The American Heritage Dictionary defines patronage in the political sense as "The power to distribute or appoint people to governmental or political positions."I wish I had the quote handy, but I recall a column written by Star political columnist Matt Tully a few years back where he took Mahern to task for an e-mail he had written in which he actually touted the virtues of patronage in carrying out his role as the Board's chairman. [See update below] Now, it has become some evil device he has never practiced. Let's see, how many members of the Mahern family have obtained government jobs? And has any member of the Library's Board in any recent memory been appointed based upon their qualifications as opposed to their political connections? It seems to me a person's politics has been responsible for virtually every board appointment in recent memory.
In the nearly 135-year history of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, there is no recorded instance of partisan political office-holders attempting to influence the selection of the chief executive officer of the library.
That is, until about four months ago . . .
Before the application period had ended, board members began to receive phone calls from local elected officials and their staffs recommending a prominent partisan Democrat who is a qualified librarian (Jackie Nytes) and to whom I have made political contributions.
Three members of the Library Board of Trustees are appointed by the Ex Officio Marion County Commissioners who are in reality the county assessor, auditor and treasurer. Each of these trustees was contacted by each of the County Commissioners recommending this same political figure. I received a call from Mayor Bart Peterson's chief of staff recommending this same individual. Another trustee received a call from the mayor himself commending this same
individual again before the application period had even closed.
The Indiana statute is quite clear as to the selection criteria for CEO of the library: "The selection shall be made solely upon the basis of the candidate's training and proficiency in the science of library administration." I take that to mean not on the basis of the candidate's partisan political support.
Not only had the period of application not closed before these political recommendations began to roll in but after the application period closed, not one of these elected officials asked to sit in on the interviews of the applicants.
Not content with trying to unduly influence the selection of the nonpartisan CEO, the Ex Officio County Commissioners attempted on the day of the Library Board CEO selection vote to replace one of their trustees with a new appointee, presumably one who would be a bit more compliant.
The Ex Officio County Commissioners tried to appoint a replacement for a trustee whose term did not end for another five days. A motion to carry out this replacement by the Library Trustees failed for lack of a second. Apparently, their new appointee was prepared to vote without sitting in on candidate interviews.
The tustees then voted to make Laura Bramble the permanent CEO based largely on her successful stewardship during the interim.
On the point of Pizarro's residency issue, Mahern has the audacity to make him out to be the real hero. "Failing to get their way through political pressure and through an abortive attempt to replace a trustee, an attempt has been made to call into question the residency of one of the Library Trustees who had the temerity to defy the Ex Officio County Commissioners," Mahern
said. "Had this trustee been committed to their candidate, the commissioners would never have attempted to remove him nor would they now be questioning his residency."
If Mayor Ballard and the City-County Council don't demand Mahern's immediate resignation from the Board, they will have failed to demonstrate to at least this commentator that they are serious about the rule of law and a more open and honest government. Well, Mr. Mayor, we're waiting to hear from you on this important public matter. Should a Board chairman who so flagrantly flaunted the laws governing the administration of the Board be allowed to continue to serve?
UPDATE: A kind Advance Indiana reader forwarded me the archive of the old Matt Tully column chastising Louis Mahern for the political advice he had for then-CCC President Steve Talley. Here's some of what the column entitled, "Political favoristism has, well, a certain smell," said:
Even for political junkies like me, the stink of politics can sometimes be too much.
For such a story, let's start at the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library's Web site, where visitors find the words "Using tax dollars wisely.
"Click on those words and you're taken to an opinion piece by Louis Mahern, the library Board's politically appointed president. It offers a defense of how the library spends property taxes, and comes as the board has sought a tax increase and as concerns about the messy Downtown library expansion continue.
Now, let's move away from the library for another view of how Mahern thinks tax dollars should be used. This view comes from a private memo Mahern wrote earlier this year to City-County Council President Steve Talley, a fellow Democrat.The memo talks of protecting two Democratic council members narrowly elected in 2003.
"There should be priority given to constituent requests from these districts," Mahern wrote. "Curb replacement, street repair, sewer cleaning, heavy trash pickup, code enforcement and all of those services that benefit neighborhoods should be given the highest priority in these two districts.
"Politicized sewer cleaning? Now that stinks.
I called Mahern this week to ask if he stands by his words.
"Am I advocating political favoritism? Well, I suppose I am," he said. "When Mitch Daniels was running for governor, he emphasized his close ties with the president,
implying he might be able to get things out of the White House.
"He went on."To suggest that political favoritism is not a reality and is not part of the American political process is naive."
Mahern should know. He served 16 years in the state Senate and ran for mayor in 1991. He is now a lobbyist. Reading Mahern's memo inspires two thoughts. First: With old-school views like that, it's a good thing he lost his race for mayor. Second: Is he the best guy to help oversee a beleaguered and big-spending library system?
Mahern joined the Library Board last year, long after the Downtown expansion project exploded into an overbudget, overdue mess. And there's no hint he's playing politics with his position. GOP board member Greg Jordan said Mahern has "done everything on the up and up."
Still, Mahern's view on how the city should direct its tax dollars certainly raises questions. He mocked me for saying that.
"This may resonate with the public, but every politician in town is going to be laughing at you," Mahern said. "This is not unusual." I do like the man's honesty.
Talley said basing such decisions on politics would be"totally inappropriate." Let's hope he means that.
By the way, the council seats Mahern suggests helping with "favoritism" are held by Democrats Sherron Franklin and -- note this name -- Dane Mahern.
That's his nephew.