Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bart's Flip-Flop On Taxes

Matt Tully reminds us that Mayor Bart Peterson had an entirely different view on raising taxes to support public safety and meet the city's long-term pension obligations when he gave his state of the city address back in 2000. Peterson said then:

"Unfortunately, the part of the city budget that goes to cover police and firefighter pensions is the same part of the budget that pays for ongoing police and fire operations, including additional resources needed for public safety. We will meet our pension obligations, and we will also find a way to pay for the additional public safety resources we need. And it is important to do both without raising taxes. Raising taxes may sound like an easy answer, but if we want to avoid the urban death spiral that so many other American cities have experienced, we cannot give individuals and businesses an incentive to leave our city."

After reading the Mayor's words, think about all the taxes he's raised during the past 4 years and the taxes he still wants to raise to meet obligations he told us we could meet 7 years ago without a tax increase. And then ask yourself what has changed. Why will raising taxes not lead to the"urban death spiral" that will give "individuals and businesses and incentive to leave our city." Who do you believe? The Bart Peterson of 2000 or the Bart Peterson of 2007?

Tully thinks Peterson's 2000 words will haunt him this year, and they should. Greg Ballard and the Marion Co. GOP can't let Peterson off the hook. People are fed up with the rising taxes and crime in our city. It presents a golden opportunity for the GOP. Marion Co. GOP Chairman Tom John seems to grasp this. He has come out against Mayor Peterson's latest tax increase. John had this to say in a recent press release:

“It is unconscionable that Mayor Peterson would propose a $90 million income tax increase at the same time homeowners face huge double digit property tax increases,” John declared this week. “Mayor Peterson talks a good game, and always has someone else to blame for the problems, but his own record shows he has done nothing to reduce local government spending,” said John. “Time and time again the Mayor has stood silently on the sidelines while local government spending has exploded.” “Peterson needs to ‘walk the walk' if he is going to 'talk the talk.’ Instead of pointing fingers, Peterson should immediately conduct his own thorough and public review of all local budgets,” John said. “It’s time for the Mayor to sharpen his own pencil and find ways to cut local government spending with the exception of public safety.”

John reminds us of another one of Mayor Peterson's broken promies. Peterson created a Fiscal Policy Council four years ago by executive order to help coordinate spending and taxing priorities among Marion County's dozen's of political subdivisions. John asks if the council has even bothered to meet and do anything during the four years of its existence. John asks, "Well, Mr. Mayor, can we now see some follow through and you show some leadership by using this policy panel effect a real reduction in local spending?” I think the game is up for Mayor Peterson. It's time for change.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Weber Grill Arrives In Indy

Weber Grill is preparing to open at its new location in Circle Centre Mall at the former location of Old Navy. While the restaurant hasn't officially opened, tonight it was open to invited guests for staff training. My friends, Mike and Zack, and I were fortunate to take part in it. Mike had the beer can chicken, Zack enjoyed babyback ribs and I had a filet. We ate in the bar, which provided a very comfortable dining experience. The food was great. The restaurant chain did a great job remaking this space into a place for a fine dining experience. The staff was wonderful. This place is going to provide some stiff competition for Harry & Izzy's. If you want my opinion, you get more bang for the buck here.

Making Sense Of Marion County's Property Tax Debacle

With tax bills in the mail, Marion Co. residents are trying to figure out who to blame for the mess leading Mayor Bart Peterson to call for a special session of the General Assembly. Judging by Gov. Daniels' remarks today, it appears a special session will happen if legislative leaders will go along with the idea. Ed Feigenbaum of the Indiana Legislative Insight offers the best analysis I've read of why there is such a big shift in Marion Co. taxes this year. He says residential assessments have increased 20%-25% on average. In my own neighborhood in Lockerbie (Center Township), it looks like they've gone up at least 25% on average based on a sampling of properties I checked on the Star's database. Feigenbaum notes that there are pockets, such as Meridian-Kessler, which are experiencing increases in the 150% range. He finds a big problem with Marion County business assessments which is shifting the burden to homeowners. He writes:

Unlike in 2002, however, as we told you before, business assessments have remained largely unchanged. “In Marion County, preliminary numbers suggest business assessments increasing by single-digit percentages,” we told you back then. Indeed, our estimates now are that at least 50% of business real property assessments have not changed one iota since the 2002 reassessment. This alone has forced homeowners to consume more of the property tax pie in Marion County.

Mind-boggling but true, while local assessors appear to have a fairly accurate perspective on residential property values, they have seemingly seriously under-assessed (or failed to examine altogether) the entire business property segment. These low business assessments, of course, have contributed greatly to an increase in tax rates.

Feigenbaum thinks you should keep a close eye on the disparity between residential and business/commercial assessments. He anticipates a class action lawsuit on behalf of homeowners to rectify the disparity.

Feigbenbaum also outlines a series of pro-business legislative changes which have contributed to the problem, including a reduction in the state property tax replacement credits, elimination of the business inventory tax, investment deductions for business personal property (automatic abatements) and business real estate and increased use of local tax abatements. While those things contribute to changes statewide, there also appears to be problems unique to Marion County. "A closer look at the Marion County 2006 ratio study, which was approved by the DLGF, shows that the majority of the property classes studied in Marion County failed to meet the statutory requirements for assessment accuracy and uniformity," Feigenbaum writes. "As Hoosiers would say in the vernacular, it means things are really screwed up . . . and that State conclusion is based on Marion County’s own study; an independent analysis could show even more troubling results."

Feigenbaum notes that similar problems were detected in other counties, but the DLGF stepped in to correct problems, in Marion Co. the pressure to get tax bills into the hands of taxpayers seemed to win out. "In some cases, interposing an equalization factor as statutorily required would have resolved the problem, but neither the Marion County Assessor nor DLGF opted for this resolution, which would have decreased tax rates for homeowners in at least some of the townships," Feigenbaum writes. So why didn't Marion Co. Assessor Greg Bowes insist upon applying the equalization factor to help relieve the problem? That's a good question people should be asking him.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz adds a couple of other interesting tidbits to Marion County's situation. On those abatements for property taxes, he reports the state picked up the tab this past year for nearly $330 million in property tax subsidies for Marion Co. If the state hadn't picked up that tab, Shabazz notes Marion Co. homeowners would have been hit even harder. He also notes the failure of the city-county council to enact county economic development income tax (CEDIT) to make up for the $80 million Marion Co. was losing from the phaseout of the inventory tax. Now, Mayor Peterson is seeking a 100% increase in county option income tax to raise $90 million at the same time skyrocketing tax bills are hitting taxpayers mailboxes. So it looks like there's plenty of blame to go around for this year's property tax crisis.

Miller Unloads On Daniels

Advance America's Eric Miller, otherwise known as the Grand Dragon of Moral Righteousness, has taken a couple of minor, barely-noticed actions on the part of Gov. Mitch Daniels and turned them into rallying cries for his followers on the Christian right. The Howey Political Report quotes from a homobigoted e-mail Miller sent out lambasting Gov. Daniels for supporting a Indianapolis' Gay Pride Celebration and failing to speak out publicly in support of SJR-7:

"In a very disheartening move, Gov. Mitch Daniels has shunned the importance of protecting traditional marriage and embraced an Indianapolis 'gay pride' parade all in the course of a week." "For three years Gov. Daniels has been virtually silent about the Indiana Marriage Protection Amendment (SJR 7), which stalled in an Indiana House Committee this year on a tie vote.

The Governor told reporters on Friday that the marriage amendment would not be part of his re-election campaign." In that meeting with reporters, Daniels was asked about wedge issues and said, "I do believe there are other things more important to our future, at least other things that a governor and the people around him can try to work on. And, secondly, I'm always trying to bring this state together, and we don't have, I don't believe, the luxury of division."

Miller charged, "Yet, six days earlier the Governor was not concerned about divisiveness when his letter to Indy Pride welcoming homosexuals attending a festival and parade was published in the gay pride program. The annual Indianapolis gay pride event featured such apparently non-divisive items as drag queens on stage, men in leather bondage outfits kissing on the street, and a parade Grand Marshall who was honored for his authoring of a stage play and film called 'Southern Baptist Sissies.'"

Several family lobbyists told HPR at the governor's campaign kickoff that they were alarmed by Daniels' rejection of "wedge" issues. When told of the criticism, Daniels told HPR, "There's probably never been a more pro-life governor than I have been."

Miller also warned his supporters about the Indiana Department of Health "partnering with Indiana's largest abortion provider." He said that IDOH is "partnering" with Planned Parenthood in hosting a June 26 workshop with Dr. Michael Carrera, an outspoken critic of abstinence-only programs for schools. According to a Wall Street Journal Report, Carrera says abstinence-only programs "lie to kids." Miller said, "It is inexcusable that the IDOH would provide partnership in hosting a speaker who is a harsh critic of abstinence-only education - the same type of education currently taught in Indiana's public schools. Such actions can only serve to undermine those programs that have effectively presented abstinence before marriage as the expected standard for all Indiana school children."

The timing of Miller's attack on Daniels right after he launched his re-election bid can't help but make some wonder whether Miller may be considering a rematch against Daniels in the 2008 GOP primary. He has continued to maintain his political campaign committee since his 2004 loss, and his name is prominently displayed on Advance America's website and banners at any events the organization holds for its supposed nonprofit purposes.

The Indy Pride letter attack is noteworthy in that Daniels has sent a very similar letter supportive of past Indy Pride gatherings without any similar complaints from Miller. Likewise, Daniels has avoided talking about the gay marriage issue since taking office. This is the first time Miller has publicly attacked Daniels for his silence on the issue. As for Miller's description of the Indy Pride parade, let's end Mardi Gras celebrations everywhere. "Drag queens on stage?" "Men in leather bondage outfits kissing on the street"? Me thinks the twice married and childless Miller protests a little too much.

The AFA's Micah Clark has worked himself up in a lather this week as well. Responding to Daniels' statement that he did not want to make wedge issues like gay marriage a part of his re-election campaign, Clark told his followers:

Just days after defeating Eric Miller in the Republican Primary, candidate Daniels met with homosexual activists regarding a "gender identity" employee policy, which as Governor, he later enacted. Then on May 19th, a representative from the Daniels' Campaign met with, and gave a donation to, a "transgender" rights activist group.

Clark apparently didn't get a recent e-mail message from the Governor on the issue which other folks received. Daniels stated: "As I clearly said on June 15th, and have always stated, I support the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, and would support an amendment to confirm this further in Indiana law . . . Either the out-of-state organization that contacted you received incorrect information about my position on this matter, or they were grossly unfair."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Burton & Pence Vote For Pay Raise

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R) and U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R) aren't satisfied with their current salary of $162,100 so they voted against blocking an automatic $3,100 pay raise from taking effect, boosting their annual congressional salary to $165,200. Pence and Burton were among about a dozen GOP members who flipped their votes in favor of the pay raise after pressure was applied by House leaders, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland). Here's yet another press release opportunity for Burton's 2008 primary opponent, Dr. John McGoff. Burton issued some lame press release claiming it wasn't as it appeared. The Indiana Daily Insight fills us in on the details:

According to an Associated Press account, "On a 244-181 vote Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans alike killed a bid ... to get a direct vote to block the COLA, which is automatically awarded unless lawmakers vote to block it. The Senate has not indicated when it will deal with a similar measure. As part of an ethics bill in 1989, Congress gave up its ability to accept pay for speeches and made annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless the lawmakers voted otherwise. The annual vote on the pay hike comes on an obscure procedural move -- instead of a direct up-or-down vote -- and Democratic and GOP leaders each delivered a majority of their members to shut off the move to block the pay hike. This year's vote was made ticklish by last year's battle. Republicans said Democrats broke a promise not to use the pay raise issue against GOP lawmakers in campaign ads and therefore were, generally speaking, more reluctant to supply votes. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., worked the floor during the vote to make sure there was relative balance between the warring parties in delivering votes. Working through Blunt, Hoyer forced more than a dozen Republicans to switch their votes in support of accepting the raise, including Reps. Mike Pence and Dan Burton of Indiana ...." Rep. Burton later issued this statement: "Members of Congress, along with every other federal employee, military and civilian, receive automatic annual cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA). As Republicans fight to bring transparency and fiscal responsibility back to our federal budget I believe that it is appropriate for Members of Congress to step up to the plate and refuse the 2008 COLA; and to do so in the light of day not through the Byzantine parliamentary sleight of hand we saw last night. That is why today I introduced the 'Members of Congress Personal Fiscal Responsibility Act' to give all Members a chance for a straight up or down vote on blocking the COLA. I call on the House Democrat leadership to bring this bill to the House Floor for a vote before the scheduled August Recess. In addition, I pledge that if offered a COLA for 2008 I will refuse it."

UPDATE: Dr. John McGoff's response to Burton's explanation on the pay raise issue likens it to John Kerry's famous "I voted for it, before I voted against it" line from the 2004 presidential campaign.

“Over the last eight years, Dan Burton has seen his salary rise nearly $35,000 and not once has he objected,” said McGoff. “He voted for the pay raise again two days ago, but then changed his mind the next day and said he wouldn't accept it. On top of that, now he says he will introduce legislation to block the increase. Perhaps he's a bit confused, but his legislation to block the COLA is pretty much same thing he voted against the day before. It reminds me a bit too much of Sen. John Kerry's flip-flop on body armor. I find it all a bit disingenuous considering that Congressman Burton's had twelve opportunities to cosponsor the same legislation since 2001. Not once did he take the opportunity to do so.”

“Dan Burton said he will refuse the pay increase, but he's never had a problem accepting one in the past,” said McGoff. “Now he has a tough reelection and all of a sudden he says he wants to stand on principle and refuse it. Where was that principle when he didn't have a primary challenger? I think Hoosier voters need to ask him why he didn't return the pay raises before?”

Peterson Wants Special Session

Wow! I found something upon which I agree with Mayor Peterson. He called on Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) to call a special session of the legislature this summer to deal with the "property tax crisis." Indeed, WTHR's Mary Milz interviewed local realtor Joe Everhart today. He tells her some homes in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood are seeing tax increases of 158%--much more than the 24% increase predicted earlier. The Star's Mary Beth Schneider quotes Peterson as saying:

"We are, or are about to be, in a property tax crisis here in Marion County and across the state of Indiana." "And there's one thing that I can guarantee you you're going to see over the next few days and the next few weeks, and that is the ultimate finger-pointing fest." "Everybody is going to try to point the finger of blame at somebody else."

Specifically, Peterson wants the legislature to: provide a state takeover of child welfare costs currently paid by local property taxes, saving Marion Co. property taxpayers $41 million; lift the freeze on the property tax replacement credit, allowing $25 million more in relief to flow to Marion Co.; and passage of the Indianapolis Works proposal, which means consolidation of the fire departments but not other township government functions, which he claims will save $22 million. That latter claim is dubious given the lack of savings derived from law enforcement consolidation.

So why are property taxes going up so much in Marion Co.? Some are blaming the loss of the business inventory tax, while others suggest its simply rising property values represented by the new tax assessments. But as WTHR notes, local governments in Marion Co. made deliberate decisions to tax property owners more this year. Here's how much some of those taxing districts are hitting your tax bills:

  • Pike Township Schools--6%;
  • IPS--21%;
  • City of Indianapolis--9%; and
  • County Welfare--75%.

I'm afraid to call ahead and find out how much my tax bill is going up. My taxes tripled after the 2003 reassessment. The situation has to be really bad for Mayor Peterson to take the step of asking Daniels to call a special session. It's a clever move on Peterson's part to help get the monkey off his back in this critical re-election year for him. I hope Daniels calls a special session--not to help out Peterson--but to address the problems the legislature left unattended when they adjourned earlier this year.

Peterson Plan III: Will He Fool Us A Third Time?

Mayor Bart Peterson (D) officially unveiled his plan to put 100 more police officers on the street, fund the criminal justice system and pay debt service on police and fire pensions. It requires a $90 million, 65% increase in city taxpayers' income taxes on top of the double-digit property tax increases which will hit homeowners mail boxes this weekend. Don't be fooled by the mayor's latest plan. Recall that Mayor Peterson promised 200 new police officers without a tax increase when he first ran for mayor 8 years ago. He never delivered on that promise, and he has no intention of delivering on this promise. Those 100 police officers are positions already funded in the current budget which have remained unfilled because the mayor had more important priorities on how to spend the money.

When I read the mayor's latest proposal, the only thing I could think to compare it to was a mafia shakedown. You want protection, pay up now, the mayor was telling us. There's an episode of the Sopranos where Tony's dying uncle and ex-mob boss is leaning on him for a bigger cut to pay his medical bills and attorneys fee, while Carmella is complaining they aren't setting aside enough money for their future. Tony calls his captains together to remind them who's in charge and to complain they weren't squeezing enough out of their underlings. He reminds them their organization is a pyramid and "shit runs downhill." Meanwhile, Tony is stashing away bucks nobody else knows about to take care of his own needs.

Did the mayor even give a second thought about our future when he decided to funnel $60 million more in borrowed funds to finance a billionaire's hotel project? Or when he plowed $25 million into the Simon's new corporate headquarters built on a public park? Or when he plowed $20 million into another friend's Conrad Hilton project? Or did the mayor stop to explain how we're going to pay for spiraling costs of a $700 million public stadium for the benefit of Jim Irsay? Or did he explain yesterday just how the hell he plans to fund the maintenance and operating costs on the new stadium when it opens next year, neither of which were funded under the one-sided agreement he negotiated with Irsay? And remember all the millions in savings Mayor Peterson promised taxpayers if the city police and sheriff's department were merged? Isn't true the merger hasn't yielded one net dime in savings to the city?

As with Tony Soprano, Peterson has entirely different plans for what this tax increase will allow him to do during the next 4 years. It's all a matter of priorities. Mayor Peterson's priority the past 8 years has been to conjure up as many schemes possible to use public funds to finance the private projects of his wealthy friends. If more police on the street was the priority he first claimed it was 8 years ago, he wouldn't be asking you to pay today for what he promised but never delivered during the past 8 years. Why should we believe him now? Had enough?

Side note: Today's Star article on the Mayor's tax increase proposal is accompanied by a photo of Mayor Peterson shaking hands with Deputy Police Chief Bart McAtee. Bart McAtee, of course, is the son of former Marion Co. Sheriff Joe McAtee (R). McAtee was once a golden boy in the Republican Party, who was supposed to be former Sheriff Jack Cottey's successor. When Cottey decided to throw his support behind Mayor Schneider of Lawrence instead, it set off a war in the county party. Joe McAtee re-entered politics and challenged Schneider in the primary. Cottey's office cooked county crime statistics to make McAtee look bad and help Schneider win the primary. That fact was later proven in a federal civil case involving a whistleblower in the sheriff's office who was fired for exposing the manipulation of the crime statistics by Cottey's office. The county was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the wrongfully discharged employee. Although Schneider won the primary that year, he was trounced by Frank Anderson with the full backing and support of the McAtee family. To return the favor, Frank Anderson has taken good care of Bart McAtee. I'm sure there are many rank and file Republicans who cringed when they saw the photo of the two Barts on the front page of the Star this morning.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More Legislative Retirements

The Indiana Daily Insight reports on Rep. Duane Cheney (D) making his retirement from the Indiana House of Represenatives official. That's the fourth legislative retirement since the beginning of the year, and it's not the last. The IDI suggests there could be at least four more retirements:

Duane Cheney (D) officially resigns from the House, following Bob Kuzman (D) who resigned Tuesday. We hear that at least one more Democrat (and not an attorney!) is also likely to leave, and perhaps three non-attorney Republicans, and rumors abound about even more.

Any speculation on who the Democrat and three Republicans are?

When Same-Sex Partners Fail To Formalize Their Relationship

Although Indiana law does not recognize marriages or civil unions between same-sex partners, there are many things that can be done to formalize the relationship in the eyes of the law in a way that protects the partners and extends respect for their relationship. General powers of attorney and health care power of attorneys can make it clear that a life partner will step in and manage the affairs of the other in the event of incapacity or disability. Same-sex partners can express their intent to own their property jointly and equally through cohabitation agreements, or by titling their property and bank accounts as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. And each partner is perfectly free to execute a will naming his life partner as the beneficiary of his estate. Unfortunately, many same-sex partners fail to contact an attorney and take these relatively simple, legal steps to formalize their status as life partners. A case decided this week by the Indiana Court of Appeals painfully illustrates a heartbreaking outcome which can occur when this happens.

The case In Re The Guardianship of Patrick Atkins involves two gay men who had been life partners for 25 years. Patrick Atkins and Brett Conrad met and became lovers while they were both students at Wabash College in 1978. The men have "lived together and have been in a loving and committed relationship" since 1978 according to the court's findings. Like happens in so many same-sex relationships, Patrick's parents "vehemently" disapproved of his relationship with Brett. A letter Patrick wrote to his family in 2000 explained how deep his love was for Brett and how much he wanted his family to accept them for who they were:

I want you all to know that Brett is my best friend in the whole world and I love him more than life itself. I beg all of you to reach out to him with the same love you have for me, he is extremely special and once you know him you will understand why I love him so much. Trust me, God loves us all so very much, and I know he approves of the love that Brett and I have shared for over 20 years.
Patrick's mother refused to accept his lifestyle. She believes that homosexuality is a "grievous sin" and that Brett and those who accept he and Patrick's relationship are "sinners" and are "evil." Nonetheless, Patrick worked for the family's business earning a six-figure income. Brett, who earned much less than Patrick as a waiter, pooled his income with Patrick's in an account titled in Patrick's name only but from which they paid their joint living expenses. They purchased a home together which they owned as joint tenants. And they invested extra money in their bank account in an investment account titled solely in Patrick's name.

Life turned upside down for Brett after Patrick suffered a near-fatal ruptured aneurysm while on a business trip to Atlanta in 2005. Patrick was hospitalized in an Atlanta hospital for six weeks, during which time Patrick's family endeavored to prevent Brett from visiting his life partner. Hospital staff ignored the family's orders and allowed Brett to visit Patrick when the family wasn't present. Patrick's mother told Brett during her son's hospital stay that "if Patrick was going to return to his life with Brett after recovering from the stroke, she would prefer that he not recover at all." Patrick was later moved to a nursing home in Carmel to recover. Brett visited his life partner daily after regular visitation hours so Patrick's family would not see him there.

Fed up with being shut out of Patrick's life by the family, Brett filed a petition for a guardianship over Patrick's person and estate. The Atkinses intervened to be named Patrick's guardian, alternatively, and Brett eventually amended his petition to limit it to a guardianship of Patrick's person. A court-appointed Guardian ad-litem (GAL) and a neuropsychologist determined that Brett's presence in Patrick's life was beneficial to his rehabilitation and recovery process. Nonetheless, the Atkinses later moved Patrick to their home where they have denied Brett any contact with their son.

Six months after Patrick had become incapacitated, a trial was held to determine his guardian. Although Patrick could walk, talk, bathe and feed himself, he was not allowed to be present for the trial. As the Court of Appeals would later note in its ruling, this was a fatal mistake on the part of the GAL, who should have insisted on his presence. The failure of the GAL to require Patrick's attendance at the guardianship trial acted as a waiver of his right to be present. Nearly six months after the trial was conducted, the trial court judge determined the Atkinses and not Brett should serve as co-guardians for their son. Adding further insult to injury, the trial court denied any visitation rights to Brett and gave the Atkinses sole authority to determine and control visitation. The court further ordered the home Brett and Patrick owned jointly be split and divided equally between Brett and Patrick's estate, and that its contents be split equally as well. Brett was allowed only a third of the money in Patrick's bank account and none of the funds in the investment account.

Disappointed with the outcome, Brett appealed his case to the Court of Appeals. At this point, I would note that if Patrick had simply executed a durable power of attorney in Brett, the preferred guardian of Patrick's estate would have been Brett. Instead, the statute gives a preference to Patrick's parents. The court could only choose Brett over Patrick's parents if it determined that action to be in the best interest of Patrick. Although the Court of Appeals felt Brett made a compelling argument, it was bound by the trial court's determination unless it found the court abused its discretion in choosing the Atkinses over Brett. On that score, the Court of Appeals found sufficient evidence in the record to support the choice of the Atkinses, notwithstanding "his mother's astonishing statement that she would rather he never recover than see him return to the relationship with Brett."

The Court of Appeals did provide some important relief for Brett. It found the trial court abused its discretion in barring Brett from visiting Patrick. The court only had the testimony of one expert who spent about one hour examining Patrick and originally stated he was unable to offer an opinion to support its finding. Dr. Jonathon Mangold later opined that "visitation with Brett may not be positive for Patrick from a psychological standpoint." He based his expert opinion solely on the basis of second-hand information according to the Court. "Indeed, the overwhelming wealth of evidence in the record, as well as common sense, establishes that it is in Patrick’s best interest that he continue to have contact with Brett, his life partner of over twenty-five years," the Court found.

The Court of Appeals denied Patrick's requested relief to receive a portion of the investment account. Essentially, the fact that Patrick had titled it solely in his name controlled the outcome here. The Court of Appeals also ordered the trial court to award reasonable attorney's fee and costs he incurred "in good faith" for the benefit of the protected person. It found the trial court acted erroneously by refusing to pay Brett's attorney's fees.

This is one of those cases where a trial court judge could be personally biased against a petitioning same-sex partner and, yet, arrive at a decision which is nearly impossible to overturn on appeal, although I have no reason to believe the trial court judge in this case disfavored Brett because of his homosexuality. In fact, from my own personal experience in Judge Steven Nation's court, I've found him to be very fair in his treatment of same-sex couples. From my personal standpoint, however, I simply could not have ignored the 25-year relationship between Brett and Patrick and the outlandish statement of Patrick's mother that she would rather he never recover than return to his relationship with Brett. Tradition, however, is going to favor the parents in circumstances like Patrick's.

It should be noted that Patrick's parents are very prominent Hamilton Co. residents. They own Atkins Elegant Desserts and Atkins Cheesecakes. While I'm extremely sympathetic to Brett's plight, I also find it difficult to understand why the two never bothered to take the simple steps that were necessary to avoid the unwanted predicament he finds himself. Please take note of what happened here and, if you have a loving, same-sex partner, don't make the same mistake Patrick and Brett made.

Judge Baker wrote the Court's opinion and Judge Robb concurred. Judge Darden wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued for leaving the trial's court's order undisturbed. Hat tip to the Indiana Law Blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bayh Flakes On Immigration Legislation

Sen. Evan Bayh flaked away today when the Senate took a key vote to reconsider critical immigration reform legislation to deal with the status of nearly 12 million undocumented aliens living and working in the U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R) voted with 64 of his colleagues in supporting today's crucial vote, while Sen. Bayh joined 35 senators in voting against the immigration legislation. In fact, Bayh was one of just 8 Democratic senators who voted against the bill. He was joined by former KKK member, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. David Rockefeller (D-WV), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. John Tester (D-MT).

Sen. Lugar bravely rose above the harsh political rhetoric being dished by opponents of immigration reforn on both extremes of the political spectrum. Bayh supported the immigration compromise brokered last year by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). I'm frankly stunned by Sen. Bayh's vote today. The irony is that, if he had remained a presidential candidate, today's vote would have pretty much done in his presidential aspirations. His vote today could also effectively kill any chances he had of being chosen as a running mate for the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate. The Democratic nominee wouldn't want the drag of an anti-immigrant candidate on the ticket. Today's knee-jerk vote may signal his intention to try pacifying the wingnuts back home in anticipation of a re-election bid in four years.

Will Sen. Bayh flake out on the federal hate crimes legislation next? The American Family Association of Indiana recently sent this warning to its followers: "AFA of Indiana has received reports indicating that that *both* Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh are inclined to support this unconstitutional bill. BOTH Senators need to hear from you immediately!" Like the immigration bill, Sen. Bayh has supported past votes on hate crimes legislation in the Senate, athough he did absolutely nothing as Indiana's governor to secure passage of similar legislation.

Ballard Blasts Peterson For Lobbying Handouts To Political Cronies

GOP mayoral hopeful Greg Ballard blasted Mayor Bart Peterson (D) for blowing $324,000 in taxpayers dollars to reward political cronies at two major lobbying firms. Ballard said, “Mayor Peterson demonstrated, yet again, his poor judgment and failure to make crime his top priority when he chose to spend over $300,000 on outside lobbyists last year, instead of hiring police officers," said Ballard. Ballard pointed to lobbying reports filed by the City of Indianapolis with the the state lobby commission, which shows the City spent $324,400.39 in the past twelve months to compensate lobbyists. "The lion’s share of that money went to the law firms that currently employ the Mayor’s campaign manager and his former top city attorney."

Bose Public Affairs Group employs former Peterson deputy, Mike O'Connor. The city also paid Baker & Daniels and Ice Miller to lobby for the City this past session. Baker & Daniels employs former Peterson deputy, Melina Kennedy, and the city's former chief legal counsel, Scott Chinn. Ice Miller formerly employed Mayor Peterson. Peterson political crony Lacy Johnson, an Ice Miller attorney, is a lobbyist and partner at Ice Miller. According to a Star report on Sunday, the expenditures on lobbying by the City made it the third biggest spender at the General Assembly this past session among all lobbyists. This comes at the same time Mayor Peterson is seeking yet another $85 million tax increase from the city-county council.

Ballard thinks that money would be better spent on more police officers on the street. "A recent report showed that the new Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) is well over 100 officers short at best,” said Ballard. “Violent crime is growing throughout the city. And how does the mayor spend our hard earned tax dollars? On political cronies who are now highly paid lobbyists.” "This offends me,” Ballard added. “While the City needs a strong presence at the General Assembly, I don’t think the Mayor went about it the right way at this time. With more than $2 million dollars worth of staff on his office’s payroll, couldn’t he, through good personnel management, have found competent City employees for this part-time task?”

Ballard called on Peterson "to place public safety ahead of all other city priorities and political considerations.” “We need to hire more police officers and we need to reopen some of the important community police posts like the North District substation." Commenting on the City's waste of taxpayer money to reward Peterson's political cronies, Ballard said, "We didn’t get lower property taxes." "We didn’t get more efficient government." "We didn’t get more police on our streets." "We did get his pledge to raise our income taxes by $85 million when we can least afford it.”

Early Signs Of Ugly Tax Bills

When the township assessors are asking for police protection in advance of tax bills going out in Marion Co., you know the hit homeowners are about to endure must really be bad. The Star reports:

At least three of Marion County's nine township assessors will be given police protection because they are so worried about confrontations with irate taxpayers.

The Marion County treasurer's office expects to begin mailing tax bills Friday, and Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson said he will provide police protection for township assessors who fear the bills will be enough to spark rage among some taxpayers.

Specifically, Wayne, Franklin and Lawrence townships have requested police protection according to the Star story. Center Township Assessor Eugene Akers, the full-time janitorial supervisor for IPS who also draws a government check for being township assessor, has not requested police protection. Because his office is located in the city-county building, anyone visiting his office will have to go through metal detectors before entering the building.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lugar Calls For Shift In Iraq Policy

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) made a major speech on the floor of the Senate tonight calling for a new direction in Iraq. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the Senate Majority Whip, praised Lugar and likened his speech to one given by Sen. Robert Kennedy on the floor of the Senate 40 years ago about the need to end our military involvement in Vietnam. The language of Lugar's speech is a little too convoluted for my taste, but it's significance cannot be underestimated. As the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Bush administration can ill-afford to lose Lugar's support. The fact the President can no longer count on Lugar's support suggests big changes are ahead. The Indiana Daily Insight has the following excerpt from Lugar's speech:

Our continuing absorption with military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world,” and suggesting that “The prospects that the current 'surge' strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate.” He adds that “the strident, polarized nature of that debate increases the risk that our involvement in Iraq will end in a poorly planned withdrawal that undercuts our vital interests in the Middle East. Unless we recalibrate our strategy in Iraq to fit our domestic political conditions and the broader needs of United States national security, we risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world.

The current debate on Iraq in Washington has not been conducive to a thoughtful revision of our Iraq policy. Our debate is being driven by partisan political calculations and understandable fatigue with bad news -- including deaths and injuries to Americans. We have been debating and voting on whether to fund American troops in Iraq and whether to place conditions on such funding. We have contemplated in great detail whether Iraqi success in achieving certain benchmarks should determine whether funding is approved or whether a withdrawal should commence. I would observe that none of this debate addresses our vital interests any more than they are addressed by an unquestioned devotion to an ill-defined strategy of so-called “staying the course” in Iraq.

In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.

I do not come to this conclusion lightly, particularly given that General Petraeus will deliver a formal report in September on his efforts to improve security. The interim information we have received from General Petraeus and other officials has been helpful and appreciated. I do not doubt the assessments of military commanders that there has been some progress in security. More security improvements in the coming months may be achieved. We should attempt to preserve initiatives that have shown promise, such as engaging Sunni groups that are disaffected with the extreme tactics and agenda of Al Qaeda in Iraq. But three factors – the political
fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process -- are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame…

[T]he issue before us is whether we will refocus our policy in Iraq on realistic assessments of what can be achieved, and on a sober review of our vital interests in the Middle East. Given the requirements of military planners, the stress of our combat forces, and our own domestic political timeline, we are running out of time to implement a thoughtful Plan B that attempts to protect our substantial interests in the region, while downsizing our military presence in Iraq.

We need to recast the geo-strategic reference points of our Iraq policy. We need to be preparing for how we will array U.S. forces in the region to target terrorist enclaves, deter adventurism by Iran, provide a buffer against regional sectarian conflict, and generally reassure friendly governments that the United States is committed to Middle East security. Simultaneously, we must be aggressive and creative in pursuing a regional dialogue that is not limited to our friends. We cannot allow fatigue and frustration with our Iraq policy to lead to the abandonment of the
tools and relationships we need to defend our vital interests in the Middle East.

If we are to seize opportunities to preserve these interests, the Administration and Congress must suspend what has become almost knee-jerk political combat over Iraq. Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists. We need to move Iraq policy beyond the politics of the moment and re-establish a broad consensus on the role of the United States in the Middle East. If we do that, the United States has the diplomatic influence and economic and military power to strengthen mutually beneficial policies that could enhance security and prosperity throughout the region. I pray that the President and the Congress will move swiftly and surely to achieve that goal.

A Case For Voter ID?

Indiana Democrats maintain that the state's Voter ID law is unconstitutionally burdensome for some voters and seeks to remedy a problem which doesn't exist. I stumbled onto this contested Chicago aldermanic race today which I think supports having a voter ID law. The 49th Ward of Chicago doesn't at first blush seem to be a likely place for voter fraud. It's a northside, lakefront ward in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Joe Moore, the current Ward 49 Alderman, defeated challenger Don Gordon in an April runoff election by 247 votes. Gordon filed a lawsuit seeking a recount. His complaint identifies hundreds of illegally cast votes in more than 20 precincts. Specifically, Gordon's suit claims:

  • Votes were cast by persons not registered in the precinct;
  • Votes were cast by persons registered to vote but who had become disqualified to vote;
  • Votes were cast by one person in the name of another person;
  • Votes were cast by persons who voted more than once in the election;
  • Votes were cast by persons who failed to sign an application for a ballot; and
  • Votes were cast by persons who unlawfully assisted the voter in casting a vote.

A review of the list of methods allegedly used to cast votes illegally tells me that a Voter ID law could have prevented at least some of the alleged voter fraud. If this happened in Ward 49, I think it's a safe bet that it's happening in many other wards in the City of Chicago. Alderman Moore and the Cook Co. Election Board attempted unsuccessfully to get Gordon's election challenge thrown out, but Cook Co. Circuit Court Judge Marsha Hayes turned down his request this week, allowing discovery in the case to move forward. According to a website supporting Gordon's challenge, this will be the first time in Chicago history a recount has been conducted in a Chicago aldermanic race based on voter fraud. In a June 9 letter to the editor published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Gordon explained the election contest:

The April 17th run-off election gave our incumbent an apparent 251-vote victory out of 8,000 votes cast. Facts, however, do not support the result. Three other residents – Eileen Foxman, Eva McCann, and Blane Roberts – joined as plaintiffs, citing the egregious voting irregularities they witnessed. Numerous calls and emails from voters reported illegal voting, electioneering by the incumbent and improper actions by polling place judges. Those irregularities may likely change the outcome of the election.

As might be expected, the defendants moved to dismiss the charges so they will not have to defend the results. However, election irregularities have been dismissed for too long and damage our democracy. On June 22nd the judge will hear oral arguments and rule on the motions to dismiss. If denied, as we believe it should be, all Chicagoans will benefit by allowing a full investigation of the election results that includes every aspect of the election.

This will be an interesting case to follow. If the lawsuit lives up to its allegations, it could lead to more election reforms, including the need for a Voter ID law. It is worth noting that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the constitutionality of Indiana's Voter ID law, is based in Chicago and has appellate jurisdiction over federal cases in Illinois. This case is in Cook County's circuit court. A federal district court judge turned down the defendants' request to remove the case to federal court. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mass Ave Merchants Knock City For "No Parking Order" For Gay Pride Parade

Bill Brooks, editor of the Urban Times, describes what he considered a horrifying scene unfold on Mass Ave on the Friday before Indy Pride's Gay Pride Parade on Saturday when city workers bagged parking meters up and down the avenue with "No Parking" orders:

This particular Friday began as usual along Mass Ave. The morning coffee crowd. A few walkers and bicyclists. Motorists coming and going.

Suddenly, there were red bags everywhere. On every parking meter. Like cicadas. Like the measles. There couldn't have been any more of them if city police had put a red bag over the head of every panhandler.

Suddenly, there was no place to park. From Vermont Street to the East End, Mass Ave parking meters had been hooded like a condemned man going to the gallows. "No Paking, Tow-Away Zone," the bags menacingly motorists.

Merchants were confused as they came to realize what had happened: City police had "bagged" the meters to accommodate Saturday morning's annual Gay Pride Parade, which a full day later wuld form on the East End, start at College Avenue and proceed down Mass Ave to Vermont Street, where it would turn west toward University Park. But the method had changed: City police had decided to use the red bags instead of the cardboard placards which would have read, "No parking Saturday."
Actually, what Brooks described here is no different than what happens on numerous occasions throughout the downtown area year-round. As a downtown dweller, I've come to realize the city always bags the meters at least 24 hours before the event. Having figured out how it works, I take full advantage of the free parking. Even though the meters are bagged in advance, the city won't have your car towed until the day of the event. At least one Mass Ave business owner was smart enough to figure this out. Brooks reports that, while other merchants complained of lost business, Tracy Robertson of the Mass Ave pub reported she suffered no loss of sales. "That's because she stood outside and waved folks into the spaces herself," Brooks writes.

As someone who walks on Mass Ave every day on my morning commute to work, I have a question for some of these Mass Ave merchants. If you're so concerned about parking for your customers, why do you allow your employees to park on Mass Ave in front of your business and feed the meters all day? Ironically, some of the gay business owners on the Ave were yelling the loudest. "As a small business owner, I personally feel helpless in matters like this," said Rob Hoaglin of Hoaglin's To Go. "If we treated our customers as if they had no recourse when we made a mistake, we would be out of business," Hoaglin added. The former head of Indiana Equality weighed in with her own criticism. "Kathy Sarris of Aesop's Tables said her Friday business was down 50 percent, while Saturday's lunch business was off 65 percent--on a day when it is normally boosted by the Gay Pride Parade." "But she said the debacle was an even bigger problem for her employees who were either sent home or lacked for tipping customers." "To me it showed a total disregard for those who make a living on the Avenue," Sarris said.

Others in the Indiana GLBT community might offer their own ideas why Sarris' business was off on Gay Pride weekend, but I know from personal observation that Hoaglin's had a booming business on the morning of the parade. So did the Starbucks down the street. Tracy Robertson opened her Mass Ave pub early to take advantage of the large crowds gathered out front of her business to watch the parade. She told me she had a busier-than-normal Saturday lunch crowd immediately following the parade. And the Metro did a brisk business with its special brunch offer for parade goers. On the other end, the Old Pointe didn't even bother to open its doors until the parade was concluding despite the large crowds gathered at its vantage point where the parade converged with Vermont Street.

I don't disagree with the merchants that the city should have used the cardboard placards instead of the "No Parking" bags, but this has been a problem elsewhere as well. I happened to witness the exchange between city police and the business owner of the Chatterbox over the parking dispute on that Friday during my lunch break. One of the business owners tagged the bags with notes saying it was okay to park in the spaces on Friday, but city police viewed this as defacing city property. The police ripped down all of the tags posted by the merchant. During the exchange with the Chatterbox owner, the city police officer warned that anyone caught doing it again would be arrested. The Chatterbox owner complained to the officer that he obviously didn't understand business. As I recall, the Chatterbox was closed during the Gay Pride Parade.

Rather than complain about the "No Parking" bags, the Mass Ave business owners would spend their time more productively by sitting down and trying to figure out how to take advantage of the more than 30,000 people who converge on the downtown area for the Pride celebration. Many of the visitors are from out-of-town and offer a source of a lot of potential new revenues for these merchants during the weekend. The dirty truth is that more than a few of these business owners don't welcome the Parade despite promoting itself as "45 degrees from the ordinary." That's what needs to change more than the way the city administers its "No Parking" policy for special events.

Blade: Brutal Indiana Killing Echoes Shepard Case

One of the nation's oldest and most respected GLBT newspapers, Washington Blade, takes up the hate crime killing of Crothersville's Aaron Hall. Likening it to the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard nearly 10 years ago, Elizabeth Perry writes:

In a case reminiscent of the 1998 Laramie, Wyo., murder of Matthew Shepard, two young men were charged with beating a Crothersville, Ind., man to death and leaving him in a field to die because of a sexual proposition.

Although most of Perry's story primarily recounts the probable cause affidavit filed in the case by police, Perry does elicit a small tidbit from the Jackson Co. Prosecutor's Office. "Jackson County, Ind., chief deputy prosecutor Amy Marie Travis said her office was prohibited from talking about the case, but said that the investigation is ongoing." “If we hear of a rumor we check it out,” she said.

Perry interviewed the lead investigator in the Shepard case and spoke to other legal experts about the accused's use of a so-called "gay panic" defense, including at least one case where it was successfully used in Georgia, one of the few states in the company of Indiana with no hate crimes law. Perry writes:

The Shepard case, in which a the 21-year-old gay college student was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, then 21, bears similarities to Hall’s case. The defendants in both attacks claim a sexual proposition made by the victim provoked them to violence.

Dave O’Malley was the lead investigator and commander of the detective division on the Shepard case. After leaving the Laramie Police Department he was elected vice mayor and is now a member at large of Laramie City Council.

In an interview with the Blade, O’Malley said motivation is all about the perceived sexual orientation of the victim.“It’s all based on the perpetrator’s perception,” said O’Malley. “It goes toward motivation, not whether they are gay or straight. It’s because they perceived the person to be gay.”

Attorney General of Atlanta Paul Howard said the so-called “gay panic defense” is a tactic some attorneys will use in connection with a justifiable homicide defense to sway the jury.

In Shepard’s case the judge refused to let gay panic be introduced and his killers were sentenced to life in prison, but such an outcome is not always guaranteed when the strategy is used.

Howard was Fulton district attorney in 2001 when Ahmed Dabarran, an assistant DA in his office, was slain in his Cobb County apartment. Dabarran’s accused killer, Roderiqus Reshad Reed, claimed he killed him to escape unwanted sexual advances and was acquitted. He predicts the defendants in the Hall case will offer a similar explanation.

“If you check around the country you will find that defendants offer the same lame defense and are acquitted. A reasonable person would say, ‘that’s not a defense.’ It plays on the prejudices of people on the jury. Some people believe if a gay man makes an advance they shouldn’t be treated the same way.”

He said the best way to counter a gay panic strategy is for courts to hold pre-trial hearings and exclude any mention of the term.

Star On Deputy Getting Fired Over Blog Comments

It didn't rate coverage as a regular news story, but the Star did stick an item in its "Behind Closed Doors" column about reserve deputy Rick Skirvin's recent firing for posting comments on the IndyUndercover blog site which were critical of his boss, Sheriff Frank Anderson, and Mayor Bart Peterson. The Star is apparently amused by the words used in a press release from the sheriff's department commenting on Skirvin's firing. The column reads:

Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson fired a volunteer reserve deputy this month for his "dastardly" and "boorish" criticism of the department on a Web site.

Anderson fired Rick Skirvin on June 5 from his $5-a-year job as a reserve deputy assigned to drive a prisoner-transport vehicle after Skirvin admitted criticizing department officials on the blog IndyUndercover.

A statement from Anderson's office used the words "dastardly," "boorish" and "pernicious" to describe Skirvin's actions.

"If Skirvin had valid constructive criticism of the Marion County Sheriff's Department, he should have acted in accord with departmental rules and regulations," the statement said. "Instead, under cover of darkness, Skirvin elected to anonymously spread his noxious screed over the Internet."

Skirvin, who runs a business that installs and maintains cryogenic freezers for the health-care industry, said he immediately acknowledged authoring the posting and expected to be reprimanded. He said he was stunned by his firing.

"In the 21/2 years I was on the street, I never had one complaint from a citizen or anyone on the department," Skirvin said. "The sheriff is always preaching accountability. I bought into that. I was accountable for my actions. Unfortunately, some people don't live by what they preach."

Inspector General's Office Becomes A Black Hole

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's Niki Kelly has a story asking some tough questions about what is happening to the many complaints which are filed with the Inspector General's office, a newly-created office advocated by Gov. Mitch Daniels at the beginning of his term as a way of cleaning up state government. Ironically, it was Democrats who fought the creation of an Inspector General, but they have used the office frequently to file complaints against members of Daniels' administration. Claims of confidentiality leaves one wondering if some complaints aren't disappearing into a black hole. Kelly writes:

The Indiana Inspector General’s Office keeps a daily log of every complaint filed with the ethics and efficiency watchdog.

But finding out what happened to them is another story, as the complaints slip into a bureaucratic black hole of confidentiality with Hoosier taxpayers often unaware of the findings.

Inspector General David Thomas says he isn’t at liberty to even confirm the existence of a specific complaint, though some are publicly known.

Kelly cites the three following cases as examples of cases falling into this black hole:

• In June 2006, an anonymous complaint was filed with the inspector general regarding then-Hoosier Lottery Director Esther Schneider. The complainant also gave copies to various media outlets, which were quickly placed on several blogs. Schneider responded to the complaint personally, denying most of the allegations while admitting a few. She also told reporters she welcomed the inspector general’s involvement and felt it would vindicate her.
• In November 2005, the Indiana Democratic Party asked the inspector general to look into then-Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp for meeting with transportation-industry officials who also are GOP political donors. That meeting was coordinated by the Republican Party’s state fundraising unit, and the issue was first raised in an Indianapolis Star column.
• In May 2006, the Indiana Democratic Party publicly filed a complaint seeking the inspector general to investigate a contract between Fort Wayne businessman Richard Rhoad and the Family and Social Services Administration. Rhoad had been
chief financial officer of the agency since the beginning of 2005, receiving a $100,000 base salary. After complications over housing and travel expenses, Rhoad resigned as a state employee Jan. 13, 2006, and signed a personal-services contract the same day with FSSA to continue as CFO with pay of $180,000 a year. Rhoad has since left state government altogether.
Although David Thomas' office has received over 1,000 complaints since he became the state's first Inspector General and he has written a report on every case, he tells Kelly he's only publicly released 58 of those reports. The new law gave Thomas discretion to withhold the reports from the public. Kelly explains:

For instance, in criminal cases he makes the report public only after he has forwarded it to a local prosecutor and charges have been filed. If a prosecutor chooses not to file charges, Thomas evaluates the confidentiality of the reports on a case-by-case basis.

Thomas also undertakes efficiency cases, such as when he determined that state government could save money by not leaving on the lights in the downtown government center complex at night. Those reports are handled on a case-by-case basis, though all have been made public.

It is the third and largest category – possible ethics violations – that appears to create confusion.

Thomas said these reports are confidential until the State Ethics Commission finds there is probable cause for an ethics violation or the target of the investigation waives their right to confidentiality.

In the case of Daniels' use of a donated RV for political purposes, Thomas quickly concluded an investigation and released a report to the public at Daniels' urging. In the case of Heather Bolejack, the former executor director of the Indiana Criminal Justice Agency, Thomas said he released it because Bolejack had involved the media so much in the case. In Thomas' defense, the way he is applying Indiana's law on the public release of reports is not all that different than other states according to Kelly's report. "But Fred Palm, executive director of the Association of Inspectors General in New York, said this type of confidentiality is commonplace in other inspector general offices nationwide." “It doesn’t mean (Thomas) is not doing his job,” he said. “There are all sorts of protections and prohibitions with respect to investigations. They need to preserve the integrity of the process."

Money & Influence Pays Off For Gambling Industry And Others

Nearly ten percent of the money spent to lobby the Indiana legislature during this past session, or $2 million, came from the gambling industry. The two horse race tracks, which won the right to purchase franchises from the state to operate slot machines at their facilities, shelled out more than $760,000. And, while you won't read this in today's Star story, Hoosier Park was represented by the law firm of Ice Miller. That's the same law firm which just hired Rep. Bob Kuzman (D), a key legislator involved in the property tax rebate deal which allows slots at the tracks. The firm also lobbies for Indiana Gaming Company. And two years ago, the firm hired then-Rep. Luke Messer (R-Shelbyville) to become a lobbyist with the firm. As a legislator, he was a big advocate for slots at the tracks for the Indiana Downs race track in his district, which also spent big money lobbying the legislature this year.

On Kuzman's hiring by Ice Miller, the Star took great pains to assure us there was nothing untoward in the firm's decision to hire Kuzman. In advocating a cooling off period in an editorial yesterday, the newspaper wrote:

As we've said before, that is a reasonable stricture, even as we stipulate there is nothing dishonorable or suspect about Kuzman's move to the employ of the esteemed Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller. He represents a significant loss to the legislature and surely will be a resource to his ex-colleagues wearing his new hat.
For you Indianapolis taxpayers who are reportedly being hit with $200 million in new taxes this year thanks to the leadership of a former Ice Miller attorney, Mayor Bart Peterson (D), you will not be too happy to learn that Mayor Peterson spent $324,400 lobbying the legislature, which ranked the city as the third-highest paying lobbyist this session, spending more than Eli Lilly, the Indiana State Teachers Association and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce among others. And who got paid to lobby for the City of Indianapolis? You got it. Ice Miller. Adding further insult to injury, the firm also got paid to lobby for the Center Township Trustee's office to make sure Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer, a close political associate of Lacy Johnson could go on fleecing the taxpayers. Does anyone see a conflict of interest here? Wasn't Mayor Peterson arguing for consolidation of local government to eliminate township government? And wasn't Carl Drummer lobbying the legislature to make sure his job as Center Township Trustee didn't get eliminated?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Daniels Names Bradford To Court of Appeals: What Does It Mean?

Gov. Mitch Daniels took his first step in reshaping the face of Indiana's appellate courts by naming Marion Co. Superior Court judge Cale Bradford to the Court of Appeals, replacing retiring Judge Patrick Sullivan. At the relatively young age of 46, Bradford could easily be rendering decisions for the next quarter-century. The liberal-leaning Blue Indiana reacted negatively to Daniels' appointment today. "This gentleman is no ordinary rightwinger, he is exactly the kind of extremist ("activist") that should not only not be appointed to such a high position, he shouldn't be sitting on a bench period," the blog writes.

Did Daniels appoint a conservative Republican like Bradford to the Court of Appeals to move it further to the right? Possibly. In appointing Bradford, Daniels cited Bradford's criminal law experience as a compelling reason to choose him over Judge William Hughes and Judge Robyn Moberly. "The Court of Appeals reviews many criminal trials, and it’s here where Judge Bradford’s deep experience really stands out,” Daniels said. Bradford also has strong Republican credentials. His grandfather was a Marion Co. GOP chairman in the 1940s, and his father was a close associate of the late Keith Bulen, who was credited with building the Marion Co. GOP into a dominating force for decades.

Bradford first became a judge at the young age of 36 after serving as a Marion Co. Deputy prosecutor and an assistant U.S. attorney for about 7 years. Bradford is not perceived as an intellectual legal scholar by any stretch of the imagination. As he describes himself, “People know that I have a lot of common sense, I’m fair, and I’m collegial. I’ve been doing that all of my life and I have no intention of changing those qualities.” Although Bradford has been a trial court judge for more than a decade, it's not always easy to discern the ideological bent of a trial court judge from his day-to-day rulings. There are some cases which give us a hint of how Bradford thinks.

The Indiana Law Blog draws attention to some of those cases. The most notable case that comes to everyone's mind when they think of Judge Bradford is the so-called Wiccan decision. The Court of Appeals slapped down a ruling he made in a child custody matter instructing the parents of a child not to expose the child to their Wiccan beliefs. The Court found that Judge Bradford had exceeded his authority by imposing his personal belief that the parent's non-mainstream religious beliefs caused harm to their child without making any findings to support his ruling. In another decision, conservatives would argue Judge Bradford showed judicial restraint in tossing out a case brought by the Indiana State Teachers Association challenging the state's school aid formula. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in this case would have been tantamount to a court-imposed statewide tax increase.

On partisanship, Judge Bradford was criticized when he refused to recuse himself from consideration of a redistricting decision for the Indianapolis city-county council because his brother, Jim, served as a city-county council member at the time. The state Supreme Court later took charge of the case, throwing out a ruling written by Bradford and adopted along party lines by the county's judges approving a Republican redistricting plan, and redrew the lines to its own liking. Republican partisans are likely to feel comforted that Bradford will not forget his party roots when deciding a case which is politically-charged based upon the redistricting decision.

Some ideologically-driven Republicans may be disappointed that the governor didn't select a more scholarly choice who could be groomed to fill a future vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court during Daniels' tenure. Given the three choices from whom he had to choose, though, that wasn't really a choice he had. As for an ideological shift on the Court, a decision which is most likely to stir the most interest is any case involving the parenting rights of gays and lesbians. The Court of Appeals has taken a strong stance in support of recognizing gay parenting rights much to the chagrin of the religious right, while the Supreme Court has dodged such cases in the past. There is nothing the religious right folks would like more than to overturn the earlier Court of Appeals decisions on gay parenting rights. While Bradford's views on the subject aren't publicly known, Jim Bradford was one of the most outspoken opponents of Indianapolis' HRO extending protections to gay, lesbian and transgender citizens as a member of the city-county council. So angered he was by its passage that he suggested two Republican city-county council members who voted for the HRO and the consolidation of the law enforcement agencies should leave the Republican Party.

Star To Voters: Fire Burton

Dr. John McGoff got a boost for his campaign rarely given to a challenger to an incumbent congressman, or certainly not this far off from the election. Star editorial writers, commenting on the latest revelation U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R) paid out $144,000 in campaign funds to his daughter, say it's time for the district's voters to fire him. Explaining why Burton should be fired, the editorial reads:

Dan Burton hasn't exactly been the best public servant for his constituents in the 5th Congressional District, or for Indiana.

From spending $9,500 of taxpayer money on an electronic guestbook to skipping 27 percent of U.S. House roll-call votes this past January (so he could play golf), he has shown little regard for his public responsibilities.

Now there's more. A watchdog group -- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) -- shows the 12-term Republican apparently thinks that the purpose of politics is to provide jobs and income for his relatives.

Burton isn't the only member of Congress with a penchant for putting family on the payroll. Fellow Indiana Congressman Steve Buyer's campaign committee helped his daughter Colleen with her bills in 2004 by paying her $1,900 in fundraising

Forty-four other members -- including long-shot presidential candidate Ron Paul and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. -- also employ or pay fees to their relatives.

But given Burton's record for flouting decorum and common sense, it isn't surprising that he's landed on this list.

Burton's daughter, Danielle Sarkine, makes a living as one of her father's campaign staffers. She earned $58,400 in salary (along with $3,200 in reimbursed expenses) from her father's campaign committee last year.

In fact, Sarkine has earned $144,000 from the campaign over the past six years, ranking her among CREW's list of the 10 most well-compensated relatives on a congressional campaign.

Burton's younger brother Woody already holds a powerful political seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. But he was paid $5,600 from his brother's campaign committee between 2002 and 2006 for vehicle repairs, insurance and other services.

As a rule, members of Congress aren't allowed to place relatives on their congressional staffs, largely because of the taint of nepotism and the potential for corruption. By hiring relatives as campaign staffers, they leave themselves open to the same kinds of problems, including the type of "ghost employment" that sows the seeds for graft and worse.

Ultimately, it is up to representatives to behave themselves. Some, like Burton, who is serving his 25th year in Congress, have come up short. He should know better. But as we've seen before, his disregard for the voters and even campaign donors knows no bounds.

Gerrymandering has placed him in a district so overwhelmingly Republican that victory in the general election is almost assured.

The challenge offered by former Marion County coroner John McGoff in next year's Republican primary offers voters a good alternative -- and a chance to vote Burton out of office.

Wow. McGoff's campaign manager couldn't have written a better script.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hall Killer's Trial Reset

AI reported last week that Coleman King's trial for the hate crime murder of Aaron Hall, originally scheduled for trial on Thursday of this week, had been continued until December. The trial date has now been scheduled for October 31 according to the Seymour Tribune. That's two weeks after the trial date for Garrett Gray, also accused in Hall's killing. Gray's trial is scheduled for October 16. Judge Bill Vance also made official at a hearing on Wednesday his decision to deny bail to King. Also, James Hendrix, a third man who aided King and Gray in dumping Hall's body, remains in jail on a $25,000 bond.

I was a guest on tonight's "John McMullen Show" on GAYBC. McMullen is in disbelief at the lack of attention paid to Hall's killing by the mainstream media. He was even more appalled to learn that leaders in Indiana's GLBT community have refused to embrace the case. And even more appalled that some in the community are arguing it wasn't even a hate crime. Click on GAYBC to listen to the interview. McMullen hopes the case gains the attention of national organizations. It is already on GLAAD's watch list after being reported by me.

Special Prosecutor Appointed To Investigate Kelty

Allen Co. Prosecutor Karen Richards, a Republican, has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether Fort Wayne mayoral candidate Matt Kelty (R) broke the state's campaign finance laws by failing to disclose the source of nearly $160,000 in loans for purposes of financing his close primary campaign against Nelson Peters. Fort Wayne Observed reports Richards chose a former Adams Co. prosecutor, Daniel Sigler, to investigate Kelty after a complaint was filed by Common Cause with her office following Tuesday's split decision along party lines by the Allen Co. Election Board not to pursue charges against Kelty. Ironically, FWOB notes that it was Sigler who investigated campaign finance irregularities of former Mayor Win Moses, which resulted in Moses agreeing to resign his office. Moses later was reappointed to the office by Democratic precinct committeeman and went on to become a state representative. Moses later nearly lost his seat to an upstart challenger, Matt Kelty. That election outcome was subject to a recount which declared Moses a narrow winner over Kelty.

FWOB also interviewed Nick Hess, the chairman of Common Cause, about the group's decision to file a complaint against Kelty. Mr. Hess told FWOB, "I'm not saying 100% affirmative it was a crime but it ought to be investigated." "Mr. Hess said that he believes the actions of the Kelty campaign corrodes the public's right to know the source of campaign funds. Allen Co." Prosecutor Karen Richards should be applauded for her move today. She could have simply ignored the complaint and let the issue die. By appointing the special prosecutor, she has raised the possibility that Indiana's campaign finance laws might be enforced as written, something that has failed to happen too often in the past.

Bauer: Kuzman Did "Yeoman's Work" On Property Tax Bill

House Speaker Pat Bauer (D) is really going to miss Rep. Bob Kuzman, who announced yesterday he is resigning his seat in the Indiana House to become a lobbyist for Ice Miller. Bauer tells the Northwest Indiana Times, "I'll miss him." "He's a great legislator; he's a good friend," Bauer said. "He did a yeoman's job on the property-tax legislation this year."

That "property tax legislation" would be the new law which allows the state's two horse race tracks to purchase a franchise to operate slot machines at their tracks for $250 million each, with the revenues generated therefrom being used to finance a property tax rebate program. Ice Miller has lobbied the legislature in the past for both horse racing and casino gaming interests. Two years ago, Ice Miller hired away Rep. Luke Messer (R-Shelbyville) to work as a lobbyist for the firm. Messer's district included Indiana Downs, the track owned by Paul Estridge.

Bauer is probably most concerned about what Kuzman's departure will mean to control of the Indiana House. Kuzman's seat was once considered Republican before he won it. Republicans might have a shot at picking it off in next year's election. Bauer will no doubt have to devote substantial resources to saving what otherwise would have been a safe Democratic seat.

"In God We Trust": A New Standard?

A Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette editorial opines that the "In God We Trust" plate has essentially become the state's standard plate, the law is being ignored, other special license plate benefactors are taking a big hit and it's costing the taxpayers dearly. The editorial reads:

A dark blue plate with the familiar design of the state flag was unveiled last month as the favorite among finalists for Indiana’s new standard license plate. But the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ uneven policies involving the “In God We Trust” specialty plate appear to have made it Indiana’s standard plate instead.

Reports from across the state suggest that motorists are being offered the plate even without requesting one.

As The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly reported Wednesday, that seems to contradict the legislation creating the specialty plate, which stipulates that motorists are eligible to receive the plate after “completing an application.”

The BMV needs to review the legislation establishing the “In God We Trust” plate and set uniform policies to be followed at each of its license branches. Its uneven procedures appear to place the state in the position of promoting “In God We Trust” as the standard state license plate.

The emphasis on distributing the specialty plate is especially puzzling considering the agency’s recent efforts to control costs. The “In God We Trust” plate costs more to make than the blue-and-green standard tag – 50 cents more per plate, to be precise. With 824,504 “In God We Trust” plates distributed as of last Saturday, that’s an additional $412,000 the agency has spent on plates. Six months into the year, that takes a hefty chunk out of the $1 million annual inventory cost savings the BMV boasts will be realized by replacing the one- or two-digit county indicator plates with a county sticker.

The BMV has even discouraged car owners from choosing the more cheaply manufactured standard plate by placing a premium on it. Those who request a new standard plate because their 2003-issue plate has been damaged must pay a $9 replacement fee. But they can accept a new “In God We Trust” plate with no replacement fee.

The state requires motorists who want certain specialty plates to provide additional paperwork to obtain their plates. Anyone requesting a Taylor University plate, for example, must produce an authorization form from Taylor and pay a $15 administrative fee and $15 group fee, which supports university programs.

There were early indications that the “In God We Trust” plate will cut into sales of plates supporting such worthy programs. In the first three months of this year, sales of the popular environmental trust plate were almost half what they were for the same period a year ago. Group fees from that plate go to the Indiana Heritage Trust fund to buy and protect land.

The Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state on behalf of an Allen County resident who believes the plate is unconstitutional because it is exempt from the $15 administrative fee charged for other specialty license plates. The courts will have to determine that.

But BMV officials need to take a close look at policies and procedures involving distribution of the plate. BMV spokesman Greg Cook told Kelly the agency wants to make people aware of the “In God We Trust” plate but doesn’t want to promote it.

Yet promotion of the plate as Indiana’s new standard plate appears to be exactly what is taking place – at an additional cost.

Just another example of what happens when you let phony nonprofit organizations run around lobbying the State House pretending to represent God.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Married Men Looking For Sex With Men In Park

Married men looking for sex with other men have been frequenting Kokomo Reservoir Park, leading police there to set up an undercover sting operation which has so far netted six arrests. WRTV's Jennifer Carmack reports:

Six men were arrested on public indecency charges this week during a two-day sting at a park where people have complained about sexual activity, authorities said.

Undercover officers made the arrests on Tuesday and Wednesday at Kokomo Reservoir Park. At least one of the suspects exposed himself to an officer, according to police.

Logansport police Officer Wesley Peters, one of the sting's undercover officers, said it wasn't difficult to catch people committing sex-related crimes at the park.

"I don't have to ask for anything -- it's offered," Peters told 6News' Jennifer Carmack. "I talk in general terms -- talk about the weather and fishing -- and the subject (of sex) comes up." Detectives from Kokomo, Logansport, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Department and the Indiana State Police were involved in the sting.

Honeysuckle also was arrested on a charge of battery. Jones in addition to his public indecency charge, was arrested on a charge of marijuana possession.

Underly said he was married. He said Wednesday was only his second time trying to pick up another man at the park.

"I'm sorry I did it. That's all I can say," Underly told 6News' Jennifer Carmack. "It will never happen again, I'll tell you that."

More than 25 law enforcement officers are part of the sex sting operation according to Carmack, which seems like a sizable force for the smaller communities involved here. Undercover police wait for a target to expose himself before the arrest is made. As Carmack put it in her report, "Most off these men are married with children." How do you explain an arrest like this to your wife and children?

Nuvo On Hate Crimes

Nuvo's Laura McPhee takes a hard look at Indiana's culture of hate towards certain minority groups and the state's infamous status as one of only a handful of states without a hate crimes law. She opens her story by recounting a brutal beating of an Indianapolis black man earlier this year by white supremacists--another hate crime story which has gone unreported by the mainstream media. McPhee writes of Dexter Lewis' ordeal:

On the night of March 26, 2007, Dexter Lewis, a black male, was walking along Illinois Street in downtown Indianapolis, when he passed a group of three white males on the patio of Ram Restaurant at the Circle Centre Mall.

“Nice tattoo,” Lewis reportedly said to Eric Fairburn, as he passed.

“Nigger, don’t you dare stop,” Fairburn reportedly replied.

A few minutes later, as Lewis stood in front of the Steak ’n’ Shake on the corner of Illinois and Washington streets, Fairburn and his two companions approached and began beating him. Lewis eventually fell into the street, and the attack continued in the crosswalk. A witness yelled at them to “knock it off.” One of the attackers waved him off saying, “Back up, or you’ll get a piece of this too!”

The attack continued, according to witnesses, as the trio took turns holding Lewis down and punching his head repeatedly, simultaneously kicking him in the face and abdomen. A witness who saw the attack from inside the restaurant ran outside and yelled for the men to stop. As a crowd began to gather, the three men took off, but not before reportedly kicking their victim in the head one last time.

When they passed another witness, a woman who was already on her phone, one of the attackers yelled, “If you call 911, I’ll kill you.” Yet another witness followed the trio into the garage and watched them get into an SUV. He wrote down the license number and called the police. The vehicle was stopped by officers a short time later.

After Dexter Lewis regained consciousness, he was able to corroborate the identity of his attackers with more than one dozen witnesses. The three have been identified as Eric Fairburn, Josh Kern and Timothy Dumas. All three are members of the Vinlander’s Social Club, part of the Blood and Honour Council, a national syndicate of white supremacy groups, headquartered in Indianapolis.

On arrest documents, Dumas lists his official residence as 2507 English Ave., the Indianapolis “clubhouse” of the Vinlander’s Social Club. Fairburn is one of the founders of the VSC, which originated as the Hoosier State Skinheads.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “The Vinlander’s Social Club is a hard-core racist skinhead group whose members, some of whom also belong to other racist skinhead groups, are active primarily in the Midwest and Arizona, although there are members in other states as well.”

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office in Indianapolis originally filed misdemeanor battery charges against Dumas, Fairburn and Kern for the attack on Lewis. Prosecutors have since re-filed felony assault charges.

Kern is now out on bond awaiting trial on July 11. Dumas is now out on bond awaiting trial on July 16. Only Fairburn remains incarcerated. He will stand trial alongside Kern on July 11.

The hate crime beating of Lewis occurred on March 26. Just 15 days later the Indiana House of Representatives voted down hate crimes legislation sponsored by Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) by a 46-50 vote. The religious right, led by Advance America's Eric Miller and Micah Clark's American Family Association, bombarded legislators with homo-bigoted e-mails and telephone calls in an all-out effort to stop the legislation. Ironically, Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, a proponent of the hate crimes legislation, has made no effort to draw attention to Lewis' case. Frighteningly, Brizzi's office originally only charged Lewis' attackers with misdemeanor battery before later refiling felony charges against the three men.

McPhee's story takes a look at hate crime statistics in Indiana. She cites a 1999 Civil Rights Commission study which examined 130 hate crimes committed during the late 1990s. That report found the crimes were committed as follows:

  • 50% were motivated by racial bias;
  • 22% were motivated by bias against homosexuality;
  • 15% were motivated by bias against a particular religion; and
  • 13% were motivated by bias against a person's ethnicity.

The crimes varied in degree and included intimidation, arson, vandalism, assault, robbery and murder. Perhaps the most sobering statistic was the increased risk of a gay man becoming a victim of a hate crime in Indiana. On a per capita basis, according to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, “Gay men are 400 times more likely to become a victim of a hate crime than individuals associated with any other group.”

McPhee also recounts the recent hate crime killing of Aaron Hall. "And while much of this focus questions why Indiana continues to not enact Hate Crimes Legislation, others are also beginning to question why so few Indiana media outlets are reporting the beating of Dexter Lewis or the murder of Aaron Hall," McPhee writes. She adds, "On June 6, Bloomington Alternative Editor Steven Higgs published an editorial asking why The Indianapolis Star has yet to cover Hall’s murder." “The case should have been big news,” Higgs contends. “Yet The Star left the Hall murder to the Jackson County media, the never-to-be-trusted Indianapolis and Louisville television stations and bloggers …"