Sunday, August 15, 2010

Who Is Seeking To Influence Our City-County Councilors?

I took a look at the ethics disclosure statements our City-County Councilors filed in February to reflect gifts and entertainment they received last year. Let me begin by disclosing the names of councilors who reported no gifts or entertainment valued at $100 or more, or in the aggregate of $250 during the reporting period from "any person or firm that does business with or seeks to do business with the city or county or which seeks to influence council action." Nine of the 29 councilors fall into this category. They include:

Vernon Brown
Jose Evans
Monroe Gray
Barb Malone
Angela Mansfield
Doris Minton-McNeill*
William Oliver
Lincoln Plowman
Kent Smith

* Indicates the councilor responded she wasn't sure whether she accepted anything covered by the disclosure report. Based on the reason she gave for saying she wasn't sure, I'm concluding she meant to say she hadn't received any gifts or entertainment in excess of the threshold amounts.

Without naming names, I suspect some of their fellow councilors will look upon some of those councilors' disclosure statements with skepticism. Lincoln Plowman's statement was filed a short time before he resigned his seat on the council and as a city police officer after it was disclosed the FBI had been investigating him for taking bribes.

Former CCC President Bob Cockrum reported the most gifts or entertainment, noting 11 sources from which he received gifts or entertainment covered by the reporting requirement. It also looks like Ben Hunter comes in a close second with 8, followed by Janice McHenry with 7 and CCC President Ryan Vaughn with 6 and Jeff Cardwell with 5. I should point out, though, the way a councilor discloses the gifts affects the actual number of gifts identified on his or her report. A councilor, for example, may have received free tickets from one source on multiple occasions but only lists it once on his or her report. Also, the councilors are not reporting the actual value of those gifts. It could be $150, or it could be $1,000. You cannot discern that from the reports, which is an indication of just how meaningless they are due to a very poorly written and weak ethics code. Some members are very specific in their reporting, while most of the councilors' reporting is very vague.

Among the sources entertaining councilors, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ranked the highest. Fifteen councilors reported receiving free tickets to events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Some councilors specified the number and to which event they received tickets; others simply listed the IMS as the source of a reportable gift. Indianapolis Power & Light gave reportable gifts to 8 councilors, and the Indiana Pacers gave free tickets to 7 councilors. The Colts, by comparison, gave free tickets to just 5 councilors. That's not to suggest councilors weren't getting lots of free tickets to Pacers and Colts games. Other entities often gave free tickets to them and, again, it is not always clear from reading the disclosure statements just how many and how often councilors received those free tickets.

The Capital Improvement Board showed up 3 times on former CCC Preident Bob Cockrum's report. It gave free Colts tickets to Cockrum, who also served on the CIB's board last year, and bought dinner for him at St. Elmos. Mayor Ballard gave away free Colts tickets to 3 councilors, including McHenry, Christine Scales and Vaughn. Hunt Construction, which built Lucas Oil Stadium, gave away free Colts tickets to 4 city councilors last year. I suspect many councilors don't consider free tickets given to them by Ballard or the CIB as reportable, and that's why they don't show up more often on the reports.

The Indianapolis Airport Authority provides free parking to all councilors. Only 5 councilors, however, reported receiving free parking from the airport on their disclosure statements. One councilor, Mary Moriarity Adams, reported a gift from Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., a nonprofit funded by the City. Citizens Energy, the nonprofit utility that is set to acquire the City's water and sewer utility if it receives the necessary utility approvals, showed up as making reportable gifts to 3 councilors, including Hunter, Robert Lutz and Moriarity-Adams, all of whom voted in favor of the transfer of the utilities when a vote came before the council. The ICVA, another nonprofit funded by the City, showed up on 2 councilors' reports, including Cardwell and Vaughn. United Water, which operates the wastewater treatment facilities, showed up on three councilors' reports, including McHenry, Moriarity Adams and Marilyn Pfisterer.

Any ethics expert who perused the ethics statements filed by the councilors would immediately conclude they are generally useless. Many of them are sloppily handwritten, which indicates the lack of seriousness to which they are taken by the councilors. Some councilors are probably making disclosures that are not covered by the code in an abundance of disclosure and transparency, while other councilors are obviously skirting the reporting requirements. They know there are no serious penalties for noncompliance as Monroe Gray discovered so they don't take them seriously. As a whole, the council should be ashamed of its inability to police its own members. And the public should demand better reporting from them.


Marycatherine Barton said...

Having filled such a report out myself, while I held elected office, by the time I had read this post up to the last paragraph, the word, "useless" had also already come to my mind. I share your admonition to the Council, AI, and join with you in demanding better reporting from them!

Paul K. Ogden said...

Didn't Ryan Vaughn work on the ethics rule. You mean RV didn't come up with meaningful ethics rules? Surely you jest.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Yes, Vaughn gutted them on behalf of his boss, Joe Loftus, so it would have no meaning. The new ethics ordinance was nothing but window dressing. The Star and the rest of the news media fell for it. The state law for legislators actually provides more disclosure now because it has lowered the reporting threshold to $50.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Thanks for posting this. I can't locate these online. I found the Mayor's and County elected officials, but I can't find the Councillors' statements. Help???

I don't know why they can't list all gifts. Maybe they would turn them down if it took too much time to record and list.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Pat, They're posted on the council website where their bios are listed.