Grand is managing partner of one of the city's pre-eminent law firms, Barnes & Thornburg, which has represented the Indiana Pacers and the Simons, who own the team. The Pacers are the prime tenant and most favored user of Conseco Fieldhouse, which the CIB manages on behalf of the taxpayers.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Star: Grand Appointment Invites Conflicts
Star editorial writers weigh in against Mayor Greg Ballard's decision to appoint Simon lobbyist Robert Grand to the Capital Improvement Board, arguing the Board needs an "independent leader." Grand's firm represents the Indiana Pacers, while Grand represents Simon Property Group. The relationship with the Simons is "too close for comfort in what is supposed to be a climate of reform," the editorial opines. As the Star described the relationship:
During last year's campaign, the editorial reminds us that Ballard offered an ethics reform package which included barring lobbyists and others with a financial interest from serving on boards and commissions. "Ballard has gone so far as to offer a six-point proposal for conflict avoidance, including a measure to 'prohibit registered lobbyists or persons with a financial interest from serving on any board or commission that directly affects or deals with their lobbying or financial interests,'' the editorial reads. So what gives? "The mayor insists that Grand, who has not lobbied personally for the Pacers but has worked directly for Simon Property Group, has more than covered matters via a letter pledging to keep himself and Barnes & Thornburg out of CIB business involving their clients," the editorial answers. I might add that the letter agreement was signed off on by the City's Corporation Counsel Chris Cotterill, who just happens to be a former employee of Grand's at Barnes & Thornburg.
As an attorney, reading that letter agreement strikes me as a slap in the face at the whole reason behind having conflict of interest rules for the legal profession in the first place. As the Star editorial points out, in the event Grand actually abided by the terms of the letter agreement to create an "ethics screen", he would not be able to provide the leadership the Board needs from him. "However, that can be a cumbersome task, considering how prominent the Pacers are in CIB deliberations," the editorial says of the letter agreement. "And as a former state ethics commission chairman pointed out in Brendan O'Shaughnessy's article in The Star on Saturday, the self-screening would reduce Grand to a partially functioning board member." "If, for example, the Pacers do seek to renegotiate their lease, as speculation has it, then Grand would be a quarterback sitting out the big game."
Laying aside the concerns about Grand's functionality, ultimately the public perception should weigh heavily against Grand's appointment to this important post according to the editorial. "Last but far from least, there is the question of perception. Grand's connection with the Pacers and the Simons would always color news about the CIB were he to be in charge, and appearance of conflict of interest is enough to undermine public confidence in the board's highly sensitive work as manager of Conseco, the Indiana Convention Center, and the pro football and baseball stadiums." The editorial concludes, "The mayor should find another mission for the well-credentialed Robert Grand and keep looking for a CIB chief." "If that's not the letter of Nov. 7, it's certainly the spirit."
This decision has left even Ballard's most ardent supporters scratching their heads. Why would a new mayor go to such great lengths to burn up good will with the public, which expected he would lead an ethical administration? By all appearances, Ballard was elected with no strings attached, but the appearance he has given from appointments like Grand's is that he's loaded down with all sorts of baggage. He should have surrounded himself with at least one person who was sensitive to these sorts of issues. His chief of staff, Paul Okeson, most recently worked as a branch manager for an engineering firm with city contracts. Okeson's firm donated $10,000 to Ballard after the election. It gave $10,000 to former Mayor Bart Peterson's campaign before the election. This past weekend, Ballard and Okeson traveled to the Super Bowl in Phoenix, along with other members of a local team working on yet another bid to win a Super Bowl event for Indianapolis according to the Star's business reporter John Ketzenberger. Ballard has clearly forgotten the ethics pledges he made as a candidate and tossed aside other more important priorities to curry favor with the City's ruling elites. If Indianapolis is lucky enough to win that 2012 Super Bowl bid, Mayor Ballard is unlikely to be around for the party at the rate he's going. Voters may just give him the boot in four years just like they did Peterson this past November.