Saturday, September 10, 2011
Citizen Complains To Vaughn About Lack Of Public Input Into Board Appointees
Community activist Clarke Kahlo sent the letter below to City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn that is spot on in its criticism of his and fellow councilors' refusal to allow members of the public to offer comment at public hearings on council appointees in light of the testimony in the ongoing public corruption trial of former City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman, who boasted to an undercover FBI agent how he controlled zoning boards through his power of appointment as a leader of the council. Incredibly, Vaughn blamed the public for acting inappropriately at public hearings by sharing their opinions on potential appointees as a reason for denying the public comment:
Dear Mr. Vaughn,
When I contacted Lincoln Plowman by email late in 2009 to inquire about what specific attributes he felt that appointee Alan Retherford brought to the BZA, I received no response. His non-response signaled that councilors don’t necessarily want to hear from citizens, in advance of committee appointment meetings, about their picks.
As you know, at the July 25th meeting of the Metropolitan Development Committee, chairperson McHenry refused to allow me (and others present) to comment about the BZA appointment process. Councilor McHenry later defended her prohibition in part by saying that no one had contacted her with concerns prior to the meeting. Such a rationale is completely disingenuous, in my opinion, because in the present environment, too many councilors don’t want to hear from citizens and too often are rude and rebuff them for their efforts, especially when the input is interpreted to be “negative” or contrary to the prescribed political pick.
A good bit of water has passed under the bridge in the short time since my December, 2009 inquiry to former councilor Plowman. By unwritten mutual agreement with the council, Mr. Retherford stepped down in March of this year after 20 years of board tenure (and following a contentious and acrimonious re-appointment process lasting about 7 months). And Mr. Plowman has resigned in disgrace from his council seat and his police department post following his indictment on extortion bribery charges following a sting on a zoning issue. The last several days (September 7-9) of reporting/blogging by Advance Indiana and Had Enough Indy on the Plowman trial in federal court have cast new and needed light on the illicit and seamy underside of zoning and alcohol manipulation by some powerful ex-councilors and their puppet appointees.
At the August 25th council meeting, you made derogatory general comments about a few (likely including me) in the community who have supposedly improperly assailed well-intended BZA and alcohol board volunteers (appointees), using that fiction as a reason for not allowing public comments. (To the extent that the Council’s adopted rule provides total discretion to chairs who would use it to condone secrecy and political chicanery over the public interest and accountability, that rule should be discarded as a vestige of Indianapolis’ archaic political modus.
You also went so far as to allude to “potentially criminal acts” by certain public. It’s absurd, and insulting, for you to imply criminality by any member of the public simply for demanding accountability and proper performance from board appointees. As the evidence to date in the Plowman case strongly suggests, if any criminality is present in the board appointment process, it’s been perpetrated, not by any concerned or vocal public, but by a corrupt councilor and his corrupt appointees to the BZA and Alcohol Board. These people, in my experience, too often ignore the statutory criteria for determinations and simply vote the way they are instructed by their appointers. Jennifer Ping even made this point expressly in her comments at the 12-6-10 alcohol board hearing in the 5215 College application (which application you supported).
Instead of publicly attacking neighborhood advocates who merely seek the equal protection of our enacted laws, (and to have their voices heard), you and your committee chairs/members should be encouraging participation and listening to what is said. You’ll never be able to evaluate the merits of their case if you deny them a hearing. It might well be that they can alert the council to problems in the making or prevent an incompetent or a scoundrel from becoming entrenched. As Justice Brandeis once said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.