Sunday, December 31, 2006

Carson Getting Unfavorable Attention On The Hill Again

The Hill continues to raise questions about Rep. Julia Carson's fitness to serve. This item makes it into the newspaper's "In The Know" column on December 13. Referring to a wheelchair-bound Carson, the column reads:

Lawmakers of course know they are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke on the House floor. But who was going to have the nerve to stop Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.) last week as she was wheeled onto the floor for a vote wearing dark rose-colored sunglasses and happily unwrapping and eating a Snickers bar?

She began eating the Snickers off the floor in the Speaker’s Lobby but continued eating once on the floor. Was she having a “substantialicious” moment, as Snicker’s new ad campaign indicates? Or was she undergoing a “hungerectomy”?

Carson’s spokesman, Chad Chitwood, did not respond to requests for information about the congresswoman’s apparent affection for Snickers. Carson had heart-bypass surgery in 1996, but both she and her aides have said she is healthy. Carson has recently been using a wheelchair.

Lawmakers are not permitted to eat or drink on the House floor, but they do it anyway, according to a security source close to the floor.

“You’ll see them bring in cups of coffee,” the source said, adding, "They’re not supposed to drink, they’re not supposed to eat, wear coats, talk on the phone. They’re not supposed to do any of that.”

I don't recall reading anything in the local media advising us on Carson's health requiring her to be bound to a wheelchair. You may recall this item in The Hill earlier this year:

Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.) was spotted on the House Floor and in the Speaker’s Lobby in a gray sweat suit and sneakers last week. Her attire, which is forbidden by House rules, and the fact that the 68-year-old lawmaker is often seen getting physical help from an aide, is causing comment.

I stand by my prediction that she will resign her seat in 2007. Thanks to the anonymous tipster for calling our attention to this item.

Predictions For 2007

I've got a pretty checkered record when it comes to making accurate predictions, but I'll give my best shot at what I think is going to happen in 2007.

1. Mayor Bart Peterson will undeservedly be re-elected to a third term as mayor--by default. Peterson and Gov. Mitch Daniels enjoy a good relationship, and they both want re-elected to their respective jobs. A lot of Democrats think Peterson is their best candidate to defeat Daniels in 2008. My instincts tell me a deal has been cut. Daniels and a few key Republicans will make sure that Peterson does not face a serious, well-funded opponent for mayor. In exchange, Peterson will not challenge Daniels in 2008. To those of you who scoff at the suggestion such a deal could happen, I can only say you don't know much about politics.

2. Republicans will nominate City-County Councilor Isaac Randolph as their sacrificial lamb in the 2007 mayoral election. He will lack the money and organizational effort necessary to win.

3. Democrats will retain control of the City-County Council. I believe they will pick up at 1-2 seats. The Bradford seat will likely change to the Democrats. Randolph's seat will also likely flip to the Democrats. Republicans' lack of organization, good candidates and general disarray will contribute to their losses.

4. Democrats will pick former Peterson chief of staff Mike O'Connor to succeed Ed Treacy as Marion Co. Democratic chairman. His candidacy could be met with opposition from forces loyal to Rep. Julia Carson (explained below).

5. Republicans will pick attorney Tom John to replace Mike Murphy as GOP chairman. He will find it very difficult to put together a credible effort in the 2007 municipal elections with Republican powers-that-be loyal to Peterson being his biggest impediment. Finding volunteers and precinct committeepersons will become even more difficult with the GOP now controlling but one county office--perhaps the weakest it's been in the past century.

6. Rep. Julia Carson will resign her seat in Congress due to her worsening health problems, triggering a special election, which could be timed to coincide with the city's municipal elections. This will set off a scramble among Democrats to choose her replacement, which will take place at a district convention. Carson would like to see her grandson, Andre Carson, take her place. His chances are better in an election of Democratic committeepersons than an open primary at which any Democratic voter could vote. Mike O'Connor and other Democrats likely will favor someone other than Carson, which is the reason he may have opposition in his bid to become county chairman. My betting is the Democrats, if this scenario plays out, will choose someone other than Carson. Republican Eric Dickerson will make another run for the open seat, but he'll need the support of his party to get on the ballot this time. The candidates chosen by each party at a district convention would face off in a special election.

7. Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi will have a busy year handling problems with other public officials, including the coroner and Center Township Trustee's office. Brizzi will be successful in his efforts to get Indiana to adopt a hate crimes law.

8. Governor Daniels will fail in his efforts to privatize the Hoosier Lottery.

9. Governor Daniels will succeed in passing a bipartisan initiative to provide health insurance for the uninsured, which will be funded by an increase in the cigarette tax.

10. Governor Daniels' popularity will improve as the year progresses, largely because he must adopt a more bipartisan approach in his governing style.

I'm probably way off the mark with some of these predictions, but it's fun making them and hearing peoples' reaction to them.

Indy's Murder Rate Increase Among Top In The Nation

While a number of major cities across America experienced an increase in the number of murders during 2006 after nearly a decade of decline, Indianapolis' increase easily outpaces most other cities. Interestingly, an AP story by Karen Matthews on the subject noticeably omits Indianapolis from the discussion despite its sharp increase. I'm not sure whether her omission is a good or bad thing.

As of today, Indianapolis has recorded 153 murders, a 54% increase over last year and the most since 1998, when the city recorded a record 162 murders according to the Star's Will Higgins. Here's how Indianapolis compares to other cities based on the AP story:

  • Oakland (57%)
  • Indianapolis (54%)
  • New Haven, Connecticut (53%)
  • Houston (15%)
  • New York (10%)
  • Philadelphia (6%)
  • Cincinnati (5%)
  • Chicago (3.3%)
  • Los Angeles (-4%)
  • San Francisco (-15%)
  • New Orleans (-36%)

Why the increase? The AP story writes, "[G]angs, the easy availability of illegal guns, a disturbing tendency among young people to pull guns when they do not get the respect they demand, and, in Houston at least, an influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees." I'm surprised the story doesn't mention drugs, which I think are driving the increasing number of homicides.

In Higgins' story, he notes that a disproportionate number of Indianapolis' murder victims, 54%, were black men. He also reports a sharp increase in the number of murders taking place in the suburban reaches of the county "in neighborhoods with a reputation for being relatively safe." Higgins' story doesn't mention drugs as a contributing factor. He does note a large number of homicides occurred during the commission of a robbery. Robberies are often associated with drug users who are trying to feed their habit.

What is clear is Indianapolis' rate is increasing dramatically compared to other U.S. cities. Mayor Peterson and other city leaders simply can't blame the problem on a growing, nationwide problem. I think the problem is Indianapolis has become a major drug distribution center. That's a problem with which Mayor Peterson and Indianapolis law enforcement will have to come to grips if they want to successfully address the problem.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

GOP Should Heed Ford's Advice On Equality

As the country prepares to lay to rest former President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., the Republican Party would do well to take a harder look at Ford's advice on equality. As president, he was a major proponent of equal rights for women. Years after leaving the White House, he also became a proponent of equality for gays and lesbians. He supported both non-discrimination in the workplace and marriage equality legislation. Speaking in an interview with the Detroit News in October, 2001, Ford is quoted as saying:

“I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party,” Ford said. “I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections.”

When asked by Price if gay couples should receive the same economic benefits as married couples, such as Social Security and tax deductions, Ford said, “I don’t see why they shouldn’t. I think that’s a proper goal…I think they ought to be treated equally. Period.”

Ford’s gay-supportive comments in the Price interview prompted the Republican Unity Coalition, a gay-straight alliance that advocated support for gay issues within the Republican Party, to invite Ford to join its advisory board.

To the amazement and delight of the group’s executive director, Charles Francis, Ford accepted the invitation, becoming the first past or current U.S. president to join the ranks of a gay rights advocacy organization.

Francis credited former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), who served as the RUC’s honorary chair, with approaching Ford to join the group.

In a March 2003 letter to Francis, Ford expressed support for the then pending lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court, known as Lawrence v. Texas, which sought to overturn the nation’s sodomy laws.

“I sincerely hope that you prevail in the case of Lawrence v. Texas,” Fold told Francis.

Ford later expressed support for legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.

It is a little-known fact that Oliver Sipple, a gay man, may have saved Ford's life in 1975 when he grabbed the arm of Sara Jane Moore and wrestled her to the ground as she fired a gun at Ford as he was leaving a hotel in San Francisco. One of the bullets fired from Moore's gun missed Ford's head by a few feet. Moore was one of two women who attempted to assassinate Ford while he was president. The two assassination attempts always struck me as rather odd because women have so rarely in history assassinated political leaders.

Justice For Saddam Hussein

Regardless of how you feel about the death penalty, it is difficult to argue with today's execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The number of Iraqis who were killed at the order of the tyrannical ruler number in the hundreds of thousands. Sadly, Hussein had supporters to the very end who crowded into the streets to protest his execution. The executioners, shown in the AP photo above, hide their own identities to protect themselves from the assassins who freely roam the streets of Baghdad. At least 31 people were killed today when a bomb exploded in the middle of a fish market hours after Hussein's execution. His death offers little hope the violence in Iraq will end anytime soon.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Johnson's Condition Still Critical

There has been very little news as of late on the condition of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), which is noteworthy because of the potential outcome his health could have on control of the U.S. Senate. An AP report today says he's still in critical condition in the intensive care unit, and he has not spoken since being hospitalized two weeks ago for emergency surgery to repair a brain hemorrhage. Although his doctor reports his condition is improving, he has been sedated for two weeks--longer than usual according to at least one medical expert. What is clear is he will not be present when the new Congress convenes in January. That means Democrats will lack a majority, or 51 votes, to do business.

Look Who Got Another Park Named After Him

If you wondered why Al Polin expressed no disappointment over the loss of the children's park next to 300 East named after him, you need look no further than the newly-renamed park at 29th & Talbott Street. IndyParks, without fanfare, recently erected this sign above naming it the "Alfred E. Polin Playground." You may recall that Polin, along with neighborhood leader Claire Warner, blocked the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association from taking a vote on the proposed 300 East bar in the Julia Carson Government Center despite vocal opposition from area neigbhors. The two later testified at the Metropolitan Development Commission hearing on the rezoning petition that the neighborhood supported the bar.

Mayor Peterson and the city parks department, of course, denied any role in the original decision to remove the playground equipment from the former Polin Park. IndyPark's website, however, listed it as a neighborhood mini-park. After the playground equipment was removed, the city added the following to the site's information on Polin Park, which still appears on the public website:

Due to the removal of the playground equipment at Al Polin Park, Indy Parks is searching for another suitable park location surrounding the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood to rename in honor of Mr. Al Polin.

We regret any inconvenience. Please check back.

The new Polin Park is actually listed on the site as the Talbott and 29th Street Park. There has been a small park at this site since 1973. Isn't it interesting how these things get worked out? Doesn't it instill confidence in our public processes? And who still thinks Mayor Peterson didn't have anything to do with this entire sordid affair?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Nuvo's Year In Review

Nuvo's "Year In Review" edition hit newstands today. Laura McPhee spotlights Major Moves, state privatization, State House prayers, Indy's clean water improvements, Indy's rising crime rate, and daylight savings time, among other issues in her year-end wrap up.

This issue also reviews Gov. Mitch Daniels' past year as seen by radio talk show host Abdul Hakim-Shabazz and AI Editor Gary R. Welsh. My column is tagged, "Our Man Mitch: To be or not to be." Laura McPhee invited me to write the column a few weeks back--an offer I gladly accepted. The most difficult part of writing the column was figuring out how to limit it to just 750 words. There is so much that can be written about Gov. Daniels because he says and does so much more than any recent Indiana Governor.

While my column is pointedly critical of the Governor on several points, it is my hope it will be taken as constructive criticism. I remain convinced that Gov. Daniels has a lot of good ideas and can lead our state in the right direction, but I remain adamant in my conviction that he needs to learn to be a better listener. He needs to reach out to a much broader audience than the yes-men/women with whom he's surrounded himself.

Abdul views Gov. Daniels as "a badly needed kick in the rear-end", who has "dragged [the state] screaming into the 21st century." Abdul also thinks opinions of Daniels vary depending on whether you live in a big or small town, with the latter being more likely to view Daniels as the "anti-Christ." I think that he's probably right on both points.

In Memory Of President Gerald R. Ford, Jr.

He was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., but the divorce of his parents and his subsequent adoption by his step-father brought him the name we knew him as, Gerald Rudolf Ford, Jr. A football star at the University of Michigan, he turned down offers to play professional football for the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions to go to law school. He served his country during World War II in the Navy--nearly missing death aboard the USS Monterey. He spent 23 years in Congress as a representative from Grand Rapids, Michigan, rising to the House Minority Leader's position before President Richard Nixon appointed him to fill the Vice Presidency vacated by Spiro Agnew in 1973. He became the first president ever to assume office without being elected either as president or vice president in 1974.

On an Indiana note, the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provided for the appointment of a vice president by the president, in the event of a vacancy, and confirmation by the U.S. Senate. It was authored by former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN). If the 25th Amendment had not been in place at the time of Agnew's resignation, the office would have remained vacant. Upon Nixon's resignation in 1974, the then-Speaker of the House would have become president. If memory serves me correctly, that man was Rep. Carl Albert (D-Oklahoma). So in a way, Ford owes his presidency to Birch Bayh.

While he failed to win election to the office in 1976, he came much closer than anyone expected when he polled 48% to Jimmy Carter's 50%. If Ford had won a close vote in the state of Ohio, he would have been elected president in his own right in the electoral college vote count, if not the popular vote. His time as president is most remembered for his pardon of Nixon. Although some would argue it wasn't a smart political move and cost him his own election, most historians agree that it was best for the country. I remember him most as the last president to use the presidential veto with any regularity. He vetoed 65 bills--more than any other president in modern times. I also think of the people who served in his administration. President George H.W. Bush served as his Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Donald Rumsfeld served as his chief of staff and Defense Secretary. Vice President Dick Cheney served as his chief of staff.

Dead at 93, he was the longest-ever living president, edging out Ronald Reagan by a few months. I think history has and will continue to judge Gerald R. Ford favorably. Whether you agreed with his politics, he truly was one of the more decent men to serve as our nation's Commander In Chief.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Census Data Shows Continued Shift Of Power To South And West

The Hotline blog comments on the latest census data, which shows states in the South and the West are likely to pick up more seats in Congress after the next decennial census at the expense of states in the Northeast and Midwest. Big winners at this point appear to be Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Big losers figure to be Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Texas could gain as many as four new seats, and Florida will likely pick up two seats--equalling the number of seats New York is expected to have, 27, after it loses another two seats.

Indiana will probably be on the bubble in determining whether it loses another seat from its current 9-member congressional delegation. Indiana added 47,501 during the most recent period, and it had a net migration of people into the state of 15,430. That's better than Illinois, which added 66,543 but had a negative, net migration of 7,200. Indiana's growth rate ranked 29th compared to Illinois' 35th-place ranking. Indiana's population stood at 6,313,520 as of July 1, 2006.

Arizona is the fastest-growing state in the nation, followed by Nevada, Idaho, Georgia and Texas, in that order. While California is still growing and remains the largest state, the Hotline predicts California's congressional delegation may remain the same after the next census for the first time in many decades after adding large numbers to its current 53-member delegation. California experienced a negative, net migration of over 21,000 during the most recent period.

Did Bayh Drop Out Too Soon?

A new poll of Iowa Democrats shows Hillary Clinton finishing fourth behind former Sen. John Edwards (22%), Sen. Barack Obama (22%) and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (12%). Sen. Clinton was favored by just 10% of those polled. The poll is also bad news for Gov. Vilsack, who Iowa Democrats know better than any of the candidates. Sen. John Kerry won the Iowa Caucus in 2004, and he can't be pleased with his non-show in this poll. While it's very early, it's a sign that front-runner Clinton may be vulnerable. If she stumbles in the early-going, the race could become wide open. You can't help but wonder whether Sen. Evan Bayh's early decision to drop out of the race was premature.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

GOP Must Rebuke Goode's Anti-Islamic Views

Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) apparently hasn't read the U.S. Constitution, which clearly states no religious test may be imposed on a person as a condition to holding a federal office. Goode sent a letter to his constituents complaining about Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member elected to Congress, and his intention of using the Quran during the official swearing-in ceremony for members of Congress rather than the Bible, which some members use. In the letter Goode wrote:

"When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Quran in any way.

"The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran.

"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country.

"I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."

"The Ten Commandments and 'In God We Trust' are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Quran.

"My response was clear, 'As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, the Quran is not going to be on the wall of my office.' "

Goode's anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant views are nothing of which the GOP should have any part. It is imperative that party leaders immediately step forward and denounce Goode's views. They should also join Democrats in Congress in seeking a reprimand of Goode--for personally attacking and showing intolerance of Ellison's exercise of his religious freedom--by the full House of Representatives as soon as the new members are sworn into office in January. Goode's total lack of understanding of what the U.S. Constitution says about religious freedom is an embarrassment to all Americans.

Daniels' Administration Misled On Fed Approval Of FSSA Privatization

When Governor Daniels' administration announced yesterday the federal government had given it approval of his plan to privatize many of the welfare programs currently administered by FSSA, it said nothing about a critical fact concerning that approval--funding for the proposed 10-year contract was approved for only one year due to "questions and concerns" the Bush administration has with the plan. As the Star's Tim Evans now reports:

Indiana will receive just one year of funding for Gov. Mitch Daniels' proposed 10-year state welfare privatization plan so federal officials can monitor a program they say raises several "questions and concerns."

Without acknowledging those reservations, the governor's office announced Wednesday it had received the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration said the approvals were the last hurdles Daniels needed to overcome before deciding whether to sign a $1.16 billion contract with a business group headed by IBM. "You can expect a decision by the first of the year," the governor said.

But critics -- including House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend -- said the administration failed to note in its announcement that the USDA's funding will cover just one year, rather than the full 10-year term of the proposed deal.

The USDA detailed several lingering concerns in a letter to Family and Social Services Administration Secretary E. Mitchell Roob, including questions about the delegation of duties between employees of the state and its vendors, the proposed implementation schedule and oversight of the private contractors.

"Given the concerns . . . (the agency) will carefully monitor the implementation and operation of the project and provide additional funding approvals upon successful completion of the pilot phase and successful completion of each implementation roll-out phase," wrote USDA Regional Administrator Ollice C. Holden.

Roob said the federal response is typical for multiyear contracts.

IBM did not respond to a request for comment.

The fact that approval for the contract has only been given for one year is very significant. Roob's suggestion that this was "typical" is simply not accurate. More telling is IBM's silence on the announcement. In fact, one would have to question the feasibility of IBM, ACS and the other vendors undertaking this gigantuan task with only a one-year commitment for federal funding, particularly given the fact that Democrats now control both houses of Congress and key Democrats are questioning the privatization plan. The failure of the administration to disclose this important fact will only fuel skeptics' distrust of the administration in this undertaking.

State Board of Accounts Report More Bad News For Bolejack

While former Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) executive director Heather Bolejack personally found solace in the tone of a State Board of Accounts report covering her tenure at the agency, the findings of the report should not be comforting to her. AI has reviewed a copy of the report, which Taking Down Words has posted on its site, and found it to be quite damning. Here are some of the key findings of the report:

  • The SKIP grant which Bolejack signed and awarded to her friend Michael McKenna did not appear to be approved by the Board of Trustees as required by state law and exceeded the allowable funding for such a grant under federal rules.
  • Payments to violent crime victims were so ineffectively administered there were outstanding claims dating back 5 years; at least $1.9 million in eligible claims remained unpaid even though there was $3.5 million in available funds to pay the claims (Note: this problem predated her tenure, but she did little to bring it under control).
  • Public funds were inappropriately spent on such things as $30,000 to sponsor the Circle City Classic Parade, $10,000 for the Big 10 Men's Basketball Tournament and $5,000 for a golf outing to benefit a charitable group.
  • Bolejack has been asked to reimburse the agency thousands of dollars in authorized payments for such things as inappropriate travel expenses, meal purchases and professional fees (i.e. attorney registration dues, CLE and bar memberships); Bolejack reimbursed the agency less than a $1,000 and is disputing the remaining amounts.
  • Bolejack made $430,000 in commitments to vendors either verbally or by e-mail communication without initiating the required contracting procedures prior to her termination; these commitments were all cancelled by the agency.
  • Bolejack allowed ICJI employees to work at home without prior authorization.
  • Executive staff were given blackberry communication devices and incurred substantial overage charges without reimbursing the agency for personal use.

Bolejack complemented the SBA for a "balanced presentation of the facts" with respect to the SKIP Grant in contrast to what she described as the "highly inflammatory and false statements" made by "some state officials" in a "rush to judgment." In her response, she often shifts blame to others within the agency, including her deputy, Kate Gullans, and the ICJI's fiscal staff.

Michael Cunegin, who took over the troubled agency after Bolejack's departure, says the agency has "made significant progress toward addressing many of the issues put forward" in the report. He says the agency personnel have received contract training from the Department of Administration, and it is working hard to reduce the backlog of violent crime victim claims, having paid out $1.8 million in claims over the past six months. Cunegin says the agency is also reviewing and revising all of its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with federal and state laws and to enhance internal controls.

It is too bad there has been so little discussion about the problem with the backlog in making payments to crime victims. It seems of all the things the agency does, compensating crime victims is probably one of its most important functions. Clearly, Bolejack and her immediate predecessors let crime victims down.

Star's Priorities On Hotel Misplaced

The Star's editors devoted an editorial in today's newspaper to complaining that the city chose a "safe but dull" choice for the flagship convention hotel. The editorial reads:

Cities don't often get the opportunity to redefine their skylines. Indianapolis leaders had that chance this week but passed.

Instead of selecting a boldly designed InterContinental Hotel that would have become a focal centerpiece for the city, a seven-member committee chose a bland cluster of Marriott-brand hotels that could fit anywhere from suburban Chicago to downtown Boise.

The InterContinental would have been distinctive. The Marriott is merely safe.

The winning hotel's design may be polished a bit between now and groundbreaking. But developers will be working under a tight deadline because city leaders insist they want the new hotel operating before the 2010 NCAA Men's Final Four.

So the probability is high for construction of another functional but boring Downtown box.

The editorial speaks nothing about the possibility taxpayers may be asked to subsidize the project up to $55 million. While the InterContinental proposal was no doubt more flashier, it may have been just another pipe dream of the developer, just like the failed Market Square Tower project. The committee studying the proposals knew the Marriott project was a go immediately. The developer of the Marriott has also said it was willing to spruce up its building's design.

According to the Star, the Marriott's developer may be seeking up to $40 million in assistance from the city for the skywalk connecting it to the convention center and the big ballroom the city insisted the new hotel must have. Perhaps that's less than what the InterContinental may have sought, but it's still a lot of money. That public assistance for a hotel the developer told the city it was going to build whether the city chose its proposal is what the Star's editor's should be concerned about. I don't recall the Star's editors complaining about the $20-$25 million the city dumped into the Conrad Hilton and Simon headquarters buildings--two "boring Downtown box[es]" to use the Star's words.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More on Small Claims Court Judge's Suit Against Drummer

The Indiana Law Blog has posted a copy of the complaint attorney Norman Reed filed on behalf of Center Township Small Claims Court Judge Paula Lapossa (D) against Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer (D) for interfering in the court's hiring decisions and failing to provide adequate court space and supplies to operate the small claims court, which has more than 11,500 litigants who annually utilize the court.

According to the complaint, it has been the practice of the court to pay a pro tempore judge $100 per court session since 2002. Although the Trustee's office paid the pro tempore judge on numerous occasions until this year, he stopped making payments for the pro tempore judge's services in 2006. The newly-elected small claims court judge, Michelle Scott, is the pro tempore judge who Drummer has refused to pay. He has refused to pay her $2,200 according to the complaint, as well as a language interpretor the court pays $100 per session to help with non-English-speaking litigants. Lapossa is seeking an order against Drummer to pay the fees owed to the pro tem judge and the interpretor.

The complaint lays out grievances it has with Drummer's handling of court personnel. It notes that the small claims court judge is responsible for the court employees' conduct under the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Trustee, however, hires court clerks without consulting the judge on the person's qualifications, training, promotion or discipline.

Judge Lapossa complains that one of the court's clerks sought a seat on the city-county council after informing Drummer but without notifying her. The employee did not believe she had to advise Judge Lapossa of her activities because she believed her employer was the trustee and not the court. Judge Lapossa insisted Drummer transfer the employee out of her court because of the obvious violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct posed by the employee's campaign. Drummer refused to take Lapossa's word that the employee's conduct violated the Code. He refused to transfer the employee until Lapossa produced a written opinion on the issue from the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Lapossa is seeking an injunction to prevent Drummer from hiring, supervising and disciplining the court's clerks and a declaratory judgment holding that she as the small claims court judge has such power.

Lapossa also complained that Drummer made her draft a letter specifying a clerk's failure to perform her job before he would consider disciplinary action against her. "With a caseload of nearly 12,000 cases each year, the Court does not have the time to comply with such demands of the Trustee," the complaint reads. She complains that the trustee "failed to provide the court with proper equipment." As an example, she says the Trustee replaced a "malfunctioning printer" with a "used printer." The Trustee refused to provide the court with a check printer for payment of garnishment orders, a label printer for labeling files and office dividers to provide some privacy for court employees. The Trustee does not consult the court in preparing its budget, or allow it to present a budget to the township board.

The complaint raises the issue of inadequate court space for housing the court's six clerks, bailiff, supplies, files, court room, office space and judge's private office. The court is currently furnished 1,615 square feet in the basement of the City-County Building. The space is inadequate, according to Lapossa, to provide court personnel "with productive office space" or "conference space to engage in discovery or resolve disputes" like every other small claims court in Marion County. The complaint seeks an order allowing the court to order its own equipment and supplies for payment by the Trustee.

Lapossa's complaint relies on the separation of powers doctrine in support of her claim that the Trustee is interfering in the ability of the court "to operate independently, freely and with absolute integrity." The complaint cites a 1966 Supreme Court decision, Carlson v. State, for the proposition that the Trustee cannot withhold funds to hamper and interfere with the small claims court.

It's interesting that Drummer is being so tight with money when it comes to the small claims court, which is largely self-supporting because of the fees paid by litigants, but he has plenty of money for all his pet projects. An IBJ investigative story last month disclosed the fact that Drummer has amassed over $12 million in real estate, which is largely unused or used for purposes other than carrying out the township's statutory duties. The IBJ report also disclosed that Center Township is sitting on over $11 million in a bank account.

It makes no sense for the township to continue paying rent to the county to lease the inadequate space in the City-County Building when it could have easily accommodated the court by relocating it to the Julia Carson Government Center. Instead, Drummer illegally leased out space to political cronies, which could have been used by the court, so they could put a bar in the government center. When do people finally say enough with Drummer and call for his removal from office? And isn't it about time for Prosecutor Carl Brizzi to announce some findings of his own investigation into the Center Township Trustee's Office?

Miller's Constitutional Amendment On Coroner Qualifications Flawed

If SJR-2, as recently introduced in the General Assembly, is the Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Matters' answer to the problems with the Marion County Coroner's office, then it needs to study the issue a little more. SJR-2 does no more than allow the legislature to prescribe additional qualifications for the coroner. Article 6 of the Indiana Constitution currently provides for the election of a coroner in each county. The only requirement for holding the office is that the person be a registered voter of the county for at least one year prior to his election. SJR-2, as proposed by Senator Pat Miller (R-Indianapolis), would leave intact the political process of selecting coroners. Many qualified medical professionals will not go through an elective process to hold an office for a term of at least four years and no more than eight years because of term limits. You can't set the qualifications too high under the current system, or you will be unable to find anyone eligible to run in many counties, particularly the smaller counties.

The real answer is something similar to what former state health director Dr. Richard Feldman proposed. He suggested replacing the elected county coroner system with the appointment of a state medical examiner under the state Department of Health with several regional medical examiners. All would be licensed forensic pathologists, who would be full-time professionals free of political considerations. SJR-2 needs to be reworked in this fashion. There's no time to lose. It will take two consecutive sessions of the legislature before it can go to the voters for approval, which means 2010 is the soonest it could be adopted.

Feds Approve FSSA Privatization

The AP is reporting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services have approved the privatization plan for FSSA's welfare programs. Gov. Daniels' administration has already chosen a team of vendors led by IBM and FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob's former employer, ACS, to run the programs despite their checkered record in other states. Looks like this deal will be a go on January 1.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sen. Richard Young Running For Governor

Senate Democratic Leader Richard Young (D-Milltown) is throwing his hat into the ring for the 2008 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, becoming the first announced candidate. The news of his bid is broken by the Louisville Courier-Journal, a move questioned by WISH-TV's political reporter, Jim Shella. Shella hits Young's announcement on several fronts, including using an out-of state newspaper to announce his candidacy. Shella blogs today:

Here are things that you probably shouldn't do if you plan to run for governor of Indiana (by the way, they are all things state Senator Richard Young did):

1-reveal your plans prior to forming a committee (with no "I'm testing the water", no "I'm seriously considering" hedging of any kind)
2-do it in the week leading up to Christmas
3-do it without informing Senate staff, or Party leaders
4-reveal your plans in exclusive fashion to a reporter for an out-of-state newspaper
5-make sure you are out of Indianapolis and unavailable for TV interviews the next day
6-admit that there was "some spontaneity" to your announcement.

Well, nobody's ever accused the affable Young of being the sharpest tool in the shed. I suspect most Democrats have someone other than Young in mind for this race. Having failed to make any gains in the size of his Senate Democratic caucus in the past election, which most would agree was a watershed election for Democrats, many of his own caucus colleagues are skeptical of his leadership abilities. Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) fell one vote short of knocking him off in a leadership race. He returned the favor to her by stripping her of any role in the budget process where she has been a significant player for several years. Simpson is also mentioned as a potential candidate for governor. I suspect Gov. Daniels would be glad to have either as his opponent.

Civil Unions Or Marriage?

The New Jersey legislature wasted no time in choosing civil unions for the legal recognition of same-sex relationships in response to the state's high court ruling that New Jersey's equal protection clause requires a recognition of same-sex relationships on the same par as opposite-sex relationships. The court gave the legislature discretion to label the legal relationship as it pleased, as long as it achieved equality.

Many gay activists complained that the civil union statute is not equivalent because it does not label the relationship a "marriage." Nonetheless, the civil union statute does afford same-sex couples the same rights and privileges as married, straight couples, such as adoption rights, inheritance and hospital visitation rights. Vermont and Connecticut both recognize civil unions; only Massachusetts recognizes gay marriages. California law recognizes domestic partner agreements, which is similar to civil union laws.

The appropriate legal recognition of relationships between either same-sex or opposite-sex couples is a civil union because it does not carry with it the religious connotation associated with marriage. As Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley has argued, "It is the agreement itself, not its inherent religious meaning, that compels the registry of marriages by the government. "Once married, the legal rights and obligations of the couple change in areas ranging from taxes to inheritance to personal injury to testimonial privileges."

Turley has made the point that our current marriage laws are contradictory. State governments have criminalized same-sex marriages without official licenses as a matter of policy, while not policing religious practices governing divorces. The "moral validity of a marriage" should be left to each religious group to decide according to Turley. Government's role, he urges, should be limited to enforcing the civil contract.

A bill introduced by Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford) for the upcoming session points to government's absurd role in solemnizing marriages. SB 19 would give Indiana's Governor, Lt. Governor and members of the General Assembly power to solemnize marriages between opposite-sex couples. Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act limits marriage between one man and one woman. Indiana law currently delineates 10 classes of persons who may solemnize marriages, including the following civil servants: judges; mayors; city clerks; and circuit court clerks. It also specifically grants religious authorities the power to solemnize marriages, including: a clergy of a religious organization (i.e., minister of the gospel, priest, bishop, archbishop or rabbi); the Friends of the Church; German Baptists; Bahai faith; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and an imam.

Indiana, like most other states, statutorily limits marriage to opposite-sex couples based largely on religious tradition. Yet, Indiana law permits civil servants of no religious affiliation, to solemnize a marriage between a couple with the same force and effect of a religious wedding. All married couples are required to obtain a marriage license from the county clerk, which is a function of civil, not religious law. Indiana law also permits any married couple to dissolve their marriage, without proving fault, regardless of whether the marriage occured as part of a religious ceremony or whether the dissolution is officially recognized by the couple's religion.

It seems to me that Sen. Steele is actually bolstering Turley's argument to treat all marriages as civil unions and not religious institutions by adding to the list of civil servants who may solemnize the opposite-sex couple's union. Let's just admit what it really is--a civil contract between two consenting adults. If it's really a marriage in the religious tradition as proponents of gay marriage bans argue, then the marriage is incapable of division by anyone other than God. I suspect that's a choice with which few proponents of gay marriage bans would be willing to live. Even the Grand Dragon of Moral Righteousness, Eric Miller, has been divorced once.

Hotel Decision Shocker: It's The Marriott

A 25-story Marriott Hotel gets picked by the city as the flagship hotel for the expanded Indiana Convention Center, beating out the early favorite, the 44-story InterContinental Hotel proposed for the PanAm Plaza site by real estatea developer Michael Browning, a big political supporter of Mayor Peterson. The Star reports, "The seven-member hotel selection committee, appointed by Mayor Bart Peterson, said the 800-room Marriott is the best choice to serve the growing numbers of conventions headed to Indianapolis."

The Marriott proposal is backed by Republican developer Michael Wells, who had made it known that the Marriott planned to build a new hotel on the site regardless of which hotel proposal was chosen by the city. Because the city planned to dump as much as $55 million into public subsidies in the project, it seemed to make no sense to subsidize the construction of an InterContinental Hotel, although it was a much flashier proposal, if a new hotel was going to be brought on line next to the convention center. Hopefully, the city will substantially scale back those proposed subsidies. Certainly there will need to be a connector over West Street built and perhaps some infrastucture assistance, but there is no need to dump tens of millions of dollars into a hotel which would have been built anyway.

Small Claims Court Judge Sues Drummer

Center Township Small Claims Court Judge Paula Lapossa (D) has filed a lawsuit against Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer for meddling in the budget and hiring decisions of the small claims court. The Star's Jon Murray has the story:

A lawsuit filed against Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer by the township's small claims judge accuses him of meddling in the court's hiring and budgeting.

Judge Paula E. Lapossa filed the suit Monday in Marion Superior Court. It argues the Indiana Constitution allows the court to hire and supervise its employees, determine the court's expenses and provide adequate space.

But the lawsuit says Drummer, the longtime trustee, hasn't provided sufficient office space, equipment or supplies. He also has interfered in hiring court staff and won't pay fees owed this year to a pro-tem judge and an interpreter, the lawsuit says; the pro-tem judge, whose name is not provided, sits in for Lapossa during some sessions and is owed $2,200.

The Center Township Board approves the court's budget, but the lawsuit says Drummer has not consulted the court before presenting its budget.

Drummer called the lawsuit frivolous, but declined to comment on the specific claims. "It’s my belief that the trustee controls the staff," Drummer said, adding the arrangement was similar in other Marion County townships. The situation has not changed in the 10 years both he and Lapossa have been in office, he said.

Lapossa's suit requests a court order barring Drummer from interfering in those areas and an order to pay the fees. The state of Indiana also is listed as a plaintiff, and the township board is listed as a defendant.

The case has been assigned to Judge Gary L. Miller, but not hearing date is set.
Judge Lapossa's decision to sue Drummer is notable for two reasons. She is retiring as the small claims court judge at the end of the year; therefore, the outcome of the case will not personally benefit her. Any favorable decision in the case will, however, benefit her successor. Lapossa must feel very strongly about these matters to bring the suit so close to the end of her term.

Lapossa, like Drummer, is a Democrat with close ties to Rep. Julia Carson (D). Lapossa could not have become the small claims court judge for Center Township without Carson's backing, just as Drummer could not have become township trustee without Carson's backing. You may recall from an earlier post on this blog that Lapossa, as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the late 1970s, prosecuted Carson's ex-husband on federal income tax evasion charges. He was ultimately acquitted of those charges, although his wife was found guilty on one of the charges. The rift between Lapossa and Drummer is a sign of Carson's waning influence.

Under Carson's original plan for the 300 East building now known as the Julia Carson Government Center, then-Trustee Carson said the purchase of the building would allow the township to consolidate all township offices, including the small claims court, into the building. After sinking about $5 million into renovating the building (more than double what Carson had projected), the township instead continued to lease cramped space from the county in the basement of the City-County building for the small claims court. Drummer has sought to lease the building to private businesses instead of using it for township purposes. His most controversial decision in that regard being the leasing of the space for the 300 East bar to a group of political insiders--albeit done illegally because he failed to execute a lease in accordance with Indiana law.

Lapossa's lawsuit should serve as another wake-up call to Marion County Democrats that they had better get a handle on what's happening in Center Townshp. Circumstances already warrant a criminal investigation, which may very well be under way already. In my opinion, the trustee has no business telling the small claims court judge who she can hire to work for the court. Litigants pay fees to fund the court's operations, and the judge should have discretion to spend those funds. The small claims court judge should present her own budget to the township board, not the trustee. Drummer's job is to take care of serving the needy--something he's proven himself completely uninterested and/or incapable of performing.

UPDATE: Jon Murray's story in today's Star indicates that the unpaid pro tem judge is Michelle Smith Scott, who was elected in November to take Lapossa's case.

Coroner Now Blames Contract Costs For Termination

Six months after he terminated Forensic Pathology Associates of Indiana's contract with the Marion Co. Coroner's office, Coroner Kenneth Ackles is now speaking publicly for the first time because of "unforeseen costs" under the 5-year contract his office negotiated only last year through his chief deputy, Alfie Ballew. The Star's Murray writes:

Marion County's coroner fired the team he had hired to perform autopsies after less than nine months in part because of unforeseen costs in the contract, according to the coroner's chief deputy.

A provision of the quickly negotiated contract made his office responsible for autopsy supplies and services that cost far more than Coroner Kenneth Ackles had expected -- as much as $30,000 a month, his office estimated.

The fired pathologists will leave the office today, six months after Ackles terminated the contract without ever publicly explaining why. But correspondence and other documents obtained through a public records request shed light on mounting costs Ackles had not anticipated

The terminated contract stated clearly that the county would pay for all supplies the pathologists, Forensic Pathology Associates of Indiana, needed to perform unlimited autopsies for Marion County. The agreement signed by Ackles in September 2005 also allowed the firm to use the facility to perform autopsies for other counties.

By February, Ackles and his new chief deputy, Alfarena Ballew, began questioning the unexpected costs and the use of county-purchased supplies to profit off more than a dozen out-of-county autopsies each month. Monthly costs far outpaced what Ballew said she and Ackles had expected.

The fired pathology firm and its predecessor handled about 200 autopsies a year for about 25 Central Indiana counties, charging a base rate of $800.

Ackles said Friday he has more faith in the contract with a new chief pathologist, Dr. Joye Carter, who will take over autopsy duties today at the coroner's office, 521 W. McCarty St., alongside up to four doctors yet to be hired.

Ackles plans to hire doctors and autopsy staff directly to help control costs and to let his office benefit from outside autopsy fees.

To really get a perspective on this story you have to look at the circumstances surrounding IU's termination of it's long-standing contract with the county last year. In comparing the two contracts, Murray writes:

The payment promised to Radentz's firm in 2006, $858,000, was more than what the IU doctors would have received under the old contract, $741,600. But otherwise, the new contract copied the previous agreement nearly word for word.

Ackles and Radentz said that was intentional -- a similar agreement could more quickly win the endorsement of city lawyers and the city controller.

But the new pact had one key difference. It shifted responsibility for buying supplies and other services from IU and the doctors -- who often used the autopsy room as a teaching tool -- to the coroner.

Radentz said those costs shouldn't have been a surprise. IU's contribution outside the contract had approached $400,000 a year to pay for those supplies and services, he estimated.

The story doesn't discuss, however, IU's reason for terminating the contract. AI sources claim IU was fed up with carrying the county's cost for conducting autopsies. It hadn't received an increase in its $741,600 contract in many years, and it was eating all the counties' costs. IU was subsidizing the salaries of its staff forensic pathologists who were delivering the services under the contract, including Dr. Steven Radentz. Also, after Ackles took over as coroner, IU went months without being paid because Ackles' office failed to process their invoices for payment.

Once the coroner negotiated a contract with Radentz firm in place of IU, everything changed. Radentz' firm had to operate at a profit in order to stay in business; IU, a public university did not. What the Star story doesn't tell you, is that the $117,000 increase in the contract for Radentz' firm, plus the out-of-pocket expenses, was negotiated on the basis of the number of autopsies the firm would typically be expected to perform in a year. The county is getting a discounted rate for autopsies based on the fact that Radentz firm is allowed to supplement the county's work with autopsies from other counties.

As Murray's story notes, the coroner refused to negotiate a transition agreement between Radentz' firm and his new forensic pathologist, the controversial Dr. Joye Carter. Although Radentz and his staff were supposed to work through the end of the day today, an AI source says Ackles' office actually began locking Radentz and his staff out of the office yesterday afternoon, meaning that Radentz' staff will leave behind a number of unfinished autopsies it would have otherwise been able to complete before its departure.

Monday, December 18, 2006

CCC Pay Raise Outrage: 75%!

Drunk with power in their first term of controlling the City-County Council in the history of Uni-Gov, council Democrats are proposing a whopping 75% increase in the pay of the part-time city-county councilors, boosting their base pay from $11,400 to $19,950 under Proposal 644, which is being sponsored by Rozelle Boyd (D). That isn't the full amount of their pay, however. They are also paid $112 per council meeting and $62 per committee meeting, allowing a council member to pick up close to another $5,000 for attending meetings they are supposed to attend anyway as a council member.

We need to elect some new councilor in next year's election folks. What really bothers me about the make-up of our current city-county council is how many of them are already on a public payroll--close to a quarter of them, including several law enforcement officers and firefighters. Frankly, I believe we need a law which bars public employees from holding elective office. Our City-County Council President, Monroe Gray, is a full-time firefighter. The wife of the Majority Leader, Lonnell Conley, is a hearing officer for the Department of Metropolitan Development. Mary Moriarty Adams, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, is a state employee. Boyd, the sponsor of the pay raise, was a full-time public educator before he recently retired and is no doubt drawing a publicly-paid pension. The inherent conflict of interest in having people on the public payroll deciding how much to tax and spend us screams for change. This latest pay raise proposal is a product of having too many people on the council who've spent their entire careers living off the public.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

NY Times: Lilly Downplayed Harmful Side Effects of Zyprexa

Zyprexa, a drug used to treat mental illnesses, has been Eli Lilly's best-selling drug for several years now. The drug also has serious side effects the company deliberately downplayed according to the NY Times. The Times reports:

The drug maker Eli Lilly has engaged in a decade-long effort to play down the health risks of Zyprexa, its best-selling medication for schizophrenia, according to hundreds of internal Lilly documents and e-mail messages among top company managers.

The documents, given to The Times by a lawyer representing mentally ill patients, show that Lilly executives kept important information from doctors about Zyprexa’s links to obesity and its tendency to raise blood sugar — both known risk factors for diabetes.

Lilly’s own published data, which it told its sales representatives to play down in conversations with doctors, has shown that 30 percent of patients taking Zyprexa gain 22 pounds or more after a year on the drug, and some patients have reported gaining 100 pounds or more. But Lilly was concerned that Zyprexa’s sales would be hurt if the company was more forthright about the fact that the drug might cause unmanageable weight gain or diabetes, according to the documents, which cover the period 1995 to 2004.

Zyprexa has become by far Lilly’s best-selling product, with sales of $4.2 billion last year, when about two million people worldwide took the drug.

Critics, including the American Diabetes Association, have argued that Zyprexa, introduced in 1996, is more likely to cause diabetes than other widely used schizophrenia drugs. Lilly has consistently denied such a link, and did so again on Friday in a written response to questions about the documents. The company defended Zyprexa’s safety, and said the documents had been taken out of context.

But as early as 1999, the documents show that Lilly worried that side effects from Zyprexa, whose chemical name is olanzapine, would hurt sales.

“Olanzapine-associated weight gain and possible hyperglycemia is a major threat to the long-term success of this critically important molecule,” Dr. Alan Breier wrote in a November 1999 e-mail message to two dozen Lilly employees that announced the formation of an “executive steering committee for olanzapine-associated weight changes and hyperglycemia.” Hyperglycemia is high blood sugar.

At the time Dr. Breier, who is now Lilly’s chief medical officer, was the chief scientist on the Zyprexa program.

Laying aside what one might think of Lilly's conduct in marketing its drug, the federal watchdog agency, the FDA, hasn't exactly been looking out for consumer interests. The Times writes, "In 2003, after reviewing data provided by Lilly and other drug makers, the FDA said that the current class of antipsychotic drugs may cause high blood sugar." "It did not specifically single out Zyprexa, nor did it say that the drugs had been proven to cause diabetes."

Personally, I think we would be better off without the FDA regulating drugs. The FDA is in the pockets of the industry, and drug companies often hide behind an FDA stamp of approval to avoid liability. If the drug companies had to stand behind their own products without clinging to the FDA's skirt, they might be more forthcoming about their drugs' risks, and some drugs might not ever be put on the market.

Lilly claims the documents provided to the Times for this story were illegally disclosed. According to the story, Lilly has paid out substantial settlements to plaintiffs already--about $750 million involving 8,000 patients--and has potentially more product liability exposure.

It is also worth noting that Lilly has been a pioneer in the industry when it comes to treating diabetes. Bipolar disorder is one of the conditions Zyprexa is used to treat. Is it just me, or are there a lot of people being diagnosed as bipolar--what used to be considered a rare condition?

Trouble In Paradise

Looking north, south and west from my hotel in South Beach you can see tower cranes at work erecting more high rise condominiums, giving no hint the great real estate boom in Florida is letting up. But things aren't always as they appear. As recently as a year ago, you could put a downpayment on one of these condos while it was still under construction and flip it without ever occupying it for a quick 25% profit. Those days are over for now.

As it rained outside this morning for the third straight day, I caught a political roundtable discussion similar to our own Indiana Week In Review on the public channel. The talk all centered on what the panel was calling "Trouble In Paradise." That real estate boom has officially busted. One of the panelists speculated that some of those new buildings under construction are going to be sitting empty when construction is completed. But the real estate bust is Florida's least concern. People and businesses are being hit hard by rising property insurance as a result of recent hurricanes and the near-doubling of utility bills. Some businesses are being forced out of business altogether while others are looking to move out of state.

The middle class is taking a beating according to this panel. Schools are having trouble recruiting teachers because the pay isn't enough to cover the cost of living. Prosecutors are also struggling to find attorneys to work in their offices because the pay isn't enough. Florida's middle class is being replaced by super rich out-of-staters who spend no more than two months a year in the Sunshine State the panel complained. It seems Florida is having a lot of the same problems as California, which has also experienced an outflow of people and businesses because of rising costs. Maybe things aren't as bad in Indiana after all.

Recount Commission Makes It Official--Elrod Wins

Just as AI predicted from the outset of the process, Republican Jon Elrod has been certified by the Indiana Recount Commission as the winner of the 97th House district race over former Rep. Ed Mahern (D). Belated congratulations to Jon! The Star story also has more on Ed Treacy's latest rantings.

Carter Gets A Contract With Coroner

Marion Co. Coroner Kenneth Ackles (D) has made it official. He signed a 5-year contract with controversial forensic pathologist Dr. Joye Carter worth $175,000 a year, with 3% annual increases scheduled. The office is looking to hire more staff directly according to Chief Deputy Coroner Alfie Ballew. She tells the Star:

Officials said they are in discussions with four additional pathologists, including three from Indiana . . .

Ballew said two of the four remaining candidates are forensic pathologists, which means they are trained to perform autopsies in homicide cases and others when the cause of death is unknown.

The other two are anatomic pathologists, she said. Such doctors are allowed to perform autopsies under Indiana law, but Ballew said they wouldn't handle criminal cases, and forensic pathologists would supervise them.

Carter and Ballew said they hoped the new arrangement would allow for better communication, accountability and quicker turnaround in autopsy reports.

The office also will receive large fees paid by more than 20 Central Indiana counties to have Marion County pathologists perform their autopsies. That will pay for supplies and new equipment.

As the story notes, Forensic Pathology Associates of Indiana's contract cost the county about $858,000 annually. The county will soon figure out that it realized no savings from the termination of that contract. As for the fees Ackles thinks he's going to get from performing autopsies for other counties, I would ask why any of those counties would take on Marion Co.'s problems by allowing Carter to perform autopsies for them? Carter is also going to find herself very short-handed, unless new hires are brought on pretty quickly, so she isn't going to be in a position to accept autopsies from other counties.

Note also that the new professionals will be contract employees and not regular employees of the office. Because each will be contracted separately, none of the professionals will be employed by the other as is currently the case. That could pose some serious management issues, particularly since none of the regular employees of the coroner's office is qualified to direct these professionals medically-related activities.

Bayh Out, Already

File this under "It Makes No Sense" category. Sen. Evan Bayh announces he is dropping his bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination less than two weeks after announcing he was forming an exploratory committee and after raising more than $10 million. According to the Hotline blog, CBS was the first to break the news. Here's Bayh's official statement explaining his withdrawal:

During my two terms as Governor and now in the United States Senate, it has always been more about the people I was able to help than the job I held. As you know I have been exploring helping the people of my state and our country in a different capacity. After talking with family and friends over the past several days, I have decided that this is not the year for me to run for President and I will not be a candidate for the presidency in 2008. It wasn't an easy decision but it was the right one for my family, my friends and my state. I have always prided myself on putting my public responsibilities ahead of my own ambitions.

The odds were always going to be very long for a relatively unknown candidate like myself, a little bit like David and Goliath. And whether there were too many Goliaths or whether I'm just not the right David, the fact remains that at the end of the day, I concluded that due to circumstances beyond our control the odds were longer than I felt I could responsibly pursue. This path - and these long odds - would have required me to be essentially absent from the Senate for the next year instead of working to help the people of my state and the nation.

I am immensely grateful for the support of my family and friends and the thousands of people around the country who helped me with their time and their resources. There may be no campaign in the near future, but there is much work to be done. When the Senate returns, I will focus on the issues that matter to the people of my state and are critical to the future of the nation including reducing our dependence on foreign oil, creating opportunity for middle class families, and implementing a national security strategy that is both tough and smart.

So essentially he is saying that the odds against winning pitted against the necessity of being absent from his Senate duties over the next year led him to his decision to drop out. Maybe. I think there's a lot more to this story than what is contained in that statement. I've heard folks say that Bayh is bored with being in the Senate and may not even seek re-election to another term. A presidential bid allowed him a potential jumping off point. Unlike some of his other potential opponents, he hasn't been the subject of any negative stories about his past. I expect we'll here more about this in coming days.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Treacy Alleging GOP Voter Fraud

Taking a break from the rain down here in South Beach, I picked up this e-mail alert from the Marion Co. Democrats. In one last parting shot before he gives up the chairmanship of the Marion Co. Democratic Party, Ed Treacy has called a press conference this afternoon to demand the appointment of a special prosecutor "to investigate at least 61 alleged felony violations involving Republican-appointed Election Day inspectors." The release says, "It appears that five of those violations occurred in House District 97 and another five in Warren Township." The press release notes both the House District 97 race and Warren Township trustee’s race are currently the focus of recounts. Speaking of election violations, whatever became of those Democratic election workers who were caught red-handed on videotape rewarding voters with sack lunches after they voted?

Sunshine Is All I Want

I'm trying to enjoy a few days of vacation in South Beach. I arrived to rain yesterday afternoon, which continued through most of the night. It looks like the rain is going to give way to some sunshine today before it returns later today. It could be worse. Palm Beach recorded over 9" of rain yesterday. This is my view from the balcony of my room at the Marriott.

A quick glance of the online Star indicates there's growing skepticism towards Gov. Daniels' plan to privatize the Hoosier Lottery. Matt Tully wonders whether Daniels has all his "T's" crossed. The Star's editors have doubts about the idea, but they wonder whether the Lottery's balloon release fiasco earlier this week isn't an argument for privatizing the Lottery. They compare the foul-up to the episode of 70s sitcom "WKRP In Cincinnati"--one of my personal favorites--involving the famous turkey drop promotion from a helicopter which went badly awry as the fictional ag reporter Les Nessman reported the fate of the flightless birds from a shopping mall parking lot.

I also see that Jean Burkert, the deputy who accused City-County Councilor Ron Gibson (D) of shoving her while she was trying to control an unruly crowd during Black Expo this past summer, gets her punishment. She is suspended for a day for failing to get prior approval to work the part-time position. Gibson stands accused of battery on a law enforcement officer, public intoxication and disorderly conduct. I also see where Cherrish Pryor, a City-County Council employee, is named by Democratic committeepersons to take the place of Greg Bowes, who resigns to become Marion County Assessor. There's nothing like keeping it all in the family.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Senate Control Hangs In The Balance As Johnson Clings To Life

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) is listed in critical condition this morning after undergoing surgery overnight at George Washington University Hospital. He was admitted yesterday afternoon after having stroke-like symptoms during a press briefing before he later collapsed in his office. The Democrats have a slim 51-49 majority. If Johnson is forced to give up the seat because of health or otherwise, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, would appoint his replacement. A 50-50 tie would allow Vice President Cheney to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Republicans favor.

It is worth noting that another former South Dakota senator, Karl Mundt, suffered a severe stroke in 1969. He remained in office until the end of his term in 1972, even though he was unable to attend sessions of Congress. Republicans, then in the minority, stripped him of his committee assignments. Because Johnson's vote is needed to give Democrats a one-seat majority, any absence from the Senate's work by him or any other Democratic senator for that matter, will make conducting business extremely difficult for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) was recently diagnosed with leukemia after he was hospitalized for pneumonia. Wyoming's governor, David Freudenthal, is a Democrat.

Anti-Immigrant Position Costs GOP Another Seat

A runoff race in Texas' 23rd District has resulted in the ousting of Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) by former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D). The Hotline blog suggests Rodriguez' easy 55-45% victory over Bonilla had a lot to do with Bonilla's anti-immigrant stance. It writes:

Rep. Henry Bonilla’s (R-TX 23) loss last night confirms one of the Bush administration’s greatest fears: that a hard-line position on illegal immigration could cause Republicans long-term damage among the growing Latino vote.

Bonilla was a strong supporter of the tough-on-immigration measures sponsored by the Republicans. He voted for the construction of the 700-mile border fence, and supported Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s bill penalizing workers who hire illegal immigrants.

Based on the election results, it appears Latino voters – even among his previous supporters – turned on him and supported ex-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D). In Maverick County (95% Hispanic), Bonilla won a miniscule 14% of the vote. By contrast, Bonilla carried the county in his comfortable 2004 win, and President Bush even performed respectably here in 2004 when he won 40%.

Val Verde County (76% Hispanic) has traditionally been a solidly pro-Bush, pro-Bonilla county. Bush carried it with 59% of the vote in 2004. But Bonilla barely carried it, only winning 51% there against Rodriguez.

By contrast, the majority-white counties in the district remained strongly pro-Bonilla. Medina County (45% Hispanic) overwhelmingly voted for Bonilla, giving him 68% of the vote. That’s not much of a dropoff from Bush’s 70% performance there in 2004.

On the day of the election Bonilla’s spokesman Phil Ricks expressed confidence that Hispanics were supportive of Bonilla’s stance on border security. “If you’re a legal citizen, you’re not in favor of illegal immigration. If you go through the process legally, illegal immigration insults you,” he said.

Hispanic voters didn’t see things the same way. And if Bonilla – the only Mexican-American Republican in Congress – takes this much of a hit among Latinos, Republicans have much to be concerned about looking ahead to 2008.
Republicans had better wise up to the political realities of how this issue is playing among Hispanic voters. A 2008 GOP presidential candidate cannot win without significant support from Hispanics. This bloc of voters saved Bush in his close races in 2000 and 2004.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bradford Claims "Fix Is In" For His Replacement

City-County Councilor Jim Bradford tells Matt Tully he is "seriously considering" rescinding his resignation from the council because of the way Marion Co. Republicans are choosing his replacement. Tully blogs today:

City-County Councilman Jim Bradford called today to complain about the Marion County Republican Party. Bradford said he is mad that the GOP -- by replacing certain precinct officials -- is trying to manage the upcoming caucus to replace him.

Bradford turned in a letter of resignation this week, saying he is ready to end his time on the council. Now, though, he said he is "seriously considering" rescinding that letter.

"The fix is in," Bradford said, in very Bradfordian style, of party efforts to make sure he is replaced by Indianapolis attorney Ryan Vaughn.

I don't typically agree with Bradford, but I too share his concerns about Ryan Vaughn being appointed to his seat. Vaughn is employed by the law firm of Tabbert Hahn. One of the firm's biggest clients is the Marion County Public Library Board, which Greg Hahn nabbed for the firm after Mayor Bart Peterson (D) took office. Hahn, a big Democratic lobbyist, is Vaughn's boss. It isn't hard to speculate whose interests will come first when it comes to making decisions on how to vote as a member of the council. The Republicans may as well name a Democrat to the council in place of Bradford. The result will be the same.

UPDATE: Taking Down Words is reporting that Vaughn's voting registration address shows him living in Ginny Cain's district and not Bradford's. There's a 2-year residency requirement. Whoops! Or a case of mistaken identity as it now appears--two Ryan Vaughns.

Is Daniels Pushing Privatization Too Far?

The lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a private company made a lot of sense. Turning over the state's welfare programs to a private company with a checkered past, as is currently contemplated, is playing with fire. And handing over a state-run lottery to a private gaming company? Well, that's just damn stupid. Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) captures my sentiments in Mary Beth Schneider's Star story today:

Sen. Luke Kenley, the Noblesville Republican who is chairman of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, said Daniels' budget director, Charles E. Schalliol, briefed key fiscal leaders several weeks ago on the plan to lease out the state lottery to a private firm in exchange for cash.

That money, Kenley said, would go toward scholarships, as well as courting high-caliber professors for the state's universities.

Kenley said the idea drew disapproval from lawmakers, including Republicans. He said he and other lawmakers tried to persuade Schalliol away from the idea because the lottery pays for a number of programs, including teacher pensions.

"I'm a Republican, and I do everything to support the governor, and I'm not very enthused about this," Kenley said. "I can't even imagine what the Democrats are going to say. I doubt that he could get legislative approval for this."

"The governor already has a big agenda," he added. "This isn't the time to be playing high-stakes poker with the legislature to see if they're going to agree with you, especially with a (bipartisan General Assembly) coming in here."

Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale), who is the ranking Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee is boasting that such a deal could net the state a one-time gain of $1 billion. He bases this on a claim by Illinois Governor Rod Blagoyevich (D) that he could fetch $10 billion for the Illinois Lottery. Let's forget for the moment that Blagoyevich's administration is already under federal investigation for a variety of crimes centered around "pay for play" for the right to invest the state's pension funds. It just might not be the best idea to gamble with our primary source of revenue for funding our own public pension systems.

One company which does seem quite anxious about the proposal is Scientific Games International, a company which outgoing Hoosier Lottery Executive Director awarded a 2-year, $13.86 million contract last year. Someone from the company has been burning up the Internet today checking out the reaction on area blogs to today's news reports about a possible privatization deal (as evidenced by incoming and outgoing hits to this site). A company newsletter, commenting on the Hoosier Lottery contract, quoted Schneider as saying, “Thanks to a fantastic partnership with Scientific Games, the Hoosier Lottery has increased scratch-off sales by $47.7 million last year and we’re looking forward to even greateri ncreases over the next two years.” She added, “Not only are we excited about continuing innovative ways to increase scratch sales, but we’re working very closely with Scientific Games to develop new approaches to increase online games.”

Schneider, incidentally, suffered a scratch to her face today when a melee broke out as she released balloons containing free lottery tickets. Someone didn't think this one out too well in advance.

Lawrence Water Deal: Crime Pays

If you didn't think crime pays, you haven't taken a look at the proposed sale of Lawrence's water utility to Citizen's Coke & Gas. For those of you who need a little refresher course, former Lawrence Mayor Tom Schneider (R) decided it was in the best interest of Lawrence water users to privatize the water utility. He illegally awarded a privatization deal to a company founded by two of his former city employees and close political allies for a $1,000 investment. The deal required the city to funnel more than $4 million in cash and city-owned assets to the private company, which promised all kinds of savings to the taxpayers. Instead, their water bills skyrocketed.

When Deborah Cantwell took over as mayor after Schneider, she challenged the legality of the privatization contract. She was particularly upset that the city's long-time legal counsel, Ice Miller, had written the contract while representing Lawrence Utilities, LLC, the private entity which took over the water utility. State law requires privatization deals to be undertaken through a public, RFP process, which gives prospective bidders notice and an opportunity to bid on any proposed privatization deal. Lawrence, upon the advice of counsel, ignored that law and struck the deal with Schneider's buddies behind closed doors.

A Marion Superior Court struck down the privatization agreement because it had been entered into in violation of Indiana law, a case which is currently pending on appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals (See Indiana Law Blog for more). During the litigation, Lawrence attorneys sought to remove Ice Miller from representing Lawrence Utilities because of their obvious conflict of interest. To the amazement of Indiana's legal community, Ice Miller attorneys defended their dual representation on the grounds that it had served as a mere scrivener in its role drafting the contract on behalf of the city. If something has a familiar ring here, there is a reason. Ice Miller has performed legal work for Center Township for many years. It also represents the investors of 300 East to whom Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer leased space in the Julia Carson Government Center without entering into a formal lease as required under Indiana law. Ice Miller partner, Lacy Johnson, is also an investor in 300 East.

Despite an Indianapolis Star expose' on the deal and a lengthy federal investigation, the Star reports today that the criminal investigation has concluded, paving the way for the proposed sale of the utility to Citizens Coke & Gas. For those of you connecting all the dots, our U.S. Attorney in Indianapolis is a former attorney for Ice Milller. The sale would net the City $51.3 million for the assets. Unbelievably, it would pay Lawrence Utilities, LLC $7.6 million. As the Star' Kevin Corcoran reports today:

A controversial water company deal that prompted a federal investigation and left Lawrence residents paying some of the highest rates in the metro area appeared to be nearing an end Tuesday.

As the FBI closed its investigation without charges, Lawrence and Citizens Gas & Coke Utility officials announced they want to form a public charitable trust that would own and operate Lawrence's water and sewer utilities.

The proposed agreement with Citizens Gas would lead to a reduction in the combined water and sewer rates that nearly 15,000 residential and commercial customers pay by an average of 20 percent, saving ratepayers $3 million a year.

The plan emerged from months of court-ordered mediation and would end a
lawsuit brought by Lawrence officials and ratepayers to regain control over the waterworks from a private company, Lawrence Utilities LLC.

City officials approached Citizens Gas officials this summer about buying the utilities should the city regain control of them. Under the agreement, Citizens Gas would form a nonprofit trust called Citizens Water of Lawrence to assume ownership of the utilities.

The nonprofit trust would restore Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission control over water rates, which would be set on a break-even basis.

Lawrence would get about $40 million in cash for the utilities' land, buildings and equipment. By placing the assets in an irrevocable trust, the waterworks would be removed from political control or the possibility of a private sale.

Then-Mayor Thomas D. Schneider, a Republican, handed control of the utilities to three of his political supporters in mid-2001 without taking bids. Company records show the men invested $1,000, and Schneider provided a $4.84 million infusion of cash, vehicles and assets to help launch their startup company.

Customers have criticized Schneider's pact, which could extend for 50 years, because it included three hefty water rate increases in less than two years, doubling Lawrence's rates.

And you thought crime didn't pay. Let the word go out, if you want to engage in public corruption, move to Indianapolis. We are officially worse than Arkansas now. And Tom Schneider and his buddies did get the last laugh.

CORRECTION: Okay, Mayor Cantwell and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) are not sisters as reported earlier--stupid mistake on my part. Maria is, however, a native of Indianapolis and the daughter of the late Rep. Paul Cantwell (D-Indianapolis), who was an uncle of the Mahern brothers, Ed and Louis.

Also, here's an archived Star story and lots of other information on the original privatization deal.

Monday, December 11, 2006

300 East In Review

I had the first opportunity to watch the December 6 MDC hearing on the 300 East zoning variance to allow a restaurant/bar in the Julia Carson Government Center. Let me say that the Commission members questions of the petitioner were generally irrelevant and left me wondering whether any of them had bothered to read all the history behind this controversial project. I think any readers of this blog would have been better informed of the issues than the Commission members were.

Tim Ochs' presentation on behalf of the petitioner was misleading to say the least. He led off his discussion by attacking opponents of the proposal for saying things that were "not accurate." He didn't identify what those inaccuracies were. He couldn't answer why the bar's investors had gone ahead and built out the space before it had bothered with obtaining a zoning variance, other than to say they had obtained an early permit with the understanding they would remove the improvements if the zoning variance were denied.

When Clark Kahlo, who remonstrated against the proposal, observed that construction had taken place before the permit was acquired, Commissioner Bob Kennedy challenged him on this point, saying that what happened in this case happens all the time with developers. But Kahlo countered Kennedy with a letter from Ice Miller requesting the early permit, which was dated June 9, 2006, at which point the construction had pretty much been completed. A stop work order was soon issued later that same month by the DMD based upon an anonymous tip. Bob Kennedy's understanding of the facts were absolutely wrong. Kahlo also noted the City has no formal rules for the so-called "early permit." I would note Ochs never attempted to rebut the assertion that the construction had already been completed by the time the "early permit" was requested. I was also disappointed to see the DMD staffer mislead the Commission on this point as well. She knew damn good and well the early permit was not requested until after the construction had already commenced, but she led the Commission to believe otherwise.

On the issue of the former Polin Park, which was initially demolished to make way for a parking lot for the bar, Ochs said their was a misconception it was a park because it was on land designated for park use. He said playground equipment was installed there to serve the former daycare center in the Carson Center, and it was never a park. He also claimed the playground equipment was removed because the daycare center had closed. The fact is that the playground equipment remained there long after the park closed. And it is a fact that the land was zoned and named by the city parks department as the "Al Polin Park." That's a park by any other name in my mind. He knew of no plans to restore the playground equipment now that the parking lot was no longer planned.

Ochs, relying on the testimony of Claire Warner and Al Polin, insisted the neighborhood supported the proposal, although both of those individuals refused to allow the neighbors to vote on the proposal at two separate meetings prior to the December 6 hearing. Warner represented that "everybody is excited about having a new restaurant in the neighborhood." Anyone who watched the television coverage of the October Mapleton-Fall Creek meeting knows that she patently misrepresented neighborhood support to the Commission--a point made by Kahlo. Ochs attacked MCANA for remonstrating against the proposal because he claimed the organization had never spoken to him about their concerns.

The remonstrators insisted the Commission look at what had happened with the Savoy nightclub in evaluating the 300 East petition because of the overlapping common ownership of the two bars. The remonstrators reminded the Commission that the Savoy's owners had forged signatures of neighbors in order to misrepresent neighborhood support for the club. Ochs said, "I could care less about the Savoy." Unfortunately, the Commission members didn't see the obvious connection, and the public is the big loser there.

Ochs went to great lengths to assure the Commission that it would be primarily operated as a "family restaurant" not unlike an Appleby's and only secondarily as a bar. Under the approval sought, the bar will have to derive 60% of its gross sales from food sales, or have sales of food worth $200,000 annually. I'll be surprised if 300 East becomes primarily a restaurant as the petitioners claim. Time will tell.

I would observe that City-County Councilor Jackie Nytes submitted a letter in support of the variance. This is the second occasion where Nytes has ignored the concerns of her constituents to back the good ole boys. I've been told by several members of the gay community who have had it with her because she won't offer any assistance in getting the illegal peashake house operating in their neighborhood near 34th & Central Avenue closed down. The illegal gambling house is drawing drug dealers and prostitutes, not to mention all the cars parking up and down the streets in the neighborhood. Several have told me they will never support her for public office again because she has ignored their concerns, notwithstanding her sponsorship and support of the HRO. It's something she might want to think about.

Breaux Handily Defeats Gibson For Senate Seat

Democratic precinct committeepersons in Senate District 34 chose Jean Breaux by more than a two-to-one margin over City-County Councilor Ron Gibson to replace her mother, Billie Breaux, who was elected Marion County Auditor last month. According to the Star's Jason Thomas, 80 of the 101 committeepersons showed up at 300 East tonight to choose Breaux's replacement. The vote for Breaux over Gibson was 55-25.

Gibson speculated his arrest for battery against a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct and public intoxication may have hurt his chances. He also suggested she had more time to campaign for the post. Gibson told the Star, "She had a whole year to campaign. I only had 10 days." Excuse me, Ron, but you've known for the past year that her mother was running for county auditor and if she won, someone would have to be appointed to take her place. If you chose not to campaign until the last 10 days, then that was your choice.

Jean wasn't making excuses tonight. "I'm just very happy and relieved that it's all over," said Breaux, who was swarmed by well-wishers after the caucus at the Julia M. Carson Government Center on Fall Creek Parkway. "I think I'm the best candidate and the best selection for this position." It's interesting that Rep. Mae Dickinson had put out the word she could carry the vote for Gibson because she had chosen many of the committeepersons. Her influence didn't translate into many votes tonight for Gibson.