Friday, June 30, 2006

GOP Wants John "Pee Wee Herman" Gerard Off Ballot

GOP leaders are asking a Vanderburgh Co. township assessor, John Gerard, off the ballot. He was arrested in an Indianapolis bathroom last month for allegedly masturbating and inviting an undercover police officer to his hotel room. Eric Bradner of the Evansville Courier-Press writes:

Center Township Assessor John Gerard, 52, was arrested last month in Indianapolis for allegedly masturbating in a public rest room and inviting an undercover police officer to his hotel room.

"The fellow was up here doing a Pee Wee Herman," Indiana Republican Party communications director Robert Vane said of Gerard. "We absolutely believe he should withdraw his candidacy."

Vanderburgh County Republican Chairwoman Connie Carrier said she asked Gerard to withdraw from the ballot a few days ago because of public perception of his alleged actions. "We just don't condone it," Carrier said.

Vane said the state GOP has made no formal request that Gerard withdraw his name from the ballot because state leaders want to avoid the perception they are stepping on Vanderburgh County Republicans' toes.

"But we've made our wishes clear to all parties involved," Vane said.

Gerard did not return repeated phone calls to his office and home.

No Democrat will oppose Gerard or any potential replacement candidate on the ticket. Noon today is the deadline to add candidates to the ballot to fill slots that went vacant in the primary elections. But to be eligible for the Democratic caucuses that nominate candidates to fill those slots, the person's candidacy would have to be declared 72 hours beforehand, and no one did that, County Clerk Susan Kirk said.

But voters will have an alternative. An independent candidate, Mike Stucki, who could not be reached for comment, will be on the ballot.

What is astounding is that Democrats chose not to run anyone against Gerard, even after his arrest became public last month. There is little incentive for Gerard to drop his re-election bid with only an independent candidate filing to run against him.

Rhoad Resigns As FSSA's CFO

Richard Rhoad, the controversial CFO of FSSA who left the agency to become a private contractor doing the same duties at nearly twice the salary, is resigning the post he returned to just months ago after the sweetheart deal became public reports the AP's Ashley Heher. She writes:

FSSA spokesman Dennis Rosebrough said Rhoad's resignation was not connected to this spring's controversy, which he described as "not always a pleasant experience."

Instead, Rosebrough said Friday's announcement was timed to the start of the state's two-year budgeting process. Indiana's new fiscal year began Saturday.

"We knew that Dick was not going to be here for the full four years," Rosebrough said. "I think, far and away the deciding factor was the logic of the timing and just looking at the way state government operates and the whole budgeting process."

A spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 62, which represents FSSA workers, said he was skeptical of the explanation of Rhoad's departure.

"I think today's announcement makes it clear that Dick Rhoad's decision to withdraw the sweetheart deal he made with the Daniels' administration to outsource his own job was only to help the governor save face from the ethical questions that the deal raised," said AFSCME spokesman David Patterson.

"I think Rhoad's resignation now, less than two months after this sweetheart deal soured, gives the appearance of sour grapes," he said. "And it hurts public confidence that this administration is performing its responsibilities on the up and up."

The agency has also been the center of controversy because of a privatization plan it is proposing for many of its welfare-related services. One of the two competing vendors, ACS, is FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob's former employer prior to joining FSSA.

Vote Set For S.B. Gay Rights Ordinance As Movement Begins In Columbus

The South Bend Common Council is expected to vote on the proposed human rights ordinance, which will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's current law, on July 10, 2006. All nine council members are expected to be present for the July 10 vote according to the South Bend Tribune's Jamie Loo. A close vote is expected.

Meanwhile, the Gay-Straight Alliance of Columbus is launching an effort to get the city of Columbus to enact a similar ordinance. Efforts there are still in the very early stages of planning.

State Budget Surplus Or Not?

There's an old saying that "figures never lie but liars always figure." That may come into play in the debate over whether the state of Indiana will end the current fiscal year today with a surplus. State budget officials are optimistic that the state will end the year with the first balanced budget in many years according to an AP report. But an item posted by WISH-TV political reporter Jim Shella on his blog raises questions about how the state will arrive at its so-called "balanced budget." Shella writes on June 26:

A viewer waiting on his overdue state income tax refund forwarded the following response from the Indiana Department of Revenue:

"I sent you an email just this morning explaining why your refund was not generated. The Department has placed a freeze on all refunds for the end of the fiscal year. However, your refund is still in process and once the freeze has been lifted you will receive your refund. I was hoping your refund was generated prior to the freeze but it was not, please just be patient. "

Do you think the Daniels Administration is managing cash flow to insure a balanced budget on June 30?

Don't forget Gov. Daniels served as Bush' budget director before becoming Governor. When I worked as a budget analyst for the Illinois legislature, smoke and mirrors were often used to achieve a balanced budget, including delayed payment of income tax refunds. Frustrated by the Thompson administration's use of delayed tax refunds to improve Illinois' ledger back in the 1980s, I drafted legislation for a Republican lawmaker which required a certain percentage of income tax revenues to be diverted to an income tax refund account as a truth in budgeting measure. The Department of Revenue was compelled by the legislation once it became law to pay out refunds promptly from this fund, thereby eliminating this budget gimmick. Perhaps Indiana needs a similar law.

Marion Co. Chairmen Handpick New Judges

Yesterday, Marion Co. GOP Chairman Mike Murphy and Marion Co. Democrat Chairman Ed Treacy, announced their picks to fill the 2 vacant judicial spots for the superior court. They are Lisa Borges, chief deputy in charge of trial prosecution in the Marion Co. prosecutor's office, and Steven Eichholtz, a former judge. The nominations were made necessary by a new law which added 3 new superior court spots for the county, from 17 to 20. Each party nominated 9 candidates in the May primary. The two new appointments bring that number to 10. All 20 candidates will win election in November unless by some stroke of luck a Libertarian candidate manages to pull an upset.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

$3.8 Billion In The Bank

The final execution of Gov. Daniels' Major Moves initiative, represented by the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road, took place today, along with the transfer of $3.8 billion into the State's bank account. While state leaders hailed the deal, Senate Democrats were decrying it.

Sen Karen Talian (D) and Sen. John Broden (D) told the South Bend Tribune that the deal amounted to an outflow of money from northern Indiana to central and southern Indiana. They complained that Indianapolis would enjoy $1.2 billion from the lease funds while St. Joseph Co. would only get $500 million. Of course, Indianapolis is several times the size of St. Joseph Co. On a per capita basis, St. Joseph Co. is making off like a bandit. Not to mention that the building of the U.S. 31 expressway from Indianapolis to South Bend will be a God-send to people in northern Indiana.

While the I-69 construction will take place in southern Indiana, the entire I-69 corridor from Indianapolis to Ft. Wayne will benefit greatly from this big step forward in completing a national highway extending from the Canadian border to the north and the Mexican border to the souce. Also, the Heartland Highway from Lafayette to Ft. Wayne will greatly enhance east-west travel in northern Indiana. It is simply reprehensible for the Democrats to pit one geographic region against another for political purposes; this deal benefits the entire state of Indiana.

The two legislators complain that northern Indiana motorists will have to foot the bill for higher tolls, but even the Democrat plan offered in the legislature would have resulted in raising tolls at least as much as the Major Moves plan. And the bulk of those toll revenues are in fact paid by out-of-state motorists traveling through Indiana. If the Democrats want to regain control of the legislature, they better look for another strategy. This one isn't working.

Pentagon Decides Being Gay Isn't A Disorder Afterall

They're are a few decades late in updating their policy manual, but the Pentagon has finally gotten it right: being gay is not a mental disorder. PageOneQ quotes Lt. Colonel Jeremy Merten from the Defense Department's department of public affairs as saying about an old Pentagon directive:

The directive has been reviewed, homosexuality should not have been characterized as a mental disorder in an appendix of a procedural instruction. A clarification will be issued over the next few days. Notwithstanding its inclusion, we find no practical impact since that appendix simply listed factors that do NOT constitute a physical disability, and homosexuality of course does not.
This, of course, has no impact on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law, which allows the U.S. military to discharge any service person who openly proclaims their homosexuality.

Bush Meeting With Pence On Immigration A Bad Sign

When President Bush has to sit down and discuss immigration reform with Rep. Mike Pence at this point in the immigration debate, you know things have really gotten bad for the White House. Yesterday, Pence was invited to an oval office meeting with Bush and Vice President Cheney to discuss what he calls his "middle ground" immigration reform proposal. It's anything but a "middle ground".

Pence's grand plan calls for a guest worker program which would require all illegal immigrants to return to their native country and be processed for a work visa matching them up with an American employer willing to employ them. Pence wants to contract with private companies to manage the program. This idea is completely impractical because it impacts at least 12 million undocumented persons. Many of these people have U.S. citizen wives and children who they will be extremely reluctant to abandon in hopes that all goes right and their work visa can get processed in a timely fashion and they will be allowed to re-enter the country legally.

While Pence says he's concerned about border security, the idea of privatizing this visa process is frought with problems. Recall that student visas, which are administered by higher education institutions, allowed several of the 9/11 hijackers easy entry into the U.S. to carry out their terrorist activities. It also does not provide any permanent solution to these millions of immigrants. What happens when their visas expire? Pence's plan offers no route to permanent resident status or citizenship so the visa holders will be right back where they started--in an illegal status.

The bottom line is that Pence's plan demonstrates his complete lack of knowledge of our immigration laws. It is too bad that he doesn't bother to consult with Indiana members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association before setting out in a reckless manner to rewrite our immigration laws. If he really cared about addressing the problem, he would propose something more than a stop-gap measure, which is destined to create far more problems than it will ever solve.

Indiana Democrats Give Lugar A Pass On Re-Election

Indiana Democrats have decided that the state's voters should have no choice in who their U.S. senator is for the next 6 years. The party today announced it was not going to field a candidate to challenge Sen. Richard Lugar to an unprecedented 6th term as the state's senior senator. The Star's Mary Beth Schneider writes:

Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said this morning that Lugar is just too popular to challenge.

"Let's be honest," Parker said. "Richard Lugar is beloved not only by Republicans but by independents and Democrats."

Regardless of what you think of Sen. Lugar, it is simply unacceptable for him to be given a complete pass by the Democrats. The two-party system is critical to maintaining accountability. By not fielding a candidate, Lugar can now do as he pleases for the next 6 and a half years without any need to consult his constituents. The Indiana Democratic party really let the state's voters down on this one.

Ketzenberger Credits Clark And Law Firm For Landing Honda

Star business columnist John Ketzenberger gives kudos to state GOP chairman J. Murray Clark and his law firm Baker & Daniels for their role as Honda's Indiana counsel in landing the $550 million plant. He also reveals that Gov. Daniels revealed the secret code name given to the project: Project Zoom. Ketzernberger writes:

Clark wasn't on the stage or with the herd of dignitaries packed next to it. Instead he found a spot back by the long line of television cameras recording the big moment.

It was quite the contrast, really, because it was Clark who greased Honda's Hoosier entry. The automaker hired Clark's law firm, Baker and Daniels, as winter turned to spring, to plant a new assembly plant in the fertile Midwestern industrial soil.

Honda showed remarkable savvy in picking one of the state's top-shelf law firms, one that happens to employ the ex-state senator and current state Republican Party chairman. Honda chose well since Gov. Mitch Daniels and Clark know each other well from Republican politics.

Both made it clear they kept politics out of the economic development effort. The governor was careful to note the state didn't hire Baker and Daniels. Honda did.

And Clark made sure to explain he could separate his jobs. "You guys are confusing my night job with my day job," he said of the potential to mix politics with lawyering.

While Manus and other local officials didn't know Honda was the secret suitor until Daniels spilled the beans May 16, Clark has known all along. It's a testament to his discretion that word didn't leak. That's even more remarkable when you consider the task: persuading farmers to sell their land on faith.

"It's unusual when you try to buy 1,700 acres of property that's not for sale and tell people you can't tell them who wants to buy it," Clark said.

Just how discreet is Clark? Long after the governor, Manus and all the Honda brass left the podium Wednesday, I asked Clark to disclose the state's pet name for the project. "Let me see if I can tell you," he said, then disappeared.

Thirty minutes later, the governor didn't hesitate to reveal the project's name: Zoom. "It was clear from the outset this would move at a very quick clip," Daniels said. "The name was indicative of the effort we put forth."

When I saw Clark again, I couldn't resist. I asked him to tell me about Project Zoom.
"Who told you that?" Clark asked.

He was still on the job. Loose lips sink big deals, especially when they turn on making the right connections with the right people at the right time.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Exodus Or Not

Hundreds have gathered at Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana from across the country for a conference dubbed the Freedom Conference and hosted by the controversial Exodus International organization. The group claims it can cure a person from "unwanted homosexual feelings." The Marion Chronicle-Tribune reports:

"Our mission is to share that freedom from homosexuality is available through Jesus Christ," Mike Goeke said (the group's executive vice president). "... We don't recruit, we offer something for people who are looking for help."

Goeke said about 800 people will attended this year's Freedom Conference, which runs through Sunday at IWU. Goeke also said Exodus acts as a referral service to connect those people seeking help with the aid and counseling they desire.

He also said a multitude of people would attend the conference.

"We have men who struggle with unwanted homosexual feelings, women who struggle with unwanted homosexual feelings, friends, family and parents of people dealing with homosexuals, and we have pastors and ministers who want to learn how to teach people in their own congregations," Goeke said.

This really is whacky stuff. The medical community has long since concluded that a person's sexual orientation is biologically determined. Protestors from the Gay Liberation Network gathered outside the conference to voice their disapproval of the group's work. "We consider the Exodus network and other so called 'ex-gay' ministries dangerous, particularly to gay youths," said Bob Schwartz, a member of the GLN coordination committee. "They're taking the focus off of adults, where they've had one abysmal failure after another, and are moving toward youths, and we consider this child abuse."

New Charges Against Esther

WTHR-TV is reporting that the Lottery's former general counsel, a quadraplegic, has filed a discrimination suit against Lottery Director Esther Schneider and the agency, alleging she was abused and mistreated by Schneider because of her disability and eventually fired. No link to the story is available. As soon as it becomes available, we'll link to the story. She is represented by Kathleen DeLaney, the daughter of Democratic operative and several-time losing candidate Ann DeLaney.

Brizzi Passes On Prosecuting Local DJs In "Dine & Dash" Case

"What a nightmare . . . I can't have those guys talking bad about me during an election year." That alleged statement by Prosecutor Carl Brizzi responding to a question from a police officer about a pending case of two local disc jockeys who dined at the Red Eye Cafe and then skipped out on a tab for $42.08 and his office's decision not to prosecute the DJ's has the Indiana Lawyer asking questions about Brizzi's prosecutorial discretion in a front-page story this week.

According to the IL's Abigail Johnson, WNOU (Radio Now 93.1) DJs Marco and Super Phat Mikey, who host the Morning Mess, allegedly dined at the Red Eye Cafe in downtown Indianapolis at about 2:30 a.m. on March 4 and then walked out on waiter Clint Setser without paying their tab. The waiter assumed the two inadvertently left without paying the bill, but the cafe's owners Rich Bucheri and Don Poynter soon began to think otherwise. Setser left a note for the two with security guards at the Emmis Communications headquarters on Monument Circle, along with the bill. A few days later, Johnson reports that Setser received a 4:00 a.m. call from people claiming to be on the station's morning show, trying to get Setser to appear on the show in order to be paid. That's when he decided to pursue criminal action.

A police officer investigating the alleged crime, IPD Detective Skye Griffin, discovered that a blog operated by one of the DJs mentioned that the "dine-and-dash" episode had been discussed on the air one morning. At one point, Griffin planned to arrest the two after their shift on-air was completed after deciding against arresting them on-air. But Mike Price, a community prosecutor, later told Griffin not to move forward with the case until further notice Johnson reported. Griffin is quoted as telling Johnson, "Normally, I send all my cases to Mike and he handles them, files or not files them." "The only other time I started to file a case with him that was taken away was an A-felony kidnapping case," Griffin said. Griffin found the prosecutor's handling of the case highly unusual.

Apparently Lisa Borges, chief trial deputy for the prosecutor's office is falling on the sword. She tells Johnson that she made the charging decision. Borges said she was bothered because police didn't know the two DJs full-names, only their on-air names. "Borges also said there was some dispute about whether the DJs had intentionally ditched the bill or whether the unpaid bill was an oversight, " Johnson wrote. She adds, "Borges said she wanted to have a solid case before arresting the DJs--getting it wrong in a case with such public figures could have consequences." AI thinks she means political consequences to her boss' re-election. Anyway, Borges tells Johnson the station is known for doing things for "shock value" and she thought this one fit into that category.

Brizzi is sticking by Borges' story. "Absolutely not," he said. "That decision was made by my chief trial deputy, not by me." But he told Johnson he supported Borges' decision, and he felt the case did warrant the "heightened level of scrutiny" it was given. Brizzi also insists he never learned of the case until after Borges had already made her decision. Interestingly, when WRTV began an investigation into the alleged incident, the tab got paid. That's because Brizzi, after being questioned by a WRTV reporter, "personally called management at Emmis to tell them to take care of the bill" Johnson reports.

Rich Bucheri, a co-owner of the Red Eye Cafe, is also defense attorney. He told Johnson the restaurant experienced an uptick in "dine-and-dash" incidents at the restaurant following the on-air discussion about the prank.

Like it or not, Brizzi's opponent, Melina Kennedy, is likely to make sure this story has political consequences. Following an earlier decision by his office to reduce serious drunken driving charges against Nancy Irsay, this further adds to the impression that there are two criminal justice systems--one of which looks with favor on the rich and influential.

Incidentally, if anyone thinks the Indiana Lawyer might have run this story for political reasons, bear in mind that the newspaper is owned and controlled by Mickey Maurer, Gov. Mitch Daniels' top economic development guy.

Honda Win Bigger Than Expected

The new Honda plant in Greensburg officially announced this morning is much larger than originally expected according to the Star's Norm Heikens. The plant will employ 2,000 new workers, instead of the original 1,500 projected. Also, the cost to build the new plant will be $550 million, up from the $400 million figure originally announced. It is expected to take 24 months to build the plant which will produce Honda's 4-cylinder car (likely the Civic), with production to begin by 2008.

So how much will taxpayers expend to lure the Honda plant? Heikins writes, "Government will kick in at least $85.5 million in incentives to the project. That includes money for wastewater treatment and new or expanded roads. He adds, "Another $56 million will go to regional improvements including an upgrade of the I-74 interchange." Heikins also reports that the financial impact of the plant in the regional economy is expected to be $1.5 billion.

Some of you wondered how Indiana Democrats would react. They are applauding the announcement according to the Star's Mary Beth Schneider who writes:

Indiana Democrats applauded the news Tuesday but weren't about to give Daniels much credit for it."It's great news for Indiana," said Mike Edmondson, the party's executive director. "Certainly, everybody is excited about the prospect of new jobs. That doesn't change the fact that the state is lagging behind the national economy, and he has no substantial strategy to turn that around. And it doesn't change the fact that the governor refused to listen to the people of Indiana (on the Toll Road lease and other issues)."

With the economic infusion from this project and the kick-off of the Major Moves program, Indiana's economy may soon begin a significant uptick. Let's hope anyway.

The Word Not Happy With "Would Jesus Discriminate?" Campaign

While many in the Indiana GLBT community have welcomed the recent "Would Jesus Discriminate?" Campaign--part of a nationwide effort to end religion-based discrimination, Indiana's largest GLBT publication, The Word, is not. In its July edition the newspaper editorializes against the manner in which the Jesus MCC, one of the midwest's largest GLBT churches, is conducting the campaign. The newspaper complains of church members placing the "Would Jesus Discriminate" signs in public rights of way, which is against the law, throughout the Indianapolis area, as well as its perceived intolerance of the church towards others' points of view. The Word writes:

So what gives with the MCC Church and their recent anti-homophobia campaign? Church volunteers posted signs in public rights of way and then screamed discrimination when towns and cities rightfully asked that they be removed as they would any other illegal postings. And, we’re told by at least one source, church leaders were reminded in advance that such postings were illegal and might result in a backlash, but they went forward anyway.

While this newspaper does not and never would support discrimination, we find the MCC’s double-standard difficult to deal with, but somewhat sadly, we feel, typical of a church which we feel in many ways is as intolerant of others’ points of view as many they criticise for being inflexible and unresponsive to gay and lesbian needs.

The Word seems as much or more concerned about the manner in which Jesus MCC attempts to bring folks over to its side and its efforts to speak for the GLBT community as a whole as it does its illegal placement of yard signs in public rights of way. Illustrative of this The Word explains is:

. . . from witnessing and attempts at proslytizing by church members to those who are happily not religious or who have chosen (or been born) into a non-Christian religion, to suggesting that some of the MCC’s leadership speak for many in the general gay and lesbian community who might not agree with parts or all of their message, especially as it relates to their brand of Christianity.

It saddens us when anyone tries to speak for us gays as a group, because just as this newspaper does not have that right, nor do we expect it, neither do any of the often self-appointed "leaders" who step forward and throw themselves in front of TV cameras and call daily newspapers pretending to talk for you and me.

As far as the current hooha and the MCC Church—nothing against their beliefs, but we feel that any attempt to convince outsiders that they speak for you or me any more than local rights groups, rabbis, or mainline Christian leadership do is wrong —regardless of whether or not they feel they have a unique relationship with a higher power.
The Word, despite its criticism, emphasizes that it "support[s] the church's message and oppose[s] any sort of homophobia."

It should be pointed out that, while locally people associate the "Would Jesus Discriminate?" campaign with Jesus MCC, the campaign is actually the brainchild of Mitch Gold, a North Carolina furniture maker who is Jewish. He founded the "Faith In America" campaign to help educate the country about the harm brought about by religion-based bigotry against the GLBT community based upon fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible by relating past efforts using similar Biblical pleas to discriminate against African-Americans, women, Jews and other minority groups.

UPDATE: After posting this item, AI noticed that the Faith In America website used our June 15, 2006 post on the Jesus MCC Town Hall Meeting verbatim on its press room site. AI doesn't object to their use of it, but it would have been nice if the organization had asked first and then attributed it to AI rather than commit a copyright violation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Daniels Scores Big With Honda Win

A late afternoon Star report quoting the Columbus Dispatch reports that Indiana's Greensburg site has been chosen for the new Honda plant. The $400 million factory will provide 1,500 good-paying jobs to Hoosiers. What a way for Gov. Mitch Daniels to top off his trade mission to Asia. This is a big win for the Governor and the state of Indiana.

Irsay Let Off The Hook For Hit and Run

First, the Marion Co. Prosecutor's office let Nancy Irsay slide on a very serious driving while under the influence case, now comes word that the Hamilton Co. Prosecutor's office is letting her off the hook altogether for a charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Irsay's case was being prosecuted by deputy prosecutor Barb Trathen so Irsay went out and hired Scott Newman, who doesn't even practice criminal defense work anymore but used to be Trathen's boss and wahlah, the charges are dropped. The Star's James Gillaspy writes:

Despite her incriminating statements after a car crash in November, Nancy Irsay will not be punished for leaving the scene of the accident.

Hamilton County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Barbara J. Trathen has dropped the case against the widow of former Indianapolis Colts owner Robert Irsay. Trathen sought the dismissal after reviewing legal arguments by defense attorneys Eric J. Benner and Scott C. Newman, a new member of Irsay’s legal team and Trathen’s boss when he was Marion County prosecutor and she was one of his deputies.

Irsay, 55, was charged with leaving the scene of the accident at her home on Nov. 8, 2005. Carmel police sent to the 1300 block of W. 116th Street had found her BMW sport utility vehicle at the end of the driveway. Its bumper had been torn off when it entered the roadway and hit a passing truck about 2 p.m.

Initially, Carmel police said, a man in Irsay's employ claimed to have been driving the BMW. About an hour after their arrival, after witnesses had told investigators that a woman was driving, investigators located Irsay and began to question her.

Irsay, who was facing a pending drunken-driving prosecution in Marion County, admitted that she was the driver only after one officer told her that her driver’s license was valid. She said then she would not have left the accident scene if she had known her license was valid, prosecuting and defense attorneys agree.

Benner and Newman claimed Irsay’s admissions are inadmissable, however. They contend the statements were solicited in violation of her Fifth Amendment defense against self-incrimination and before being advised of her Miranda rights as a suspect entitled to legal counsel and a warning that anything she said could be used against her.Defense attorneys also argued that the case should be dismissed because there was no damage to the truck that would require Irsay to remain at the scene, and because her driveway was part of the scene.

Now let's get this straight. There were eyewitness accounts of Irsay hitting the truck while behind the wheel of her BMW, and then leaving the scene of the accident. Why do you even need her own admissions to prosecute her when you have eyewitness evidence from others that she committed the crime? Note that both Trathen and her boss, Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp, were out of town and unavailable for comment. And who said our criminal justice system isn't fair?

Don Marsh Doesn't Like Downtown Indy

The Star's business writer Madhusmita Bora tells us that Don Marsh, CEO of Marsh Supermarkets, gave his employees a pep talk on Monday to assure them that things aren't as bad as they look, and that the grocery store chain is still in business. "We have great stores, outstanding employees and a fine reputation, and we intend to go forward as planned," Marsh is quoted as saying.

AI has some advice for Marsh. Take some time away from all the sporting events and trips on your private jet to tour your downtown store--that would be the O'Malia's in Lockerbie you purchased from the O'Malia family a few years back and quickly turned into a run-down, roadside stand. You might start with a thorough cleaning of the place. To be blunt, it's dirty and the stench of spoiled milk in the dairy section is enough to keel anyone over.

As for the "fresh produce" you're trying to pawn off on us, the gig is up. The store has obviously become the dumping ground for any produce you wouldn't dare put out in your Marsh brand stores because of the nose-turning reaction any discerning shopper would give to such aged and unappealing fruits and vegetables. And as for the eggs, there's a reason the government requires them to be dated. Imagine my reaction when I once discovered that not one of the egg cartons was date stamped. Your store manager wisely pulled all of the cartons from the shelf when I complained to him. Also, try offering milk that doesn't expire within a day or two of its purchase.

The bakery and deli were the best features of the old O'Malia's store, but you closed the O'Malia's bakery and now offer your customers an assortment of "nothing fresh-baked" and a variety of unappealing deli dishes. The only section of the store that lives up to the O'Malia's name is the meat department. And those butchers back there are none too happy with what you've done to their store. Just ask them if you doubt me. For that matter, ask any employee who is still working there from the good ole days and you'll get the same answer: "This store sucks!"

Downtown residents can only hope that new development plans underway on the north end of Massachusetts Avenue will bring some much-needed competition to your pathetic store. And the same goes for the Kroger store at 16th & College. In case the people running Kroger haven't figured it out yet, your store is now surrounded by half-million dollars homes, not the ghetto. Get a clue.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Roberts And Alito Align With Conservatives In Death Penalty Case

The death penalty case of Kansas v. Marsh decided by a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court today provided an excellent test to learn where Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito would place themselves ideologically on matters of criminal justice. In today's decision narrowly upholding Kansas' death penalty statute, Roberts and Alito came down squarely on the side of the Court's most conservative members, flanked by Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy.

This was not a case about the constitutionality of the death penalty in general as a cruel and unusual form of punishment. Instead, the Court examined a unique provision in Kansas' death penalty statute which compels a jury to sentence a defendant to death if the mitigating circumstances do not outweigh the aggravating circumtances. Thus, if a jury determined that the mitigating and aggravating circumstances were equal, it would nonetheless be commanded to impose the death penalty. The Kansas Supreme Court concluded that the statute's weighing equation violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution because, "[i]n the event of equipoise, i.e., the jury's determination that the balance of any aggravating circumstances and any mitigating circumstances weighed equal, the death penalty would be required."

The defendant argued that "an equipoise determination reflects juror confusion or inability to decide between life and death or that the jury may use equipoise as a loophole to shirk its constitutional duty to render a reasoned, moral sentencing decision rest on an implausible characterization of the Kansas statute--that a jury's determination that aggravators and mitigators are in equipoise is not a decision, much less a decision for death. Justice Thomas disagreed writing, "Weighing is not an end, but a means to reaching a decision. Kansas' instructions clearly inform the jury that a determination that the evidence is in equipoise is a decision for death."

Justice David Souter's dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Stevens, dismisses the idea of a tie-breaker in favor of the death penalty as an absurdity. His opposition to the majority's position is best summarized in this paragraph:

In Kansas, when a jury applies the State's own standards of relative culpability and cannot decide that a defendant is among the most culpable, the state law says that equivocal evidence is good enough and the defendant must die. A law that requires execution when the case for aggravation has failed to convince the sentencing jury is morally absurd, and the Court's holding that the Constitution tolerates this moral irrationality defies decades of precedent aimed at eliminating freakish capital sentencing in the United States.

Souter pointed to the experience with the death penalty in Illinois, noting that the state had actually released more death row prisoners because they were later determined to be innocent than the actual number of death row prisoners executed. He writes:

When the Governor of Illinois imposed a moratorium on executions in 2000, 13 prisoners under death sentences had been released since 1977 after a number of them were shown to be innocent, as described in a report which used their examples to illustrate a theme common to all 13, of "relatively little solid evidence connecting the charged defendants to the crimes." (citations omitted) During the same period, 12 condemned convicts had been executed. Subsequently the Governor determined that 4 more death row inmates were innocent. (citations omitted) Illinois had thus wrongly convicted and condemned even more capital defendants than it had executed, but it may well not have been otherwise unique; one recent study reports that between 1989 and 2003, 74 American prisoners condemned to death were exonerated. (citations omitted)

Commentators are already speculating that the Court would have swung the other way narrowly had Justice Sandra Day O'Connor still been on the Court instead of Justice Alito. The Court actually re-heard arguments in this case so that Justice Alito could participate in the decision. You don't have to be an opponent of the death penalty to find fault with the majority's decision today. It seems that a jury should be convinced that the aggravating circumstances exceed the mitigating circumstances, not merely equal them, before a death sentence is compelled. If a majority of the Supreme Court justices have not detected there are iniquities in the criminal jutice system because of the uneven hand in which the death penalty is being applied across the country in capital murder cases, then they are completely out of touch with reality. By their ruling today, they have given a green light to more injustice and, in the words of Justice Souter, more "freakish capital sentencing."

More Extremism From Drozda

Tucked inside of Mary Beth Schneider's wrap-up on new laws taking effect on July 1 in today's Star is more information about Sen. Jeff Drozda's extremist legislative plans for next year. You may recall that Sen. Drozda earlier announced his plan to introduce legislation to ban same-sex couples from adopting or fostering children. Now he plans to provide a different form of criminal justice for sexual offenders than other criminal offenders. Schneider writes:

This year's barrage of laws affecting sexual offenders are just the beginning, said Sen. Jeff Drozda, R-Westfield.

Next year, he said, he will seek legislation eliminating the "good time credit," for which offenders get one day off their sentences for every day of good behavior behind bars. He wants a mandatory minimum sentence of five to eight years in prison, depending on the crime, for people convicted of child solicitation or exploitation and those who possess child pornography.

Keep in mind that the legislature just enacted two new laws cracking down on sexual offenders. Violent sexual offenders will now be electronically tracked for the rest of their lives. Additionally, some sexual offenders will be barred from living within 1,000 feet of a school, park or youth center and from working or volunteering at those and other places that attract children. They can be charged with a felony if they violate this latter law.

Fundamental notions of due process and equal protection are constitutional principles extremists like Drozda are all too willing to discard in an effort to politicize the criminal justice system. Sexual offenders deserve punishment for their crimes, but no less or no more than persons convicted of comparable crimes.

Star Continues To Protect Realtors

The Star does a wrap-up of new laws taking effect on July 1. The story by Mary Beth Schneider tells us for the umpteenth time that Indiana now has a "In God We Trust" special license plate. Gun owners will now be able to get life-time permits she tells us. If you're riding in a funeral procession, you will no longer have to fasten your child in a car or booster seat. And, if you're a physician, you can tell your patient you're sorry when you screw up without having your apology used against you in a malpractice lawsuit.

There is also another new law the Star isn't telling you about. If you're a discount real estate broker, you're out of business under a new law passed to protect traditional real estate brokers. As AI told you yesterday, Home Yeah has already closed up shop because of the new anti-competition law. The only MSM news publication to date to cover the new law is the Courier-Journal, which is an out-of-state newsaper. Go figure.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Newspaper Reporter Suspended For Pride Parade Participation

The Washington Blade is reporting today that a long-time columnist for the Allentown Morning Call was suspended after he served as grand marshal for a Pride parade. The Morning Call is owned by The Tribune Company. The Blade writes:

Frank Whelan, who is gay, said he was suspended for two days without pay over what the newspaper called a violation of its ethics policy, which prohibits employees from publicly associating themselves with causes.

Whelan, who has not worked since the parade, said he is planning to file a civil rights lawsuit against the paper and pursue the matter with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces laws against workplace discrimination.

"I was naive enough to believe the Morning Call would be happy (for me) because they are always talking about how they believe in diversity," he said.

Morning Call spokeswoman Vicki C. Mayk said Whelan violated the paper's code of ethics by marching in the Pride in the Park parade in Allentown on June 17. The ethics policy prohibits employees from participating in "public demonstrations in favor of or in opposition to a cause." She pointed out that a news release issued by the parade's organizer, Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley, stated that Whelan and his partner, Bob Wittman, were selected as grand marshals in part to highlight the need for "marriage equality."

"We felt that clearly tied his participation to an issue," Mayk said.

A Gay Pride event is no different than any other ethnic event. Applying the Morning Call's standard, an African-American journalist in Indianapolis could be disciplined for participating in Indiana Black Expo, which promotes equal opportunities for African-Americans. During Indy's recent Pride Festival, a gay news reporter for one of Indianapolis' local television stations stopped by my booth to say hello but would not sign a petition opposing legislative efforts to ban same-sex couple adoptions. He cited a similar ethics policy of his employer as the reason he could not sign the petition, which was understandable since he is a news reporter.

In Whelan's case, however, he worked as a columnist for the newspaper, not as a reporter. Columnists express their personal viewpoints each time they write a column, making the policy problemmatic. Does it mean that Whelan could write a column sympathetic to gay marriage, but still run afoul of it by participating in an event which officially supports gay marriage?

Interestingly, Whelan's EEOC complaint is based on age discrimination. He says he was among dozens of employees offered early retirement last fall but turned it down. He believes his parade participation is being used as a pretext for getting rid of him because of his age. The newspaper's owners seem to be somewhat duplicitous on this issue. The Tribune Company's Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV regularly sponsor floats in Chicago's Gay Pride Parade, which took place today. Today was no different, both had floats in today's parade. George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek, served as the parade's grand marshal, and the theme for this year's event was "Pride, Not Prejudice." How ironic.

McCain Defends "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

PageOneQ reports that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is defending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding the service of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military. McCain is quoted as saying:

"All the senior members of the military say that it's working." When asked directly if he would vote for Massachusetts Congressman Marty Meehan's bill (H.R. 1059) to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, McCain said, "No."

PageOneQ notes a February Washington Post story which reported that the military spent $363 million enforcing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. According to the Government Accountability Office, 9,500 service members have been dismissed from the military since 1993 because of their homosexuality.

Peterson's Gubernatorial Ambitions Bad For Indy

The Star's Matt Tully discusses in his column today the prospects of Mayor Bart Peterson (D) seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2008. Peterson tells Tully:

I'm consciously trying not to focus on that -- not even think about that -- so I can focus on the things we need to work on," he said.

"There will come a day when it's time to think about" whether to run for governor.

While Democrats no doubt consider a Peterson gubernatorial bid a good thing, it is probably the worst thing that can happen to the people of Indianapolis. Back in the 90s Peterson's predecessor, Steve Goldsmith, was similarly situated. The Indiana GOP was anxious to see Goldsmith take on then Lt. Governor Frank O'Bannon for governor. Goldsmith also had to decide whether to seek re-election as mayor in 1995, which he chose to do. His mayoral re-election turned out okay, though his winning percentage, less than 55% of the vote, was less than impressive in a 3-way race where the Democrats did not seriously contest the race. He went on to lose to Lt. Gov. Frank O'Bannon by more than 100,000 votes, losing badly in his own Marion County.

Pre-occupied with running for governor, Goldsmith ignored finding solutions for long-term problems such as under-funded police and fire pensions, jail over-crowding, an inadequate public transportation system and poorly performing public schools. Guess what? Indianapolis has still not found a solution to any of these same problems more than 7 years after Peterson first took office. And you can bet Mayor Peterson won't be looking for solutions to these problems as he focuses on becoming governor. Another politically amibitious mayor is the last thing Indianapolis needs right now.

Shaming Indy's GLBT Community

Two well-known gay-owned businesses in Indianapolis proudly participated in the filming of what has to be one of the raunchiest and least professionally-produced pornographic videos of all time. The title, which I shall omit for fear of promoting an otherwise straight to the trash can video, is descriptive of the number of local gay men the featured "actor" performs oral sex on to the point of orgasm while cruising a local video store and a popular leather bar. The number is 40 if you're keeping count.

The two businesses promoted the release of this truly sad creation by blanketing car windshields this weekend outside local gay establishments. Fortunately for the poor souls who participated in the making of this film, the producer was kind enough not to reveal most of your faces. Unfortunately for others, the lighting was the only aspect of the video the producer did half-way right, and you may be surprised to see your face in an orgy-fest which is sure to send any reasonably sane viewer straight to the bathroom to vomit. Fast-forward is a must for this video. The pause or slo-mo feature you can do without. As for the featured actor, he's lucky if he got out of town without earning a death sentence for practicing such recklessly unsafe sex.

The video store is offering the video, which is completely devoid of any artistic value, for $35, or you can rent it for a few bucks. Rather than trying to make a buck off of it, these two businesses would be wise to lock this one away in the vaults so that it never sees the light of day again. They would be doing everyone a big favor. I personally spoke to the owner of the video store about my concerns. He respectfully listened to my concerns, and he had anticipated criticism from some corners over the video. Both businesses have been very supportive of the GLBT community, but I must respectfully disagree with their actions on this particular project.

And for those wondering if a certain someone's partner participated in the video as earlier reported in the blogosphere, the answer is no according to the video store owner.

MSM Finally Reports on Realtors Protection Law

A draconian new law which is putting discount realtors out of business in Indiana to protect the traditional, self-serving real estate brokerage market, is finally getting some coverage from the main stream media. The Indiana Law Blog and Advance Indiana both reported extensively on this new law months ago, but the MSM refused to cover it, perhaps because real estate brokers advertise extensively in their publications. Kudos to Lesley Stedman Weidenbener for being the first member of the MSM to report on the new law, although she's pretty late to the game. Weidenbrener writes today in the Courier-Journal:

A new state law will require Indiana real estate agents to provide a list of services that may seem like the basics to those who've bought and sold a home:

Answering questions, handling offers and counter-offers, and assisting with the transaction paperwork.

But critics of the law, which will take effect Saturday, say it will squeeze out an emerging choice for home sellers in some areas — one that lets clients choose and pay only for the real estate services they want.

The so-called "a la carte brokers," more common in larger cities than in smaller towns or rural areas, offer a menu of services for sellers who want to handle part but not all of the transaction themselves.

For example, a broker might charge $500 to put a home on the privately run Multiple Listing Service, which makes it readily available to thousands of real estate agents across the state and country. But the homeowner would handle showings, offers and financial details by themselves or with the help of an attorney.

The new law has already had its intended effect. As AI exclusively reported, a local real estate discount broker, Home Yeah, anticipated losing 62% of its business as a result of the new law's enactment. That was a little too much for the company's new owners. Weidenbener writes about Home Yeah's decision to close up shop in Indiana:

In Central Indiana, though, discount broker HomeYeah is closing up shop because its California-based owners don't want to work in the state's new anti-competitive atmosphere, said the company's local agent, John Slimak.

HomeYeah offered a $499 Multiple Listing Service listing to sellers in addition to more expensive packages that provided additional services.

Slimak has now started a new Indianapolis business — HomeChoice — that will offer complete real estate services. He plans to charge a 1 percent commission but provide full services. He said that's unfortunate for many of his customers, who he said have saved thousands of dollars with the multiple-listing package, for which Slimak also went to the closing and handled the title work.

"It's a shame," he said. "People who were savvy home buyers and sellers could get their deals done faster and quicker without buying full services."

Home Yeah represented a glowing local Internet success story when entrepreneur Gerry Hays launched it back in the 1990s. It's now on the ash heap of history thanks to the self-serving real estate brokerage industry which didn't like the much-needed competition. Our sentiments are shared by Angie Hicks, founder of locally-owned Angie's List. She tells Weidenbener:

But Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, an information service for homeowner services that expanded last week into the Louisville metro area, said the law removes competition from the real estate services market and means some sellers will have to pay for services they don't want.

In a traditional transaction, sellers pay commissions that total 6 to 7 percent of the selling price — half to their own agents and half to the buyer's agent. By using discounted services, those sellers can save thousands of dollars.

"It's really a law that's reducing consumer choice," Hicks said. "The majority of people still use traditional real estate agents. But for people who have bought and sold houses often and are equipped to handle parts of the sale, this law would be eliminating choices."

Weidenbener notes that the Justice department has had concern in other states about the anti-trust ramifications of such laws. The article doesn't say whether the Justice Department is considering any action against the new law.

The Indiana Law Blog gives its reaction to Weidenbener's story.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Extremist Fundies Seek Constitutional Convention On Gay Marriage

Columnist Robert Novak says a coalition of anti-gay marriage groups wants to call a constitutional convention for the purpose of drafting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting gay marriages. The groups are upset over their second failed attempt at getting the U.S. Senate to recommend a constitutional amendment. Novak writes:

Supporters of a constitutional amendment to keep the courts from legalizing homosexual marriage, stunned by poor support in the recent Senate vote, are beginning a campaign for a constitutional convention.

The provision of the Constitution's Article V requiring such a convention if called by two-thirds of the state legislatures has never been used. Fear of throwing the Constitution open to general amendment has overridden support for specific issues. However, key advocates of barring gay marriages believe the constitutional convention strategy will keep the issue alive.

A recent memo circulated within the anti-gay marriage coalition lists Princeton Professor Robby George, Tony Perkins and Chuck Donovan of the Family Research
, and conservative financial consultant Frank Cannon as favoring the strategy.

South Bend Equality Tells Tribune: It's Enforcible

In a guest opinion column in today's South Bend Tribune, South Bend Equality organizer Catherine Pittman and employment law attorney Jane Ann Himsel set the newspaper straight on the issue of the enforceability of a city ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Tribune recently editorialized in support of the proposed human rights ordinance but urged the council to make it voluntary only under the premise that the city is without legal authority to enact an enforcible gay rights ordinance. Pittman and Himsel write:

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the ordinance will not cause the ordinance to conflict with the Indiana Civil Rights Act. Indiana appellate courts have repeatedly ruled that a local ordinance and a state statute are in conflict when the ordinance forbids that which the statute expressly permits, but not when an ordinance merely supplements the protections that the statute already provides. Such supplemental burdens need only be logically consistent with the statutory purpose.

The stated purpose of the Indiana Civil Rights Act is "the promotion of equal opportunity without regard to race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry through reasonable methods." The public policy underlying the Indiana Civil Rights Act is "to provide all citizens equal opportunity" in a variety of areas including employment and housing. The evidence presented to the Common Council shows that South Bend cannot promote equal opportunity for all of its citizens without adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the human rights ordinance. The proposed amendment does not conflict with state law: It is logically consistent with the statutory purpose and broad public policy underlying the Indiana Civil Rights Act. The current state of the law strongly favors enforceability.

The Tribune apparently based its original editorial position on a faulty legal memorandum written by a South Bend city attorney advising the council. That memorandum failed to even include an analysis of Indianapolis' mandatory non-discrimination ordinance. Instead, it selectively pointed only to ordinances adopted by other communities, like Fort Wayne, which provide for voluntary compliance only.

Negative Ad Wars Kick Off In 8th District

Election day is still months away, but Rep. John Hostettler (R) and and his opponent in the 8th congressional district race, Sheriff Brad Ellsworth, have already started airing negative television ads directed at each other. The Courier-Press reports that Hostettler, through the National Republican Congressional Committee, is airing an ad which features a mug shot of an accused child molester who was accidentally released from jail while Sheriff Ellsworth was in Washington, D.C. tending to his political campaign. "Can you imagine a suspected child rapist being captured in Vanderburgh County, but then mistakenly released by Brad Ellsworth's Sheriff's Department?" an announcer says.

Ellsworth is defending his department's actions. He says he could have been sitting in the next room and the suspected child molester would have still been released. He's hitting back against Hostettler with an ad accusing Hostettler of distorting his record and casting votes against public safety. "The Ellsworth ad calls Ellsworth a 'decorated hero' and points out that in 1996, the Sons of the American Revolution gave then-Chief Deputy Ellsworth its 'Officer of the Year' award. Hostettler's people are unimpressed. A spokesman says "Ellsworth is trying to change the subject from 'the incredible incompetence demonstrated by his office in the case of Matthew Long.'"

Friday, June 23, 2006

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

Awhile back I commented to someone about the tendency of politicians to surround themselves with a lot of young, pretty people. Demonstrating that there's no shortage of beautiful people working at the White House and on Capitol Hill, Wonkette is conducting an online contest to determine who the "Capitol Hill Hotties" and "White House Hotties" are. Going clockwise from the top left, White House staffers Jeb Mason and Taylor Hughes, and Capitol Hill interns, Will Anderson and McKee Taylor Flood, are among the favorites.

UPDATE: A more respectable photo of McKee Taylor Flood has been posted on the site, which you can view by clicking here. A disclaimer on the site reads as follows:

"Capitol Hill intern coordinators: None of these hotties nominated herself, so please don’t fire them or otherwise fault them for being in this contest. Don’t hate them because they’re beautiful!

One can only assume that the person who nominated someone for the list submitted the nominee's photo, which in Flood's case was more than likely not a photo she would have submitted herself.

Why Keeping Up On Current Events Is Important

Newspapers and television news reports were abuzz earlier this week with word of a sex sting operation conducted by the Hamilton Co. Sheriff's department in Cool Creek Park that netted nearly two dozen arrests. At least two men failed to read or listen to newspaper and television reports as they were arrested yesterday by undercover officers for lewd behavior. It pays to stay current on the news.

Rokita Plan To Clean Up Voter Lists Is On

With a little prodding from the U.S. Justice Department, Democrats withdrew their objections to Secretary of State Todd Rokita's plan to send a mailing to the state's more than 4 million registered voters in an effort to clean up voters lists. Rokita tells reporters:

As my office, the Department of Justice, and statewide media have pointed out, when we determined that 19 of 92 Indiana counties have more registered voters than actual citizens, age 18 or older, we knew there was a problem. When our brand new statewide voter registration system found 290,522 possible duplicate records, we knew there was a problem.”

As it turns out the Democrats weren't at all interested in saving taxpayers' money or the integrity of the voting system; they simply wanted to make sure Rokita's name did not appear anywhere on the mailing, and that voters could not learn how the voter ID law works. TDW writes today:

Specifically, he had to take his office name off the postcard, and he promised to omit a whole lot of information about the state's voter identification law, which was to be set out even though the law currently is under consideration by the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. In other words, it has to be a content-neutral mailing from the Indiana Election Division, not a mailing that might intimidate voters into not coming out this November.

"Content-neutral?" God forbid we educate the state's voters about the requirements for voting in this state. At least the mailing is going forward, although AI thinks it is a waste of taxpayer dollars to send the mailing to every registered voter since the statewide voter registration system already has identified potential duplicative registrations. That's why we spent millions to develop the system.

Star Punts Schneider Story; Instead Gives Top Billing To 9-Year Old Suit

If one would have expected a front-page story from the Star today on Lottery Director's Esther Schneider's admissions of wrongdoing in her management of the agency, you would be wrong. You'll have to look for a tiny story buried somewhere in the Metro & State section for that story. Instead, the Star gave front-page billing to news that the agency is settling a nearly decade-old suit by the winner of a $5 scratch-off ticket who failed to claim his prize within 90 days.

WTHR-TV, however, gave top billing in its Thursday night newscast with an interview with Schneider by Kevin Rader concerning the allegations contained in an anonymous complaint filed with the Inspector General. His report included an interview with Jennifer Wagner, communications director for the Indiana Democratic Party and the editor of Taking Down Words, which first posted the complaint on its blog site Wednesday night. It appears that TDW was the first media source to obtain the complaint. TDW wrote upon its release, "Lo and behold, a copy of the anonymous IG complaint arrived on TDW's desk last week." Other news media sources say they received their copy on Wednesday, at the same time copies were being distributed to all 150 state lawmakers.

Mary Diana Penner writes in today's Star about the 9-year old lawsuit being settled:

A dispute over a winning scratch-off ticket that would have cost the Hoosier Lottery $5 to resolve in 1997 instead will cost the agency more than $1 million.

The lottery has agreed to a proposed settlement to end the nearly decade-long fight, which evolved into a class-action lawsuit.

Here's what happened:

Tom H. Smith, Indianapolis, bought a $2 "instant win" ticket in 1996, which yielded a $5 prize. He didn't instantly redeem it, though. And when he tried to collect months later, he was told he was too late.

Smith appealed to lottery headquarters, saying he had no way of knowing the game had ended. That didn't work, so he sued.

The lottery already has ponied up more than $450,000 to pay lawyers to fight the suit and now is agreeing to set up a $600,000 pot to resolve the entire matter, once and for all.

Esther Schneider, executive director of the Hoosier Lottery since January 2005, when Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed his own team, said she looked at the lawsuit she inherited and decided enough was enough.

"I thought, 'OK, how do we make this thing go away?' " she said. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, which still must be formally approved by a judge, Smith will get $15,000 from the $600,000 fund.

It really is a serious case of mismangement on the part of the agency, although the blame here largely must be placed on her predecessors. The only real winner is the law firm of Baker & Daniels, which the state paid more than $450,000 in legal fees to handle a $5 scratch-off ticket claim. The disputing winner will receive $15,000 for the $5 prize the Lottery refused to pay him, although I suspect his attorney, Rich Waples, will get at least 40% of that amount.

State Workers Fired For Downloading Child Porn

The Courier-Journal picks up more on the State of Indiana's efforts to filter what state employees may view on their work computers. A few state workers have been fired for downloading child pornography to their state computers according to the story. Elisabeth Beardsley writes:

The Indiana state government began restricting state workers' Internet access yesterday and some employees have been fired or disciplined after evidence was found that child pornography was viewed from work computers.

The move came a day after the state of Kentucky, in an unrelated move, expanded its filtering efforts to ban blogs, entertainment and shopping sites.

"Child pornography — you see those two words and you think, `Oh my God,' which is what we all thought," said Chris Cotterill, general counsel for the Indiana Office of Technology. "Child pornography is disgusting and it was taken very seriously."

A "handful" of employees were fired and several others were disciplined after the technology agency reported them to their human-resources departments for viewing child porn, Cotterill said. The agency also notified the state police, he said.

Gov. Mitch Daniels supports the decision to install a filtering system, which replaces what had been the employees' unfettered Internet access, said Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski. "He wants to assure that there's appropriate use of state resources and so he is fully on board" with the Office of Technology plan, she said.
Beardsley quotes Cotteril as saying, "Indiana has not yet banned blogs." "Cotterill said individual employees' Web habits are not being monitored, although he said activity such as viewing child porn can usually be traced to a specific person." The state purchased the new system from 8e6 Technologies for $166,307, plus annual maintenance costs.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Schneider Responds To IG Complaint

Hoosier Lottery Director Esther Schneider met with various members of the media today, including the AP's Mike Smith, to answer charges laid out in a detailed, unsigned complaint which was originally filed with the Inspector General's office on June 12. While Schneider denied some of the more serious charges in the complaint, she surpisingly owned up to many of the complaint's charges against her. And Schneider told Smith that she welcomed an investigation by the IG's office. Oddly, IG David Thomas would not confirm whether an investigation of Schneider was under way. Smith writes:

The Hoosier Lottery director says she would welcome an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing and mismanagement against her.

Esther Schneider said she did not know the source of the allegations, which were sent in letters to both the Republican and Democratic parties. Jeff Harris, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, said their members received the anonymous complaint in letters that had no return address and were distributed through the Statehouse mail system . . .

But she said the allegations contained in a 10-page complaint, such as rewarding contracts to benefit friends and having assistants perform personal tasks for her, were either twisted, half-truths or baseless and likely stemmed from disgruntled workers or former lottery employees.

The cover page of the complaint said it was sent to the state inspector general's office on June 12, and a log in that office dated June 16 shows that a complaint was filed against an employee of the lottery. But Inspector General David Thomas said he could not confirm whether it was the same anonymous complaint sent to lawmakers, or whether there was any investigation into the one his office received.

Schneider said she also did not know whether it was the same complaint, but guessed that it was. Regardless, "If something has been filed they have an obligation to do an inspection." She said she welcomed an investigation by Thomas' office so she could be cleared.

Here's what Schnieder told Smith was truthful about the complaint against her:

  • Making a decision to pay claims for winning Hoosier Millionaire tickets beyond the expiration date for cashing in. Smith writes: "An internal auditor said in a memo earlier this year that doing so violated a lottery statute, but Schneider and the auditor said she did it for promotional reasons and was unaware that an extension was not allowed."
  • Sponsoring a luncheon for a women's leadership program named for Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and holding a drawing for scratch-off tickets there to gather names of people to whom the lottery could send promotional materials. Smith writes: "She said Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who appointed her last year, told her later that was wrong because it appeared as if the lottery was sponsoring a political event."
  • Bringing her dogs to work and having Lottery employees tend to them, Smith writes: "Schneider said she did bring her two dogs to her office one day because she needed to drive them to the vet after work. But she said a commission meeting was being held, and "I had two employees who begged me to please could they hold the dogs, could they walk the dogs."
  • Awarding contracts to friends and former business associates, Smith writes: "A recent internal audit looked into a few specific concerns raised by an employee or the agency's chief financial officer, including her awarding a $90,000 no-bid contract for marketing research to a company owned by a friend she knew in the gaming industry. Schneider said it was the only vendor who could do the job, and the audit said the choice was approved by the governor's office and Lottery Commission and there appeared to be no violation of state law or administrative codes.
  • Engaging in political work on state time, Smith writes: "She acknowledged speaking to some Republican groups about the lottery's operations, but said it was always done on personal time or during vacation."
  • Mistreating Lottery employees, Smith writes: "Schneider acknowledged that she sometimes gets excited when talking to employees, and that Lottery Commission Chairwoman Jean Northenor had talked to her about her management style with people. But Northenor said she had never reprimanded Schneider, as the anonymous complaint alleged."
  • Firing people because of their political affilliation, Smith writes: "She said since she took over operations of the lottery, she has dismissed about 50 employees for various reasons and has looked scrupulously for cost-savings, and some employees or former workers did not like her management style. "They are definitely gunning for me," she said.

I am actually quite impressed with Schneider's candor in her interview with Smith, particularly when I compare it to the summary of the complaint I wrote about last night. You have to give Schneider credit for owning up to her mistakes when called upon to answer for them, quite the opposite of the deny, deny and deny approach taken by former ICJI Director Heather Bolejack. At the same time, they do raise some very serious questions about her management of the Lottery, an extremely critical source of state revenues. Her own admission of partisan political activities is particuarly troublesome. While she denies any political considerations in hiring/firing decisions, the fact that she has canned at least 50 employees of an agency that is not all that large to begin with is quite troubling. It is imperative that whoever serves in this position remain completely independent of any partisan considerations, and it certainly appears she has crossed that line on several occasions with the full knowledge of the Governor's office.

Schneider, prior to taking the job as Lottery director, was described by some who know her as very principled and moral in her approach to her work. It has been said that Brad Hiller, the former consultant for the Senate Majority Campaign Committee who was caught embezzling more than a hundred thousand dollars, would have never been prosecuted had she not demanded it of Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton and other Senate GOP leaders when she worked for them. According to sources, she threatened to go public and tell the prosecutor if Garton didn't agree to do so. In the end, Garton and the GOP leadership agreed to cooperate in the investigation of Hiller, which eventually led to a conviction and several months time in prison for Hiller. While she obviously did the right thing with respect to Hiller, that is now the standard to which people are now going to hold her.

Unlike the case of Bolejack, it is quite apparent from Schneider's admissions to Smith that the Governor's office has been well aware of at least some of the problems laid out in the complaint for quite some time. This will no doubt open the Governor up to new charges that he is not taking the ethics he preached when he first took office as seriously as the public might expect him to. It also raises questions about why the Inspector General wasn't called upon to investigate the agency sooner rather than have it become public in the unconventional way it first reached the blogosphere and then the mainstream media with still no official word from the administration itself.

Star Gives Front-Page Billing To Hamilton Sex Sting Arrests

The Star in a front-page story fills us in on the arrest of 22 people in a sex sting operation by undercover cops at Westfield's Cool Creek Park, including a list of all their names and the charges against them. Here's how the Hamilton Co. Sheriff's department conducted the sting:

According to probable cause affidavits, at least four undercover officers made contact with the suspects, either near the restroom or in a parking lot at Cool Creek. Police and a suspect often would agree to take a walk on one of the nature trails that wind through the heart of the park. Once inside the forested area of Cool Creek, the suspects would expose or fondle themselves or attempt to engage in such behaviors with the officers.

Many of the people arrested in the sting operation are now facing felony charges, not the typical misdemeanor charges that accompany such acts, because the acts took place in a public park where minors may be present, although police concede none of the acts were witnessed by any children. As the Star explained:

Because much of the behavior occurred in a public park that is equally accessible to adults and children, Wehmueller elevated the charges against many of the suspects to felonies. If convicted on the felony charge of performance harmful to a minor, the suspects could receive jail sentences ranging from six months to three years.

Wehmueller said that although none of the incidents involved or was witnessed by children, the threat that a minor would see the sexual activities paved the way for the harsher charges.

The problem with these sting operations is that they are not always what they appear. Arrestees often complain that the undercover police officer instigates the act in a way that amounts to entrapment, including engaging in a lewd act himself to entice the target into engaging in an act he may have otherwise not engaged in but for the bait the police officer used. Of course, the undercover officer, who is typically chosen for the sting operation because of his alluring good looks, denies engaging in any lewd act himself. Having said that, anyone who engages in these kinds of sex acts in public should be arrested.

The question is why the need to use undercover agents to entice people into commiting the acts? The most common reason police offer for conducting sex sting operations of this nature is that people report seeing people engaging in sex acts. If civilians are able to witness other people in these acts, then plain-clothed officers should be able to witness the same acts and make the appropriate arrests without actually first approaching and then propositioning a person to engage in a sex act. The problem with doing the latter is that it takes more time and police don't want to wait hours for someone to come along and do the dirty deed without a little enticement from police.

About a year ago, Terre Haute police conducted a similar sting operation in Fairbanks Park along the Wabash River. All of the men arrested in the sting had their names and pictures plastered on the front page of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, and the arrests were widely reported by local TV stations. Among the arrestees was a cousin of mine who suffers from a mental disability he has had since birth. After his arrest, he was at a complete loss to explain to his family what had happened. Fortunately for him, the police had recorded the conversation between him and the undercover officer. After his attorney reviewed the tape and discussed it with prosecutors, the case against him was dropped as it was quite apparent that the recorded conversation didn't support the charge against him. Of course, it was a little hard at that point to remove the damage from the embarrassing news coverage. His family became very concerned for his well-being as he withdrew and became extremely depressed.

I don't know if the circumstances for any of the 22 arrested in the Westfield park are similar to those experienced by my cousin, but for their sake I hope not. Because their lives will never be the same after the Star published their names and the charges against them in the newspaper today.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Advance America Reports Less Than $14,000 In Lobbying Expenditures

Throughout the 2006 legislative session, Advance America founder Eric Miller sent e-mails to his members on a weekly basis updating them on the organization's aggressive legislative agenda. Each e-mail requested tax-deductible contributions to support the effort, the cost of which Miller himself pegged at more than $160,000 for the legislative session. Last week the group filed a "Report of Lobbyist Activity" it is required by law to file with the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission for the reporting period covering Nov. 1, 2005 to April 30, 2006 disclosing how much it spent on lobbying. The group reported total expenditures of just $13,994.48, less than 8% of the amount Miller told his members the group needed to cover its legislative expenses.

The group's largest expenditure, $7,464.62., was for compensation it paid to its employees and contract lobbyists for performing lobbying services. The group reported spending $5,955.14 for uncategorized expenses and $307.72 for entertainment, including meals. According to Advance America's Form 990 IRS tax returns, Miller's law firm, which shares office spaces and expenses with Advance America, has been paid six-figure retainer fees by Advance America over the past several years to perform what appears to be legislative-related work. The firm has not, however, ever registered to lobby on behalf of the organization as Indiana's Lobby Law requires, although Miller and some of the firm's attorneys have registered as compensated employees of the organization. Miller has also consistently been paid a full-time salary by the organization which annually tops $100,000 when benefits are added in.

In sharp contrast to Advance America's lobbying reports, a "Report of Lobbyist Activity" filed for the same reporting period by Indiana Equality, a statewide organization advocating on behalf of the state's GLBT community, reported total lobbying expenditures of $12,600, all of which was for compensation paid to employees or contract lobbyists for performing lobbying services. Because IE had no employees during the reporting period, the amount reported is what the group paid to its contract lobbyists, Lambda Consulting's Mark St. John and John Joanette. What is striking about this is the fact that IE's total annual budget in the past has been less than one-tenth the size of Advance America's annual budget. Additionally, IE did not pursue the passage of any specific legislation during the 2006 legislative session, unlike Advance America, which actively pursued passage of more than a half-dozen bills. Yet, its report seems to reflect the fact that the money it paid to its lobbyists was for direct lobbying activities.

What this demonstrates is precisely what we've reported in the past: Advance America's lobbying reporting both to the IRS and the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission belies the true extent of its actual lobbying activities. While Advance America is only required to report its direct lobbying expenditures and not other expenditures such as grassroots lobbying, the small sum disclosed is simply not credible. By grossly under-reporting the true extent of its lobbying activities, Advance America is able to preserve its tax-exempt status, which allows members to deduct contributions it makes to the organization. Would someone in the mainstream media please do their jobs and report the blatant abuse of our nation's laws government tax-exempt organizations? Must an unpaid blogger continue to do the jobs you are too lazy to do?

TDW Takes Aim At Daniels' Hoosier Lottery Director

Taking Down Words played an instrumental role in uncovering corruption at the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute which resulted in the ouster of the agency's two top officials, now the Democratic blog is taking aim at the Hoosier Lottery and its Director Esther Schneider. TDW, after alluding to problems brewing at the agency awhile back, has now obtained a copy of a complaint it reports was filed with the Inspector General against Schneider which contains explosive allegations. The original complaint was filed on June 12, and the updated complaint made available at TDW dated June 14 alleges that Schneider and another staff member "spent the day moving, altering, and possibly removing documentation alluded to in the [June 12 complaint]." The complaint speculates that Schneider was responding to a "heads-up from the OIG or the Governor's office." The Complaint appeals to the Inspector General to conduct "an immediate and thorough investigation of the actions" of Schneider.

The unsigned complaint charges that Schneider has violated "state ethics rules, state statutes, and abused her discretionary authority including but not limited to slander, ongoing public humiliation of staff, derogatory comments, intimidation, coersion, and awarding of contracts." Advance Indiana emphasizes that at this point these are simply allegations. Neither the IG's office nor any other investigative agency to our knowledge has conducted and concluded an investigation to determine whether there is any merit to the complaint. No conclusions should be drawn about anyone's guilt or innocence in this matter. AI would point out, as alluded in the complaint, that the agency is facing legal action by several ex-employees of the agency, alleging wrongful termination. Because these matters do involve a public agency, the public has a right to know what current and former employees of the agency have to say about the current management of the agency.

Among the specific charges laid out in the complaint are the following:

  • Paying out prize monies from the now-defunct Hoosier Millionaire Show after the grace period.
  • Accepting entertainment from vendors and former business associates.
  • Entertaining vendors, clients and other individuals, and submitting improperly prepared expense reports for personal reimbursement.
  • Performing political activities using her office and title.
  • Awarding contracts to former business partners and political associates.
  • Based hiring/firing decisions on a person's political affiliation.
  • "Routinely derided" the agency's former general counsel, a quadriplegic.
  • "Frequently derisively" refers to the Lottery's players and Indiana residents as "rubes", "hayseeds" and "anti-Semitic" in meetings with staff and vendors.
  • Instituting a cash bonus system which rewards employees, including herself, which purportedly insures she will receive a bonus equal to 1/3 of her annual salary.
  • Brings her dog to work and makes staff care for it, including taking it for walks and "cleaning up after it on the street."

The report also suggests that Schneider has made many short-sighted decisions to save money, which at first appear to result in greater lottery revenues, such as cutting staff and cancelling the Hoosier Millionaire Show. But the complaint argues that these one-time savings may negatively impact long-term revenues. The report zings Schneider with her own words. It quotes her as saying, "[T]here was zero accountability for bad behavior" in the previous Lottery administration.

UPDATE: The Indiana Daily Insight is reporting tonight the following: "Expect the news to break today (Thursday) about some issues in a quasi-state agency that may involve an Inspector General investigation." AI has also learned that the complaint posted at TDW was mailed to all 150 of Indiana's state legislators, in addition to being widely distributed among members of the State House media.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher Blocks Blogs On State Computers

TPM Muckraker is reporting that the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY) is selectively blocking state computers so that state employees cannot access blog sites it finds objectionable. TPM writes:

[S]tate employees arrived at work this morning to discover their computers were blocked from viewing the muckraking blog The site has doggedly pursued the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who's at the center of one of the largest scandals in the state's history.

The admin's tech office is responsible for the deed, which seems ham-handedly political -- Wonkette has also been blocked, though other blogs have not. The blog has been hitting Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY) for months and months over his administration's illegal cronyism. You can see the long list of scandal casualties here on our Kentucky Grand Ole Docket -- 15 indictments, nine of which Fletcher pardoned.

TPM quotes Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY), whose district includes the state capitol as saying, "I believe the recent action of the Fletcher administration to block access to a handpicked number of blogs is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution." "This flies in the face of a fundamental right of free speech."

Bluegrass Report has been compiling a list of blocked blog sites here. Coincidentally, the State of Indiana added new blocking software to state computers this week as well. Taking Down Words initially reported that its blog site was blocked by the software, but that report proved untrue. TDW later reported the blocking was only for two pornography categories.

GOP Presidential Candidates Face Marital Infidelity Scrutiny

The Washington Monthly asks the question, "What if three admitted adulterers run for president and no one cares?" concerning the potential candidacies of Sen. John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Steve Benen was motivated to raise this question after the New York Times published "a 2,000- word front-page dissection of Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage." Benen said, "It contained no real news, few named sources, and plenty of gossip masquerading as political coverage." Picking up on the NY Times piece a few days later, Benen notes that noted columnist David Broder wrote "that the failure of reporters in the post-speech Q&A to grill Hillary about her personal relationship with her husband was the 'elephant in the room.'"

Benen writes that "there was once a time when reporters believed that the sexual peccadilloes of American leaders were a private matter, and the nation was probably betteer off for that belief." But if private matters are to be an issue in the next presidential election, he thinks "Republicans have the most to lose." Here's a taste of what he has to say:

Lurking just over the horizon are liabilities for three Republicans who have topped several national, independent polls for the GOP's favorite 2008 nominee: Sen. John McCain (affair, divorce), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (affair, divorce, affair, divorce), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (divorce, affair, nasty divorce). Together, they form the most maritally challenged crop of presidential hopefuls in American political history.

His piece goes on to offer far more sordid details about each of the would-be presidents sexual pecadilloes. Given the dominance of the Christian right in the Republican party, none of these three candidates stand a chance at winning the nomination. My hunch is that one-by-one the likes of James Dobson will begin lining up behind Gov. Mitch Romney of Massachusetts, particularly since he's so happy to be the poster boy for the fight against gay marriage.