Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Mayor's Night Out On Near Northside
Mayor Greg Ballard and more than a dozen members of his administration met with neighborhood residents at the Jubilee Center this evening on the city's near northside for a question and answer session covering variety of community concerns. Topics covered included homelessness, the police lawsuit, streets and sidewalks, neighborhood lighting, abaondoned homes, restoring offender, crime prevention and property taxes.
--On the police lawsuit, Mayor Ballard assured the audience nobody was going to lose rank, although the administration is struggling to figure out how to deal with the requirements of an earlier federal government consent decree ordering the city to hire more minorities at the same time it is facing a new lawsuit brought by the federal government charging IMPD with discrimination against white police officers in promotions. Whatever the future holds, Ballard assured the audience tonight that the police department makeup would be very diverse.
--Repairing the city's streets and sidewalks is no small task according to DPW Director David Sherman. He says that it would take $900 million to bring up all of the city's streets and sidewalks up to satisfactory condition. Obviously, there's not near enough money in the budget to come close to addressing those needs.
--Mayor Ballard emphasized the importance his administration is placing on addressing the abandoned home problem. He intends in the coming weeks to hire a full-time person who will do nothing but combat the abandoned home problem in the city. "We're going to have someone driving this train," Ballard assured the audience. His attention to the issue is based on his belief in the "broken window" theory. He and Public Safety Director Scott Newman assured the audience that law enforcement in this city will be conducting business on the basis of understanding this basic principle. To that end, a community policing officer and Maury Plambeck reported on their efforts to close a problem nightclub at 24th & College. Administration officials assured neighbors that problem was going away without offering too many specifics, although Plambeck noted that the business had been issued a zoning violation last week. As I drove by the problem establishment on the way home, it appeared closed, hopefully for good.
--Newman emphasized how hard he would be working to "restore faith" in the ability of the city's law enforcement to combat crime. There will be "change in the culture" of how crime is combatted. He emphasized the need for the system to be "punitive" towards probation violators. In explaining the transition of IMPD control from the Sheriff's department to the mayor's office, Newman thanked Sheriff Anderson for his contribution in succeessfully unifying the two police departments, which drew applause from the audience. He assured the audience that all the claims of dissension and infighting between the mayor's office and the sheriff's department concerning the transition were "phony." He described the transition as moving along very smoothly. And if you are a speeder, look out. Newman says he wants stepped up traffic enforcement as a means of getting guns out of the hands of felons. He says routine traffic stops are an effective and legal means of accomplishing this objective. He wants to utilize reserve deputies for this effort, who he thinks are currently under-utilized.
--On property taxes, Ballard says it is still his preference that property taxes be eliminated altogether, which drew a resounding applause from the audience, but as a fallback given the fact a repeal isn't going to happen this year, he supports the hard caps without exemptions proposed by Gov. Mitch Daniels. Ballard complained that long-term school indebtedness in Marion County is too high--$1.8 billion in total. He thinks school projects needs to be scaled back and more practical. We need to be more concerned about the quality of the education product than the size of our school buildings he said.
--On education, Ballard touted a plan he has to create a public-private partnership during the next year to help tutor school-age children in grades 1-8 in our public schools to help improve their education attainment. Ballard rejected one questioner's assertion that charter schools did not perform as well as the public schools. He said that all the data he had reviewed contradicted that assertion, and that he thought charter schools were doing a good job. He didn't elaborate on what his future plans are respecting charter schools.
--Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams says the City will be rolling out by this summer a rebirth of the Front Porch Alliance. He says there will be plenty of grant opportunities for "faith-based" organizations and neighborhood groups. "Peace in the streets" is the theme of these crime preventions efforts. An offender restoration program is likely to play an important role in that initiative. Mayor Ballard placed a high priority on the need for a program, hinting that he might even support awarding tax credits to employers who agree to hire ex-offenders.
--Finally, Mayor Ballard defended his support for another Super Bowl bid. He believes that hosting a Super Bowl offers an "enormous economic benefit" to the city. Ballard said the investment of any public dollars in this effort will produce a 10-20 fold return on investment. Ballard did not say how much the public investment in the Super Bowl event would be, although most of the upfront costs have been pledged by the local business community.