Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Mass Transit?

A Star editorial today follows up on Erika Smith's story yesterday about a $10 billion regional transportation plan being pushed by civic leaders. The editorial takes a strong stand in favor of the plan to bring light rail and more bus services to the region. If you read Smith's story, you would know that there is a bit of bait and switch going on here. Of the $10 billion proposed in spending, only $2 billion is scheduled to be spent on mass transit. The balance will be spent on new highways. The public is being tricked into supporting higher sales taxes in the region to basically fund massive highway projects for the road contractors benefit. The paltry sum proposed for mass transit will do little more than perhaps allow for construction of a light rail from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis. Other proposed rail lines are simply pipe dreams intended to lure more regional support for the tax and spend plan.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Brizzi Spokesman Resigns Over DUI

The spokesman for the Marion County Prosecutor's Office, Mario Massillamany, announced his resignation from the office today after he was charged with driving under the influence in Hamilton County over the weekend. Police pulled his car over after he was clocked driving 70 miles per hour in a 40-mile an hour speed zone. Massilamany failed several field sobriety tests and refused to submit to a breath test, which under Indiana law means you automatically lose your driver's license for a year. Massilamany is the president of the Hamilton Co. Young Republicans.

Carson Likely Fabricated N-Word Claim

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson and several other African-American congressmen leveled a charge that tea party protesters outside the U.S. Capitol building yelled "Nigger" at them as they walked through the crowd. The American Thinker's Jack Cashill takes a closer look at the Capitol Steps Conspiracy and concludes the claims of Carson and others were simply made up. Cashill reviewed audio and video clips from at least four sources, interviewed several eyewitnesses and analyzed media reports from the scene. The video above confirms his conclusion. The original report by African-American reporter William Douglas made the first claim of racial slurs being uttered. Cashill concluded: "Bottom line: the Douglas story would seem to meet the standards for libel. It is provably false, preposterously reckless, quite possibly malicious, and has caused real damage to publicly identified Tea Party leaders."

As Cashill reports, several members of the Black Caucus made a deliberate decision to use the Capitol steps to enter the building rather than the tunnel from their office building. This included Georgia's Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who claimed he was spat on by one of the protesters, Rep. James Clyburn and Carson. The only audible words that can be heard from the protesters is "kill the bill" referring to the health insurance reform bill. One of the protesters was shouting so loudly that vocal spray emanated from his mouth. Cleaver immediately confronted the man. Cleaver later put out a press statement falsely claiming that the man had been arrested by Capitol Hill police. Cleaver returned with a police officer in tow to the scene but was unable to identify the man so no arrest was made. Lewis and Clyburn never made no claims of the N-word being uttered. Only Cleaver and Carson made the allegation. Here's Cashill's take on Carson's claim:

Nor is there any reason to believe Congressional Black Caucus member Andre Carson (D-IN), one of only two Muslims in Congress and a member of the progressive caucus. If Cleaver actually thought that he heard the slur in question, and he may have, then Carson told a story too outsized to be anything but willful propaganda.

According to Brian Beutler in the Talking Points Memo posted at 5:41 PM on that Saturday, March 20, Carson had "a particularly jarring encounter with a large crowd of protesters screaming 'kill the bill' ... and punctuating their chants with the word 'nigger.'"

Although Carson claims to have been standing next to Lewis, Lewis again provides no confirmation. He is quoted only as saying, "People have been just downright mean." Regardless, it is Lewis who is the subject of Beutler's headline, "Tea Partiers Call Lewis ‘N****r.'" (For the record, Beutler, a recent Berkeley grad, has written for the American Prospect, The Nation, Mother Jones, and The Guardian.)

Carson claims that the incident occurred when the group was walking from the Capitol. The Cleaver incident allegedly occurred while the group was walking to the Capitol. The lack of any audio or video evidence of at least two incidents of a "large crowd" of protesters shouting racial slurs should have killed this story before it left the gate. Even without the contrary video evidence, Carson's charge is so at odds with the reality of America circa 2010 that it undermines the credibility of any media person who reported it with a straight face.

One of my correspondents, who was on the Capitol steps when the caucus members entered and exited, makes a sage observation: "And if what these congressmen said was true, wouldn't it be logical to think that there would have been many more Capitol Police officers escorting these gentlemen back into the Cannon building when they returned?" Videos show that there were only two police officers, and they were walking behind the congressmen when they left the Capitol.

Citizens Will Borrow Money To Purchase City Utilities

A public information meeting on the proposed sale of Indianapolis' water and sewer utilities to Citizens Gas raises more questions about the ramifications of the sale to ratepayers. Citizens plans to borrow $170 million to make a cash payment to the City of Indianapolis at the closing of the deal. It says it will repay that debt with the savings it will realize from its management of the utilities. Citizens will also be assuming more than $1.5 billion in debt currently owed by the water and sewer utilities. The borrowing costs of Citizens could drive up future rate increases to cover Citizens' costs.

Citizens insists that Indianapolis ratepayers will be better off under their proposed purchase than any other offers the City of Indianapolis considered during its Request for Information process. Citizens has not produced any hard data that backs up this claim. The City only engaged in serious discussions with Citizens so the public really has no idea what the financial model may have looked like if one of the other bidders had been allowed to negotiate a price with the City.

Citizens claims Indianapolis ratepayers will realize a 25% reduction in rates under their management. When asked to guarantee that rate reduction, Citizens conceded it could not make that assurance.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sheriff Refuses To Disclose Off-Duty Work Of Police Officers

According to a recent Public Access Counselor opinion, the Marion County Sheriff's Office denied a request by Fox 59 News' Russ McQuaid to access the off-duty work permits issued to Lt. Tim Motsinger and Major Lincoln Plowman. The Sheriff's Office contends the off-duty work permits are part of the employees' personnel files and protected from public disclosure. The Public Access Counselor ruled in his opinion that the Sheriff's Office had failed to meet its burden of showing that the records in question fell within the exemption for personnel records.

Motsinger is a former candidate for Marion Co. Sheriff who dropped his bid after it was disclosed that his campaign had accepted $200,000 from alleged Ponzi scheme operator Tim Durham. Plowman is a former City-County Councilor who recently resigned after it became publicly known that he was the subject of an FBI sting operation. McQuaid is obviously interested in learning the identity of Motsinger's and Plowman's off-duty work employer to see how it might related to ongoing investigations. Motsinger and Plowman worked for the sheriff prior to the merger of IMPD and the Sheriff's Office.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Marvin Scott Once Favored Recolonization Of Inner City Poor

Marvin Scott, the perennial African-American GOP candidate for the 7th congressional district, once took a radical position on dealing with the plight of inner city poor during one of his earlier bids for Congress in 1994. According to an Indianapolis Star article discussing the race, Scott proposed the recolonization of the inner city poor to rural areas. "Scott also talked about moving inner-city poor onto rural reservations," wrote Star reporter Joe Gelarden, who now writes for the Wall Street Journal. "He calls this recolonization," Gelarden said.

The issue caught little attention from the media or Scott's opponent that year. Scott came closer than any other opponent to knocking off U.S. Rep. Andy Jacobs, Jr. in a year that Republicans nationwide swept control of Congress. Two years later, Scott launched another bid for the 10th congressional district seat after Jacobs decided to retire. Scott became embroiled in another controversy when he sent out a fundraising letter making false claims about big name Republicans who were supporting his campaign. He falsely claimed former Education Secretary William Bennett served as his national chairman and former President Gerald R. Ford and Gov. Robert Orr served as his honorary co-chairmen. Scott was forced to admit the false claims after the Star's Mary Beth Schneider called him out on them. Scott told Schneider he made an honest mistake.

Republican Carlos May has been slated by the Marion Co. GOP to take on U.S. Rep. Andre Carson this fall. Scott chose to buck the party and challenge May in the primary, hoping his residual name recognition will carry the day for him over the lesser known May.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Illinois Pols Nervous After Learning Top Gaming Lobbyist Worked For Feds

When a politician learns the feds have been lurking behind a state's top gaming lobbyist for the past two years, he is understandably worrying about all of the conversations he had with that lobbyist. Sun-Times' columnist Rich Miller says that was the reaction in Springfield, Illinois recently when lobbyist Bob Swaim e-mailed a group of friends to alert them to the fact that he had been pressured to cooperate with the feds in their investigation of public corruption in Springfield and Illinois after the federal government indicted him on tax evasion charges. "I did everything the feds asked him to do during those two years," Swaim said. "Now I find myself in a strange and unfair place," Swaim told his friends. He claimed he stopped cooperating recently and that's why the feds indicted him on the tax charges.

It's too bad the feds haven't wired up someone to track the activities of gaming lobbyists over at our State House. The shady deals they've pulled off over the past two decades have made millions for the insiders and landed several lawmakers and their family members with top-paying jobs.

Williams Points Up Serious Flaws In Proposed Sale Of Water/Sewer Systems

Every Indianapolis City-County Councilor should be taking a close look at a critique of the proposed sale of Indianapolis' water and wastewater systems to Citizens Gas recently released by Democratic mayoral hopeful Brian Williams. This deal hatched by the Ballard administration is full of pitfalls that could wind up costing taxpayers dearly in the long run. I'll highlight some of the major points Williams makes. You can follow the link to read his entire statement.

  • The agreement contains no assurances the city will receive clean, safe and reliable water.
  • The city reserves no first right of refusal to repurchase the utilities in the event Citizens Gas decides to sell them in the future.
  • An indemnification clause in the agreement obligates to pre-closing combined sewer overflow liabilities. According to Williams, this could leave the City responsible for billions of dollars in potential future liabilities.
  • The City will not receive $425 million upon the sale as advertised by the Ballard administration. In actuality, the figure is a moving target until the actual closing. The City will receive $170.6 million at closing. Another $92 million will not be paid until October, 2011. That only adds up to $262.6 million. That amount could be reduced, though, if borrowing costs increase due to a downgrade of a provider of surety bonds backing water company revenue bonds. If Citizens decides it doesn't want the water company headquarters, the cash paid to the City will be reduced by its value. Another $15 million could be taken out of the cash payment to the City based on a "cost-sharing" agreement.
  • The $425 million cash will only be realized if the City borrows another $163 million. Citizens has agreed to pledge revenues to pay of that debt.
  • Citizens gets to take $127 million sitting in a city fund for future wastewater construction projects. The cash paid at closing is not being adjusted to account for all of the debt payments the City will make between now and closing, a provision typically found in these types of agreements
  • The bottom line is that the City is getting $43 million cash after giving up both the water company and wastewater systems, while stilll assuming large potential liabilities for which it will have no revenue source to cover.
  • Essentially, the City is trading Citizens over $600 million in future utility revenues for $163 million today to spend on pork barrel projects prior to the 2011 municipal election.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Law Firm Bills Township $20,000 To Fight $758 Claim

You have to read it to believe. Washington Township Trustee Frank Short paid the Ice Miller law firm $20,000 to fight a $758 poor relief claim by a single mother. The case has dragged on for more than a year and has still not been resolved. Lawrence Township Trustee
Russ Brown tells the Star he hired an attorney to handle a similar claim for his township for a flat fee of $1,000. It's worth noting that the Center Township Trustee spends several hundred thousand dollars a year on legal services with the same law firm. The former trustee, Carl Drummer, recently left his job to become a lobbyist for the firm.

Legal fees don't have to be this expensive. Irresponsible government officials fail to competitively price their legal services and place caps on how much the firm can charge for a particular case. Yet, you see this happen time and time again.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Freeman To Replace Plowman

Local attorney and Franklin Township GOP Club president Aaron Freeman has been tapped by committeepersons to replace Lincoln Plowman on the City-County Council. Freeman is a former deputy prosecutor and is currently engaged in a private practice.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another Political Hack To Become Indy's U.S. Attorney

Well, it's politics as usual. The IBJ reports that political hack Joe Hogsett is on track to become the next U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. Hogsett has no experience as a prosecutor, but he has a lot of experience at losing elections. The three time loser lost a U.S. Senate bid against former Sen. Dan Coats, a congressional race against former Rep. David McIntosh and an unsuccessful run for Attorney General. People wonder why there is so much public corruption in Indianapolis. Enough said.

Star Confirms Plowman Bribery Allegations

This is a must read story today. The Star's John Touhy confirms my earlier report that former Councilor Lincoln Plowman, a high-ranking IMPD officer, became ensnared in a bribery scam connected to a zoning matter proposed by an undercover FBI agent. Touhy relies on three sources with knowledge of the investigation. He confirms that Plowman had contacted a city planner to discuss the proposed zoning variance for an upscale restaurant with a second-floor strip club he wanted to develop in the downtown area. A local real estate agent had been engaged by the undercover agent according to Touhy. And Plowman even contacted Board of Zoning Appeals member Brad Klopfenstein about the prospects of obtaining the variance. According to Touhy's sources, the several month sting came to a head when Plowman met with the undercover agent at a bar in the Conrad Hilton and accepted a $5,000 cash payment.

Some quick observations. This type of corruption is quite common in Chicago where aldermen have a stronger voice in the zoning process. Federal prosecutors have nabbed numerous alderman in bribery scams over the years there. Not surprisingly, the undercover agent posed as a developer from Chicago according to the Star. Indianapolis' zoning process has long been rumored to be highly political and corrupt. The lack of any tough federal or state prosecutors in Indianapolis has prevented investigations and prosecution of wrongdoing. Now that the Star has confirmed the nature of the investigation, which the Ballard administration refused to disclose to the media, you can now see why. Clearly, city officials were made aware of this proposed zoning matter. The question is whether any of them were willing participants in helping to grease the skids. Developers often hire local zoning experts to assist them in zoning matters? Did the undercover agent engage someone who may played a role in this?

Several criminal defense attorneys noted the silence from Plowman and his attorney on the investigation. Some of them suspect Plowman will cut a deal with the feds, which means there may be bigger fish to fry in this sordid mess. Please stay tuned. Kudos to Touhy and the Star for their excellent reporting on this.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting twist on Brad Klopfenstein's role in this sting. According to the campaign finance report Plowman filed for 2009, his campaign committee made a $500 payment to Klopfenstein for work as a publicist on October 19, 2009. A source tells me that Plowman was instrumental in getting Klopfenstein, a Libertarian, appointed to the BZA. Typically, the council only appoints Republicans or Democrats to the BZA. According to a source, Klopfenstein served as Plowman's campaign manager.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What To Do With Our Corrupt Marion County Republicans?

As an elected Marion Co. precinct committeeperson and life-long Republican, I am totally ashamed of the corrupt state of affairs my party has brought to our public. I grew up in Illinois and believe me when I say, Indianapolis has become every bit as corrupt as the City of Chicago. The only difference is that it's my party stinking up the place and not the Democratic Party.

Think about recent events. Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi is strongly linked to an alleged Ponzi scheme operator, Tim Durham, a major benefactor of Republicans throughout the state of Indiana. Evidence emerges that his office negotiated the early release of a convicted murderer in exchange for large contributions from the murderer's wealthy father. And more recently, there have been damaging revelations about Brizzi's all-too cozy relationship with real estate developer John Bales, which has been well-documented by the IBJ's outstanding coverage of Brizzi's tendency of landing business opportunities with city contractors and well-heeled members of the community on his relatively modest salary as county prosecutor.

Earlier this week, disgraced and indicted Perry Township Constable Roy Houchins conveniently drops dead in a restaurant/pub parking lot shortly before he was rumored to have been scheduled to enter a plea agreement on the federal charges brought against him. A federal investigation uncovered a badge-selling scheme run out of his office. Apparently, many of his badge buyers were members of the Columbia Club (and not all were Republicans) who had much to fear from damaging information he could share with federal prosecutors as part of a plea agreement. The Perry Township Trustee Gary Coons negotiated a deal to merge his township's fire department with the Indianapolis Fire Department and was quickly rewarded with a new job in the public safety department created especially for him. Until the media inquired about how he could hold two full-time public jobs at the same time, Coons had intended to continue drawing salaries from both positions.

This past week, City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman, who also served as a high-ranking IMPD official resigned both his police officer's job (with full pension benefits) and his council position after an ethics complaint was filed by Councilor Angela Mansfield to determine the reason behind Plowman's sudden suspension a month ago after he reportedly refused to cooperate in an FBI investigation. Mayor Ballard and Public Safety Director Frank Straub know the nature of the investigation but refuse to disclose any facts to the media. Why? Might it be that players a little too close to the Mayor had an unsuspecting part in the undercover sting conducted by the FBI that allegedly nabbed Plowman accepting a consulting fee for help with an out-of-state strip club owner needing assistance with a zoning matter? Instead of addressing the issue, Mayor Ballard headed out of the country on another junket to Brazil, his fourth overseas trip since becoming mayor by my count. A trip that I might add is funded by business interests lobbying for economic development handouts. Coincidentally, his economic development advisor, Nick Weber, announced he would be leaving his city job to assist Baker & Daniels and its clients in economic development matters.

The revolving door thing is proving quite fruitful for Ballard top officials. His chief of staff, Paul Okeson, left last year to work for Keystone Construction, a growing local contractor that does a lot of government work and passes out a lot of money to top Republicans. Kevin Taylor, the bond bank director who was formerly employed by AIG--the company whose failure cost taxpayers billions in bailout money, conveniently announces a move to a high level job at City Securities on the eve of the Mayor announcing his plans to sell the water and sewage services owned by the City to Citizens Energy. City Securities coincidentally is the same firm that had a big stake in the disastrous deal struck in 2002 to purchase the water company from NiSource for more than double its actual value and assumption of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of needed capital improvements. Under state law at the time, the intent of the law was to provide Citizens, a public benefit corporation, a right of first refusal to acquire the company and operate it for the benefit of Indianapolis area residents. It seemed that then-City-County Councilor Beurt SerVaas had a big beef with Citizens and felt it was best that the city acquire the utility to keep it from falling into foreign ownership. As it turned out, the City entered into a one-sided contract with a French-owned company that has totally bilked taxpayers. And as we later learned, SerVaas had negotiated an exclusive right to develop a water pipeline connecting Indianapolis water services with Lake Monroe in Bloomington without disclosing his little conflict of interest.

Mayor Ballard, who has already raised water rates nearly 100% since taking office, tells us the deal is good for taxpayers because the City will raise close to a half-billion dollars to invest in public infrastructure improvements. What he conveniently omits is the fact that Citizens will have to raise water rates in the comings years over 100% and sewer rates over 300% to cover the cost of the capital improvements it will have to make to bring the systems up to government standards. The City's short-term capital gain will be traded off for skyrocketing water and sewer bills. But the real gut of the matter is that Mayor Ballard will be able to award more large capital project contracts in the run-up to his 2011 re-election bid to faithfully reward all of those campaign contributors who have been filling up his campaign warchest.

The Republican Party was resurrected in the 2007 election after Ballard and Republicans fiercely attacked the ethics problems of former City-County Councilor Monroe Gray and the large tax increases enacted under Mayor Peterson. Ballard and the Republicans promised a cleaner, more transparent government that would rely on less taxation and property tax reduction. Instead, we have leadership dripping with ethical issues and a growing appetite to tax the little guy to death while passing out big handouts to businesses that never produce the jobs they promise to produce when they are awarded our public tax dollars. When our Mayor recently used a clawback for a company that failed to meet its goals, he passed the money out to the agency that promotes downtown conventions and the economic development council that funds his international travels instead of returning it to the taxing districts that had been deprived of those revenues in the first place.

To say I'm totally dissolutioned by what my Marion County Republican Party has become is an understatement to say the least. The only thing my party has proven to me these past few years is that it can do business just as corrupt as the old Democratic big city machines our party used to lambaste and use as a reason for electing Republicans. If you want to be involved in the party because of core principles of governing that you hold dear, our party leadership wants no part of you. They are only seeking to enlist people who are government job-holders, people seeking government jobs, current and prospective government contractors and the cronies who can raise the most campaign cash. The idea of a party of ideals is no longer operable. Machiavelli rules the day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Road To Recovery

It's been awhile since you've heard from me and many of you have called and e-mailed expressions of concern. As many of you know, I've been battling a bad cough for weeks. After two misdiagnosis by medical providers, a week ago Tuesday in the middle of the night I decided I was going to die if I didn't make it to the hospital immediately. A quick 911 call and ten minutes later I was in the able hands of several paramedics for Wishard, who transported me to the emergency room at Community East Hospital. The ER team determined within an hour of my arrival that I had a bad case of the pneumonia and immediately began administering breathing assistance and a battery of anti-biotics to fight the infection. I seemed to be stabilized rather quickly but my doctor had to perform a bronchoscopy to get a view of inside of the extent of the infection. Little did I know that I would wind up on a ventilator for the next three days following the procedure completely unaware of what was happening to me. I awakened in a state of shock, dismay and sadness. The pneumonia was a very serious strain. My doctors told me later they were unsure whether I would survive. Thankfully, my lungs and body were strong enough to fight off the infection with the battery of pharmaceuticals and excellent care I received from the staff at Community East.

Today, I left the hospital 25 pounds lighter and feeling as feeble as an 80-year-old man to begin my road to recovery. It's been a challenge to walk without losing my balance or feeling like my feet would collapse under me. The battery of meds I'm taking are very hard on the stomach, and nothing really tastes good right now. It will take me a few weeks to fully recovery so I will continue blogging infrequently as I fight to take advantage of this second chance with life God has given me. I truly appreciate all the kind letters, e-mails and phone messages I've received from so many well-wishers and prayer offerings. I particularly want to thank my family who took turns sitting at my bedside throughout this ordeal and my best friend, Mike Litmer, who so graciously attended to my affairs and cared for my cat during my hospital stay. I guess you have to almost lose life to appreciate what it really means to have one.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Angel Rivera To Take Smith's Seat On Council

Marion County GOP committeepersons caucused last night and chose local businessman Angel Rivera after two ballots to fill the at-large council seat vacated by Kent Smith. The crowded race featured 11 candidates. The county GOP leadership had recommended Rivera. Rivera is being sworn in by Judge David Certo this afternoon at the City-County Council. He becomes the first Republican Hispanic to serve on the council. The first Hispanic member of the council was Karen Celestino-Horseman. Councilor Jose Evans' father was Cuban.