Sunday, August 17, 2008

Making Sense Of Ballard's Plan For Parks

Mayor Greg Ballard's decision to get a handle on the different real estate, buildings and other facilities which contribute to the city's park budget is much-needed. There has been a tendency in the past to convert small lots to city parks all over town, more often than not to satisfy someone's ego of having a park named after them or to allow a politician to score points with a neighborhood association rather than part of an overall strategy of developing and maintaining an appropriate balance of green space. Ballard's suggestion that it might be in the interest of the city to sell off some of these so-called "pocket parks" is worthy of consideration. The execution of this idea, however, has been an abysmal failure to date.

This idea, first of all, got way ahead of itself. Mayor Ballard's comments to the Star's editorial board left many uneasy. A further example of how somebody close to the mayor is looking out for their own self-interests instead of a sound, vital and economic approach to our parks is Brendan O'Shaughnessy's discussion of a contract entered into with John Bales' Venture Real Estate Services, LLC. "The contract gives Venture the exclusive right to market any property the city decides to sell -- an arrangement some say gives Venture reason to put its business interests ahead of the community," O'Shaughnessy writes. "Chris Cotteril, the city's top attorney, said the contract was a creative way to save taxpayer money and that the company was taking a big risk. Ballard pointed out that the city would make the final decision on any sales."

The red flags really begin waving with O'Shaughnessy's observation that "another company Bales owned, Meridian Asset Development, drew attention from city officials three years ago when it was hired to find buildings for county agencies to rent and ended up buying the buildings and becoming the developer." Meridian Asset Development later became a part of Venture Companies. Venture Real Estate Services, LLC is the managing partner of Venture Value Fund I. According to the company's website, its directors include Carl Brizzi, Paul Kite and Barnes & Thornburg partner, Benjamin Pecar, among others, in addition to Bales. The City's Corporation Counsel, Chris Cotteril, is a former attorney for Barnes & Thornburg.

I don't often agree with Jen Wagner, but I think her observation about Ballard's missteps of late is dead on. Wagner blogs today:

A Republican friend and I were talking a few weeks back about the need for every elected official to have a close adviser with no vested interest, someone who's there to say, "Hey, friend, I wouldn't do that because [insert unpleasant consequence here] will happen, and you'll look bad . . ."

I'm going to say one more time that I don't think Greg Ballard is a bad guy.

I will say, however, that I think he's tremendously naive, and he's going to be a bad mayor because he doesn't have the wherewithal to stick to his core values amid an onslaught of requests from people who have their, not his, best interests at heart.

While I'm on this point, the Star's Dan Carpenter hits one out of the park today with his blunt assessment of how Ballard is conducting business as usual. Carpenter writes:

"We're talking, of course, about the established, casual, little-examined practice of transferring the people's wealth -- in real estate and cash -- to well-heeled private entities for the sake of "economic development" or simple bill-paying."

From the huge (Downtown stadiums, office towers, hotels, Circle Centre mall) to the petty (conversion of an inner-city park into a parking lot for a bar in which various Democratic elected officials had an interest), the fruits of "public-private partnership" have been cultivated and harvested without a great deal of trifling over taxpayer remonstrance. Want to know why Simon Properties gets free land for its new headquarters, and why advertising revenues for the government-built and -owned football stadium are kept secret? Just ask your stewards, and listen to the laughter.

Ballard will not be a departure from the Hudnut-Goldsmith-Peterson philosophy of creative availability. He offered a few discouraging words during his campaign about municipal generosity to millionaires, then wound up basking in the shower of Super Bowl glory. He declined to balk at the outrageous giveaway of RCA Dome souvenir auction proceeds and Pan Am Plaza sale profits to private foundations, even though the taxpayers took the latter hit from the other party prior to his watch. Previous agreements will be honored, he said when asked about the Pan Am switcheroo. Even though a court has yet to decide whether that agreement was legal? There's magnanimity for you.

I really hoped Ballard was going to be different. Unfortunately, he seems more interested in becoming cozy with the people who did everything they could to stop him from becoming mayor. Those of us who supported him are just sitting on the sidelines watching in disappointment as we come to the sad realization of what could have been is not going to be.


Jon E. Easter said...

AI, rarely do I say this, but I agree with most of your post.

Sean Shepard said...

I definitely believe there is this sense amongst those that pay attention, regardless of party affiliation, that Mayor Ballard has been besieged from all sides by those seeking influence and special consideration for themselves (or their clients).

I have to think it is extremely difficult in that situation, especially when you are so dependent on having to delegate things (managing a big city is a lot to do) so many.

I believe Ballard is a good man who wishes to do the right things, I am extremely pleased that he has indicated the city's actual spending will go down year-over-year from last.

Unfortunately, I agree that at least one (or a couple) more independent voices need to be involved to lend an unbiased, not wanting anything from the government, opinion.

Unknown said...

So far I don't see any difference between Bart and Ballard. And I say this as the #1 hater of Bart on the face of the earth.

Ballard appears to be a naif...all hat and no cattle.

The future of Indy depends on public safety and look how that's going.

The honeymoon is OVER.

POPA said...

Me, too. AI has me sold.

M Theory said...

I have not seen much from Ballard in terms of reaching out to independent voices in the city (same ones that helped him get elected) to ask us what we think of all this.

I can think of a few dozen people who are not looking for jobs, deals, or contracts from the city who are very concerned about things we see happening and who is profiting from the people's tax dollars and our assets.

Covenant60 said...

does anyone actually use those tiny parks? Every time I drive by one of them I hardly ever see them being used by anyone.

It seems more sensible to me to get rid of them somehow and concentrate on building parks that are big enough to have multi-uses and are then actually used by people.

And there is nothing wrong with developent per se. It drives teh economy, creates jobs, fosters growth, and is a large part of the economic engine that increases our standard of living.

Unknown said...

i must admit, i miss bart.

M Theory said...

We need to sell those parks, but I don't think we need a realtor and to pay realtor commissions to do it. We need a big old "FOR SALE BY OWNER" sale of public real estate on the city's website and have the sale publicized heavily through all the media.

Perhaps professionals would volunteer their services for the paperwork end. I really would like to see more volunteerism and citizenship in Indianapolis.

Concerned Taxpayer said...

Don't "you people" know there is a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to have a park on your block?

Where have you BEEN?