Saturday, June 14, 2014
IBJ Does A Hit Piece On Councilor Christine Scales For Being An Honest, Hard-Working Public Servant
I've come to learn that everything is counter-intuitive in Indianapolis when it comes to the manner in which the local news media covers politics. With few exceptions, the local media endorses the crass, corporate cronyism that is practiced at all levels of government. Anyone who stands in opposition to it or attempts to blow the whistle on the corruption taking place becomes the target of not only the corrupt pols but also members of the local news media who see it as their jobs to protect the political status quo. So I guess it comes as no surprise that the IBJ's Kathleen McLaughlin would choose to ignore all of the corruption going on in Indianapolis city government and instead choose to target City-County Councilor Christine Scales.
McLaughlin's hit piece in the latest edition of the business newspaper leaves no doubt in the readers' minds that McLaughlin views Scales as a problem elected official to be eradicated rather than a public servant to be valued. McLaughlin, who chose not to do any investigative reporting on the role of lobbyists for the manufacturer of a major smoke detector in drafting an ordinance to promote its specific product, instead took aim at Scales' vocal opposition to it and her adeptness at studying the issue so thoroughly that she left no room to doubt its actual public benefit. "Where there's smoke, there's fire, and where there's scorching email, there's Christine Scales," McLaughlin writes. "Scales is testing the limits of political independence and the patience of her colleagues." The writer seems to revel in noting that Scales was kicked out the Republican caucus and stripped of two committee assignments, noting that she continues to serve only on the Public Safety Committee "by the grace" of the Democrat council president, Maggie Lewis.
McLaughlin scolds Scales for raising the specter of an ethics complaint against the two sponsors of the smoking ban ordinance, Mary Moriarty Adams and Ben Hunter, both of whom collected campaign contributions from the lobbyists behind the ordinance as they pushed the ordinance drafted by an attorney hired by Kidde, which mandated that all Marion County homeowners install smoke detectors in their homes with a 10-year, non-replaceable, non-removable battery specifically manufactured by the company. Hunter's employer, Butler University, accepted free smoke detectors from Kidde while the ordinance was pending, and the company chose the Indianapolis Fire Department as one of a handful of fire departments across the country to receive free smoke detectors. Interestingly, IFD Chief Brian Sanford testified to the Public Safety Committee that he wouldn't recommend donating ionized smoke detectors like those donated by the company to the Department because, as Scales explained to the sponsors' chagrin, the detectors proved useless in detecting many fires until unsuspecting residents had already breathed in a lethal dose of toxic smoke from a smoldering fire. During committee debate, Councilor Hunter begrudgingly acknowledged Scales' point after leveling a childish insult at her.
Naturally, McLaughlin sided with Adams, who draws two government paychecks from the county, one for her job as a councilor and one for a make-work job in the assessor's job. "I've never met a councilor like Christine Scales," said Adams. That's too bad, Mary. Some of us question why you are even allowed to sit on the Public Safety Committee, let alone chair it. Adams' husband is drawing a pension as a retired police officer, in addition to a full-time job that Sheriff John Layton created for him in the bloated Sheriff's Department budget to curry favor with Adams, who doesn't shy away from using her position on the council to promote Layton's agenda. McLaughlin, noting Scales "track record of breaking rank with her votes," questions her "unprecedented willingness to challenge the party line" or what her colleagues call "burning bridges." Scales defends her independent stances as a badge of honor known as integrity. "I think it's important there are independents who are in the political real, who are willing to stand up for what they believe and are willing to take the punishments," Scales said.
McLaughlin really lays bare her journalistic dishonesty when she discusses the events that led up to Scales being kicked out of the Republican caucus. She accurately describes Scales' vocal opposition to the Ballard administration's decision to pull a fire department ladder truck from her district at 71st and Allisonville Road and move it to another location, a move some believe was a bit of political retribution doled out to Scales because of her refusal to vote in lock step with Ballard's political agenda as other Republican council members do. Scales has hit IFD for slow response times in her district, something she attributes to moving the ladder truck. McLaughlin claims Scales was booted from the caucus for leaking emails and information about discussions that took place within the caucus on another matter.
What McLaughlin intentionally omits from the story was that internal caucus discussions divulged by Scales centered around the unethical approach officials in the Ballard administration and her own caucus undertook to get her vote to oust City-County Council President Maggie Lewis. A disaffected Democratic council member, Brian Mahern, had agreed to ally with Republicans in an effort to oust Lewis as council president. Public Safety Director Troy Riggs and Republican council members approached Scales and offered to restore the ladder truck to the fire station in her district in exchange for her vote to oust Lewis. Scales was appalled that important public safety matters were being bartered over a partisan effort to elect a Republican as council president even though the party was numerically in the minority. Republicans were pissed off that Scales publicly disclosed their plan to oust Lewis and complained publicly about their efforts to bribe her. An FBI public corruption task force sought information about the offer as part of its ongoing investigation of public corruption in Marion County. It's true that Republicans were angered when Scales leaked contradictory e-mails other Republican council members had exchanged on a Republican legislative effort that resulted in the elimination of the four at-large council positions, but it was her exposure of their attempt to bribe her with a ladder truck for her district that was the impetus of their move to bar her from the caucus.
While McLaughlin acknowledges Scales' steadfast support and hard work in trying to win approval of a TIF area for the blighted Avondale-Meadows area as part of a strategy of getting a badly-needed grocery store built in a neighborhood that lacks any. The Ballard administration and council placed as its top priority efforts at establishing the sprawling Mid-North TIF district that encompasses largely middle and upper-middle income neighborhoods, including the booming Broad Ripple Village, which is getting a new Whole Foods grocery story thanks to nearly $9 million in public funds recently approved by the council for that project. Council Democrats have refused to advance Scales' proposal for the Avondale-Meadows TIF area, which she believes is hardball politics that is hurting some of the city's most impoverished residents. Her co-sponsor, Democrat Steve Talley, claims that the council is simply taking more time to gather information about the proposal before acting and is not playing politics with it.
It is remarkable that Scales has been alone in pushing the only TIF district that would actually target a blighted, impoverished neighborhood, while other council members, including African-Americans, support one TIF project after another for affluent areas like downtown and Broad Ripple. The media in this town ran one press release after another about bringing a Whole Foods grocery store to an affluent part of town that already has one barely a mile away. Yet, McLaughlin manages to show her uglier side in discussing Scales' valiant efforts to bring a grocery store to a blighted neighborhood without a single store. "With her neat linen suits and blonde, coiffed hair, Scales looks the part of a doctor's wife living in a gated community," McLaughlin writes. "Her friendly smile belies the hot-headedness that's created enemies on both sides of the aisle."
Okay, we get your true mission here, Kathleen. Now try using those sharp claws to write about something that matters to your readers like who is really responsible for playing politics with public safety and potholes.