Sunday, November 18, 2007

Council Democrats Junket One Last Time On Taxpayers' Dime

What little credibility Indianapolis' City-County Council Democrats had with the public vanished with the news that nine of them, including two who were defeated in last Tuesday's election, took a junket with Mayor Bart Peterson to New Orleans this past week at a cost of $37,500. The Star's "Behind Closed Doors" column reports:

Outgoing Mayor Bart Peterson and nine Democratic City-County Council members spent much of the past week in New Orleans at a conference of the National League of Cities.

Peterson is the association's president for this year, so he could hardly have backed out despite losing the Nov. 6 election.

Council member Rozelle Boyd, who has served more than 40 years on the council, is also a committee chair for the association. Otherwise, Boyd said, he would have canceled his plans after losing in the election.

Among the other council members, majority leader Lonnell "King Ro" Conley lost his bid for an at-large seat. Ron Gibson, another at-large councilman, gave his spot at the conference to Vernon Brown after he did not retain his seat.

The conference is designed to help city leaders hear the latest and best approaches to solving the problems they typically tackle.

Attendees also were invited to a Festival Louisiana party and a jazz cruise at sunset on the Mississippi River.

The council budgeted $37,500 for conference expenses this year, though the total might not reach that amount. Still, flight costs ranged from $238 to $457 and registration was at least $375 per person, while hotel rooms run about $200 per night for the four-day event. Not surprisingly, some Republicans view these events as junkets.

"I think he (Conley) should pay for it out of his own pocket," said Councilman Scott Schneider, who did not run for re-election. "It's astounding he expects taxpayers to pay the bill when he has 45 days left in office. It speaks volumes about why Democrats lost the council."

I wish the Star had published the complete list of the Democratic councilors who attended the National League of Cities annual conference. When I used to work for the Illinois legislature, everyone always wanted to attend the NCSL conference each summer, provided it was located at an attractive designation. A lot of legislators passed on the event when it was held in Indianapolis a few years ago. While there were always plenty of very helpful seminars to attend at the conference, too many of the attendees spent their time lining up lobbyists who flock to these events to pay for their next round of golf, dinner, lunch, boat cruise, trip to the casino, etc. You can bet these Democratic councilors were presented with many opportunities to visit the casinos and the French Quarter while they were in New Orleans.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is there a list of all who went? I saw Dane Mahern at the airport last Thursday morning getting on the flight to Atlanta and I was looking others.

Wilson46201 said...

I'm sure several Republican Councillors attended as well ... why not castigate those GOP attendees too?

Or is it OK if you're a Republican?

Advance Indiana said...

Wilson, take it up with the Star. Its story says "nine Democratic councilors" attended the conference. No mention of any Republicans who attended the conference.

Wilson46201 said...

I'll check with the Council office tomorrow morning and report back with the names of the GOP junketeers...

Rick said...

Hey Wilson,

Along with the Republicans, how about the other DEmocrates that went too?

Anonymous said...

Folks, the dumpster diver holds Republicans to a completely different set of standards than the Democratic peeps.

Wilson46201 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

While I agree that those dems on the council who lost their election shouldn't go to the conference, I don't see why others shouldn't go, given that:

"The conference is designed to help city leaders hear the latest and best approaches to solving the problems they typically tackle."

Unless you believe that attending conferences is always a waste of time. Which could be the case, I suppose, although even private businesses, spending their own money, seem to think that they are worth paying for.

Of course, it's only worthwhile if the attendees go to the actual meetings; it mightn't be a bad idea to have a blogger down their keeping tabs on who goes where.

Advance Indiana said...

Peter, There is valuable information to be gathered from attending these conferences, but when you send 60% of your caucus to the same conference, you have to wonder whether it's more junket than fact-finding.

erin said...

Actually, I think the Star article hit the point exactly- King Ro attending when he lost. He should have given his registration to one of the incoming Republicans- preferably one of the leadership or potential committee chair. Absent that, he should have attempted to refund his actual conference registration costs (though that may not be possible at this late point.)

As to councillors in general attending this "junket"- I can assure you that next year the Council will budget for councillors to attend this event and I think that is totally correct. Having volunteered as a "city greeter" (or some such title) when it was held here in Indy and sat in on several seminars- the trading of ideas and inovative programs being developed in other cities was very informative. I am a big supporter of cities learning in advance the potential unexpected pitfalls and benefits to pilot programs already in use in other cities. Using a "best practice" evaluation- i.e. looking at other programs in other cities- is invaluable given that many of the challenges facing Indy are not unique to Indy, but occuring nationwide- rising crime, collapsing infrastructure of innercity schools, foreclosure rates, etc...

So, as far as I can see,the only problem here is King Ro. Perhaps, had the Ds been feeling really charitable they would have offered to trade out the D spots to the new R leadership and committeechairs. In the ideal political environment, this would have happened. And to all commenters here, had they offered, every R would have accepted without question. And would have learned some important info re: leading the city.

Anonymous said...

While these types of conferences can be a source of good information, let's not kid ourselves about all the merry-making and deal-forging that is often more of the focal point.

I don't think anyone who was voted out (or is otherwise leaving) in the recent election should have attended on the taxpayer's dime if they weren't a speaker or somehow involved in an official capacity.

I can only hope that there was some good New Orleans-style funeral music played and that those who are out or will be, saw the ends of their political careers.

Anonymous said...

Get over it, y'all. It's the Big Easy. Who wouldn't go?

Anonymous said...

"Get over it, y'all. It's the Big Easy. Who wouldn't go?"

Someone with an ounce of integrity.

Mike Bowman said...

I emailed the R's on the council to see if any were invited or attended.

Anonymous said...

Mike--all were invited. I'm sure of that, especially since Bart was completing his term as national president. It's quite an honor for your city to have a NLC president.

In that capacity, many associations pay for the president to travel to DC regularly to testify before pertinent Congressional committees, and pay his expenses to the annual conference over which he presides, so Bart's expenditure is likely clean and green.

I actually wasn't surprised at King Ro. He doesn't possess an ounce of integrity, so it shouldn't surprise anyone else, either. DOnt' forget, he threatened fellow caucus members who diodn't back up his wife's ridiculous 300 East zoning decision.

What surprised me, if it's true, is Dane Mahern's attendance. By his own admission, he wants to jettison the council job for greener pastures. (Evidently intellegence tests aren't given to legislators).

He works for the city, too. Was this official time off, personal time, comp time, or what?

See the mess you get into, when city employees are on the council?

Wilson's question, damn it, was a good one, though the lack of mention of any Republicans is not Gary's fault. It was the lazy-ass Star, that didn't report all. Again.

Kinda like when they didn't pursue the little girl who sat on Julia's lap and ate her food last year.

Very selective reporting. And BCD has become the place where otherwise-supposed-non-opionated objective reporters vent their spleens and hold gridges.

It needs to die. It's become like IndyU for Star reporters.

In other words: ugly and vendetta-filled.

Advance Indiana said...

"Wilson's question, damn it, was a good one, though the lack of mention of any Republicans is not Gary's fault. It was the lazy-ass Star, that didn't report all. Again."

Don't you think the column would have noted the number of Republican councilors who attended if any of them in fact attended the conference?

Mike Bowman said...

So afar 1 reply - As far as the replier knows - no Republicans went.

If that holds true wilson - then how much should we castigate the DEM's who went ?

erin said...

Gary,

I am not sure I understand your complaint. I think that those who lost should not have attended and having lost the majority it would have been more appropriate for the newly named R CCC leadership to attend. I am curious though, if Rs had attended, do you think this is a bad thing? I feel like you are suggesting that our CCC (and newly elected Mayor Ballard) should not attend the National League of Cities Conferences. If you aren't- sorry, that is how I read the post and comments. But, I am curious, next year are you advocating that no one from Indy government attend the conference? Less people? Only the Mayor?

Advance Indiana said...

The problem, Erin, is the number of councilors who attended--60% of the Democratic caucus. I used to work for an IT company. There was this really great IT show once a year out in Vegas everyone wanted to attend. The company picked a handful of employees each year to attend to hold down the costs. Clearly, the CCC members were unconcerned about the cost to taxpayers. Whoever wanted to go went in this case.

erin said...

Well, I'd like to see the list of who went before I went that far in my conclusions, but, I certainly agree with the other commenter who said it would be more instructive to see who actually attends the conference events and seminars (what they are there for) compared to those who go for fun and games on the taxpayer dime. And in theory I agree that a contingency of 9 is a bit much. If it had been split 4-4 Rs and Ds I probably wouldn't feel that way. In general, I think NLC is a great learning experience for municipal electeds and that they should attend. I certainly hope that the R leadership does attend next years conference.

Anonymous said...

Still, flight costs ranged from $238 to $457...

This is the part that really gets me. How can the flights be different in price? When these vacations, I mean education trips, come up, the city should set in stone how it will go. Find the cheapest flight on X day, staying at Y hotel, etc. etc.. Then anyone who can't make it has to pay any extra that comes up.

Anonymous said...

Anon 724, you must not fly much. There may be 2 seats at the low price of $238, or whatever the cost was. Airline pricing is one of the greatest mysteries of the western world.

Advance Indiana said...

The pricing would have varied if they booked their reservations at different times.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't count on The Star reporting the presence or absence of any Council member--D or R. Especially if it got in the way of a good swipe in BCD.

But the original question is pertinent--and, for once, I'll await Wilson's post on Republican attendees.

Mike Bowman said...

The other 3 replies I got all said the same thing - None got invited or went.

Anonymous said...

(still waiting, Wilson...)

(The Republican attendee lnist...remember?)

(I so apprciate your doing this for those of us who have jobs and can't check o easily.)

Wilson46201 said...

I checked today: although invited, no Repubs attended this year...

Anonymous said...

Can we see the trail of work documents that show that the Republicans got invited?

Either way, if they got invited and did not go, then that shows some responsiblity on their part. If they did not get invited, then that shows that the dems played politics with the invitee list. Head I win, tails you lose!!!

Anonymous said...

Sincerely, thank you, Wilson.

Anonymous said...

Ditto, Wilson: thank you. I didn't have time to call Clerk Miharsec's office today...and you did. It is appreciated.

That said...King Ro owes we taxpayers an explanation, and maybe some money.

The nerve.

42. The number of days left before King Ro takes his well-deserved exit. Don't let the door hit you, Ro. Take Judy too.