Monday, March 31, 2008

Second Shooting At Fall Creek Starbucks

For the second time in as many years, a patron of the Starbucks at the corner of College and Fall Creek in Indianapolis has been shot during an armed robbery. Police say three persons wearing ski masks entered the Starbucks shortly after 8:00 p.m. tonight and held up five patrons inside. A patron who bumped into one of the robbers outside as they were leaving became the city's latest shooting victim. A struggle ensued during which the patron was shot in the leg. The Starbucks at this location was opened in 2005 by owner and basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Its opening was hailed as a sign of economic revitalization for the Fall Creek neighborhood. Today, it's just another sign of how out of control crime is in Indianapolis.

UPDATE: There's an interesting twist in this story. The shooting victim, 42-year-old Pierre Pullins, had just stopped in the Starbucks after attending the opening of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign office in downtown Indianapolis according to the Star's Vic Ryckaert. Pullins has already been released from Methodist Hospital and is resting at home.

Carson's Muslim Faith Hurting Him With Black Churches?

The Star's Robert King pens a story today which suggests U.S. Rep. Andre Carson's Muslim faith may be hurting him in winning support among the 7th District's black churches. King writes:

The ads for Democratic congressional hopeful Carolene Mays, which are expected to debut today on radio, feature a glowing endorsement from the Rev. Jeffrey Johnson.

That's the same Johnson whose church held the funeral of U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, D-Indianapolis. Her grandson is now the 7th District incumbent.

Johnson's support for Mays, a state representative for Indianapolis, is only one of many signs that black clergy once unified behind Julia Carson may be pulled in many directions as the May 6 primary draws closer.

Not only is the field divided among three well-known black candidates, but one of them, Andre Carson, is a Muslim, further complicating the picture for some. With a little more than five weeks left until the primary, more ministers than usual remain uncommitted. And all of the candidates in the Democratic primary, including a fourth prominent contender, state Rep. David Orentlicher, D-Indianapolis, are working to secure their endorsements . . .

A key aspect of the uncertainty is the fact that Carson is Muslim. Though many black pastors say that should not be a factor -- King said it would be "petty" and constitute "prejudice" -- many still say it will be a concern.

I'm having a difficult time believing that Carson is having difficulty within this community because he's a Muslim as King's article suggests. That thinking is counter-intuitive, and I note that King's article attributes a quote on that point to nobody. Further, blacks voted as overwhelmingly in the special election in support of Carson as they traditionally vote in support of Democratic candidates when he faced an opponent who was Christian, albeit a white Republican at that. If Carson is having trouble within the black community winning support over his Democratic primary rivals, it's more likely that the problem is one of who is more qualified than Carson's religious faith.

The article once again demonstrates the widespread abuse of the nonprofit status of churches. As federally tax-exempt organizations, churches are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities, which includes support for a candidate for public office. "Leading up to his special-election victory March 11, Carson and his surrogates visited 36 black churches," King writes. He adds, "Many pastors want to avoid legal prohibitions on political endorsements that might jeopardize their tax-exempt status." Nonetheless, the Rev. Jeffrey Johnson of Eastern Star church appears in ads for Carolene Mays endorsing her candidacy according to King's article. And as Advance Indiana previously reported, Light of the World's Bishop T.G. Benjamin "gave as close an endorsement as the IRS will allow from the pulpit to Congressman Carson" according to Carson supporter Wilson Allen when Carson recently attended church services there.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Post Busts Obama For Phony Kennedy Story About His Father

Anyone aspiring to be nominated for president by the Democratic Party in the past 40 years has predictably sought a connection with President John F. Kennedy, and Sen. Barack Obama is no exception. Sen. Obama has claimed that the Kennedy family paid for his father, Barack Obama, Sr., to travel to the U.S. on a student scholarship, whereupon he met and married his Kansan mother. The Washington Post's Michael Dobbs reports today that Obama's claim is untrue. Although the Kennedy family helped bring some Kenyans to the U.S., their assistance did not come until at least a year after Obama's father had arrived in the U.S. according to Dobbs. Dobbs writes today:

Addressing civil rights activists in Selma, Ala., a year ago, Sen. Barack Obama traced his "very existence" to the generosity of the Kennedy family, which he said paid for his Kenyan father to travel to America on a student scholarship and thus meet his Kansan mother.

The Camelot connection has become part of the mythology surrounding Obama's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. After Caroline Kennedy endorsed his candidacy in January, Newsweek commentator Jonathan Alter reported that she had been struck by the extraordinary way in which "history replays itself" and by how "two generations of two families -- separated by distance, culture and wealth -- can intersect in strange and wonderful ways." It is a touching story -- but the key details are either untrue or grossly oversimplified.

Contrary to Obama's claims in speeches in January at American University and in Selma last year, the Kennedy family did not provide the funding for a September 1959 airlift of 81 Kenyan students to the United States that included Obama's father. According to historical records and interviews with participants, the Kennedys were first approached for support for the program nearly a year later, in July 1960. The family responded with a $100,000 donation, most of which went to pay for a second airlift in September 1960.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton acknowledged yesterday that the senator from Illinois had erred in crediting the Kennedy family with a role in his father's arrival in the United States. He said the Kennedy involvement in the Kenya student program apparently "started 48 years ago, not 49 years ago as Obama has mistakenly suggested in the past."

Very little information has surfaced in mainstream media reporting about Obama's father during this campaign. Reading the negative picture Dobbs paints of the senior Obama after he walked out on his son's life at two years of age, you can understand why little is said about him. Dobbs writes:

Obama Sr. never quite lived up to his enormous potential. He achieved his dream of studying at Harvard after graduating from the University of Hawaii. He divorced Dunham in 1963 and married another woman.

He returned to Kenya and became a close aide to Mboya, a fellow Luo tribesman, at the Ministry of Economic Development. According to his old "drinking buddy" Ochieng, he antagonized other officials with his "boasting," was "excessively fond of Scotch" and ended up in poverty "without a job." He got into frequent car accidents, one of which led to the amputation of both his legs. He was killed in another car accident, in 1982, at the age of 46.

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm no fan of Hillary or Bill Clinton. Yet I still believe the media has been far more negative in its coverage of her than it has been of Obama. The media, for example, climbed all over the discovery that Clinton had exaggerated conditions during a trip she made to Bosnia in the 1990s. It's good to see someone in the mainstream media is beginning to challenge Obama's claims. As I pointed out yesterday, Obama has been falsely claiming to have been a law professor at the University of Chicago for years now. More accurately, he served as a senior lecturer. It is understandable that Obama would have to resort to exaggerations to boost his credentials. He's been in the U.S. Senate for less than four years and served a little more than that amount of time in the Illinois State Senate. That's something short of the credentials most presidents bring to the office.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Marion County Re-Assessments A Vast Improvement

For all the criticism Marion Co. Assessor Greg Bowes has endured over the countywide reassessment ordered last year by Gov. Mitch Daniels, the end result has been a vast improvement over last year's fatally-flawed assessments. Under the old assessments, Marion Co. homeowners were paying nearly two-thirds of the property tax burden. After the reassessment, their share dropped nearly 10 percentage points. Overall assessments jumped $5.6 billion. Most of that amount was attributable to a one-third increase in business and industrial property assessments. These figures are based on the Star's Tim Evans' reporting.

When the assessment figures were released last year, I analyzed the figures for the homeowners in my building. For the most part, the numbers were pretty much on target. Elsewhere in my neighborhood, however, the assessments were all over the place. Some homes were grossly under-assessed while others were over-assessed. After reviewing the figures provided in the Star's database, these unfair differences have been largely corrected, at least in my neighborhood.

County taxpayers had to pay $1.8 million to accomplish this reassessment, but it is money well-spent. Gov. Daniels should be lauded for recognizing that township assessors had failed miserably in carrying out their statutory duties with respect to the reassessment and ordering a do-over. Similarly, Bowes should be credited with ensuring the job got done correctly. Finally, taxpayers need to remember how poorly the township assessors performed when they go to the polls this November where they will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the abolition of their township assessor and to turn this responsibility over to a more professional, county assessor staff. This is particularly true in Center Township where the township assessor's performance was the worst of all township assessors.

Obama's Church Builds Million Dollar Home For Rev. Wright

As a token of its appreciation to the recently-retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the church of Sen. Barack Obama is building him a million-dollar retirement home. The Sun-Times reports on the lavish home Trinity United Church of Christ is providing to Wright:

Trinity United Church of Christ is building Barack Obama's controversial former pastor a million-dollar Tinley Park home complete with an elevator, whirlpool, butler's pantry, circular driveway and four-car garage, building plans show.

The four-bedroom home being built for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is in the Odyssey Club neighborhood, which boasts some of Tinley Park's largest homes and a mix of town homes. It backs up to the Odyssey Country Club and golf course.

The mansion under construction is estimated to cost $1 million, a building permit shows. It will also feature a large family room with a fireplace and bar, a rubberized exercise room and a spare room for a future theater or swimming pool, building plans show.

Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th Street, Chicago, is listed as the landowner on the permit.

A spokesman for the church tells the Sun-Times it is "customary and appropriate" to provide housing for retired clergy.

Meanwhile, Obama is now saying he kept attending the church despite the controversial sermons of Rev. Wright because he says Wright repented for his sins. ''Had the reverend not retired and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn't have felt comfortable staying there at the church,'' Obama said. Is there a connection between Wright's retirement, repentance and the million-dollar home? It doesn't appear so. The Tribune reports today that Wright bought the lot on which the home sits himself for $345,000 and then turned around and sold it to the church in 2006, which proceeded to apply for the building permits and take out a $1.6 million mortgage on it. If the home cost a million according to the plans and the mortgage is for $1.6 million, is it possible Rev. Wright doubled the money he paid for the lot when he sold it to the church?

And then there's a little item in the Sun-Times on Obama embellishing his resume. No, he never held the title of law professor at the University of Chicago, although the university says he "served as a law professor." The respected law school permitted Obama to begin teaching at the school after his first year out of Harvard's law school. It's odd that the school would cling to the claim that he served as a law professor while acknowledging he had earned no such title.

Pulliam Sizes Up Attorney General's Race

Star columnist Russ Pulliam takes a look at potential Republican candidates for attorney general and puts Secretary of State Todd Rokita and Deputy Attorney General Greg Zoeller at the top of the list. Here's how he sees the two stacking up:

Rokita has the credentials to be a credible candidate for governor and his current term ends in 2010. He faces a limit of two terms as secretary of state.

Rokita's advantage is his record as a successful statewide candidate, winning the race for secretary of state in 2002 and 2006. One disadvantage is that he is not a social conservative, in contrast to many of the delegates to a state Republican convention.

Zoeller's advantage is his service as deputy to Steve Carter, who announced Sunday that he would not seek another term as attorney general. Zoeller ran for the office in 1996, losing the nomination to Carter. Franklin College Journalism Professor John Krull calls Zoeller a "formidable" candidate, though he has not run statewide like Rokita. "Greg is articulate, smart," Krull said. "He's got that Rex Early quality, regular guy, approachable. He looks like the kind of guy you'd bump into at the diner even when it's not election time."

Family values activist John Price suggests that Zoeller also could have a philosophical or ideological advantage at the convention. "A lot of people I know are going to be for Greg Zoeller," Price said. "He's a movement conservative, pro-life."

John Price seems to think that Rokita is unacceptable to "social conservatives" because he's not seen as a "movement conservative." I guess folks like Price are still miffed that Rokita adopted a non-discrimination policy for his office that protects his employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gov. Daniels adopted a very similar policy early in his administration. Price, incidentally, is the attorney who initiated the lawsuit against the newspaper formerly owned by Pulliam's family accusing a homosexual cabal within the newspaper of discriminating against two former editors because of their Christian beliefs. Price withdrew from the case before a federal court judge tossed the case this week on a summary judgment motion. Rex Early tells Pulliam he thinks Daniels will call the shot in the end since the candidate will be on the ballot with him this year. He's probably right.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Will Wagner Find A Winning Message for Schellinger?

Indiana Democratic Party spokesperson and Taking Down Words blogger Jen Wagner trades in those two hats for a new one as Communications Director for Jim Schellinger's well-funded but struggling campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In her other two roles, she has certainly earned her spurs as a persistent and sometimes blistering critic of Gov. Mitch Daniels. What Schellinger's campaign is really in search of at this moment is a message as to why this political unknown should be chosen over former congresswoman and Clinton administration veteran Jill Long Thompson. Wagner has developed plenty of contacts in the media, which should prove valuable. Lots of folks, however, remain unconvinced that Schellinger is up to doing little more than buying influence with all the money he showers on the Democratic Party and other Democratic candidates to win favor. Wagner is looking for a surrogate to take her place running TDW and her other two blogs, Accidental Mayor and Bury the Lede. I suspect Mayor Ballard is not disappointed by all the distractions Wagner will have in her new job, leaving no time for her to place him in her sights.

Tully On Carter's Decision Not To Seek Re-Election

Star political columnist Matt Tully gets straight answers on questions which have been burning in many Republicans minds since Attorney General Steve Carter surprised everyone with his Easter day announcement that he would not be seeking re-election to a third term. Carter tells Tully he's neither sick nor the target of an investigation:

I'm not sick," Carter told me when we talked by phone Wednesday afternoon. "And I'm not, as someone asked me, Client Number 10, or Number 8."

It's not a polite question. But it's a fair one, given Carter's quick and unexpected departure from the campaign.

"If you look on the blogs, you can find some creative explanations for why I am leaving," he said. "But, no, this is just a personal decision."

As for a Republican replacement, there's no shortage of candidates lining up to take Carter's place, although Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has already removed his name from consideration. Tully lists State Election Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, Carter's chief deputy, Greg Zoeller, Secretary of State Todd Rokita and former state Natural Resources Director Kyle Hupfer. Tully speculates that Carter may have lined up a big job in the private sector already. I wonder if he won't resign before the end of his term, allowing Gov. Daniels to appoint his successor and provide a running edge over the candidate's likely Democratic opponent, Linda Pence.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Federal Court Tosses Religious Discrimination Suit Against Star

U.S. District Court Judge Larry McKinney tossed a lawsuit brought by two former Star editorial writers, Lisa Coffey and James Patterson, in which the two claimed a homosexual cabal at the Gannett-owned newspaper drove them from their jobs because of their fundamentalist Christian beliefs. McKinney concluded the newspaper really did have a legitimate basis for declining to run a series of graphic columns about the dangers of anal sex by Coffey, who had a tendency to proselytize her religious views in the workplace, and that Patterson really was a problem employee with just too many errors in his work. Former Star columnist and fellow blogger Ruth Holladay has more here. Hat tip to Indiana Law Blog.

Indiana Officials Won't Talk To Bloomberg About Auction Rate Bond Meltdown

Bloomberg takes a look at the double-digit interest rates now confronting public authorities across the country on stadium financing deals after the meltdown in the auction rate bond market earlier this year. Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium is taking one of the biggest hits in the country, but nobody in Indiana will discuss the problem with Bloomberg, which writes:

The auction-rate bond crisis is raising borrowing costs on more than sewers and hospitals, forcing some states to pay three times higher interest on 65,000- seat sports arenas with moving roofs and 50-foot video displays . . .

At least five states and cities -- Louisiana, Indiana, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Cleveland -- have used tax-exempt auction-rate bonds to host teams in the NFL, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball since 2005.

The debt was billed by bankers as a cheap alternative to conventional fixed-rate bonds. Like sewer districts, universities and hospitals, state agencies in charge of economic development jumped at the chance to lower costs and still borrow for 20 or 30 years. Owners of the Giants, New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys took part too, selling taxable auction-rate debt for their share of stadium projects.

The auction-rate market is now backfiring on hundreds of borrowers as fallout from the collapse of the subprime mortgage market threatens credit ratings of the world's largest bond insurers, deterring investors from even the safest debt. The bonds' annualized interest rates reset at auctions held every seven to 35 days. When there are no bids, rates jump to the maximum proscribed in penalty terms . . .

The Indiana Finance Authority borrowed $611 million between 2005 and 2007 to help build Lucas Oil Stadium, a facility for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts that's scheduled to open later this year. Interest rates on some of the auction bonds, secured by state appropriations and insured by New York-based FGIC Corp., jumped to 15 percent on Feb. 13 from 3.4 percent on Feb. 6, data compiled by Bloomberg show. As of March 26, they were 5 percent.

Jennifer Alvey, public finance director at the Indiana Finance Authority, declined to comment . . .

To help ease the pain, the feds are allowing state and local governments to bid on their bonds to prevent the interest rates from adjusting--at least in the short run. In Indiana, there has been virtually a complete news blackout on the potential financial calamity for the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis, save for this one earlier report in the Indianapolis Business Journal. You would think it would be newsworthy that taxpayers were paying a 15% interest rate on Lucas Oil Stadium bonds. Who would have thought that high of an interest rate was even possible with publicly-issued bonds?

Star: Sexual Content Law A National Embarrassment

A Star editorial offers sharp criticism of a new state law which requires businesses offering "sexually explicit materials" for sale to register with the Secretary of State and pay a $250 registration fee. The editorial says, in part:

The intent was noble, or politically expedient, or perhaps a bit of both.

The effect has been legalization of censorship, headaches for legitimate businesses, the prospect of costly litigation and the sting of national embarrassment.

House Enrolled Act 1042, which takes effect July 1, has the fatal flaw common to government efforts to constrict the free expression guaranteed under the First Amendment. That is to say, it blasts away at noncombatants because there's no defining its enemy.

Promoted as a help to local governments that lack zoning laws to track undesirable businesses, the statute requires sellers of "sexually explicit" materials to register with the state and pay $250 for the confession. It applies only to businesses that open, relocate or begin offering the taboo materials after June 30.

The editorial offers some good examples of the absurd results which may be produced under this new law's broad definition of "sexually explicit materials." "Does James Joyce's "Ulysses" count? John Updike's "Rabbit" novels? The biblical accounts of David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah? The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? Manuals on personal health?"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prosecutor Denied Access To Reporter's Notes In Hovey Street Murder Case

Judge Steve Eichholtz ruled against Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's office and in favor of Star reporter Vic Ryckaert in an attempt by the prosecutor's office to force the reporter to turn over notes he made during an interview with one of the Hovey Street murder suspects last January. The Star's Jon Murray explains:

Marion County prosecutors had sought notes in January of an interview conducted by an Indianapolis Star reporter. Jasper Frazier, who later was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted robbery and other counts, spoke with the reporter, Vic Ryckaert, by phone shortly before turning himself in to police in Toledo, Ohio.

Frazier, 36, told the reporter that he was inside an Indianapolis house Jan. 14 when two mothers and their two young children were fatally shot, but wasn't the one who killed them. An account of the interview appeared on The Star's front page the next day."We printed essentially what the person told us," said Dennis Ryerson, Indianapolis Star editor and vice president.

"We wouldn't have done our jobs if we hadn't printed the totality of the subject's comments in such an incredibly important case."

Indiana has a media shield law, IC 34-46-4, which provides a privilege to reporters against revealing the source of any information they gather in the course of their employment. In this case, Ryckaert's interview with the client was published in the Star.

Daniels Writes Blank Check for 2012 Super Bowl

Not to be outdone by the City of Indianapolis, Gov. Mitch Daniels recently signed an executive order which offers a blank check to the NFL and its team owners if Indianapolis is chosen to host the 2012 Super Bowl. Gov. Daniels' executive order reads:

1. The State of Indiana welcomes Super Bowl XLVI and any related Official Events to the state and to that end declares its full support of the efforts of Indianapolis 2012, Inc., to have Indianapolis selected as the site for Super Bowl XLVI.

2. Upon designation of Indianapolis, Indiana, as the site for Super Bowl XLVI, and at all times thereafter, the State of Indiana and its agencies, departments and personnel, agree to provide all governmental services, including without limitation: public safety, security, fire and medical emergency, traffic, decorative display and public works/street maintenance services and supplies that may be reasonably necessary to the success of Super Bowl XLVI and any related Official Events within the State of Indiana's jurisdiction. This would include all planning, training or deployment activities related to the provision of such services, all at no cost, expense or liability to the NFL or either of the two participating Teams ("Teams") (while at the same time, recognizing that because of the uniqueness and extraordinary scope of the Super Bowl, that the provision of such services may be needed at below, equal to or beyond the normal level and range of public safety services generally provided for events held within the jurisdiction).

3. The State of Indiana agrees that neither the NFL, the Teams, nor any director, shareholder, officer, agency employee or other representative of the NFL or the Teams shall be held accountable for or incur any financial responsibility or liability of any kind or nature whatsoever in connection with the governmental services planned and/or provided by the State of Indiana relating to Super Bowl XLVI and related Official Events.

4. The State of Indiana agrees to actively protect against unauthorized promotional activities during the two weeks prior through the week following Super Bowl XLVI and related Official Events which detract from, or interfere with, the promotional activities of the NFL in connection with the Super Bowl Game.
It's absolutely amazing how much our state and local governments are willing to sacrifice for the benefit of our nation's wealthiest citizens--the team owners of the NFL. Doing a little play on President John F. Kennedy's memorable inaugural address, the message from our state and local leaders seems to be: "Let every American know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we the People of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of our professional sports teams." If only we cared as much about the education our children receive, the services we provide to those truly in need and the everyday well-being of the average citizen, we might actually improve the quality of life for the many as opposed to the privileged few.

Booksellers Upset Over Sexual Content Law

A new law which will require any business to register with the Secretary of State and pay a $250 filing fee if it sells or offers a product or service involving sexually explicit materials has booksellers in Indiana hopping mad. The Star's Tim Evans says that booksellers believe the overly-broad reach of the new law infringes upon First Amendment rights. Sen. Brent Steele, one of the sponsors of HB 1042, claims the bill was needed to target adult bookstores which are springing up in rural areas along interstate highways. Steele tells Evans the booksellers are over-reacting, but I think law professor Henry Karlson describes the problem with the new law quite well:

Henry Karlson, a professor at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis and a First Amendment expert, said he sees several potential flaws in the law.

One is the threshold it cites for having to file with the state. It relies on a statute that describes sexually explicit material that can be viewed as "harmful" to minors, including material that "appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors."

"The problem is, minors have an interest in sex, prurient or otherwise," Karlson said, "and how do you distinguish what is normal and what is prurient?"

Another provision of the statute requires registration if a business carries an item when "considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors." While such a definition is pretty clear for adults, Karlson said, that is not the case when it involves minors.

"I can see some communities where people might think some of the literary classics did not meet that standard for minors," he said.

Karlson said he thinks businesses may have trouble knowing whether to register.

"There's this huge gray area," he said. "If you register, you get lumped in with businesses that sell pornography and other sexually explicit material on some state list, and if you don't, you could face a fine or charges."

The focus of this report is on booksellers, but there are many other businesses which need to be concerned about it as well. For example, you can find items for sale on the shelves of your neighborhood drugstore which are intended to enhance sexual pleasure from lubricants to male enhancement products. A friend of mine who works for a major drugstore chain says that customers in smaller communities will complain about fitness magazines being sexually explicit because of the way models on the cover pages are dressed. Wouldn't an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog offered for sale in a retail store meet the definition of this law by some people's standards? And this law just doesn't apply to products. It includes services. If Melyssa Donaghy decides to offer dominatrix services again, she will be required to register her business with the state. Will a massage therapist fall under the law's reach? This is how the new law defines sexually explicit materials:

As used in this chapter, "sexually explicit materials" means a product or service:
(1) that is harmful to minors (as described in IC 35-49-2-2), even if the product or service is not intended to be used by or offered to a minor; or
(2) that is designed for use in, marketed primarily for, or provides for:
(A) the stimulation of the human genital organs; or
(B) masochism or a masochistic experience, sadism or a sadistic experience, sexual bondage, or sexual domination.
(b) The term does not include:
(1) birth control or contraceptive devices; or
(2) services, programs, products, or materials provided by a:
(A) communications service provider (as defined in IC 8-1-32.6-3);
(B) physician; or
(C) public or nonpublic school.
Sec. 3. A person or an employee or agent of a person may not offer for sale
or sell sexually explicit materials unless a registration and statement are
properly filed as described in IC 23-1-55-1.

After reading the new law, I find it difficult to believe the sponsors of this legislation were only interested in targeting adult bookstores. You can find any number of laws across the country which state and local governments have enacted to regulate adult bookstores, and those laws are narrowly tailored to target those particular businesses. Little attempt was made to narrow the focus of this legislation. Many businesses may feel compelled to register under this new law simply to avoid the criminal penalty. It makes it a Class B misdemeanor to offer sexually explicit materials for sale without registering with the state. Because of the breadth of the law, many businesses may find themselves being labeled as sellers of pornography. I doubt a local drugstore would agree with that characterization at all. I noticed there's an exemption for telecommunications providers who offer 1-900 sex lines. It looks like the telecommunications lobbyists were on top of this bill even if lobbyists for bookstores and others weren't.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chelsea Clinton Not Happy With Lewinsky Question

Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton continued her tour of Indiana college campuses today on behalf of her mother's presidential campaign, which is making a big push for Indiana's May 8 primary with earlier visits by both of her parents this past week. Speaking to a group of college students this afternoon at Butler University, Chelsea was asked about her father's affair with Monica Lewinsky and what affect it may have on her mother's presidential bid. Chelsea reacted quite negatively to the question. She responded:

Wow! You're the first person actually that's ever asked me that qustion in the maybe 70 college campuses that I've now been to, and I don't think that's any of your business.

The crowd applauded her response to the unwelcomed question. You can view a clip of Clinton's response to the question at WTHR's website.

The Work Horse Versus The Showhorse

It's often said that a U.S. Senator is either a work horse or a show horse. Steve Clemons of the Washington Note pens a column comparing the work ethic of Sen. Hillary Clinton to that of Sen. Barack Obama. On that score, Clinton has Obama beaten hands down according to Clemons. While Clemons has been critical of Clinton on a number of policy issues, he says you can't dispute her work ethic. He writes:

[T[here is a great deal I do admire in Hillary Clinton -- and one of the things that simply can't be disputed is her work ethic. I've met her a number of times, usually at receptions -- and each time I decided not to waste the moment with trivial banter but to throw an idea at her or mention a person or issue that would help me understand how real, how informed, or alternatively -- how contrived -- she was.

Every single time she jumped on the issue I brought up and expressed two or three dimensions to the issue that showed she was deeply steeped in this or that policy. In my New America Foundation role, I helped build and support programs as diverse as debates about genetic scientific advancements to family work issues, health care, and wireless spectrum -- not to mention my own core interests in foreign policy, national security/defense issues, and international economic policy. Hillary Clinton and I have had quick encounters that involved her sharing incredibly diverse and serious policy commentary.

On Obama, Clemons raises a point I've never heard raised before about Obama's legislative record. To be sure, it's very brief at four years. What I didn't know is that he actually chairs a committee. If you wonder why you've never seen him in that role, there is a simple answer: Obama has not held a single hearing. Clemons explains:

But I am convinced of something about Hillary Clinton's commitment to use every lever and every aspect of government machinery to push her legislative and policy work that I'm disappointed to say that I can't find as strongly in Barack Obama's profile. My concern has to do with the fact that as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' Subcommittee on Europe, Obama has held zero hearings -- at least that is how the record appears to me.

Compare this to the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe, which is having constant hearings -- or to the Senate Subcommittee's work before Obama became Chair -- or to a comparative commitment of Hillary Clinton on a subcommittee she chairs, and the zero hearing detail is disconcerting . . .

But his not calling any hearings in a Senate Subcommittee he chairs ought to raise some questions that he needs to respond to. His Subcommittee deals with Europe, with NATO, with various related political and security matters -- and he's got the gavel and can set the agenda.

Given the stress NATO is experiencing today on many fronts -- from the question of Europe's evolving security identity, to NATO's deployments in Afghanistan, to the evolving question of how to deal with Russia, Kosovo, and other common challenges -- it seems inconceivable that Senator Obama would not want to highlight important policy concerns by way of hearings.

What I found surprising about Clemons' observation is the fact that in the more than a dozen debates which have taken place between the Democratic candidates during this election season, I don't recall a single question asking Obama what he had done in his role as a committee chairman, or anyone asking him why he hadn't held a single hearing in that role. It's a fact that speaks volumes.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Council Approves Blank Check for 2012 Super Bowl Bid

It's a blank check to underwrite whatever it takes for the City of Indianapolis to host the Super Bowl in 2012. The City-County Council approved Proposal 159, sponsored by Councilor Ryan Vaughn (R), unanimously by voice vote without any debate. It reads, in part:

"The City of Indianapolis, Marion County, and their agencies, departments and personnel ("City"), agree to provide all governmental services and support reasonably necessary to the success of Super Bowl XLVI and related Official
Events within its jurisdiction . . . all at no cost, expense or liability to the NFL or the two participating NFL Clubs (the “Teams”) and that neither the NFL, the Teams, nor any director, shareholder, officer, agent, employee or other representative of the NFL or the Teams shall be held accountable for or incur any financial responsibility or liability of any kind or nature whatsoever in connection with the governmental services and support planned and/or provided by the City relating to Super Bowl XLVI and related Official Events . . ."

Think about that when you get your next property tax bill or the next time the city council asks you to pay for another tax increase or fee hike.

In other business, the council voted 20-8 for a resolution instructing the county auditor to withhold the pay of Coroner Kenneth Ackles until such time as he completes the state coroner's examination as mandated by state law. Ackles has completed 7 out of 10 parts of the state examination. He has two more attempts to pass the 3 remaining parts of the exam. Opponents contend the state law violates Ackles' constitutional rights and another state statute pertaining to the compensation of elected officials.

McGoff Hits Burton For "Missing In Action"

Dr. John McGoff hits the radio airwaves this week with ads highlighting the number of votes his 5th District opponent, U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, has missed in Congress. The ad says:

"Missing in action," begins the ad. "In one year, Congressman Dan Burton missed 32 important committee meetings dealing with the War on Terror. Is this what you want from your congressman?"
The ad goes on to mention specific meetings and votes missed by Burton according to a McGoff press release. The campaign notes that it also highlights the extensive military background of McGoff, who currently serves as a Colonel in the Air National Guard and flew military missions into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006. "We really think this is an important issue to highlight," said Trevor Foughty, campaign manager and spokesman for McGoff. "On the one hand, you have a guy who is still actively serving his country in the military; a guy who spent time away from his family to go into Iraq and help wounded troops. And on the other hand, you have a career politician who skipped a hearing on poor conditions Walter Reed--where some of those wounded troops end up going--because he has 'a new lady' and the flight was too early for him."

Click here to listen to the ad.

Another Sale Of RCA Goods At Christy's

Another Advance Indiana reader passes along information about a sale at Christy's of Indiana this week which includes more goods from the RCA Dome. A "semi load of Restaurant goods from the RCA dome" will be auctioned off on March 30 at 9:00 a.m. In a previous post, it was noted that Christy's had auctioned off a "semi load of tools from RCA Dome" in late January. A source tells me those "restaurant goods" include such things as new serving trays and bowls which have never been taken out of the box. Are these tools unusable in the Lucas Oil Stadium? Where are these proceeds going?

During last week's CIB meeting, attorney Don Graham told the board the demolition contractor does not have salvage rights or the ability to offer for sale any items from the RCA Dome as memorabilia. His presentation made no mention of items, such as tools and restaurant goods from the RCA Dome being auctioned off. He only discussed those items listed on the Colts' website as being put up for sale as memorabilia, such as seating, pieces of the field turf and the dome roof, player lockers and locker room urinals. Perhaps the CIB should shed some light on these sales as well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Deputy Mayor's Son Busted For Solicitation

Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams is making no excuses for his 28-year-old son, Olgen M. Williams. He was busted last week by an undercover IMPD officer, who claims Williams offered her $16 for oral sex. The Star has this reaction from Deputy Mayor Williams on his son's arrest:

Contacted at his home on Sunday, Deputy Mayor Williams commended police for good work and said he has advised his son to seek counseling. He also said the incident showed that "no matter who you are, if you do that stuff, you will be caught."

Williams' son was arrested last Thursday around midnight at the intersection of W. Washington Street and Holmes Avenue. His arrest took place during a training exercise for new undercover police officers according to the Star report.

UPDATE: Fox 59's Russ McQuaid interviewed Deputy Mayor Williams about the arrest. Williams and Mayor Ballard unveiled the "Peace In The Streets" initiative at the Christamore House, a nonprofit community group which Williams ran before joining the administration, on Friday morning following the arrest. Williams says he told the mayor about the arrest after Friday's public announcement. The "Peace In The Streets" initiative was announced at Christamore House because the city plans to utitilize the organization's services in administering the program. Another of Williams' sons, Aaron, who works at Christamore House, will be running the program. According to the Star's database of county employees, Olgen M. Williams is employed as a bailiff for the Marion County Superior Courts.

Carson Courts Support Of Anti-Gay Minister

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D) spoke out against discrimination, homophobia and racism during his successful special election campaign in the 7th District, distancing himself from controversial Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan, who spoke at his grandmother's funeral and endorsed his bid to take her seat in Congress. On this sacred Christian holiday of Easter, Rep. Carson attended services at a westside church where the presiding minister has a reputation for delivering anti-gay bigoted sermons from the pulpit. On the Blue Indiana blog today, long-time Carson supporter Wilson Allen described Carson's success at winning support from the church's minister:

Today Congressman André Carson attended Easter services at Light of the World, a leading westside megachurch. The minister, Bishop T.G. Benjamin, gave as close an endorsement as the IRS will allow from the pulpit to Congressman Carson. Allegedly [Carolene] Mays had tried real hard for that very important statement of support but Congressman Carson got it!

Operation Rebirth is a website dedicated to ending the religious and spiritual abuse against black gays and lesbians inflicted by Black churches. The site describes itself as becoming "the watchdog within the black church, holding black clergy accountable for their anti-gay messages and its impact on the community as a whole." The site took to task Bishop T.G. Benjamin of the Light of the World Christian Church in its watchdog role, examining his sermon entitled, “The High Cost of Low Living”. Operation Rebirth quoted the following anti-gay diatribe by Benjamin during his sermon:

The most dastardly thing about homosexuality is silly silly homosexuals going around trying to convince people that what they're doing is normal. That’s the sin; the abomination. Instead of saying I have a serious problem and I am struggling with it and I know that it is wrong . . . Homosexuality is a spirit of the underworld and you who collaborate with that spirit collaborate with the devil himself. But be careful on who you think is a homosexual and who is not. Everybody that is effeminate is not a homosexual, they just didn’t have the kind of parenting where a father said ‘son take that switch out yo' walk boy, son we don't walk like that, or bend like that either.’ The first time a father sees his son do his wrist like this he needs to take his hand and say Your wrist goes like this. Men don’t talk up here (high). It’s a choice, you can change, you can choose, you can choose. Every effeminate person is not gay and every weight lifter is not straight. He might be the biggest girl in the city.” Uproarious laughter breaks out in the congregation.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has recently come under intense criticism for attending church services for the past 20 years at a southside Chicago church where the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a close friend of Obama's, has delivered sermons in the past which many consider to be racist and anti-American. It seems to me that politicians like Obama and Carson send mixed messages when they speak out against discrimination and intolerance while openly associating with and even seeking support from persons whose messages seek to divide rather than unite us. Their defenders will say that Wright's and Benjamin's controversial views are commonplace in black churches. It's a part of the culture we're told, and we should accept it for what it is. My friends on the left have always bludgeoned Republicans who associate with the likes of Bob Jones, Jerry Fawell or Pat Robertson. Their admonitions were deserved given the controversial and divisive statements these gentlemen made on any variety of social and foreign policy issues. I just wish they didn't apply a double-standard to politicians on the left who court support from equally as divisive and controversial figures.

Steve Carter Bows Out Of Attorney General's Race

Two-term incumbent Attorney General Steve Carter (R) had been expected to seek re-election this year, but he surprised many political observers when he announced today he was bowing out according to the Star's John Strauss. Unlike the governor's office, candidates for other statewide offices are selected at the state party conventions. Because Carter made his announcement after the filing deadline for the May primary, he short-circuited efforts of other would-be candidates to line up supporters to run for state convention delegate, which are nominated in the May primary. That means any candidate will have a very short time between now and the June 2 state convention to lobby delegates for support. In those districts where there are fewer delegate candidates on the May primary ballot than are to be elected, the county chairmen will fill those vacancies. A candidate will not know until well after the May primary who all those convention delegates are. Carter's belated decision effectively hands control of the selection of his Republican replacement to party leaders and thwarts any grassroots campaign by a candidate other than one backed by the party's leadership. His campaign website as of today was still touting his 2008 candidacy. Democrats are expected to nominate Linda Pence, an Indianapolis attorney and former Justice Department official, to run for the office.

Dare Not Speak Ill Of Thy Payne

Apparently, Hoosiers don't have free speech rights when it comes to speaking out against Indiana's Department of Children Services. The Star's Tim Evans brings us a troubling story of how a Fountain County judge granted a prior restraining order against the airing by Fox 59's WXIN of an interview with a father who is critical of the agency. Evans writes:

Mark McGaha wanted to share his frustrations about the Department of Child Services with the public, but he never got the chance.

McGaha did an interview with an Indianapolis TV station, but a Fountain County judge issued a restraining order barring the station from airing his complaints or even showing his face -- apparently without even having seen the footage . . .

A legal scholar called Judge Susan Orr Henderson's action unconstitutional and said it "borders on judicial misconduct."

"Quite simply, a judge does not have the authority to stop the press from publishing or airing a story," said Henry Karlson, a professor at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis. "Any person has a right to contact the press and say a public agency is not treating them right."

Karlson said the judge's action amounted to "prior restraint," or government censorship, which is a violation of the First Amendment . . .

Maliska said the court order was sought by the guardian ad litem who represents McGaha's children in a Child in Need of Services case in Fountain County.

The guardian ad litem, Covington attorney Sue White, did not return calls from The Indianapolis Star, and the court would not release a copy of the order. Bailiff Dianne Cotten said it was part of the confidential records of the CHINS case and could not be made public.

However, a copy obtained by The Star showed that Henderson barred WXIN "from broadcasting any portion of an interview involving Mark McGaha and his minor children until such time as the guardian ad litem and/or court has an opportunity to review" the report.

The order said the injunction was issued to protect the best interests of the children. Karlson said that does not provide the constitutional standard for such an order.

"I see no basis on which a prior restraint could have been imposed," he said. "He has an absolute right to complain about his treatment by the court or any other government agency."

Judge James Payne, who's in charge of DCS, says don't blame him, blame the judge. "He said DCS has no control over the judge's actions and that parents who have a beef with the agency or court have a number of avenues to have their concerns addressed," Payne told Evans. Doesn't your agency employ the person who petitioned for the restraining order?

Wishful Thinking By Some In 7th District Race

The "political experts" tell the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy that the presence of several African-American candidates in the May Democratic primary might split the black vote and pave the way for victory for a white candidate, State Rep. David Orentlicher. "The presence of three well-known black candidates, including Andre Carson, for the 7th District congressional seat could split the black vote in the May primary and open the door to a white candidate," O'Shaughnessy writes. Not surprisingly, Andre Carson isn't worried. "African-American voters are very astute politically," he said the day after his victory in the special election. "That's OK that there are challengers. We're moving forward."

What Carson is trying to tell folks and which he is right about, Carolene Mays and Woody Myers have no support in the black community. They're going to find more support among white voters who don't like David Orentlicher. And keep this important fact in mind. While blacks make up 30% of the voters in the 7th District, they will likely represent nearly a majority, if not an outright majority, of the voters in the Democratic primary. That's because many more white voters choose a Republican primary ballot over a Democratic primary ballot. The unknown variable this year is whether white Republican voters will pick a Democratic ballot instead of a Republican ballot because of the hotly contested presidential race between Clinton and Obama. That could help Orentlicher, but it could just as easily help Myers. Remember, Orentlicher has taken a beating in his past campaigns against well-funded Republicans so he has some higher negatives than the lesser-known Myers. Regardless, you can bet the Center Township vote will come in very big for Carson--a vote which will arrive to be counted a few hours after the polls close when it's known just how big that vote will need to be to ensure a Carson victory.

Rex Early's Advice To Mayor Ballard

Star political columnist takes a look today at Rex Early's newly-written autobiography, "It's a Mighty Thin Pancake (that don't have two sides)". True to form, Early pulls no punches. Tully offers several items from the book. Early has some very sound advice for Mayor Ballard:

Early also takes aim at the big law firms in town, making clear, for instance, that he is worried about the oversized role Barnes & Thornburg managing partner Bob Grand is playing in Mayor Greg Ballard's administration. "I hope (Ballard) remembers that people were voting for him and not a law firm," Early writes.

I couldn't have said it better myself. The book will be available for $19.95 at local bookstores, including the Indiana Authors Bookstore at 36 E. Maryland St. according to Tully. If you don't like Early but still want to read his book, it's worth noting that Early is donating his share of the profits from the book to charity.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

RCA Dome Sale Likely To Be Reworked

A knowledgeable source in city government is telling me that the deal which is allowing the Indianapolis Colts to sell memorabilia online from the RCA Dome and donate the proceeds to the Indiana Sports Corporation and the Colts Foundation is about to get a major re-working when the CIB meets later this afternoon. The source tells me that former CIB President Fred Glass signed off on the current deal without consulting other board members or obtaining formal board approval. It looks like the CIB is going to require some of the proceeds to go back to the CIB; however, the Indiana Sports Corporation will likely receive a fee for conducting and promoting the sale. The CIB is scheduled to meet at 4:00 p.m. today to discuss the matter. The question being asked in a lawsuit filed by attorney Paul Ogden earlier this week is whether the CIB breached its fiduciary duty by allowing the Colts to sell off assets which arguably are owned by the taxpayers and giving them away to nonprofit groups rather than paying down the debt still owed on the nearly 25-year-old stadium scheduled for demolition. Ogden is asking Judge Gary Miller to grant an injunction blocking the proceeds from going to the two nonprofit organizations. Ogden's suit could become moot depending on what action the CIB takes today.

UPDATE: The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy has an online report confirming what I reported earlier would happen at this evening's CIB meeting. O'Shaughnessy writes:

The Capital Improvement Board reversed course today and voted to keep most of the proceeds from the auction of seats and other items in the RCA Dome that will be demolished later this year.

The CIB originally planned to allow two nonprofit groups, the Indiana Sports Corp and Indianapolis Colts Foundation, to run the sale and retain the proceeds. But public reaction to the plan was negative and sparked a lawsuit claiming that the more than $1 million expected from the auction should be returned to taxpayers who financing the construction of the Colts stadium.

Now, the CIB plans to allow the Sports Corp to keep a fee of $200,000 for running the massive operation of taking out, selling and delivering the seats, aisle signs, pieces of cloth from the roof and even urinals from the Dome. The field turf, which will be mounted in pieces on plaques for $60 each, and lockers are Colts property and not included in the new agreement.

Bob Grand, the CIB’s new chairman, said the CIB staff could not handle the task of organizing the auction in the short timetable available. He said he hoped the change would satisfy the public and head off the lawsuit.

The CIB still maintains that the field turf and the lockers are Colts property and not included in this new agreement. I would still like some clarification on why the turf is not the CIB's property given that news reports three years ago indicated that the CIB purchased the new turf field. Hopefully, the CIB will provide a better explanation to the public to clear up that matter. The Ballard administration should be applauded for reversing course and imploring Grand to take the action he did at this evening's board meeting. The Star editorial staff should also be applauded for first drawing attention to the issue. It is unclear whether the pending lawsuit will be dropped in light of today's action by the CIB.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Else Are They Auctioning Off?

The Colts website has been auctioning off pieces of the RCA Dome for weeks now, including seats, pieces of turf and the dome, players' lockers and even locker room urinals. Those proceeds are going to the Indiana Sports Corporation and the Colts Foundation rather than to pay down the nearly $75 million in unpaid debt on the stadium scheduled for demolition. These items have been described as memorabilia, which the Capital Improvement Board of Managers says belongs to the Colts and not the taxpayers. Really? It looks like more than memorabilia is being auctioned off. An Advance Indiana reader sends this link to Christy's of Indiana advertising a "semi load of tools from RCA Dome" for sale back on January 23, 2008. What else is being auctioned off and who is getting those proceeds?

I'm having trouble with this claim that the Dome's turf, seats and lockers belong to the Colts. I found an AP story from February 15, 2005 reporting on the CIB's decision to purchase new turf for the RCA Dome. "The city's Capital Improvement Board has approved $800,000 US for a new field for the Indianapolis Colts along with $900,000 for a hard cover to protect the turf when the RCA Dome hosts non-football events," the AP reported. "The eight-year-old AstroTurf in the downtown stadium was voted the worst surface in the league, according to a survey of 1,514 players by the NFL Players' Association two weeks ago," the AP report said.

When the CIB re-negotiated its lease on the RCA Dome with the Colts back in 1998, these facts were reported on the deal by the Star:

LEASE TERM: 20-year lease at the Hoosier Dome, renewable for up to 10 additional years. The Dome is operated by the Capital Improvement Board (CIB), a city agency.
RENT: Colts agreed to pay the CIB $250,000 annually plus $25,000 per playoff game. Colts pay the CIB five percent of gross ticket sales through an admissions tax, amounting to about $465,000 annually. Colts pay CIB's expenses for ticket-takers, security guards and other personnel on game days, about $200,000 annually. Rent paid to CIB per game between $90,000 and $100,000.

TRAINING FACILITY: CIB to provide temporary training and office center for Colts at the former Fall Creek Elementary School. CIB to build a permanent facility costing $3 million to $4 million, which Colts can buy for $4 million.

GUARANTEES: For 12 years, CIB guarantees Colts annual revenue of $7 million from ticket sales and broadcast revenues of more than $800,000. If not met, CIB pays Colts the difference.

LOAN: Colts have $12.5 million loan for ten years at 8 percent interest from Merchants National Bank. CIB pays difference between prime rate and the 8 percent level

LOCAL CONTROL: CIB can try to match any offer to buy controlling interest
in the Colts.

SUITES: Colts receive first $500,000 annually from suite rentals at the Hoosier Dome. LEASE

RENEGOTIATION: On Jan. 14, 1998, the Colts and the city agreed to a renegotiated lease which would give the team $8.9 million from advertising, parking and suite revenues at home games. The city also agreed to spend up to $18 million to upgrade the RCA Dome. The city retained a lease expiring in 2014 that ties the Colts to Indianapolis through at least 2007. Beginning in 2007 the Colts may buy out their lease for $11 million for each year remaining on the lease. The city can prevent this by ensuring that the Colts' revenue equals that of an average grossing NFL franchise.

The City agreed to spend $18 million on improvements to upgrade the RCA Dome under the terms of the 1998 lease deal. You may recall that the CIB had to pay a $48 million breakup fee to the Colts as part of the new lease on the Lucas Oil Stadium, which I never quite understood. Supposedly we had to build Lucas Oil Stadium to prevent the Colts from leaving town, but we had to pay tens of millions of dollars to the Colts in order to terminate the old lease so we could have the privilege of giving them an even better deal with a newer and bigger stadium. Am I missing something here? Why are two nonprofit entities entitled to the more than $10 million the sale of these items is expected to raise?

UPDATE (3/19): It looks like the finger pointing has begun. The Peterson administration is saying the decision on the sale was made by the Ballard administration and vice versa. There is also a question of whether the CIB ever took a formal vote approving the sale of these items in this manner. An amendment to the taxpayers' lawsuit is likely to occur if it is confirmed this property is being auctioned off without a vote approving the sale by the CIB.

Get A Clue Bob Cockrum

There is a quote from CCC President Robert Cockrum in this morning's Star which should have every taxpayer up in arms. Recall that Cockrum and all but two of the GOP councilors last year voted against Mayor Bart Peterson's $90 million annual increase in the county option income tax to provide funds for public safety and pay off the public safety pension liability. Mayor Peterson planned to use about $30 million a year from those new revenues to pay for a billion dollar bond issue for the pension liability. Under the property tax reform and relief plan adopted by the legislature, at least $65 million in annual costs in our city-county budget are being absorbed the state, which is using a 1% increase in the state sales tax to pay for those costs. Tax caps the legislation imposes on property taxes will shave from the local property tax collections close to $40 million in 2009 and 2010 combined. Here's what Cockrum said to the Star about those lost revenues:

Council President Bob Cockrum, a Republican, said finding $40 million in cuts over the next two years will be a challenge.

"It's too early to say whether we can find that money without a tax increase," Cockrum said. "Filling a budget hole usually means service cuts or tax increases unless we can find some efficiencies."

Let's get something straight. The people who put Mayor Ballard into office and the Republicans back in control of the council expect them to not only find those $70 million in cuts Mayor Ballard promised us but also expect them to find a way to either roll back that county option income tax increase or direct savings to even more property tax reduction. To hear Cockrum whine about how difficult it's going to be to squeeze out $40 million in savings when the state taxpayers just bailed the City of Indianapolis out by picking up $65 million in annual costs is an outrage to say the very least. If you can't get the job done, we'll find someone else who can. We expect Ballard and the Republican council to live up to the promises they made.

Ballard Position On RCA Dome Sale Wrong For So Many Reasons

The Ballard administration says it's not to blame for the decision to allow proceeds from the sale of RCA Dome fixtures to be given to the Colts Foundation and the Indiana Sports Corporation instead of using the proceeds to reduce the nearly $75 million in debt still owed on the stadium scheduled for demolition. That decision was made by the Peterson administration it says. Yet the responses the administration gave to the Star in response to a lawsuit which has been filed against the CIB to prevent the give-away of these proceeds are infuriating. The Star's Jeff Swiatek quotes CIB Chairman Robert Grand and the administration:

Bob Grand, newly named president of the improvement board, said the sports corporation and foundation deserve to receive auction proceeds, in part, because they are handling the auction for the board.

"It makes sense," he said. "We're not in the business of selling memorabilia. There's a lot of work that goes into this."

The Colts foundation is also entitled to money from the sale because the team is allowing its name and trademark to be put on items such as lockers, which makes them more valuable, Grand said.

Marcus Barlow, spokesman for Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, said the Capital Improvement Board was under the control of previous Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, when it set up the Dome auctions and decided to give the proceeds to charity.

"We have no reason to revisit this decision. To unravel this, we'd have to do a lot, and there would be a lot of expenses the city would have to pick up," Barlow said.

"I have no reason to think" the lawsuit is politically motivated, he said.

The Ballard administration just doesn't get it. The reason we still owe as much money on the RCA Dome as it cost to build nearly 25 years ago is because of all of the give-aways we've given to the Colts during their stay in Indianapolis. Should I remind Grand and Ballard that those new seats and turf we're now allowing to be auctioned off to benefit these two nonprofit entities came from taxpayer money the CIB spent on these improvements rather than pay down the debt on the bonds. That debt will now be rolled into the bond debt for the construction of the new Lucas Oil Stadium. And lest we forget about the recent meltdown in the auction bond market. That could result in taxpayers paying as much as 15% interest on those bonds unless the bonds can be refinanced. Good luck with that task in today's financial market.

Here's what this deal is all about. Mayor Ballard wants to be able to tell the public that no public funds are being used to lure the Super Bowl here in 2012. He can't promise everything the greedy NFL owners demand in order for us to host a Super Bowl, however, unless he puts a substantial amount of public funds into the event. The CIB cooked up this scheme to divert the proceeds from the sale of the RCA Dome as a way of washing the money. If the money is donated to two private foundations which, in turn, invest money in the 2012 Super Bowl event, the administration and the CIB can claim it's not using public funds. This is just how stupid these arrogant elitists think the taxpayers of this community are. It's time to put a stop to this nonsense. Mayor Ballard, do the right thing and reverse this untenable position.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ballard Touts Legislative Accomplishments

Mayor Greg Ballard had plenty of reasons to be upbeat during this year's St. Patrick's Day parade despite the gloomy, cold temperatures. There's lots of property tax relief for Marion County homeowners, permanent caps on the amount they will be taxed and $65 million in costs the state is picking up in the future which county taxpayers have been paying on their property tax bills. Mayor Ballard will have to find at least $11 million in savings in the 2009 budget and another $39 million in savings for the 2010 budget because of the phase-in of the property tax caps. Ballard promised he would find at least $70 million in cuts. I'm hoping his administration doesn't count the $65 million in expenses the state is picking up. The people fully expect him to find a way to cut the county option income tax or find additional property tax savings with the added county option income tax revenues. Former Mayor Bart Peterson had anticipated using about $30 million of the COIT revenues from last year's $90 million tax increase to pay debt service on bonds he planned to sell to finance debt on the unpaid public safety pension liability. The state has now agreed to pick up that debt as part of the property tax reform and relief legislation approved by the legislature. Ballard indicated at his press conference today he intends to continue to look for those cuts according to the Star. "This is a big win for the city, though we have significant challenges still to face," Ballard said. "This won't lessen the need to make cuts in spending."

CIB Faces Lawsuit Over Sale Of RCA Dome Property

It looks as though someone is as upset as I was to learn that RCA Dome fixtures are being auctioned off to benefit the Colts Foundation and the Indiana Sports Corporation instead of applying those proceeds to the debt which remains unpaid on the RCA Dome, soon to be demolished to make way for an expanded Indiana Convention Center. Attorney Paul Ogden has filed a lawsuit in Marion Superior Court on behalf of Adam Lenkowsky and other taxpayers he hopes to add as part of a class action lawsuit, charging the CIB with breaching its fiduciary duty to the taxpayers and seeking an injunction to prevent the Colts Foundation and the Indiana Sports Corporation from receiving the millions in proceeds from the sale of such things as seats and pieces of the dome and turf from the stadium. You can view a copy of Ogden's lawsuit by clicking here. The lawsuit will be heard in Judge Gary Miller's court.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

An Appointment That Should Have Never Happened

I had the opportunity to speak to Mayor Ballard on election night about a number of issues. It was a very pleasant conversation despite some of the differences I've had with some of his appointments. Perhaps no appointment is more disturbing to me, though, than the one he officially announced this weekend to head up his abandoned home initiative. A couple of weeks ago Public Safety Director Scott Newman nearly let the name of this appointee slip out during the Mayor's press conference on the reorganized police department before Mayor Ballard stopped him. Newman tipped us off, however, that the appointee would be a female police officer. Immediately, speculation began circulating that it was Sherron Franklin. Ballard confirmed she was his choice during my conversation with him Tuesday night. I didn't tell him what I thought of his choice, although if he's read my blog in the past he knows I'm not real fond of Franklin. It upset me so much I couldn't even bring myself to write about it before now.

WIBC's John Strauss discussed the appointment during his Sunday morning talk show today, indicating that Ballard had announced it during a MCANA meeting this weekend. I've spoken to a couple of neighborhood leaders who are furious with the appointment. Franklin, a one term councilor, is not known for her diplomacy. In fact, she has a history of being extremely rude and unprofessional to constituents and others with whom she disagrees. She infuriated Indianapolis' GLBT community with her homobigoted views in opposing the Human Rights Ordinance. Franklin scored points with some Republican council members like fellow police officer Lincoln Plowman by voting against the police merger ordinance. She was the only Democratic councilor who was regularly touted over at the now-defunct IndyUndercover blog, which a police affidavit proved was moderated by radio talk show host Abdul Hakim-Shabazz. The blog endorsed her re-election to the council last year. People are still wondering who in the police department leaked the identity of a confidential police informant in last year's rash of arson cases on the city's southeastside, which the IndyUndercover blog disclosed, placing the pregnant female informant's life in danger. Franklin headed up the investigation as an arson investigator and publicly complained that the prosecutor's office wouldn't charge the man she claimed committed the arsons.

The abandoned housing problem is a big problem facing this city. Some estimate there are now more than 10,000 abandoned homes in the city in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. I'm very pleased that Mayor Ballard is affording the problem a higher priority than his predecessor, but with all due respect Mayor Ballard, Sherron Franklin is the wrong person to do this job. This new position our mayor is creating will be a very difficult job involving a lot of complicated legal and political issues. Franklin is ill-suited to deal with the public, let alone the bureaucratic, legal red-tape she will have to confront in this job. This job is just too important to turn it over to someone who has such a poor record of performance in dealing with the public.

UPDATE: The Star's Robert Annis has a report on the appointment today. He writes:

Ballard told attendees at Saturday's Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations meeting that Franklin would "wake up every day thinking about abandoned homes" . . .

I learned a long time ago to get the right person," Ballard said Saturday. "Don't be in a hurry, just get the right person."

Ballard spokesman Marcus Barlow said Franklin's focus on abandoned houses during her term on the City-County Council and her experience dealing with residents as a police officer made her the ideal candidate for the role. Franklin remains with IMPD, but her full-time duties will revolve around the abandoned homes initiative.

Franklin, who was offered the position two weeks ago, is working with Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams on the project, Barlow said. Her salary will remain the same.

Sorry, Mayor Ballard, she is not the "right person." And doesn't this sound familiar: "Franklin did not immediately respond to telephone messages left for her."

Star Admits Big Error In Reporting

Last weekend, the Star ran a page one story claiming that a jury found against Dr. Gary Thompson and Dr. Michael Turner in failing to identify and report suspected child abuse in a case involving an infant who eventually died from abuse injuries. The jury actually found in favor of both doctors but against Methodist Hospital. The Star has a big apology in today's Sunday edition, with Dennis Ryerson noting he was out of town on a business trip when the error occurred, leaving the blame to Managing Editor Pam Fine, who recently gave notice she was leaving the Star. Ryerson writes:

A week ago a headline at the top of our front page was clear and to the point: "Physicians lose child abuse suit." A secondary headline added that: "Plaintiff awarded $400,000 in case alleging doctors didn't report abuse."

Unfortunately, the main headline, as was the story under it, was as inaccurate as it was clear. A jury held Methodist Hospital responsible for not identifying and reporting suspected abuse of an 11-month-old child who was returned to his mother and later beaten to death by the mother's boyfriend. The jury ruled that the two physicians involved in the case, Dr. Gary Thompson and Dr. Michael Turner, were not liable.

No question, it was a very bad error.

Our news gathering and editing processes include several steps to prevent mistakes. Reporters are expected to check and recheck the information in their stories. Stories go through multiple layers of editing before they are printed.

When we become aware of errors we correct them on Page 2 of our first, or "A," news section. We also append the correction to our archived stories and rewrite those stories to correct the error, to ensure that an error isn't repeated.

Some situations require more action on our part, however, and this was one of them. I was on a business trip the day the error appeared. Managing Editor Pam Fine, when informed of the situation, immediately began gathering information. She concluded that this mistake merited not only a correction but also a follow-up news story for publication in the Sunday Star. She called me with her recommendation that we not only write a correction, an apology and a news story, but also that those items appear at the top of Page One, as did the original story. I concurred.

Pam then spoke with attorneys for the two physicians, informed them of our intentions, and apologized for the error. She later supervised preparation of the story and the Sunday headline, which read: "Jury: Doctors not liable in child abuse suit."

We are continuing to review the incident. Among the issues we are discussing: The jury's verdict wasn't read until 12:40 a.m. Saturday morning, right on our city edition deadline. To what extent did that affect our making the error, and could we have planned better knowing the story was running late? Two reporters, one from dayside and one from nightside, covered the final day of the trial. What role did that play?

The senior editor on our staff who handles metro, state and business reporting shipped me an e-mail last week while I was out of the office and urged me to write about the issue for today's column. Steve Berta spoke for all of us when he wrote, "Getting facts right is the ethic by which we live. . .

"While we take stands on the editorial page and try to provoke thought with our columns, that advocacy is a secondary role; first and foremost we strive to be honest brokers of information. . . . Sometimes we get it wrong, but never is it taken lightly."

Noting the processes we have in place to minimize error, he urged me to remind readers that, "It may not be a perfect system, but we try to correct our errors because we would rather suffer the embarrassment of our mistakes than lose our credibility entirely."

If you see something in The Star that you believe to be an error, please let us know by calling (317) 444-6000.

Thanks for reading The Indianapolis Star.

Is Ryerson sure he wants us to call him every time we believe the Star is in error? Are there enough hours in the day? I'm not sure whether the original story with the error was written by Dan Lee or Tim Evans, both of whom covered the trial. There are two different stories online, one crediting the story to Lee with the other crediting Evans. UPDATE: Jen Wagner says the mistake was made by an unnamed night reporter and not Evans or Lee.

UPDATE (3/18/07): A very angry Dan Lee called me this morning to complain about his name being associated in this blog post with the error in this reporting. He emphatically denied any responsibility for the error and chastised me for speculating on which reporter made the error. The Star carried two separate stories online, one written by Dan Lee and one written by Tim Evans. In his apology to Star readers, Ryerson notes there were two different reporters who contributed to the story but he doesn't name the reporter. He does, however, name the responsible editor, Pam Fine, who previously announced she's leaving the Star. Lee notes that at the end of the story line it mentioned others contributed to the report. Lee would not identify who made the error but said he personally apologized to the attorneys for the doctors for the error. He added that he was unsure which reporter made the error. Within hours of this post going up, I included the update which noted Jen Wagner had advised me that neither Lee nor Evans was responsible for the error. Wagner formerly worked at the Star and presumably still speaks to reporters there. Lee believes it was unfair for me to speculate on who made the error. He believes I should have called up the reporters and asked them directly if they were responsible for the error. He says his role in covering the trial was very limited. More than a week had passed before Ryerson published the Star's apology, which left unanswered the identity of the reporter who made the error. I take responsibility for my own speculating, but Ryerson could have removed any questions by simply identifying the reporter who made the error. He had no problem naming Fine. I think Lee and Evans should direct their frustration at their own boss for not making it clear in his own apology that neither of these two veteran reporters was responsible for the error. For the record, here's the correction note the Star has in its online report with Lee's story:

CORRECTION: A story on Page A1 in some editions Saturday incorrectly reported that a jury found against Dr. Gary Thompson and Dr. Michael Turner in connection with a 1998 child abuse case. The jury actually found in favor of both doctors. The story to the right reports the correct information. The Star apologizes for the error.

It's Happening All Over Again

It's quite obvious press coverage of our newly-installed congressman in the 7th District will be sugar-coated just like it was for more than a decade with the do-nothing Julia Carson. As Advance Indiana reported on Thursday, Andre Carson's first vote in Congress was for one of the largest tax increases in history. The Star, for the record, never reported on Carson's vote, although the budget vote was widely discussed in the national news media. The state Republican Party put out a press release attacking Carson's vote, which the Star chose to assail in today's "Behind Closed Doors" column instead of reporting on Carson's vote. The item reads:

In Washington, Carson's first day on the job earned him an attack press release from the Indiana GOP, although the release was a little fuzzy on the details.

Indiana GOP Chairman Murray Clark accused Carson of using his first congressional vote to approve a tax increase and a budget with more than 11,000 earmarks.

Carson's first vote Thursday was, in fact, on a quorum -- or roll call. Carson then voted against a GOP budget resolution and then in favor of the Democratic version that passed. (Indiana Reps. Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill were among the 16 Democrats who voted against the version that passed.)

The budget resolution is a nonbinding blueprint for future spending and tax bills. The spending bills Congress passed last year included more than 11,000 earmarks, but the House hasn't written any of this year's spending bills.

House Democrats' budget plan assumes all of the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 will expire as scheduled in 2010. The GOP alternative that failed assumed the tax cuts will be extended before 2010.

The Star attacks the GOP release as being "fuzzy on the details." You've got to be kidding. The Star uses the excuse that a quorum roll call vote, which is a non-substantive vote, was his first vote to question the accuracy of the GOP press release? And then suggests it really wasn't a vote to raise taxes or approve earmarks? Clearly, the Star's reporters need to do a little homework on what that budget resolution was about. It does in fact create the framework for a massive tax increase and continues to allow budget earmarks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi originally proposed a moratorium on earmarks as part of the resolution but dropped it after members of her own party objected so strenuously. Isn't this so reminiscent of the Julia Carson years? Every time anyone attacked Julia Carson the tables were turned by the local media and the person doing the attacking was made out to be the bad person. It's starting all over again with Andre Carson.

Even more insulting was that same column's attempt to misrepresent Beth White's performance in Tuesday's election. The column reads:

Tuesday's special election came with something voters haven't been accustomed to the past few years: nothing going wrong.

Despite three Republican press releases sent throughout the day about minor election flaws, the Marion County Election Board escaped the day virtually unscathed.

No ballot shortages, no mass failure of polling places to open, no machines malfunctioning. County Clerk Beth White's predecessor saw repeated election problems, and White's election debut a year ago was called a "catastrophe."

"It absolutely did go well," White said late in the week. "The honest answer is I'm relieved, I guess. We've been on the defense since the beginning of my term."

Again, we have a deliberate attempt by the Star to cover up what really took place. It is a fact that at least 6 precincts did not open on time--in Republican areas naturally. Isn't it true that heavily Republican precincts traditionally vote early in the morning as opposed to heavily Democratic precincts, which seem to get most of their voters in the closing hours of election day? The incredible part of this item is where White acknowledges that a Franklin Township precinct was opened in the wrong location. "A third release highlighted the fact that a Franklin Township precinct hadn't opened on time," the column reads. "The inspector, White said, had opened the precinct on time -- but in the wrong location." So the county spends all that money on post cards to alert voters of their polling locations last week and one of Beth White's inspectors in a heavily Republican precinct just happens to open up the polling place in the wrong location and that's no big deal? The Star apparently thinks so. "But none of the problems drew much attention, and the GOP press releases didn't stick."

What the Star is trying to tell you is that it really doesn't matter when mostly white Republicans are disenfranchised. Republicans petitioned to keep the polls open later in those precincts which did in fact open up late. The Democratic-controlled election board told them to go to hell. Apparently some Center Township polling places which delivered a big Carson vote were allowed to stay open late. Their votes didn't get delivered to the convention center until several hours after the polls closed. The fact remains that in every election she has conducted there have been voters denied the right to vote because of Beth White's mismanagement of elections. That's not a conspiracy theory. It's a fact, even if the Star doesn't give a damn.