Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What Happened To Transparency In Government?

Mayor Greg Ballard and the Republican-controlled council promised transparency in government when they assumed the reins of government in January. I've been anxiously awaiting the online posting of economic interest statements for city-county employees and elected officials, but I can't find anything more recent than 2006. The last I heard the administration was advocating scaling back significantly the number of people subject to the statement of economic interest filing. And what happened to that new ethics ordinance anyway? Just asking.

11 comments:

Indy4U2C said...

...speaking of ethics, whatever happened to the Aaron Haith ethics investigation? -or his attorney disciplinary complaint?

...speaking of ethics, whatever happened to the Monroe Gray ghost employment issue?

David Myers said...

Monroe Gray answer: http://indianapolsnewgoverment2008.blogspot.com/2008/05/more-on-investigation-of-monroe-gray.html

Aaron Haith:
http://indianapolsnewgoverment2008.blogspot.com/2008/07/what-happen-aaron-e-haith.html

Chandler said...

OH!!! RIGHT! Greg Ballard did promise transparency in government but that was only while someone else was in charge! Certainly it does not apply to Greg Ballard or his corrupt group of money making old guard republicans!!! Like DNA Lab owner Scott Newman, the man making money by sending public saftey testing to his own lab. Oh, Right! I forgot, Scott Newman has separated himself from the DNA Lab that he still owns!!!! RIGHT!!!!!

David said...

The council has had the ethics ordinance tabled since January. It seems they don't want to take any action on it. Rejecting it outright would make them look bad, and passing it would force them to, you know, be ethical. Lose-lose situation.

Ryan Vaughn, CCC D-3 said...

AI: The "ethics ordinances" have received several hearings in the Rules Committee. They have gone through multiple revisions and the plan is to hear them and take a vote in the next Rules Committee. The economic interest statements have been completed and filed with Clerk as required. The Council did vote to "scale back" the number of people required to submit an economic interest statement by increasing the salary threshold for reporting. The reasoning behind the increase was that the threshold had not been changed in several years. As a result, when salaries increased more and more people qualified. The City began to incur significant administrative expense in documenting the statements of employees who, although important to the function of government, have no decision making authority. Adjusting the salary threshold was a cost saving measure that has no impact on the "transparency in government." Additionally, the proposed ethics ordinances will likely change the way we present economic interest disclosure statements. Thus, we may have to resubmit a more detailed and/or thorough document. As always, feel free to call me with questions.

Advance Indiana said...

As I understand it, Ryan, the Ballard administration can post the statements online just like the Peterson administration half-heartedly did for awhile. The previous administration posted them at the Corporation Counsel's site under "Ethics." I hear your argument on more employees becoming subject to the reporting requirement because of higher salaries; however, I really don't see what the administrative burden is. It's the employee's responsibility to complete the statement and file it.

Vox Populi said...

There's an old saying:

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

The Republicans have had total control of city-county government since January. They've had sufficient time to develop their ethics legislation, something they started talking about in the 2007 primaries. And yet as Councilor Vaughn writes above, they are hiding the legislation in administrative hearing rooms where most likely it will linger or emerge severely weakened from what they originally proposed.

I wonder if things don't change in the next few years if conservatives will still be blaming Bart Peterson and the Democrats for the state of city/county.

garyj said...

AI,
Several members of city-county government had to file economic interest statements.
As a member of the Citizens Police Complaint Board, I had to file one. I have no control over how tax money is spent, no influence as to where to spend it, and no friends or relatives who own a business that does business with the city, (that I am aware of) so mine was pretty bare. Simple form to fill out, yet many people do not do it for whatever reason, and risk their appointments when it catches up to them.
I'm sure that they will get posted in due time.

The "salary threshold" that Mr. Vaughn is speaking of must have gone into effect after I was asked to file, because the CPCB has no salary.
A good cost saving measure by the city, and posting all that online would be an unnecessary expense.
If you want to know who filed one, fill out a FOIA request and get it.

Advance Indiana said...

garyj, I agree that you shouldn't have to file one for that do-nothing board to which you are appointed. Your filing requirement, however, is not under the same one which applied to employees and the salary threshhold to which Ryan refers. You better believe, though, that any of those boards and commission appointments should be made public and should be online. I put in a public records request for Lacy Johnson's statement of economic interest as president of the Indianapolis Airport Authority with the City during Peterson's rein. The City would not even acknowledge my request. If I wanted to be a prick, I could have filed a complaint with the state's public access counselor. These are easy enough to upload and the only reason they don't want them online is that they know people like me will read them and expose issues they don't want to deal with. With all due respect to Ryan, his disclosure statement will be quite lengthy and eye-opening given the extensive legal business the Ballard administration is awarding to Barnes & Thornburg, not to mention all the clients various B&T attorneys are representing before city/county agencies. That's the transparency Ballard and the GOP promised last year. That was one of the reasons I enthusiastically supported Ballard and a GOP-controlled council. Now, it's just business as usual. The same old insiders with multiple conflicts of interest are making important public policy decisions without full and complete disclosure to the public. This is exactly why Marion Co./Indianapolis taxpayers are constantly being screwed over by our elected officials. A few feed at the trough, while the rest of us foot the bill.

Paul Ogden said...

Gary,

I applaud your efforts at openness in government. Regarding your comment though about your open record request to the city, I would caution you not to get too optimistic about the state public access counselor. We've filed several complaints with her office on documents that could have been produced by government officials in minutes. Not once has she done anything but excuse their failure to produce the documents.

Recently we asked for a contract a county official which document been produced to a reporter within an hour of the reporter's request. The public access counselor excused the noncompliance by the county official saying he would not be considered to have violated the open records law unless it wasn't produced by a certain time frame, which time frame was 30 days from the original request! Yes, the PAC counselor suggested the public official could wait 30 days to produce a document before being found in violation of the open records law. You think that elected official will be in a hurry to respond to the next open records request? No way.

Typically the PAC counselor will take your complaint, send it to the agency. The agency will write a response and the public access counselor will write an opinon totally based on that public official's response. She won't even bother forwarding you the agency's response to allow you to refute or correct information. She simply accepts everything said in the response as true.

Her argument is that her office is too overwhelmed to ask the original complainant for rebuttal to the response. Of course, as you and I know as lawyers, that's standard operating practice. Can you imagine a court writing opinions based totally on responses to which the original moving party could not even so much as see? Ironically I believe the PAC Counselor is an attorney.

Paul

garyj said...

With respect to your reply and your opinion, CPCB is not a "do-nothing" board.
The complaints are real, and the officers do get concerned when a complaint against them goes to us, as we are the final decision, regardless of what the investigation by internal affairs uncovers.
Our decision is final and the Chief is required to follow our decision.
We don't decide the punishment, just IF a punishment is in order.

Both complaintant and officer can be very convincing in their version of what happened. We have to decide who to believe.

While we don't make decisions that effect everyone in the city, the ones that we effect take us seriously.