Monday, March 03, 2008

Ballard Rolls Out Ethics Plan

Mayor Greg Ballard is rolling out an ethics plan this blog first reported on nearly two months ago. Ballard had said then he would announce his plan in February. It's now March and a few ethics controversies later but better late than never. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy has a story discussing the plan today. While the plan is a step in the right direction, it has some gaping holes. Here are some of them:

  • Lobbyists will now be required to register with the city, but there are no reporting requirements to inform the public on how much they are spending and what they are spending money on to influence city decision-makers. Mere registration without reporting is useless.
  • The proposal will prohibit persons from serving on an agency or board in which they have a business relationship or a financial interest. That's all well and good, but the devil is in the details. The mayor has already appointed a person to run the city's most powerful board, the CIB, who is a lobbyist for the Simons and whose law firm represents a number of clients with potential clients. The mayor's chief of staff is the ex-branch manager of a major city contractor. And the City-Councy Council just recently approved the appointment of a liquor lobbyist for the Board of Zoning Appeals. This idea looks good on paper, but does it really have any teeth?
  • City employees will be barred in the future from running for the city council, but police and firefighters are exempt. The mayor's office is using a state law which allows police and firefighters to run for office as an excuse for the exemption. That state law contradicts the Indiana Constitution, which bars persons from holding positions in two branches of government at the same time. As City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman's recent promotion in the police department and former CCC President Monroe Gray's questionable job in the fire department demonstrate, there are inherent conflicts and problems with morale in allowing public safety workers to sit on the council.
  • The penalty for failing to file a statement of economic interest is increased from $25 to $50. Excuse me, but we penalize people more for committing minor traffic offenses. Let's at least make the penalty $500. And let's also make these reports more meaningful. The current form is so vague and inadequate that it is easy for officials to avoid any meaningful disclosure.
  • Putting all campaign finance reports online is very important. I studied the filings made by members of the council elected in 2003. I was appalled by how many glaring errors there were in these reports. Most of the council members prepared their own reports and clearly did not understand what the law required them to report.
  • Gifts are limited to $100 instead of $250. Why not ban all gifts? There is no good reason for any public official to be accepting gifts from people who do business with the city. This should also be tied in with a lobbyist reporting requirement to disclose any gifts made to a city official.
Here are the Ballard ethics proposals as set out in today's Star:

Lobbyist registration. Not required now; lobbyists would be obliged to register with the city and would be penalized for noncompliance.

Appointment restrictions. An area now unaddressed; city officials and employees would be prohibited from being appointed to boards unless explicitly permitted. People would be prohibited from serving on an agency board or commission with which they have a business relationship or in which they have a financial interest.

Employment restrictions. An area now unaddressed; city employees would be prohibited from working with a company that would have an agenda inherently incompatible with the city's or that would require the disclosure of confidential information. In the future, City-County Council members would not be permitted to work for a city agency. Police officers and firefighters would be exempt because state law allows them to run for council. Nepotism would be prohibited.

Conflict of interest: Would require council members' recusal from a vote or withdrawal from involvement in city matters in which they have a financial interest.

Statements of economic interest: Online posting would be required, with penalties for failing to file rising from $25 to $50. Would apply to all officials, agency heads and anyone in city-county government with purchasing authority.

Campaign finance reports. Now required only on paper; online posting by the clerk's office would be mandated within 21 days of filing.

Gift rules. A current $250 annual cap would be lowered to $100 with a $25 per gift limitation.

Honoraria. Now permitted up to $250 annually; personal honoraria would be prohibited.


Anonymous said...

Gary, I had high hopes for this new mayor.

But I'm disappointed.

There was a perfect oportunity for the new mayor ot ban all public employees from serving on the council. He is bowing to his FOP support by fawning all over the LEOs. This was unnecessary.

City agency/board appointments are difficult. I helped the prior administration prepare names during the first Peterson transiton. You'd be surprised how many appointments there are, and how difficult it is to get folks to do it.

For instance, there is little or no pay for the Board of Zoning Appeals. They sit all day, twice a month, and rule on vitally important rezoning cases. Its members are required to know the statutory thresholds for rezoning, but time after time, I watched Sue Shively, among others, completely ignore the statutes. And that doesn't hold a candle to the appointed hearing officer, Mrs. Conley, whose zoning knowledge rivaled those of a house pet.

Or the appointment of the county Democratic chair to the Metro Development Commission.

Some appointments are made to cover your flank. Some are made as paybacks. And too many are made just because there wasn't anyone else who would do it.

This council won't force Ballard's hand on the new ethics requirements. Not with their majority leader, the lead dunce of them all, a police major.

Again...a huge disappointment. This mayor owed nobody. Someone has convinced him he does. Which is sad.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of people would serve on the BZA if asked, and even more could serve if the BZAs met at night.

The current setup runs hand in hand with keeping appointments to boards and commissions limited to paybacks and folks who can get the time off work - which will surely be granted if it helps your boss in any way.

You mention Ms. Conley as ill suited to the Hearing Examiner position, and I agree. But, the Council has re-appointed Retherford (to the BZA) who routinely ignored state law and whose motto appeared to be: if asked, I will do all in my power to grant a variance. Then you have the appointment, also by the Council, of two Libertarians to the BZA. I thought Libertarians were against zoning; how does their appointment make any sense for the community?

But, Ballard seems to think he is doing right by creating these rules -- after he makes questionable appointments. Its as if, everyone has to follow the guidelines unless Ballard trusts the guy.

I do have one question: Under the new guidelines, will the Mayor retain his suite at the stadium? How about being hosted at the 500 because he represents the City?

Anonymous said...

There were good BZA appointments, too: Marci Reddick was an outstanding board chair.

But the Retherfords/Shiveleys, et al, were too many.

There is a state law which requires variance applicants to prove hardship. It's a stern test, and it should be.

Too often, it isn't met. And then the variance becomes the precedent.

We're going to be paying for these errors, and the Conleys, for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon 7:22am. You are a fool if you think Ballard is bowing to the FOP. First, if you would shut up an pay attention you would know that he supports restricting police and fire employees from serving in an elected position. Second, at this point in time he can not make that decision. Local gov't can not override the state gov't. The state says that they can serve. So blame the state legislature and not the mayor for that.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of Ballard supporters who desire and have submitted applications to sit on boards, the problem is those around Ballard don't want Ballard supporters, minorities, or ethical people.

They want control of the cities boards, like they had once before, and they'll keep Ballard busy looking at the daisies while they continue to ignore the submissions for board positions. Instead, they are carefully using people on "their" list of folks who are of course aligned with their lobbyists.

Ballard, wakeup, your challenger will get prepared in 2 years and it'll will be too late to try to get your FRIENDS BACK!!!!


Bulldog said...

Silly 10:25, Mayor Flip Flop's challengers are already hard at work.