessing any taxes on Key Bank for its space in the Julia Carson Government Center until last year according to Murphy. They've only been in the building for about a decade now. Murphy briefly mentions the controversial 300 East bar, but he doesn't discuss any details.
Murphy points out that Mayor Bart Peterson's (D) original government consolidation plan called for the elimination of all but two township trustee's office in Marion County, "but that provision was dropped during discussions with legislators in 2005." I think it's time for Mayor Peterson to revisit that issue if he's really serious about improving government efficiency in Marion County. This Center Township Trustee's office is nothing more than a playground for Carl Drummer and his buddies to do what they do best: help themselves out with our taxpayer's money.
The IBJ and Tom Murphy should be applauded for this in-depth report on Drummer's shenanigans in the Center Township Trustee's office. It is a real shame, however, that the editors of IBJ held off publishing this story until after the election--just like the way the media avoided discussing Julia Carson's serious health problems until after the election--when it can no longer impact the outcome by informing voters.