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Thursday, November 30, 2006
Ethical Cloud Hangs Over New Ways & Means Committee Chairman
Speaker Bauer has appointed Rep. William Crawford (D-Indianapolis) as chairman of Ways & Means, the same person he appointed when Democrats were last in control. If Bauer cares anything about ethics, he needs to clear the air immediately concerning Crawford's ties to Shrewsberry & Associates, a local MBE/DBE consulting firm founded by William Shrewsberry, a former deputy mayor under Mayor Bart Peterson (D). The company's website lists Crawford and local businessman, Al Oak, as being on the company's "Board of Advisors", along with its founder, Shrewsberry. Crawford is also employed as Manager of Community Relations for Ivy Tech State College, whose budget must be approved by Crawford's committee.
All Indiana legislators are required to file a Statement of Economic Interest with the Clerk of the House annually. Crawford's disclosures make no mention of his role as a member of Shrewsberry's Board of Advisors. This is extremely troubling because many of the clients the company lists on its website have business before the House Ways & Means Committee, including Crawford's own employer, Ivy Tech. Its government clients include the Indiana State Police, Indiana Department of Administration, White River State Park Commission, Indianapolis Airport Authority, Indianapolis Housing Agency and the Indianapolis Water Company, among several others. Business clients include major hospitals, such as Clarian Health Group and St. Vincent Hospital. Major commercial clients include Browning Investments, Eli Lilly, and Horseshoe Gaming. In addition to Ivy Tech, the firm represents several major public school systems, including Indianapolis Public Schools and Carmel Clay Schools.
The purpose of the Statement of Economic Interest is to provide public disclosure of any business or other entity in which a legislator may have a financial stake. It requires a member to disclose any employer from whom the member receives more than one-third of his non-legislative income. A member must also disclose any business he or his spouse operates as a sole proprietorship, partnership or limited liability company. If a member is an officer or director of a corporation, he must disclose that, along with any corporation in which he or his spouse has an interest worth $10,000 or more. Crawford's disclosure statement identifies Ivy Tech as his employer. He also discloses that he is a director for Indiana Black Expo, Inc. And that's it.
Perhaps Crawford has a defense for not disclosing his relationship with Shrewsberry. He may argue that he receives less than one-third of his non-legislative income from the firm, or he may place a value of his interest in the firm under $10,000. Laying aside the legal technicalities and nuances of the disclosure law, it is simply unaccepable for a public official who holds so much power in his hands not be called upon to explain the lack of disclosure in this instance, particularly given the obvious number of conflicts of interest which will arise everytime one of Shrewsberry's clients have legislation pending before his committee. Speaker Bauer should clear the air by asking the House Ethics Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute), to review Crawford's relationship with Shrewsberry to determine whether Crawford has complied with the disclosure law.
Several years ago, former Rep. Sam Turpin (R-Brownsburg) was raked over the coals for his undisclosed relationship with a consulting engineer firm, which had business before the legislature. Turpin served at the time as chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. That relationship was uncovered largely due to the investigative reporting of the Indianapolis Star, which seems to be turning a blind eye towards Crawford's apparent conflicts. Turpin was forced to step down as chairman and resign his seat as a result of the news reports. He was later indicted on bribery-related charges, but he escaped prosecution on a technical interpretation of the bribery statute. He did, however, plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of mixing his political committee funds with his personal money. Crawford should expect the same level of scrutiny to which Turpin was subjected. There's just too much at stake to ignore this matter of public concern.
Star Has More On Dr. Joye Carter
A doctor being considered to conduct autopsies for the Marion County coroner will have to persuade Indiana officials to grant her a temporary medical license because of her troubled past.
Marion County Coroner Kenneth Ackles declined to comment when asked Wednesday whether he was considering hiring Dr. Joye Carter or signing a contract with her.
But he wrote a letter Nov. 21 to the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, saying Carter's skills and experience would help the office function when Forensic Pathology Associates of Indiana stops conducting autopsies.
Carter has been a trailblazer as the nation's first black female chief medical examiner, a post she held for 10 years -- first in Washington, D.C., then in Houston's Harris County, which she left in 2002.
But she left behind battles with officials there, a fine by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners and two lawsuits by former employees who said they were fired for whistle-blowing . . .
Carter was lauded for modernizing Harris County's office and becoming an advocate for teen safety and awareness of deaths from heart-related causes and drug abuse.
But she also feuded publicly with police, prosecutors, county officials and her own staff over questions of the reliability of evidence in high-profile homicide cases and other issues.
She left her job in Washington in 1996 soon after The Washington Post
reported that conditions in the morgue rivaled Third World conditions, with drains clogged with blood, stacked bodies and inconsistent refrigeration that led to rotting corpses.
In 2001, the Texas board fined Carter $1,000 for allowing an unlicensed physician to perform autopsies in the office during a four-month period. Carter agreed to the order but said at the time that lawyers had advised her autopsies didn't require a medical license in Texas.
One year earlier, she had narrowly avoided losing her job when Harris County Commissioners split 3-2 against firing her. A majority of the doctors in the office issued a statement calling for her dismissal for the license issue and for attracting two lawsuits against the county.
In those suits, former employees alleged they were fired for speaking out about office abuses. One judgment in favor of a pathologist was overturned on appeal, but in the other suit, the county settled with a former DNA lab director for $375,000 . . .
While the Star's story notes that Carter has visited the Marion Co. Coroner's office and staff, and that her license application is supported by Ackles, it does not confirm whether she's been offered a job; however, if the Star's reporters had done a little more digging, they would have learned that Carter has interviewed potential candidates to work as pathology assistants in the office. Although Ackles' plan to hire Carter was first reported on Indiana Barrister and AI, this story and none of the other stories by the local mainstream media acknowledge how they first learned about the controversial forensic pathology candidate. As the Star's editor Dennis Ryerson is fond of saying, the blogs are just "noise." As long as the mainstream media is relying on the "noise" for its news stories, it should do a little more digging on the relationship between the Marion Co. Coroner's office and Indiana Autopsy. It should prove newsworthy.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Daniels Ignores Warnings; FSSA Privatization Full Speed Ahead
The governor also carefully orchestrated today's announcement by putting IBM front and center while pretending the other elephant in the room, ACS, doesn't exist. Everyone familiar with this process understands that ACS will, in many instances, be performing a more critical role in this effort than IBM. ACS, of course, is FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob's immediate, former employer before joining the administration. While Gov. Daniels may choose to ignore ACS, the public should not. WISH-TV noted in a report today some serious problems with this company:
I-Team 8 took a deeper look into the companies vying for a piece of the billion dollar contract to help the state determine welfare eligibility. One company bears singling out: Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. or ACS.
Just this week, the company's top two executives resigned. An investigation into stock option prices found the two violated the company's ethics code. This summer, ACS lost a multi-million dollar contract with North Carolina to create a new Medicaid billing system. Two years into a five year contract, the state blamed ACS for missed deadlines and increased costs.
The company has also had a string of security problems. This month, a computer was stolen with sensitive information of 500,000 people who pay or receive child-support. In February, it was a stolen data tape with credit card numbers used at an airport and in August personal information of 32,000 student loan recipients was exposed on a federal website.
Throughout Daniels' press conference today, he was extremely critical of FSSA's past performance in delivering welfare services. "Fraud", "rip-off", and "errors" were often used by the governor to describe FSSA's performance. Yet, his own administration has been in charge of the agency for nearly two years. What has it done to improve the situation? Is privatizing or handing the problems over to an outsider the only viable solution to cleaning up the "mess" he sees at FSSA? Did the governor consider the alleged "fraud" the top two leaders of ACS are accused of committing on its own company's shareholders? Did he consider the company's string of security problems over the past year? Did he consider the company's ability to perform the work as evidenced by its performance in other states?
It just seems to me to be somewhat hypocritical of the governor to speak so dismissively of FSSA workers while handing the keys to the office over to a company with a checkered past itself. And at the same time, he assures these workers that none of them will be permanently displaced by the massive outsourcing project. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I just don't get it. I think privatization makes a lot of sense in some areas of government. FSSA has for years outsourced Medicaid claims processing to EDS. This made a lot of sense and has been good for taxpayers, clients and providers. The governor complains that the agency's welfare-to-work achievements are unacceptable. Yet, the agency relied on private contractors for years to deliver these services.
When a change this big is made, it is incumbent upon our government leaders to explain their rationale for the change and make their case through a give-and-take public process. This hasn't been done by the Daniels' administration at all in this process. The administration will put on one public hearing next week to tell us what it long ago decided it was going to do. Why bother? The administration clearly thinks it knows what's best for all of us, so lets just sit back and enjoy the ride--wherever it takes us.
Hastings Blames "Haters" After Pelosi Withholds Chairmanship
Hastings reference to those who opposed his appointment as "haters" tells us just how little he has learned from his past transgressions. Despite the overwhelming evidence of his guilt at the time, a Florida jury was unable to reach a guilty verdict in a case in which Hastings' race became a central defense. A co-conspirator did, however, serve time for the crime. Fortunately, a Democratic-controlled Congress laid aside partisanship and overwhelmingly voted to impeach and convict him of the charges, resulting in his removal as a federal judge. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) led the House prosecution of Hastings during his trial in the U.S. Senate.
Hastings has always relied on the acquittal in the criminal court to excuse his wrongdoing, notwithstanding the judgment rendered by Congress under its constitutional authority. In so doing, he shows great disrespect for his fellow congressional colleagues who exercised their constitutional duty to remove him from the federal bench and continue to believe that his past wrongdoing should disqualify him from holding a sensitive leadership position on the Intelligence Committee. Hastings' colleagues don't hate him. They just happen to believe in the rule of law and respect for our Constitution--neither of which Hastings seems to believe in or respect.
Light Shines On GOP Chairman's Domestic Dispute
State police investigators determined Shine reached into a vehicle in an attempt to turn it off and broke the key off in the ignition, their report said. Police did not determine what – if any – force was used during the episode, but no weapons were used, the report said. No one was arrested.
One officer with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department was sent to Shine’s home that day, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Stone said. The state police also sent an officer who arrived about the same time as the county officer, Stone said.
Ken Fries, the sheriff’s department’s chief deputy, asked the state police to respond and handle the investigation to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, Stone said.
Fries, a Republican, was elected the county’s next sheriff just a few days earlier and didn’t want his department involved, so he asked a neutral party to investigate, Stone said.
Fort Wayne police were also alerted. City dispatch logs show that police were called at 10:11 a.m. Nov. 9.
Sgt. Rodger Popplewell, state police spokesman, said that state police forwarded the results of their completed investigation to the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office last week. Niedzwiecki said the police report was received Nov. 22.
Shine told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel a little more than he told Lanka, which added further intrigue to what exactly happened at his home on November 9 between he and his wife. Explaining that nobody's life is like Ozzie and Harriet of TV 50's fame, the New-Sentinel writes:
“That’s all I can tell you at this time.” Shine said the incident was the result of “frayed nerves” over a disagreement with his wife. But, he said, no domestic violence occurred. Shine said his wife has since recanted any allegation of physical abuse. Beth Shine declined comment . . .
Shine said the challenges facing his family are no different than anything others have dealt with.
“I want the public to know how challenging it can be for families: finances, children’s problems, drugs,” he said. “Family values are important … but life isn’t perfect. I have yet to find an Ozzie and Harriet. This is part of life.”
Shine said he went home around 10 a.m. Nov. 9 to discuss several issues with his wife of nearly 25 years. She attempted to leave in a vehicle, and during the incident, the car key broke off in the ignition, Shine said.
As a family-law attorney, Shine said his experiences have helped him cope with his own crises. As a result, he said, his performance as party chairman has been unaffected by his personal problems.
A blog for the Allen County Democratic Party is more direct than Shine in describing alleged events of that day. Allen County Democratic Chairman Keith Knuth has been dogging the media over this issue for the past couple of weeks. He is particularly upset at the runaround he's gotten to public records request concerning the incident from local law enforcement. Knuth was also perturbed with Shine for raising questions to local media about Knuth's past arrest for check deception, which Knuth explains on the Allen County Democratic blog.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Mahern is also challenging the official count because 19 absentee ballots sent to a nursing home in the district included the incorrect House district race. A possible remedy for that error could be a new election. I highly doubt that will occur. The recount process will begin in earnest tomorrow. Elrod was sworn in as state representative for the 97th District last week as the candidated certified to the state's Election Division as receiving the most votes.
More Trouble Ahead For Coroner's Office
It looks like there's some more controversy brewing for the Marion County Coroner's office. The Office is looking to hire Dr. Joye Carter as its Chief pathologist. However, a check of public records raises some questions about Carter's qualifications. Carter was the Harris County Chief Medical Examiner in Houston, TX. In 2001, the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners fined Carter and she nearly lost her license for allowing an unlicensed pathologist to perform autopsies. In
addition, in 1998 her office was accused of tampering with evidence in the connection of the trial of murder of a 12-year old girl. That same year, workers in her office admitted angry employees stacked bodies on top of each other in the morgue in violation office policy. And in 2000, a federal jury awarded an employee $250,000 for wrongful discharge for exposing illegal activity in the medial examiners office. The Marion County Coroner did not return calls seeking an interview concerning Dr. Carter.
In addition to being fined for using unlicensed pathologists in the Harris County medical examiner's offices and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in whistle-blower lawsuits filed by former employees, Carter has been criticized for her handling of some high-profile cases, including a quick ruling of death by suicide of former Enron executive Clifford Baxter, who had just agreed to testify on behalf of federal investigators against Enron executives. Carter also handled autopsies on the deaths of Andrea Yates' five children. She took 23 days to determine that Andrea Yates had killed her five children by drowning them.
Aside from her troubles as Harris County's chief medical examiner, Carter left behind a lot of controvsery in her prior job as chief medical examiner for the District of Columbia. As the Washington Post reported at the time of her departure:
In May, unclaimed bodies at the D.C. morgue were piled like cordwood because the crematorium had broken down.
But the backlog of bodies was only part of the story. The morgue was filthy, the ventilation was inadequate, and city officials acknowledged that more than 200 autopsies and 400 toxicology analyses had not been completed because of money, equipment and personnel problems. The morgue's problems, in turn, were hampering police investigations.
Joye M. Carter, the city's chief medical examiner, resigned to take a job in Houston, and city officials had difficulty replacing her and filling other pathologist positions.
An important side-note to Carter's potential hiring are reports she is being offered the position as a contractor and not an employee of the coroner's office as Ackles was insisting of Radentz and his staff at Forensic Pathology Associates. The reason for this is pretty simple. Because the coroner is not a medical doctor, he cannot legally employ Carter or any other licensed physician to perform work as a licensed medical provider.
As controversial as the Carter hiring may prove to be for Ackles, he has more questions to answer about his office's ties to Indiana Autopsy, a local company which performs private autopsy services. Sources tell AI that Billie Elkins, a former pathology assistant for IUPUI and a principal of Indiana Autopsy, approached a principal of Forensic Pathology Associates earlier this year about a potential partnership between the two companies for the work being contracted to Forensic Pathology Associates. After the contractor turned down the offer, Ackles notified the company in June that its contract with the office was being terminated.
According to the source, Indiana Autopsy was advertising recently on a job site for the American Academy of Forensic Science for two forensic pathology positions in a major metropolitan area. The job posting listed the contact person as Joseph Anderson, a board-certified pathologist listed as being associated with Indiana Autopsy according to the company's website. The job posting, which was subsequently removed, may be related to the openings being created by the termination of Forensic Pathology Associates contract.
AI has also learned that Ackles office distributes brochures for Indiana Autopsy through the Marion County Coroner's office, and that deputy coroners working in the office have included in their reports the fact that they have made referrals to responsible family members of deceased persons whose death the office investigated for the benefit of Indiana Autopsy. It is unclear why these improper referrals are being made for the benefit of Indiana Autopsy.
A source tells AI that a person working for Ackles has made less-than-subtle suggestions to forensic pathologists to remove valuable body and tissue parts during the course of conducting an autopsy, which could later be used for medical research. Pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly, pay substantial sums of money to obtain human body and tissue parts for research; however, consent in the form of a pre-death declaration by the deceased person or from the responsible family member is required before any parts may be harvested. The source tells AI that the forensic pathologists working for Pathology Associates ignored the suggestions from Ackles staff.
The potential hiring of Carter has Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's office on edge because of her past controversies. His office should also be concerned about the inappropriate relationship between the coroner's office and Indiana Autopsy. These are indeed matters which warrant much closer examination. Unfortunately, it appears that things are going to get much worse in the coroner's office before they get better.
UPDATE: Fox 59 News at 10:00 reported on Ackles' efforts to hire Dr. Joye Carter tonight and her controversial past. Former Marion Co. Coroner Dr. John McGoff (R) told Fox 59 News that Carter had applied for employment here in Marion Co. during his tenure, but she was turned down because of her past problems as Harris County's medical examiner.
REVISED UPDATE: WISH-TV reports tonight that the Indiana Medical Licensing Board will hear Dr. Joye Carter's application for a medical license next week. Because of her past troubles in Texas, the Board is asking her to appear in person to answer questions. The report emphasized that she is currently licensed to practice in Texas.
And now the Star has a story about Dr. Carter's pending appointment. Brendan O'Shaughnessy and Jon Murray report that Carter could begin work as soon as the end of next week if it approves her license at its December 7 meeting. They note that Coroner Kenneth Ackles wrote a letter in support of her license. "His letter said Carter’s skills and experience would help the office when a private firm’s contract to conduct autopsies for the county ends Dec. 19."
Ackles Says "Trust Me"
This spiteful move by Ackles in firing Radentz and his staff is going to prove very costly to Marion County taxpayers. With a near-record number of murders during the past year, the county will have to pay the outgoing forensic pathologists, who are taking jobs elsewhere around the country, at the rate of $1,500 per day to come back and testify at cases where their testimony is critical. Even worse, bodies will begin piling up in the county's morgue after this Friday until the coroner's office signs a contract with at least one new forensic pathologist. Who in their right mind would accept a job in the Marion County Coroner's office after doing a simple "Google" search of all the stories involving problems within the office over the past year? And if Ackles hires the one candidate who has been rumored for the past several weeks, expect a major uproar.
A flap involving the Marion County coroner's office could stall or jeopardize homicide investigations and prosecutions, officials warned Monday.
Forensic pathologists under contract until Dec. 19 will start no new autopsies after Thursday because of the time required to finish ongoing work.
County Coroner Kenneth Ackles, who ended the contract with Forensic Pathology Associates of Indiana, told city and county officials at a meeting Monday that there would be no interruption in service but offered few details about his plans.
"We have located several candidates," Ackles said. "We will announce a decision shortly, within 21 days."
County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said he was alarmed at the possibility that no new autopsies would be performed for more than two weeks.
"We need to know the situation, and we need to have a backup plan," Brizzi said.
Brizzi said there already is a backlog of 35 murder cases that can't move forward because the autopsy reports aren't available.
Dr. Stephen Radentz, the lead partner in the pathology firm, said after the meeting that there is no backlog of cases from his end. He said there could be a lag with coroner's employees copying, filing and distributing final reports.
However, the average case takes eight to 12 weeks to complete, so it won't be possible to finish all pending cases, he said. Radentz said he has been pushing for a transition plan from the coroner for months before finally agreeing to a Dec. 1 date as the last possible moment to begin wrapping up.
"It will be like going into a typical hospital, with patients in various states, and taking out all the doctors and telling new ones to figure it out," Radentz said. "There will definitely be problems."
Ackles, a chiropractor, got into a shouting match with officials questioning him about plans to avoid a backup, which Brizzi said could complicate murder prosecutions and contribute to prison crowding.
"I'm the coroner of Marion County," Ackles said repeatedly, "and I'm telling you there won't be an interruption in service."
Because there is a such a small candidate pool of potential applicants, it is more than likely that any replacement would come from out-of-state. A new hire would have to be licensed by the State of Indiana before he/she could perform any autopsies for the county. As of about a week ago, no potential candidates had applied for a license with the State of Indiana. It could be many weeks before Marion County has a qualified person in place to perform autopsies, let alone the team of about three which will be needed for the long-term to meet the county's and surrounding counties' needs.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Another Reason FSSA Should Cancel Privatization Agreement
The chief executive and top financial officer at a company Indiana wants to manage its welfare programs resigned after an internal investigation found that they manipulated grant dates for stock options, violating the information-technology company's ethics code.
Affiliated Computer Services Inc. CEO and President Mark A. King and Chief Financial Officer Warren D. Edwards signed separation agreements and relinquished their titles on Sunday . . .
Dallas-based ACS, which provides back-office services to other companies and government agencies, also said in a filing that it might seek to recover profits it believes former CEO Jeffrey Rich received by backdating stock-option grant dates.
ACS also said a lower-level employee, whom it didn't identify, knew of the intentional misdating of documents.
The company said it expects to take a noncash charge of $51 million plus tax expenses for the incorrect accounting of grants dated from 1994 to 2005.
In September, the company delayed the filing of its annual report and said it would review stock option grants going back to 1994. The probe was launched in response to a pending informal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Under their separation agreements, the exercise price on all options held by King and Edwards will be increased to offset the benefit _ $3.2 million for King and $1 million for Edwards _ that they would have reaped from backdating the options, the company said . . .
The $1 billion privatization agreement is being done for all the wrong reasons. Roob, a disciple of former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith's privatization initiatives for the city of Indianapolis, had his mind made up that these welfare services were going to be privatized long before he accepted his appointment to this role by Gov. Daniels, although we've been assured he has nothing to do with the decision to award the contract to the company everyone seemed to know was going to get the contract from day one. Roob refused to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal to determine that it in fact would result in either better services or cost-savings to taxpayers before putting them out to bid. It is privatization for the sake of privatization. It is also playing recklessly with the lives of Hoosiers who are dependent on these services for their survival. It's time for someone in a position of responsibility in the Daniels' administration to be a responsible adult and stop this poorly-planned initiative before it's too late.
Indiana's Failing Education System
-- 73. 7 percent graduated within four years.Reed is quoted as saying the data "underscores the need for early intervention to prevent dropouts" through such changes as full-day kindergarten. Curiously, a few months ago an Annie Casey Foundation study found that Indiana ranked 50th out of 50 in high school dropout rates. That study found that 13% of Hoosiers between 16 and 19 were high school dropouts. At the time, a spokesman for the Department of Education dismissed Indiana's high dropout rate as a nationwide problem. At least Reed is now acknowledging the state has a "dropout crisis."
-- 7.6 percent are still in school.
-- 1. 8 percent graduated after four years.
-- 1.1 percent earned a special education certificate.
-- 0.7 percent earned a non-diploma, course completion certificate.
-- 12 percent dropped out or there whereabouts have become undetermined.
As the Governor's Education Roundtable met today, it remains clear that nobody has come up with a way of funding full-day kindergarten as promised by Governor Daniels and other state leaders. Newly-elected Speaker Pat Bauer (D) says he supports full funding for education, but he also thinks the state should remove the sales tax on gasoline, a move which would reduce state revenues by $300 million annually. That's also about how much it would cost to fully fund full-day kindergarten. It seems scoring political points with voters is still valued over delivering results.
IPS, which has in the past claimed a graduation rate of at least 90%, will see its graduation rate plummet under this new, more accurate system of measuring the dropout rate according to the Department of Education. Meanwhile, Mayor Bart Peterson (D) continues to push more charter schools rather than fixing the IPS system in which Indianapolis taxpayers already have a huge investment. One has to wonder just how bad things have to get before Indiana's political leaders wake up to the fact that we have a serious education problem.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Are Indiana Legislators Fairly Compensated?
The $11,600, as it turns out, is just a small part of the compensation legislators are paid. They earn a per diem of $137, seven days a week during session. They also earn a per diem of $54.80, seven days a week during the rest of the year. While the base pay has not been adjusted since 1985, the per diem rate is periodically adjusted to take into account inflation. When you add the per diem pay to their base pay, the average legislator received $44,954 in compensation last year. The least amount anyone earned was $37,000. House Speaker Brian Bosma earned $50,964 with his extra pay as a legislative leader. In addition, legislators are reimbursed 44.5 cents per mile for travel expenses. They also receive a generous retirement benefit which provides a $4 match for every dollar a legislator contributes to his/her retirement account. Until recently, they also received very generous health insurance benefits for life. And let's not forget the most important point, Indiana legislators are considered part-time, citizen legislators.
It seems to me that Indiana's current compensation system is not at all transparent. Per diem pay is being systematically used and abused to boost legislative pay. Per diem pay should actually be paid only for those days when legislators are meeting in Indianapolis during session, and for other non-session days when legislators are required to attend an official legislative committee meeting. The purpose of per diem pay is to cover expenses for meals and lodging; however, even legislators from the Indianapolis area who return to their own homes every night are allowed to collect per diem pay, which seems to provide an unfair advantage for Indianapolis area legislators over those who must pay for their own lodging and meals (although the per diems are taxed at a higher rate for Indianapolis area legislators). Legislators often dine free while attending to legislative business at the expense of lobbyists, who are very generous in treating legislators to the best dining Indianapolis has to offer. Based upon the average compensation, it is clear that a per diem in one of the two forms is being collected by some legislators year-round.
As the system currently operates, it is very misleading to the public. Clearly, Indiana legislators are being compensated much better than the $11,600 base pay for what everyone claims is a part-time job. The current system is also quite generous to lawmakers who hold jobs where employers do not penalize them for time spent away tending to legislative business. Rep. Mike Murphy (R), who works for Anthem, and Rep. Bob Cherry (R), who works for Farm Bureau, are actually compensated to perform what sounds like government relations work for their respective employers. Several lawmakers, including House Speaker Pat Bauer (D), Rep. Craig Fry (D) and Rep. Bill Crawford (D) work in education and government-related jobs which pay quite well. Bauer, Fry and Crawford are all well-paid employees of Ivy Tech. They are what we commonly call "double-dippers."
When I first started getting involved in politics in Illinois in the late 1970s, state lawmakers there, who at the time were still viewed as part-time legislators, decided to boost their pay 40% during a lame-duck session following the 1978 election. The public uproar led to a citizen initiative to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot which cut the number of state representatives by one-third from 177 to 118. The ballot initiative was overwhelmingly approved by voters at the 1980 election. The so-called cutback amendment produced a full-time legislature. Legislators later sought to immunize themselves from voting on pay raises by creating a Compensation Review Board, which periodically set salaries for legislators and other state officials. The Board's recommendations became law unless both the House and Senate passed resolutions disapproving the raises. This produced a little dance routine where the House and Senate would trade off taking a bullet for not acting on the pay raise, thereby allowing it to become law. Even this system proved inadequate for Illinois' legislators. In the late 1980s, they added an additional stipend in the amount of $6,000 for any legislator who also served as a committee chairman or minority spokesman. After the stipend became law, legislative leaders created enough committees to ensure all lawmakers, except for those in the doghouse with leadership, earned a stipend.
Illinois just boosted its legislative pay again by 9%--in a lame-duck session. They now earn $63,143 in base pay. They also receive leadership stipends ranging from $9,612 to $25,576 in additional pay. They also receive a per diem of $125 for each day the legislature is in session, as well as mileage reimbursement. The average lawmaker is taking home at least $85,000 annually. Illinois legislators have a budget to finance district offices with full-time legislative staff. Illinois' legislative retirement benefits are also very generous.
It seems to me that, if Indiana legislators think they are undercompensated, they should begin by devising a more straight-forward system of pay than the current system, which by design makes their pay appear much less than what it actually is. Indiana should also consider whether it wants full-time or part-time legislators. The part-time legislators seem to be as susceptible to the influences of special interest groups as full-time legislators--perhaps even worse. In the end, pay doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference. Members of Congress earn more than $160,000 a year, and that wasn't enough to stop former Rep. Randall Cunningham (R-CA) from accepting about $2.5 million in bribes or the numerous other recent cases of congressmen becoming entangled in unethical dealings with lobbyists.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Recounts Begin Next Week
Someone asked me last week if the ballots would be recounted by hand. The answer to that question is yes--at least with respect to ballots cast on the optical scan machines for which there is a paper ballot. What about the absentee ballots? Those which were included in the count can be discerned from other ballots and can be subject to additional challenges if they fail to meet any of the requirements for absentee ballots. In the Elrod-Mahern race, where Elrod defeated Mahern by 7 votes, the three uncounted absentee ballots are likely to be a bone of contention. According to Indiana law, the county clerk has an affirmative duty to retrieve any absentee ballots returned by noon on election day from the post office and deliver them to the voters' respective precincts to be counted with all other votes. The clerk is allowed to disregard absentee ballots which arrive by mail after 12:00 noon. The law does provide, however, for the counting of overseas absentee ballots with a timely postmark which arrive by the deadline for counting provisional ballots.
It should be pointed out that Indiana's Election Law prescribes very specific procedures to follow in determining whether to count a vote--leaving little discretion to the vote counters. The law makes it clear that fulfilling the voter's intent is the foremost concern in deciding how to count a vote. From a historical standpoint, the declared winners in each of these races can take comfort in the fact that every legislative recount in recent memory has sustained the vote outcome certified to the Election Division following the election. One notable exception was a congressional recount between former Rep. Frank McCloskey (D) and his GOP opponent Richard McIntyre in 1984. Initially, McCloskey was declared the winner by 72 votes; however, it was later discovered that the vote totals for two precincts in a Democratic county had been counted twice. After the error was corrected, the official tally showed McIntyre the winner by 34 votes. A recount by the State Recount Commission (chaired by then-Secretary of State Evan Bayh (D)) confirmed McIntyre's win. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives conducted their own recount under their own rules and declared McCloskey the winner by 4 votes.
Rep. Billy Bright (R) lost his race to David Cheatham (D) by 1,617 votes. This election recount has very little to do with changing the outcome and everything to do with drawing attention to potential election irregularities in Jennings County, where it is reported that as many as 30% of the votes cast were absentee ballots. Absentee ballots typically make up less than 10% of the total votes cast. Jennings County's vote gave Cheatham 5,010 votes to Bright's 4,257 votes, or a difference of 757 votes. Two years ago, Bright carried Jennings County over Rep. Markt Lytle (D), 5,781 to 4,158, or a margin of 1,623 votes. Bright's reversal of fortunes in Jennings County alone explains his loss this year. AI hears that Republicans aren't the only ones complaining about the absentee ballots in Jennings County. A Democratic sheriff's candidate, who also lost, is raising questions as well.
Like the U.S. House, the Indiana House of Representatives is the ultimate judge of the members it chooses to seat. It is highly unlikely, however, that House Democrats would attempt to seat one of its own over a Republican declared the winner by the State Recount Commission. Unlike the U.S. House, it takes an extraordinary majority to form the necessary quorum to conduct business in the Indiana House. If Democrats refused to seat a duly-elected Republican, the Republicans would in all likelihood stage a walkout and refuse to conduct business. It is highly unlikely Speaker Pat Bauer would run that sort of a risk at the beginning of a session where he already has a thin, two-seat majority.
IPD Police Chief On Irsay's Payroll
Police experts said moonlighting is common for officers but rare for a police chief because it could put the person who most represents public safety in a city in a compromising position.
If, for example, a player were to get into trouble with the law, it could appear as if the team was paying the chief to win special treatment, experts said.
Spears said he doesn't think his outside employment, which is done on his own time, poses a conflict of interest, and he rejected any notion that it could lead to preferential treatment for a Colts player.
He said he has worked at Colts games since 2000, though he does not expect to continue doing so after he becomes chief of the merged city and county department next year.
"My first responsibility is to the Indianapolis Police Department and always has been and always will be," said Spears, a 25-year veteran. "Should anybody conduct themselves in a way that is illegal, nothing will be swept under the carpet. I pride myself on my integrity."
Mayor Bart Peterson and Public Safety Director Earl Morgan said they didn't see any problem with Spears or other top officers following guidelines for outside employment.
Peterson said he has confidence in Spears' judgment and integrity.
"It's the same opportunity available to every other officer," Peterson said. "The key point is that he does it on his own time."
Abdul Hakim-Shabazz was discussing this very topic this morning on his WXNT radio show when a person called in who identified himself as a local law enforcement officer. The caller recounted a physicial altercation a very prominent Colts player had recently with a law enforcement officer following a traffic accident. The caller said that the Colts player had contacted Spears directly on his cell phone a short time after the altercation complaining about the police officer's conduct. How many people do you know who have a direct line to the police chief?
It seems to me that the concern for potential conflicts, such as those arising when players get into trouble with the law, extends to the team's owner as well. Some of you may recall the WTHR investigation from several years ago which uncovered years of prescription drug abuse by Colts owner Jim Irsay. While Roger Harvey's report back at the time reported that both federal and local law enforcement officials were investigating Irsay, the matter was quietly dropped without any charges against Irsay. Irsay has made very large campaign contributions to area politicians of both political parties over the years, including Mayor Bart Peterson.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Market Square Project Dead; Westin Drops Out
Curiously, Rep. Crawford does not disclose any relationship with Shrewsberry and Associates on his economic interest statement he files with the state of Indiana, although the website for Shrewsberry and Associates notes his role on its Board of Advisors. The website also lists as clients of the firm a number of Indianapolis and state-related governmental entities, as well as Ivy Tech, where Crawford is employed.
One can't help but wonder if Mayor Peterson would have allowed this developer to string the city along this long had Shrewsberry not had a stake in the proposal. The city will now put the site up for bid again after wasting the past three years.
Meanwhile, the Westin Hotel has dropped out of the running for a new mega-hotel to serve the expanded Indiana Convention Center. The Westin obviously saw the handwriting on the wall. It seems it failed to include a major ballroom the city wants. A leading competitor for the project, a 1,016-room InterContinental Hotel proposed by a Peterson friend and supporter, developer Michael Browning, included a large ballroom in its proposal, giving it a leg up over the Westin and another proposal by Marriott. You may recall that Browning dropped $11,000 into Melina Kennedy's campaign for prosecutor. Kennedy formerly headed economic development efforts for the Peterson administration as a deputy mayor.
Although the existing convention center has a ballroom, under the proposed massive expansion of the facility, it was only recently announced that the ballroom will be eliminated. As I said before, I think the InterContinental Hotel probably had this project in the bag before the bidding began. And if it is chosen, you can probably say goodbye to the PanAm skating rink because the proposed hotel sits atop the current PanAm Plaza site.
It occurred to me that the current main ballroom at the convention center gets a lot of local use for charity events, proms and other special events, in addition to its convention center use. Why is the convention center deliberately taking itself out of this lucrative market? Is it not deliberately giving up convention center revenues which could be used to offset maintenance costs for the expanded convention center and new Lucas Oil Stadium? Is this needed to prop up Indianapolis' hotel industry? Just asking.
Tippecanoe Sex Sting Nets 17
Kokomo police assisted the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Department during a two-day operation at Tecumseh Trails and Davis Ferry parks -- sites long-rumored to be destinations for anonymous, sexual hookups.
Those arrested are suspected of exposing themselves to or inappropriately touching undercover detectives.
But the sheriff's department received its own blow when one of the suspects turned out to be a long-standing member of its merit board -- the five-member civilian group in charge of hiring, firing and promoting deputies.
Sheriff Smokey Anderson said he has asked Charles "Bob" Best, 69, of rural Lafayette, to resign after the man was found to be among those arrested. Best, who was elected by deputies, has served on the board for more than 20 years.
Other suspects include employees of Greater Lafayette Health Services, the Tippecanoe School Corp. and Purdue University, according to booking reports.
Though most suspects are from the Lafayette area, one listed his address as Naples, Fla. and another in suburban Chicago. Their ages ranged from 21 to 82.
The Sheriff's department says it undertook the sting operation based upon complaints of sexual activity taking place in the parks. The police involved in this particular sting operation claim they did nothing to initiate the sexual contact with the men. The newspaper reported:
During this week's sting, undercover officers were approached by or walked up to the suspects in the park. Police, however, do not initiate topics of a sexual nature, Whitehead said.
"Unfortunately, it's not a difficult thing to achieve," he said. "It's all too commonplace and all very anonymous. Within minutes -- minutes -- sexual activity can occur."
Suspects who exposed themselves were arrested on suspicion of public indecency. They face an additional offense of battery if they touched an officer.
About half of the men were charged with battery, in addition to public indecency for merely touching the officer. I find the battery charges suspect. Battery requires that a person knowingly or intentionally touch another person in a rude, insolent, or angry manner. Even if the undercover police officers didn't initiate the contact, it is hard to imagine that they didn't at least display body language to the charged men to suggest the touching would be welcomed. The charging seems to be a little bit of overkill.
That's the least bit of the charged men's concern though. The newspaper listed the names and ages of all 17 of the men charged. As the report notes, among the charged men are employees of Greater Lafayette Health Services, Tippecanoe School Corp. and Purdue. The civilian member of the sheriff's merit board, Bob Best, has already been asked to resign from his position according to the sheriff's spokesman. If convicted, the men could wind up on a sex offender registry, which could impact where they live, work and play (no pun intended). Is the punishment appropriate for an 82-year-old man?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
After the general election, the long-awaited (and gossiped-about) federal campaign finance reports of unsuccessful CD 07 challenger Kris Kiser (D) show up at the Federal Election Commission. Lots of folks locally have been wondering why the pre-primary reports were the last reports available, but the FEC reports his July quarterly, October quarterly, and termination reports were all finally filed on November 7. The final numbers show that he raised $212,240 and spent $141,518 in his primary contest against U.S. Rep. Julia Carson (D), while she had raised $143,704 and spent $155,091 for the cycle through the pre-primary report. Kiser's termination report shows that he ended with a debt of $182,700 owed to himself for loans during the campaign.
In contrast to Kiser's personal debt of $182,700 after his congressional bid, Carson's GOP opponent, Eric Dickerson, refrained from spending any of his personal wealth on this fall's campaign. Dickerson spent about a third of what Kiser spent for his campaign, and he still managed to do better than any of her previous opponents, capturing slightly more than 46% of the vote. It just goes to show that money isn't always everything in a political campaign.
Voodoo Hex On Bush Taking Its Toll
Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, stirred their blood with spice and broccoli before drank the "potion" and smeared some on his face.
I don't hate Americans, but I don't like Bush," said Pamungkas, who believed the ritual would succeed as, "the devil is with me today."
He said the jinx would send spirits to possess Secret Service personnel guarding Bush and put them in a trance, leading them into falsely thinking the president was under attack, thus eventually causing chaos in Bogor Presidential Palace, where the American leader was scheduled to meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday.
While the jinx has so far not directly harmed Bush, it seems to be taking a toll on people around him and close to him. When Air Force One landed in Vietnam earlier this week, a couple of tires blew out on the plane. Last night, after the President stopped over in Hawaii on his return trip home, the White House travel director was robbed and beaten outside a Waikiki night club. Today, three police motorcycle escorts were injured when they collided while escorting the presidential motorcade to Hickam Air Force Base, seriously injuring two of the police officers. Meanwhile, first daughter Barbara Bush had her purse stolen during dinner in a restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina while being guarded by Secret Service agents. Things weren't going much better for the Secret Service Agents. One of the agents on Barbara's detail was later badly beaten when someone attempted to mug him.
Bush may need to call on the services of a black magic practitioner to reverse the hex. I was going to suggest a certain congresswoman, but I don't want to get "you know who" all worked up again.
Gay Marriage Bans Not Stemming Out-Of-Wedlock Births
Out-of-wedlock births in the United States have climbed to an all-time high, accounting for nearly four in 10 babies born last year, government health officials said Tuesday.
While out-of-wedlock births have long been associated with teen mothers, the teen birth rate actually dropped last year to the lowest level on record. Instead, births among unwed mothers rose most dramatically among women in their 20s.
The overall rise reflects the burgeoning number of people who are putting off marriage or living together without getting married.
The increase in births to unwed mothers was seen in all racial groups, but rose most sharply among Hispanics. It was up among all age groups except youngsters ages 10 to 17.
"A lot of people think of teenagers and unmarried mothers synonymously, but they are not driving this," said Stephanie Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, a co-author of the report.
As lawmakers in Indiana ponder whether to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriages, they may want to consider what exactly such an amendment will accomplish. Clearly, more and more straight couples are foregoing marriage while starting families. The decreasing value straight couples place on the institution of marriage can in no way be attributed to gay marriages or civil unions, which remain illegal in all but three states.
The only miscue today came when Speaker Bauer, reciting the oath to the House's new clerk, stated "Clerk of the Court" instead of "Clerk of the House of Representatives." An embarrassed Bauer quickly corrected himself. He then tossed the paper on which the oath was written to the Parliamentarian as if it to imply it was the Parliamentarian's fault.
Mahern Files For Recount
UPDATE: Elrod and Harris were both sworn in provisionally until their recounts are completed and certified to the Secretary of State by December 20, 2006.
Feldman's Wakeup Call On Coroner
In Marion County it appears that the coroner's office is in chaos. A chief deputy with long experience is fired. Families are incensed about delays in notification of the death of relatives. The coroner authorizes the cremation of an unidentified body.
The prosecutor is investigating the coroner's employees for allegations of missing county property and more than $3,000 stolen from a body, with falsification of the computerized personal property receipts indicating a total lack of electronic security.
Another potential disaster: Marion County Coroner Kenneth Ackles' decision to terminate the contract with the group of board-certified forensic pathologists associated with Indiana University who have been performing the autopsies. Such highly qualified professionals number only about 400 in the entire country. Since the contract will terminate on Dec. 19, there is not time to recruit quality replacements because it could take many months to find them. The National Association of Medical Examiners has not even heard from Dr. Ackles, a chiropractor, about replacements.
The specialized expertise of the highest quality forensic pathologists is crucial to providing competent medical evidence to determine the manner and cause of death. This has important implications for life insurance payments to families, and for obtaining homicide convictions including child abuse cases.
In 1993, the Marion County coroner terminated the contract with the forensic pathologists at Indiana University. They proved impossible to replace, and until their contract was restored Marion County suffered through a time of botched autopsies by inadequately trained and otherwise professionally problematic pathologists. Criminal investigations and prosecutions were compromised.
You would have thought we would have learned from our mistake after the disastrous tenure of former coroner Karl Manders during the early 1990s as Feldman reminds us of. Instead, we are repeating the same mistake, which will invariably lead to more botched autopsies and compromised criminal prosecutions. Feldman believes replacing the coroners with regional pathologist medical examiners under the authority of a state-appointed medical examiner within the Department of Health is a good alternative. His idea, however, will require a constitutional amendment, which means it will take at least four years to become a reality. The legislature needs to act quickly on this idea. Forget the same-sex marriage amendment. We have a more pressing need--the value we place on human lilfe.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Now Mayor Peterson Supports Election Reform
White proposed reducing the number of precincts in Marion County by one-third, reducing the number from 914 to about 600. It's a good idea, but when Republican County Clerk Doris Ann Sadler proposed the same idea two years ago, Mayor Peterson refused to implement the change. White, who has been a deputy mayor and the administration's point person on election issues, had no good explanation for Peterson's lack of support in the past. We're only supposed to consider the fact that he now supports it because she's going to be running the office.
White also plans to increase training for poll workers, seek state legislation which would permit all absentee ballots which are sent by election day to be counted and to hold election equipment vendors responsible for equipment failure. White's ideas are all well and good. It's just too bad that Democrats are so blatantly partisan that they do everything possible to block Republican officeholders' ideas like they did earlier this year with respect to Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's suggestions for relieving jail over-crowding and as they did with Sadler's suggestions two years ago. And the same applies to Republican councilors who vote against government consolidation, a Republican brainchild of former Mayor Richard Lugar (R), simply because it's now being pushed by a Democratic mayor.
White had better start taking a hard look at Marion County's election vendor, ES&S. Not only did the company have problems with its machines in Indianapolis once again, but elsewhere, their problems were worse. In a hotly contested Florida congressional race to choose Rep. Kathryn Harris' (R) successor, ES&S voting machines in Sarasota County may have failed to count the votes of one in six voters, unless we're to belive that nearly 18,000 voters simply skipped the congressional race on the ballot. These were touch-screen machines which provide no paper trail in the event of a recount. These voters are simply disenfranchised because of ES&S's malfunctioning equipment. We can't afford to have this happen here.
Blade: Indiana's New Democratic Congressmen Less Than Enthusiastic On Gay Rights
Those nine Democrats who favor marriage equality will be at odds with Reps. elect Brad Ellsworth (Ind.) and Nicholas Lampson (Texas), who support a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.Notwithstanding their poor records of support on GLBT rights, Indiana Equality's John Clower boasts of the election of the three new Democrats:
Indiana’s three new representatives, meanwhile, offered no clear stance on civil unions, and at least two campaigned against gay marriage. Their victories drew uneasy support from gay activists.
“We are happy with the election of these three people,” said Indiana Equality Chair John Clower. “They helped remove the party in control that has not been supportive on issues of concern to GLBT people in our state.”
But he noted the three were just “marginally better” than the GOP incumbents they will replace.
Ellsworth, who supports the marriage amendment, defeated Rep. John Hostettler, who backed a House bill to stop federal courts from ruling on marriage-related issues.
Joseph Donnelly and Baron Hill, the state’s other new House members, are social conservatives who maintain ambiguous or hostile stances on gay rights issues.
Clower doesn't acknowledge that Hostettler was actually the only GOP congressman from Indiana to vote against the federal amendment to ban same-sex marriages, albeit for reasons other than support for the GLBT community. I guess Clower's message to Indiana's GLBT community is that a Democrat is always better than a Republican whether he votes with you on any issues or not.
According to records on file with Indiana's Election Division, the newly-formed Indiana Equality Political Action Committee raised zero contributions during this past election cycle and had zero expenditures. Clower, however, was quick to take partial credit after the election for the Democrats take-over of the Indiana House, even though one of the most pro-gay rights legislators, Rep. Ed Mahern (D-Indianapolis) in the Indiana House lost his re-election to Republican Jon Elrod. Elrod, however, is probably better on GLBT issues than any Republican legislator elected in recent memory.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Governer's Health Insurance Proposal
There are aspects of the program I find very appealing. For example, the program will ensure that all children by the age of 2 are able to be immunized against childhood diseases. Indiana currently ranks 39th in the nation in childhood immunizations. Health care studies show that you save $25 in health care costs for every dollar spend on childhood immunizations. It's hard to argue the value of this wise investment in public health. The plan would also provide a form of medical care savings accounts for low-income persons of up to $1,100 per year called POWER accounts, along with $500 a year in preventive services, such as annual physicals, mammograms and colorectal screenings. The state would contribute to the accounts, along with the participants, on a sliding scale basis dependent on the size and income of the participant's family. Unspent funds could be withdrawn at the end of the year as long as a minimum balance in the account is maintained.
The major component of the plan, however, is the free insurace coverage the plan offers to low-income uninsured Hoosiers only. Eligibility will be limited to those who are uninsured and earn no more than 200% of the poverty level. For an adult without children, that would mean anyone who earns between $9,800 and $19,600. For adults with children, it could mean coverage for those earning between $9,800 and up to $40,000, increasing with the number of dependent children. The Governer's office believes up to 350,000 Hoosiers would be eligible for participation in the plan. It is not an entitlement as proposed though in the sense that you can enroll in the plan on a first-come, first-serve basis. If there are no more funds available at the time you apply for participation, you will be denied enrollment. Because the program depends on the cigarette tax for funding, if the Governor's smoking cessation program, which is also a part of this proposal, is successful, there will be less cigarette tax revenues to fund the program.
The plan offers nothing to the many self-employed workers who are currently uninsured or employees who earn more than 200% of the poverty level but who aren't offered an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. It arguably will provide an incentive to employers who pay low wages to dump their plans knowing that their employees could participate in this state-funded program. The plan requires persons to be uninsured for at least six months to discourage this, but I can't imagine that would be a big enough disincentive to a cost-conscious employer. The big winners under the plan will be health care providers, pharmaceutical companies and health insurers--the same people already making off like bandits under the current health financing structure.
The plan relies on private health insurers to administer the program. Health care providers, under the plan, will be reimbursed for their services under the rates provided by Medicare and not Medicaid. Those rates, in some instances, are 40% higher than the Medicaid rates. The Governor argues there will be loss cost-shifting than there is under the current system with more people insured. The argument is that many of the uninsured's medical bills go unpaid and higher charges are applied to those who do pay to make up the difference. Most of these unpaid bills are owed to hospitals, which are primarily nonprofit entities.
From where I sit, I find nothing nonprofit about the way these hospitals are run. They have become major corporate giants with a bunch of high-paid administrators and a penchant for constantly building newer and bigger facilities whether needed or not. It seems that a lot of the cost-shifting is to finance a life of luxury for the providers and administrators of these institutions. Until we do something to tackle the mindset which permeates our health care system that we have to keep building bigger and better facilities and passing on the costs to someone else to pay, the cost-shifting problem the Governor complains of will never be conquered. It also appears to me that the plan will capture many people who might otherwise have wound up in the Medicaid program after their medical bills spiraled out of control. Again, the big beneficiarly here is the providers who will receive much more generous payments for their services than if these same people had wound up in the Medicaid program.
The Governor's plan is a nice start, but I think he would be well advised to reach out to people other than lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies to develop a more successful program. When you propose a plan which is supported by all these groups out of the box as the Governor's plan is, you know it's not a good plan for the public.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Carl Drummer's Fleecing Of Center Township
Murphy identifies at least a dozen properties the trustee's office owns worth in excess of $10 million, including the Center Township Healthplex (formerly Fall Creek YMCA) near IUPUI, Trustee's office at 863 Massachusetts Avenue, a vacant Career Development Institute building at 875 Massachusetts Avenue, the Julia Carson Government Center at 300 E. Fall Creek Parkway, 6 vacant lots in the Fall Creek area, 6 parking lots and one rental home on which $150 a month rent is paid.
Drummer said his main focus is helping township residents in need, as spelled out in state trustee guidelines—whether that means passing out food vouchers or paying for funerals when family members can’t. But he also believes in revitalizing neighborhoods and fostering economic development.
That broader approach—plus a habit of parking race cars and friends’ vehicles in a township owned garage—raises questions among those who say the trustee’s office could do more for the 24 percent of township residents who live in poverty.
“I’m just not convinced that the rewards of revitalizing the community are worth what we’re spending,” [Center Township Advisory Board member Jon] Elrod said. “I just think it could be better used on other things.”
Nevertheless, Drummer makes no apologies. His office has held on to many of the parcels for years, he said, because it wants to find the right use for them. “We at Center Township have always thought outside the box,” he said. “We believe that government should run like a business.”
Murphy notes that Drummer inherited most of the real estate portfolio from Julia Carson for whom he worked as deputy trustee prior to being chosen as her replacement in 1996 following her election to Congress. Drummer's belief that government should "run like a business" means less relief for the needy. While Center Township is the state's largest township with a population of 167,000 and nearly a quarter of those residents live below the poverty level, it provides less support for the needy than smaller urban townships. Gary's Calumet Township ranks 5th behind Center Township in population with a similar-sized needy population, but it spent $6 million in assistance to the needy compared to Center Township's $2 million. Drummer, meanwhile, rates as the highest paid trustee in Indiana at $90,000. Murphy omits, however, the take-home car Drummer gets courtesy of the taxpayers. His office spends $2.35 for every dollar of assistance it delivers according to Murphy--the highest in the state based on a study performed by the Chamber of Commerce.
Center Township's Assessor Jim Maley (D) tells Murphy he is "aghast" at the size of Drummer's portfolio. "Government entities ought not to acquire any more properties than they need to perform the functions of their office," Maley tells Murphy. Other township trustees and government officials echoed Maley's concerns according to Murphy. Murphy reports that Drummer is planning to increase the township's budget by 8% next year, or $1.1 million to $14.7 million.
What I found particularly shocking was Murphy's revelation that Center Township is sitting on $11.1 million in the bank. "That's 'an extraordinarily high balance' for an entity that collects only $5 million in taxes a year, said Dan Jones, assistant budget director at the state agency, which approves tax rates." Hey, if you don't need all the money you are collecting from us in taxes, then let's give it back to the taxpayers. No, Drummer amasses a $20 million fortune for the township in real estate and bank deposits. That makes a lot of sense.
And what about all that free parking and storage for Drummer's expensive car collection which Jocelyn Tandy has been complaining about in comments on this blog for months now. Murphy fills us in on the details. He writes about another matter Carl Brizzi's office needs to investigate while its investigating Drummer's shady dealings with the owners of the illegally constructed 300 East Bar in the Julia Carson Government Center:
There’s a parking lot out back, but Drummer lets friends and employees keep vehicles in an empty garage at the rear of the Massachusetts Avenue building, a habit that strikes some as improper. To the trustee, it’s a chance to do a favor, mostly for workers who use company cars. However, two ex-employees saw more than commuter cars stored there.
Former security guard Norman Matthews remembers seeing some sort of race cars in the garage before he left in 2003. He didn’t know who owned them. Darlene Taylor, an employment specialist who also left in 2003, saw car trailers parked there as well. “These ain’t no cheap trailers, either,” she said. “I’m talking way-up-in-themoney trailers. It’s something one of them race car drivers use.”
Consider Drummer a car buff. He owns race cars and serves as vice president of the United Council of Corvette Clubs, an organization of black Corvette owners. In fact, he lists his Center Township e-mail on the club’s Web site as a contact point. But the trustee said he never parked trailers in that garage. Race cars are different. “I’m not going to tell you that they’ve never been in there,” he said. “They have not been stored in there.” Stored, he said, means kept for “a period of time” or longer than a couple of days.
The same can’t be said of other cars. Three tarp-covered vehicles sat parked against a garage wall one recent morning, across from a shiny Ford pickup and a couple other cars. Drummer said the pickup belonged to John Patterson, a Small Claims Court clerk who used to park a Corvette there.
A friend of Drummer’s has stored another car in the garage for eight months. “He wanted to get it out of his back yard,” Drummer said. “It’s an old Volkswagen that he was restoring. You know, the winter was hitting, he wanted to get it out of his back yard.” Drummer wouldn’t let a reporter look under the tarps during a tour, but he said none of the vehicles was his.
The free parking was news to Elrod. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for the trustee’s office to use facilities for friends and acquaintances,” he said. Drummer said the parking doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime because the otherwise empty garage would be lit for security, anyway. “It’s dry storage space,” he said. “The building is set to be, you know, hopefully torn down and something great built on it, so why not?”
But to Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar, the arrangement smacks of impropriety. “In the grand scheme of things, is it a big deal?” he said. “Probably, no. But why is that property being taken off the tax rolls and being used to provide storage space for him and his friends … in a way that’s not available to taxpayers in general?”
Murphy also asks why a township is involved in running a health club, which isn't operating as a recreational center for neighborhood kids as some had originally thought it would be. And what about the township property which is leased to private entities, such as Key Bank at the Julia Carson Government Center. For-profit entities are supposed to pay property taxes on their leased premises, even if the property is owned by the government. Nobody bothered assessing any taxes on Key Bank for its space in the Julia Carson Government Center until last year according to Murphy. They've only been in the building for about a decade now. Murphy briefly mentions the controversial 300 East bar, but he doesn't discuss any details.
Murphy points out that Mayor Bart Peterson's (D) original government consolidation plan called for the elimination of all but two township trustee's office in Marion County, "but that provision was dropped during discussions with legislators in 2005." I think it's time for Mayor Peterson to revisit that issue if he's really serious about improving government efficiency in Marion County. This Center Township Trustee's office is nothing more than a playground for Carl Drummer and his buddies to do what they do best: help themselves out with our taxpayer's money.
The IBJ and Tom Murphy should be applauded for this in-depth report on Drummer's shenanigans in the Center Township Trustee's office. It is a real shame, however, that the editors of IBJ held off publishing this story until after the election--just like the way the media avoided discussing Julia Carson's serious health problems until after the election--when it can no longer impact the outcome by informing voters.
Miller Speaks Out On Election And His Future; Avoids Accountability
The side bar to King's article gives some biographical information on Miller. There's no mention that Miller is divorced and married to his second wife. The two children he mentions are his current wife Vicki's children from a prior marriage. When King asked Miller about a divorce rate of more than 50% being a greater threat to traditional marriage than same sex marriages, Miller responded with this non-answer: "I think that historically in Indiana and America, marriage has always been defined as between a man and woman. And the foundation of our society is marriage between a man and a woman. This reaffirms that longstanding position."
King shot back at Miller: "And that is equally as important as dealing with divorce?" Miller again avoided answering the question. "I think those are two separate issues." "When you are talking about strengthening marriage, I think anything you can do to enhance marriage in any way, we should do it." "We should not diminish marriage between a man and a woman." Further deflecting the issue, Miller said, "The other thing that you will be doing by passing a constitutional amendment is to ensure that children in the public schools are taught that marriage between a man and a woman is the acceptable and normal relationship in Indiana."
Miller predicted that the proposed constitutional marriage to ban same-sex marriages and the recognition of the legal incidents of marriage to any unmarried couples or groups would pass the House "with more than 70 votes." Miller expects every Republican and at least half the Democrats in the House of Representatives to vote for the amendment. Miller boasted to King of the Christian right's dominance in Indiana politics. "I think you didn't really see virtually any candidate running in Indiana at the state or federal level that said they were pro-abortion, in support of homosexual marriage, and that they wanted to tax churches," Miller said. Traditional values are still important to Hoosiers Miller insists. He notes that newly-elected Democratic congressmen Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth are both pro-life.
Miller devotes time in his interview with King touting his other proposed constitutional amendment which would repeal property taxes in Indiana. Miller has no answer to how local governments and schools will replace the revenues they will lose if property taxes are repealed other than we'll have four years to figure out the answer to that question before the amendment is formally adopted by the voters. King asks Miller a very pointed question about whether Christians are making political success a higher priority than representing Jesus. "My whole desire and goal in life is to bring honor and glory to my savior Jesus Christ," Miller responded." "With that goes my desire to help fellow Hoosiers in the state," he adds.
King closes with the big question: "Is there any run for governor in your future?" "My plans are now to run Advance America so we can continue helping Hoosier families and churches," Miller responds. He didn't say no, and he still maintains "Hoosiers For Eric Miller", a campaign committee he organized more than four years ago to launch his unsuccessful bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Mitch Daniels in 2004. If you take a look at Advance America's website, you will see how prominently Miller is featured and how closely his name is tied to the organization's efforts to repeal property taxes. It is referred to as "Eric Miller's Repeal Property Taxes." That sounds like a campaign platform to me.
Those of you who have read this blog since the beginning are aware of my efforts to expose Eric Miller's and Advance America's abuse of our nonprofit tax laws by engaging in impermissible partisan politics and excessive lobbying activities, both of which could result in the group's loss of its treasured tax-exempt status. I want to share with you my recent effort to get the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission to investigate what I believe is an abuse of the state's Lobby Law by Miller and Advance America.
It is has been my contention that the paultry sums Advance America reports to the Lobby Registration Commission as "lobbying expenditures" is a gross under-reporting of its true lobbying expenditures, and that Miller's law firm, which has received annual, six-figure retainer payments from Advance America, has failed to properly register and report its activities as a compensated lobbyist to the Commission. In addition to the retainer fees paid to Miller's firm, Miller has consistently drawn a salary and benefits from the group worth at least $100,000 for many years, and his law office shares its office space with Advance America.
A short time after I began reporting on Advance America, the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy contacted me and interviewed me about my investigation of Miller and Advance America. O'Shaughnessy later interviewed Miller, and he shared with me portions of an audio tape recording of that interview. O'Shaughnessy questioned Miller about the purpose of the six-figure retainer payments to his law firm. Miller's answer described the fees as being for lobbying-related purposes for the work performed by other members of his law firm, which included communications with legislators about legislation. Although these other attorneys are registered to lobby on behalf of Advance America, the law firm itself is not. If the retainer payments are paid to the law firm for lobbying purposes, then the law firm must register and report its activities to the Commission as a compensated lobbyist.
Miller's recorded response to O'Shaughnessy's question raised serious questions about whether Miller and his law firm were knowingly and intentionally violating the Lobby Law. I immediately advised O'Shaughnessy of the import of Miller's words and their value in any potential criminal investigation. O'Shaughnessy immediately claimed that the recorded interview with Miller was a privileged conversation between reporter and source. I asked O'Shaughnessy how it could be privileged since Miller was the target of his journalistic investigation, and he consented to having the conversation recorded.
For reasons that have never been clear to me, O'Shaughnessy discontinued his pursuit of a story involving Miller. I later filed a complaint with the Commission on February 17, 2006, alleging what I believe are clear violations of the Lobby Law using a form the Commission provides on its website. In addition to those stated above, I also raised questions about Miller's lobbying efforts for a sales tax break for the RV industry, which appeared to benefit the business of his largest individual campaign contributor to his failed 2004 gubernatorial campaign, and which seemed unrelated to the primary purpose of his own organization.
After nearly two months passed without hearing anything from the Commission, I contacted their office to inquire about the status of my complaint. I learned from an e-mail correspondence on April 7, 2006, from the Commission's Executive Director Sarah Nagy that the Commission would consider my complaint at its April 10 meeting only if I provided enough copies of my complaint and all supporting documents for each of four commission members. Presumably, if I hadn't bothered to contact the Commission when I did, the Commission would not have even considered the complaint because it only had one copy. The instructions for filing a complaint said nothing about filing extra copies.
During the Commission's April 10 meeting, the Commission met in executive session to consider my complaint against Advance America and Eric Miller. Because the meeting was conducted in secret, I have no idea what the Commission discussed. I do, however, know that following the meeting I was contacted by Nagy and told that the Commission would need to obtain the audio tape recording of the conversation between O'Shaughnessy and Miller to consider my complaint further; otherwise, the complaint would be summarily dismissed. In other words, nothing short of a taped confession of the alleged wrongdoer procured by a private citizen would prompt legal action on the part of the Commission.
The Commission gave no weight to the other documentation I shared with it, including Miller's own e-mail communcations to supporters that the group's annual lobbying expenses would exceed $160,000, the tax returns showing the large retainer payments to Miller's law firm, and the fact that the law firm had not registered as a compensated lobbyist. Despite the six-figure retainer payment and Miller's full-time work lobbying the legislature as a high paid staffer for the group, it reported less than $18,000 in lobbying expenditures this past year.
Well, I guess I wasn't expecting much cooperation from the Star, but I nonetheless contacted O'Shaughnessy to inform him that the Commission had requested a copy of his tape-recorded interview of Miller. I was shocked to hear O'Shaughnessy claim that he no longer had the tape. I then contacted Editor Dennis Ryerson by e-mail and explained the Commission's request to him. He repeated O'Shaughnessy's claim that the tape no longer existed, and he told me that the Star would be of no further assistance in regards to the Commission's investigation. I informed Nagy of the Star's response, and that I would not be able to furnish them the tape-recorded conversation. In a letter dated August 31, 2006 from Nagy, she wrote to me:
The full Commission has reviewed your complaint, along with your supporting materials. There is insufficient showing on your part to merit further investigation. Should you have additional and verifiable evidence, you may re-submit your complaint. At this time, the matter is closed.
This whole process basically confirmed my preconceived notion that Indiana's Lobby Law is virtually meaningless, and that the legislative-controlled and appointed Commission serves to protect legislators and lobbyists from scrutiny, and not to serve the interests of the public. The Commission's executive director is merely part-time, and the legislature makes sure it has no real resources to investigate complaints like the one I submitted.
Essentially, a lobbyist will avoid any problems under the law as long as he/she registers to lobby and reports those lobbying activities in a timely manner and pays the applicable fees. The Commission accepts on its face the validity of the contents of those reports. Its enforcement activities center almost exclusively on whether someone filed a registration and reported its activities. The bottom line is that we can expect no enforcement action on the part of the state of Indiana against Miller and Advance America. If we expect our laws to be enforced, it's going to take action on the part of the federal government.