|Councilor Vop Osili (D)|
The debate over the passage of Proposal 15 took a very curious turn when Councilor Vernon Brown, a battalion chief for the Indianapolis Fire Department, announced that he was abstaining from voting on the proposal because he had received a campaign contribution from a developer whose project stood to benefit from the TIF expansion proposal. Brown also stated that his campaign manager was lobbying for the proposal's passage. Oddly, Brown's campaign disclosure statements from last year's municipal election reveal no contributors with a direct interest in the affected projects. This begs the question whether Brown received campaign contribution only recently from the developer in question to influence his vote. No sooner had Brown announced his abstention than came a request by Councilor Bill Oliver to abstain from voting because he claimed to have received campaign contributions from a developer that would benefit from the proposal's passage. Like Brown, Oliver did not disclose the source of that contribution or when the contribution was received. A quick glance of his campaign disclosure statements from last year's municipal campaign, however, reveals two possible contributions he was referencing, including contributions from the law firm of Ice Miller and from Bud Myers, the executive director of the Indianapolis Housing Authority.
Council President Maggie Lewis obviously became concerned after Oliver requested to abstain, suggesting that campaign contributions alone should not prevent a councilor from participating in a vote. Lewis' independence as council president has been questioned since she negotiated and obtained a large grant from the City for her employer, the Dove Center. Lewis also pressured Marion County Assessor Joseph O'Connor to rehire her husband after he was fired by his predecessor, Greg Bowes, for sexually harassing female co-workers in the office and using his office computer for inappropriate purposes. Some critics of Lewis believe she negotiated a quid pro quo whereby she would secure support from her Democratic caucus members on key measures sought by the Ballard administration in exchange for funding for the nonprofit organization that employs her as an executive director. Senior members of Ballard's staff have admonished Lewis not to allow Councilor Brian Mahern, the council vice-president, to accompany her to meetings with the mayor and his senior staff members. Mahern has been a vocal critic of the misuse of TIFs due to the massive loss of property tax revenues for basic governmental services and school districts. Ballard's staff believes it cannot engage in candid discussions with Lewis if Mahern is present at the meetings because of his watchdog approach.
The council's attorney, Fred Biesecker, read to members the text of the city's conflict of interest ordinance, which clearly implicated Councilor Osili but not Councilor's Brown or Oliver. Biesecker added, however, that Councilor Brown was at liberty to request to abstain from casting a vote on a measure if he believed that by participating in the vote that it would create an appearance of a conflict of interest. Councilor Osili, on the other hand, has refused to publicly address his blatant conflict of interest. He even voted against an amendment offered by Councilor Mahern that would have excluded from the expanded TIF area one of the projects on which his architectural firm, A2SO4, had been compensated to perform work, including the Millikan project being built adjacent to Barton Towers by Flaherty Collins in conjunction with the Indianapolis Housing Authority. According to Deputy Mayor Deron Kintner, Flaherty Collins is also a finalist for the firehouse project across the street and its reviously approved Millikan project is tied to the firehouse project.
Shockingly, despite the disastrous implications Proposal 15 poses to future funding of basic city services and other local units of government, in particular, IPS, not to mention the fact that the proposal was deemed dead under a city ordinance because it remained tabled for more than 6 months, there was absolutely no debate or discussion on passage of Proposal 15 other than brief comments made in opposition to it by Councilor Mahern. Councilor Osili, who has displayed a total lack of knowledge of the content of his proposal throughout this entire train wreck, other than to ensure that projects that directly benefited his architectural firm, benefited from the expansion of the downtown TIF district. The proposal passed on a 25-2 vote, with Councilors Mahern and Zach Adamson casting the only two no votes. Councilor Brown abstained. [Note: An earlier post mistakenly indicated that Councilor Oliver abstained. He voted yes after asking to abstain.] Councilor Angela Mansfield was the only councilor not present for tonight's vote. Mayor Ballard's office e-mailed a press statement lauding passage of the measure that will directly benefit some of his largest campaign contributors. "I thank the City-County Council for its bipartisan vote, which allows us to move forward with catalytic new projects such as the redevelopment of the Mass Ave Fire Station and the 16 Tech corridor that will revitalize our neighborhoods and create and support thousands of jobs," Ballard stated.
The claim that thousands of jobs will be created is a patent lie. Ballard's office rejected a proposal from at least one developer to pay the city $2.5 million for the firehouse parcel and redevelop the property without a dime of money from the city. Ballard rejected that and other more palatable proposals because he insisted that your tax dollars be given directly to contractors and developers who have bankrolled his campaign, lavished gifts on him and his wife and have provided high-paying jobs to his cronies. As we've hammered home many times, these affected parcels have developers ready and willing to develop them without creating a TIF and diverting precious property tax revenues away from funding basic governmental services.
A lawsuit filed by citizen activist Clark Kahlo will proceed in an effort to declare Proposal 15 dead under the revised city code. If U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett is as serious about combating public corruption as he claims, he will immediately convene a grand jury and begin investigating all of the criminal activity that has occurred over the past several months to ensure passage of Proposal 15. And if the City-County Councilors who voted for Proposal 15 tonight are honest to their constituents, when they have to adopt deep cuts in public safety spending in the coming weeks, they will apologize to them for choosing the interests of the fat cat contributors who bankroll their campaigns over the public safety concerns of their constituents. When they tell you they opposed reducing the number of police officers protecting your neighborhoods, cuts in funding for libraries, IndyGo and city parks, call them a liar because that's what they are. Their vote tonight was to cut funding for all of those services.
This video shows Councilor Mahern's unsuccessful attempt to offer an amendment that would have exempted two projects on which Councilor Osili's architectural firm performed work and which had already been announced prior the introduction of Proposal 15 by Councilor Osili earlier this year.
This video shows the peculiar requests by Councilors Brown and Oliver to abstain from voting on Proposal 15 because of campaign contributions they received and the explanation of the council's conflict of interest ordinance by the council's attorney, Fred Biesecker.