Monday, December 21, 2015

How Quickly They Learn

Newly-elected City-County Councilors don't take office until January, but they've already learned the greatest perk of being a council member--free tickets to Colts and Pacers games whenever you want them. Suite tickets, no less, for the newly-elected Council members Colleen Fanning (R) and Blake Johnson (D) at this bipartisan affair. It's old hat for Councilor Jeff Miller (R), who is completing his first term after being re-elected to another four-year term for a job he complained paid too little before he just voted himself a 43% pay raise. Does Faegre Baker Daniels provide free babysitting services too? Don't forget to omit the free tickets from your ethics statements, boys and girls.

UPDATE: An observant reader catches this story in the Florida Times-Union about ethics concerns surrounding free tickets given to Jacksonville City Council members by the Jaguars' owner:
Several members of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, who were briefed on the policy at their Wednesday meeting at Jacksonville’s City Hall, spoke in favor of the new system, which they say is more transparent and accountable.
The commission also approved proposed legislation, which the City Council would ultimately have to pass, that would allow the commission to fine city officers and employees for public records violations — such as not making records available, destroying them, or making a false statement about whether they exist. Ethics Director Carla Miller pushed for the change after some City Council members, who communicated during a September council meeting through a union boss using text messages, originally were unable to produce their text messages in response to a request from the Times-Union.
Miller and General Counsel Jason Gabriel wrote a memo to Council President Greg Anderson on Dec. 10 outlining the policy for Jaguars football tickets.
Miller was concerned the value of the suite passes and tickets exceeded the $100 gift limit allowed under states ethics laws from lobbyists or entities doing business with the city.
The lobbyist for the Jaguars would arrange for City Council members to attend a game and they would receive a black envelope with two $125 tickets, two passes to the owner’s suite, a premium parking pass and a note with instructions for game day. Several council members took gift boxes containing a pair of Tiffany champagne flutes.
Miller advised council members to stay in the owner’s suite for only 30 minutes to an hour, not the entire game as some have, using their judgment.
Instead of going through the lobbyist, the memo states the city’s share of the tickets should all go through the offices of the council president and the mayor, which will distribute them. The city owns Everbank Field, receives tickets and has its own suite. Once the city receives and distributes those tickets, the city will post them on the city’s online gift registration, which Miller said provides transparency and accountability.
City officers and employees must also report the tickets, still considered a gift, to the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Commission member Richard Brown, an attorney, said the Jaguars team is an integral part of the Jacksonville community, but is also a business and each year will likely come before the City Council asking for action on its behalf.
“We have to keep a very, very close eye on attempts to glad-hand and influence our officials,” Brown said. “It is no accident it was a lobbyist distributing the tickets.”
The council voted unanimously this month to give the Jaguars $45 million in public money for a project including an amphitheater and indoor practice facility.
You'll never read a story in the Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star expressing any ethical concerns that the owners of the Colts or Pacers are bribing our local elected officials with free tickets to games. The newspaper is a co-conspirator with the professional sports team owners in ensuring that hundreds of millions of our tax dollars are constantly flowing to the teams to subsidize their billionaire owners. If that means bribing the mayor, city-county council members and state officials, then more power to them as far as The Star or any of the other media in this town is concerned. If we barred all of our elected officials from accepting free tickets to any sporting event or concerts, regardless of the source, and or any other gifts or free meals regardless of the amount, I suspect support from these same officials of subsidies to billionaire sports team owners might fade a wee bit.


Anonymous said...

How quickly the new becomes old.

Indy Rob said...

Why are NFL teams not required to report these free tickets and hospitality on a 1099? When a pair of tickets is handed out to a city council member and includes a trip to the hospitality suite, why does not the IRS not require that this be reported as miscellaneous income on a 1099?

Anonymous said...

My, my, my! How far Jeff Miller has come from his early days in the Downtown GOP Club! His Council voting record is a litany of sins evidencing his particular support for the political ruling class and their cronies. Miller's steadfast support of just about any scam (Xerox/ACS parking meter scam, Vision Fleet scam, Blue Indy scam, Cricket Field Scam, ad nauseam) his corrupt Republican mayor could conceive or be bought to promote is legendary.

It just astounds me that this awkward guy, he of the child for whom he cannot afford daycare (please, allow me time to dry my brimming tearful eyes), enjoys perks and benefits and the ability to increase his paycheck by voting for his own raise that his constituency will never ever be able to have.

Other than Christine Scales, there is hardly a Councilor in the gaggle worth the time of day. Most of these people are in it for power, privilege, position, and payola. Disband the City County Council!

Why the hell do taxpayers support a group of people whose goal seems to be voting salary increases, receive travel perks from all sorts of interests, and who seems to enjoy the life of Riley far and away removed from the people they extort taxes and ever increasing fees. Why does this city have a City County Council???

Anonymous said...

A "for sale" sign may have been less obvious. Don't these people have to report this on their taxes?

Jeff Miller said...

Great analysis, Gary. I really found the Jacksonville piece interesting. I supported Councillor Mahern in his failed push for stronger ethics reporting (prop 2013-28), and I always report everything on my annual reports. I encourage the public to review elected officials' ethics reports and campaign finance reports. They can be enlightening. My policy is never to accept something that will impact my voting. As an example, Clear Channel invited me to a Pacers game 2 months into my first term (as reported on my 2012 ethics report). But I did not support the ordinance language Clear Channel drafted that favored billboard companies, and instead I led the charge to have it removed from the recent proposal before the council (prop 2014-250). You correctly observe that lobbyists should not be able to sway any elected official and ethics reports seek to prevent this.

Regarding the salary increase, the media myopically focused on the 43% increase figure, but rarely reported that the salary was $11.4K so any increase would be large. Additionally, the last increase was in 2002, so that is a 2.63% Compound Annual Growth Rate over those 14 years, and is in the range of the COLA over those years. And as a widowed father, I can tell you there are extra expenses in being a councillor and attending full council meetings, committee meetings, and then 15+ neighborhood meetings a month. So that small salary helps defray those costs.

Keep up the good work and the fight for greater transparency. You and I will always agree on the need for more of that.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks for sharing, Jeff. Does that mean you're going to be introducing a proposal to tighten the gift reporting requirements in Indy's ethics law?

Anonymous said...

Right On Gary [@ 7:42], Right On! I am breathlessly anticipating Mr. Jeff Miller's reply to your poignant query.

This guy, however, is so adroit at simultaneously speaking from both sides of his face that I can only imagine his answer...

Anonymous said...

Why don't the councilors introduce a proposal to exempt free sports tickets from the gift reporting requirements in Indy's ethics law? Just let em have the tickets. Are they so shallow and easily manipulated that a few football tickets will turn them to the dark side? Irsay and Simon already get their way on everything they want as they bluster their way thru local and state politics, but rich sports teams owners do the same thing everywhere else. This is a sports town. What else are we know for besides a nasty, entrenched taste for bigotry. I don't care what they do with their nights and weekends as long as the councilors work during the day. I think we ought to make them get out into the neighborhoods more. How about gps monitoring of their whereabouts and mandatory timesheets submitted every week that become public record. Some cities make every bill up for consideration be posted online so the public can vote up or down on its popularity as it makes its way thru the system, ensuring complete openness. The public can go online and see what laws are proposed, and which councilors are in favor or opposed, and can vote themselves on whether they support or dislike the proposal. One of the problems is we just don't hold our councilors accountable. I don't care about the little stuff like tickets or meals. But I'd like to make them a more professional class of public employees, with regular duties and public feedback.

Jeff Miller said...

Gary, considering that the proposal didn't make it out of committee (and I was on the committee speaking in support at the time), I don't know that I see much reason to do it again. Keep in mind that I am in the minority (as I was then) and so I need majority support. But I would be in support of mirroring the transparency proposed by Mayor-elect Hogsett. So we can see what happens next and look to emulate his reforms.

And my oh my, what have I don't to get on anonymous' bad side? You write clever and biting commentary, but it is always on point. Anonymous is just vicious. Oh well, comes with being anonymous and unwilling to be held accountable for your words.

Again, keep it up, Gary!

Gary R. Welsh said...

Joe has not proposed any specific ethics rule changes, but if his campaign ads are to be believed, he will not be accepting any of the perks that go with being mayor, including a chauffeured-driven car. Whether that means he will be driving his own car and two security officers assigned to him for his protection will be driving in a separate car behind him remains to be seen.

wingrider said...

Well Mr. Miller...what is going to happen in 2016 when the police contract is up for negotiation? Is the city going to turn their pockets inside out and say they don't have the money for a pay increase? The last 4 year contract was for the first two years at 0%, and the last two at 3%, but before the 3% kicked in, the city claimed they didn't have the money to uphold their obligation. Now you vote yourself a 43% raise?!! Seems like there's money for soccer and cricket fields, bike lanes, cultural trails, and Blue Indy, but you shaft the police and firefighters.

Anonymous said...

Finding this commentary stream interesting.

A Councilor runs hard to retain his City County Council seat and the political class privileges that go with it and never once, as far as we can discern, admits PRE-ELECTION to any of his potential voters that he is considering or is more than willing POST-ELECTION to vote himself an increase in his Councilor salary.

This same Councilor throws shade at Commenters for, in essence, not being open and forthright when the Councilor himself- who never once during his campaign complained about considering the salary for his Councilor job too low or being not enough for his little boy's daycare costs. Kettle calling the pot black, Councilor!


Anonymous said...

You left out the steak and shrimp dinners from St. Elmo's and Ruth Chris for elected officials and their families. They've got to be priced more than a steal dinner at Ponderosa.

Flogger said...

Bipartisan in Indianapolis means the tax payers get screwed by both parties. The primary goal of the Republicrat Party is to preserve and enrich the Crony-Capitalism system. The Colts and Pacers are at the top of food chain. What is so pathetic I imagine that our Elected Officials actually delude themselves into thinking they are part of 1% when they are permitted to briefly be in the same suite.

Transparency is a joke. What difference does it make if we know our elected officials are receiving Freebees?? There is no mechanism to vote them out. Our McMega-Media could care less, in fact they are cheerleaders for the Crony-Capitalist System.

Jeff Miller said...

Excellent questions, Wingrider. During committee and on the council floor we asked those same questions. Keeping in mind that 4 at-large councillor positions are eliminated on 1/1/16, the savings from those positions comes close to covering the council raises. Any remaining amount will be absorbed in the existing council budget. So there is no impact to any other department. As for finding money for the police, I have supported the funds to hire the police and appropriately pay the police. It has never made sense to me that we don't have the budget to hire new police when others retire and I pushed that point very hard this budget cycle. I am confident Mayor Hogsett will take care of the police as he has promised. If not, I strongly suspect that it won't be the council increase that is the issue. However, if it is the issue, I will gladly introduce a proposal to drop our salary back down. I was told our increase would have zero impact on any city function and I will hold our council office to that promise.

Anonymous, please keep in mind that being in the minority, I am often in the dark on upcoming proposals and had no reason to believe increases were even being discussed. It was the council majority that chose to introduce that proposal at this time. While I support it, I didn't run on it as I didn't know it was going to happen. I cannot run on a policy change I am unaware of. And my issue with your comments is less about them being anonymous and more about them being inappropriately viscous. Certainly your call on what tone you take in your comments, but to truly have a meaningful discourse, I have found that making fun of someone shows little desire to move a conversation forward.

Anonymous said...

If I were an intrepid journalist in the local hard print or airwave media and heard Jeff Miller whine and mope that his pittance of a Councilor salary (and all the medical and social bennies that go with it) was not enough to pay for his child's day care I'd do a couple of things...

1) Ascertain the age of the son, and... most importantly... I would
2) Tail this Councilor's ass 24/7 to see exactly where and how he spends his income

Tell me how many of us lowly unclean Marion County hard working taxpaying voters can raise our salaries by the simple cast of a ballot in the Council Chamber?

This query is also for that over-rated Democrat Maggie Smith and also for Hair Salon business owner Democrat Zach Adamson.

Jeff Miller said...

Anonymous, not whining or moping, just answering why I am in support of the increase. Also, I'd be happy to also answer your other questions:
1. Gabriel is 9.
2. Anyone is welcome to follow me around. You and I could go on a ride-a-long and maybe with some time together, you might even like me! Hey, I can dream. Or, I tweet about everywhere I go that is council related (@jeff4Indy), so feel free to follow me that way as well.

Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Gary & fellow Advance Indiana readers: While I'm no big fan of Mr. Miller, I find it impressive that Mr. Miller took the time to read this blog post & respond to multiple comments. Consider this when many in the political class simply look down upon and brush off those not on the elitist A-list.

Anonymous said...

Those of you out there who are honked off about the CCC raises: this money is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall city budget and money pissed away on electric car sharing subsidies, cricket fields and the like. You're picking pepper out of fly sh*t. Consider the amount of time required to do this so-called part time job of city councilor - monthly council and committee meetings in addition to time attending neighborhood meetings, party meetings, responding to constituent requests, etc, etc. I bet if you had councilors track time and do the math it's damn near minimum wage. Nobody does this job for the salary, with or without the 40% raises. Same goes for the mayor - that job will be Hogset's life for the next 4 years. 80+++ hours per week every week. I wouldn't touch that job for 95k a year.