Monday, November 23, 2015

IPS' Hiring Of Former Ballard Top Advisor Raising Concerns Of Political Cronyism

David Rosenberg
Downtown insiders could barely hide their glee when long-time black radio talk show host Amos Brown, one of the city's biggest critics of recent changes at the Indianapolis Public Schools, dropped dead of an apparent heart attack on November 6. No topic got Brown more exercised than the so-called education reforms and innovations being initiated by IPS school board members elected during the last two election cycles whose campaigns were bankrolled by private interests seeking to cash in on those reforms and innovations. Brown had also questioned recent hiring decisions by IPS, including the hiring of a former top Ballard adviser, David Rosenberg, as the school district's new operations officer. From what Advance Indiana has been able to learn, Brown's concerns were well-founded.

When IPS officials advertised the position for operations officer earlier this year, it called for a person with a bachelor's degree in architecture or engineering and a minimum of four years of related training and experience. It got neither when the IPS board voted in September to hire Mayor Greg Ballard's former Director of Enterprise Development at an annual salary of $142,000, more than double what Rosenberg had earned in his former city job, the only prior job he held after graduating from law school in 2011. The position advertised by IPS sought someone with knowledge of HVAC systems, plumbing, computer network wiring and lighting, the ability to oversee construction projects for compliance and oversee equipment installation, facilities repair and preventive maintenance, among other job responsibilities, none of which Rosenberg's law degree or undergraduate degrees in history and political science prepared him to do.

According to Rosenberg's biographical narrative, he was hired by Mayor Greg Ballard's former chief of staff, Chris Cotterill, as an intern straight out of law school in May of 2011. Following his internship, Mayor Ballard named Rosenberg as his Director of Enterprise Development where he was involved in the most controversial projects undertaken by Ballard during his second term including: the costly, one-sided agreement for the Regional Operations Center with a political crony of Mayor Ballard, which is costing taxpayers more than $20 million; the failed attempt to privatize the development of a new criminal justice center rejected earlier this year by the City-County Council, which cost taxpayers more than $18 million to unwind to pay for illegal, no-bid contracts awarded to political cronies of Mayor Ballard; the illegal and one-sided contract the City entered into with Vision Fleet, a newly-formed company with no experience, to lease a fleet of electric cars at a cost to city taxpayers of more than $27 million; and the illegal and one-sided agreement with Blue Indy, allowing a French-owned company, Bollore', to seize hundreds of the City's most valuable public parking spaces at no charge to the company, along with an additional $6 million cash subsidy, to operate its electric car sharing business.

Sources tell Advance Indiana that political insiders with close ties to a number of the IPS board members engineered the hiring of Rosenberg for their personal benefit. Political insiders are particularly interested in IPS' plans to sell its valuable Coca-Cola property in the booming Mass Ave business district, which just recently got underway, and Rosenberg's new job places him right in the middle of that real estate project. Developers are chomping at the bit for the opportunity to acquire what is considered one of the most highly-sought after parcels of property in downtown Indianapolis.

Among the firms said to be interested in the property is Shiel-Sexton, which has been involved in numerous high-profile public construction projects in Indianapolis, including the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center, Eskenazi Hospital and the construction of fire stations for the City of Indianapolis. It has also been involved in a number of school construction projects locally, including construction of the Christel House Academy Charter School and Cathedral High School. Shiel-Sexton's managing partner is Brian Sullivan, the husband of Mary Ann Sullivan, an education consultant and former Democratic state lawmaker who was elected to the board last year after education profiteers poured tens of thousands of dollars to bankroll her unprecedented, high-spending campaign to win a seat on the IPS board. Sullivan has reportedly announced she will recuse herself from voting on real estate/construction-related matters as an IPS board member, presumably because of her husband's interest in pursuing those deals.

Advance Indiana hears the insiders are up to their old tricks of figuring out how to make an extremely valuable piece of property in the downtown area look less attractive to justify an acquisition of the property on the most favorable terms for the developer. This has included raising the tried and true method of devaluing the property by claiming it has environmental contamination issues in need of remediation, which seems to be a problem with every downtown parcel if you believe these greedy developers who pretend they are only able to undertake the risk of developing downtown if they're given the property for free with tens of millions in public subsidies thrown in to spice up the deal.

IPS' outside legal counsel is Faegre Baker Daniels, the same law firm that has represented the school district for many years. When Rosenberg's former boss, Chris Cotterrill, left his job at the city, he joined the law firm as a partner, specializing in public-private partnership agreements. Cotterill left Faegre Baker Daniels earlier this year to become Executive Vice-President and Corporation Counsel for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the state agency that doles out hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to private companies for economic development. Kelly Bentley, another IPS board member who makes a living as an education consultant and whose campaign was bankrolled by the education profiteers last year, is the half-brother of David Suess, a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels.

Advance Indiana will be watching very closely how IPS handles the sale of the Coca-Cola property, which knowledgeable sources believe will be tied to a hefty public subsidy to the "buyer" from the City of Indianapolis' downtown TIF district. The City has already doled out public subsidies to favored downtown developers reaching into the billions of dollars since the TIF district was first created more than three decades ago. Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett ran for mayor this year promising to put an end to the downtown insiders who he says "cheat the system" and "steal our tax dollars." But because Hogsett relied on those same downtown insiders to finance his $4 million campaign for mayor and turned away whistle blowers who repeatedly sought his assistance in prosecuting these corrupt insiders throughout his tenure as federal prosecutor, Advance Indiana believes it will be business as usual under his administration and Hogsett has already secretly-agreed to secure a pot of money for the development of the Coca-Cola property.

It's not just the Coca-Cola deal that has people concerned. IPS earlier this year entered into a one-sided deal with the Phalen Leadership Academy to operate a charter school within the IPS district at the former School 103 property known as the Francis Scott Key School. Under its agreement with Phalen Leadership Academy, the private, for-profit charter school company is getting free use of the School 103 property, while IPS picks up the tab for all of its costs, including building maintenance, salaries, student transportation costs and even snow removal. The lone board member to vote against that deal was Gayle Cosby, the only IPS board member not bought and paid for by the education profiteers. The Mind Trust was instrumental in brokering the deal through a fellowship agreement. That's the same non-profit with whom another IPS board member, Caitlin Hannon, recently accepted employment after supporting the deal with Phalen Academy. Hannon's job responsibility at The Mind Trust includes launching a shared enrollment system for IPS, which she championed before leaving the IPS board.

The Mind Trust is behind plans to launch yet another similar charter school within IPS' district, Global Preparatory Academy, which is scheduled to open next August. Mariama Carson, the wife of U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D), has been hired to launch that new charter school, which will target Hispanic students as a dual-language school. The Mind Trust is paying Carson's $90,000 a year salary, plus benefits and a $20,000 stipend. Global Preparatory Academy, plans to utilize one of IPS' under-utilized properties to operate this new charter school near the Lafayette Square area.


Anonymous said...

Not to mention the Pence administration's appointment of a connected Democrat to the Indiana Board of Education while his wife walked off with a no bid gig with IPS for "public relations".

Anonymous said...

Gosh... instead of being so critical of the corrupt Marion County GOP and the just-as-corrupt Indiana State GOP I should begin some rump-kissing.

I'd LOVE to have an annual salary of, oh say $142,000, for which my JD and my personal work history have so little to do with the actual job description for which I am a pawn... uh, for which I have been placed... er...

Anonymous said...

You might want to check your sources Gary. Back in 2012, Gayle Cosby received over $78,000 in direct and inkind donations for her campaign; more than any other candidate in 2012 or 2014. And this doesn't include all the independent expenditures spent on her behalf.

Anonymous said...

Mariama Carson's sister works for The Mind Trust