Saturday, February 28, 2009

RIP Paul Harvey

America's oldest and greatest radio personality, Paul Harvey, died today at the age of 90. Chicago occasionally produces a great one and Harvey was certainly one of them. In his memory, "Good day."

A Thirteen-Year-Old Who Gets It

Chicago Torture Cases Still Not A Concern To Liberal Establishment

For decades, Chicago police tortured arrestees through beatings, burnings and electrocutions to force them into confessions. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley prosecuted these cases as a State's Attorney and ignored the problem after he became Mayor until the feds started putting heat on his police department. Nearly six years ago, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office was asked to oversee the review of cases involving former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge to consider the possibility of new trials or freeing persons who may have been convicted of crimes they didn't commit. The cases originally came to her because the former State's Attorney had represented Burge, the instigator of the torture methods used to obtain confessions. She's now trying to pass the cases back to the Cook County State's Attorney's office. Madigan says she is compelled to dump the cases because her office has insufficient funds.

Madigan has been preoccupied as of late with figuring out a way to advance to higher office. She wanted the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. She tried to bypass Illinois' constitutional procedure for impeachment of the governor by petitioning the Supreme Court to remove him based on an alleged mental disability so Pat Quinn could become governor and appoint her to the Senate. Madigan's father, the Speaker of the House for life, originally called a special session last fall to pass legislation establishing a special election to fill the seat Roland Burris now holds but changed his mind when he thought daughter Lisa might not be able to muster the votes necessary to win in a crowded field. Blagojevich, who said he would sign legislation calling for a special election, appointed Burris when the legislature failed to act. Unhappy with Blagojevich's parting gift, Madigan has now issued a legal opinion that Illinois lawmakers can move up a special election two years for Burris' seat.

What fascinates me is that Madigan is an icon to liberals because she is the Democrat Attorney General of Illinois, she's a woman and she's a huge Obama supporter. These are the same people who spent the last eight years blasting George W. Bush and his administration's alleged mistreatment of foreign enemy combatant detainees at Gitmo. Liberals like Sheila Kennedy never pass up an opportunity to refer to Bush officials as war criminals. Yet, they see absolutely no injustice in the Chicago police torture cases because the torturers are part of the corrupt, one-party Democratic rule in the Windy City that just sent their favorite messiah to the White House. The rights of radical Islamic terrorists from foreign countries who are hell-bent on destroying the U.S. and Israel are more important than our own U.S. citizens as far as these liberals are concerned. They find no fault in Madigan ignoring these cases as Illinois' top law enforcement official, and they see nothing wrong with her partisan usurping of Illinois' constitution to fill a Senate seat with a person of her own choosing--namely herself. The ends justify the means.

Hey, It's Only $149 Million

Well, the King of Pork from Carmel has finally been caught in one big fat lie. He knew all along his coveted Keystone roundabout project would cost taxpayers $149 million. For reasons only he explain, he told the public and the Carmel city council when he was running for re-election in 2007 that an agreement with the state to give the city $90 million in exchange for taking over Keystone Avenue would be enough to build roundabouts at intersections along the heavily travelled road. Last summer, he had changed his story to say the city would need an additional $20 million. Brainard later came back to the city council, asking for $20 million more, even though he knew he really needed $60 million to fund the project. The Star's Melanie Hayes writes:

Rick Conner, president of American Structurepoint, also acknowledged Thursday night that the firm began design work in December 2007 without a budget.

"We didn't have a budget at that point," Conner said. "We just started designing.

"We had a budget in February 2008. That was our first budget we produced. It was $149 million for the whole corridor."

City Council member Luci Snyder was angered.

"When the mayor said he needed $15 (million) to $20 million more, he knew he needed $60 million more," she said. "When he signed the (agreement with the state) in November and got $90 million, his down-and-dirty estimate from Structurepoint was $112 (million). He was $22 million over. He signed it anyway.

"The issue is: What happens to a public official who knowingly signed a contract and said things that are not true and causes the city to have to go into debt?"

Neither Brainard nor the City Council members had discussed the increased cost in public or sought additional funds until the mayor confirmed in October that he needed $50 million. Now the city thinks the project -- the landscaping and ornamental railing having been cut -- can be finished for $130 million.

Two weeks ago, the City Council approved advancing the project $20 million, the state's final payment of the $90 million. The money isn't additional funding, and would be paid back once the state's payment came in 2010, council members said.

"I'm only one vote," Sharp said, "but until I really know what we are doing, until I finally know what the real price tag is, there is no way I will vote for any new funding.

"The administration has dug us into a monumental hole."

This is the same mayor local Democrats were patting on the back because he supported Obama's massive trillion-dollar spending bill to stimulate the economy and travelled with other mayors to a meeting with Obama to salivate over the prospect of all of the pork barrel projects he could fund with the money the federal government was about to hand him. As far as I'm concerned, the Democrats can have Jim Brainard. This guy wouldn't be a Republican if he didn't live in such an overwhelmingly Republican city. He's a tax and spend liberal who likes lining the pockets of the fat cats and honey money boys who feed at the public trough just like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. I pointed out how Brainard's 2007 campaign finance report showed that his campaign listed a single recipient, his campaign consultant, as receiving 90% of the more than $547,000 he spent on his re-election, effectively hiding how the money was spent. That should be investigated, just like his Keystone roundabout debacle, but I'm betting it won't. Unlike Chicago, we don't have an Elliot Ness-style prosecutor like Patrick Fitzgerald in Indiana to root out public corruption.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pulliam's Downtown Casino Scenario

Russ Pulliam must be reading my mind. Check out this scenario he speculates playing out in the waning days of the General Assembly to help Mayor Greg Ballard and the City of Indianapolis deal with its bankrupt Capital Improvement Board:

Legislative leaders look for a way to plug the deficit plaguing the city's Capital Improvement Board, which operates Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse and other venues.

Casino owners in Anderson and Shelbyville offer to give back some of their slot machines to create a casino in Union Station. It might hurt their revenues at the horse tracks in Madison and Shelby counties, but they would still gain a foothold in the state's largest city. The city in turn would get a stream of revenue to pay for the stadium deficit. Union Station also would gain a new lease on life.

Pulliam thinks the odds are against this scenario playing out, but he adds that Indiana's addiction to gambling has been hard to reverse. It is, after all, only going in one direction. Please also take note of my recent post on the tangled web of conflicts for members of the CIB. A recent Ballard appointee, Craig Huse, disclosed an ownership interest in Centaur, the gaming/entertainment company which owns Anderson's Hoosier Downs and operates an OTB in the Simon-owned Claypool Court. Another appointee, Doug Brown, lobbies for Indianapolis Downs, which operates the horse race track in Shelbyville.

Smoke Free Indiana Making Progress In Indianapolis

The Smoke Free Indiana folks score a win in the Indianapolis club scene. The owners of Talbott Street nightclub will declare it a smoke free zone beginning April 1. Bar owners in Indianapolis have been fighting hard against a statewide smoking ban that would extend to bars and nightclubs. Talbott Street's owners are quite familiar with the club scene in major cities across the country and don't see a negative downside to becoming smoke free.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

IMPD Changes Policy On Off-Duty Work

Mayor Greg Ballard and Public Safety Director Scott Newman wasted no time in making a policy change in IMPD's policy towards police officers working off-duty security work in the aftermath of the disclosure that a scrap metal business under investigation, OmniSource, employed 51 off-duty police officers including an officer who investigated scrap metal thefts. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy writes:

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department command staff will be barred from holding almost any outside job and other officers will be barred from working jobs related to their police duties or beats under new "secondary employment" rules announced this afternoon.

The changes were spurred by the announcement earlier this week of an internal investigation into a scrap metal recycling firm that employed 51 city police officers, including the lead investigator of scrap metal thefts.

Ballard said he felt it necessary to address the situation because it threatened public confidence in the police force.

"Integrity is of utmost importance," Ballard said in a press conference in his office. "Any outside work or conduct which interferes with their duty (as officers) will not be tolerated."Newman said the metal theft investigation required the department to look at itself critically and make changes to what he called "cultural practices that are many decades old." He said the command staff must be above reproach because he and the mayor rely on their judgment.

Newman said that he planned to overhaul the process of approving outside employment work permits, which he said in the past involved little oversight. He said the chief's office only denied work permits if the venue was strictly off limits, such as a strip club or working inside a bar.

The problem encountered at OmniSource was entirely foreseeable. Fortunately, O'Shaughnessy took the time to check the Star's archives on Chief Spears off-duty work for Colts' owner Jim Irsay. O'Shaughnessy writes:

About two years ago, Spears dropped his own second job as a security officer for the Indianapolis Colts after The Indianapolis Star reported he worked four games during the 2006 season.

Police experts called the relationship a conflict of interest though it did not violate department policy. Spears had directed the team's security operations for several years before becoming chief in 2005.

I only wish O'Shaughnessy had dug a little deeper in his archives to learn just how big Spears understood those holes to be in the department's policy. Almost seven years ago, Roger Harvey, then a reporter for WTHR, did this brilliant in-depth investigation of possible prescription drug fraud involving Colts' owner Jim Irsay. Harvey's report revealed that Spears' predecessor, Chief Michael Zunk, performed security work for Irsay at the time federal and local law enforcement officers were investigating Irsay and several area doctors. Who was Marion County Prosecutor then? Scott Newman. Who was head of IMPD? Michael Spears. Who was the Marion County Sheriff? Jack Cottey. What former sheriff currently owns a security firm that employs off-duty police officers? Jack Cottey. Whatever became of the Irsay investigation? Nothing. What will become of the OmniSource investigation? If past is prologue, probably nothing.

Mayor Ballard tapped Newman for Public Safety Director because of his 8 years' experience as Marion County Prosecutor. Newman knew upon taking office that IMPD had a long-standing, largely unregulated policy of allowing police officers to work off duty in uniform, using their police cruisers and equipment. IMPD is not compensated by private security services for the use of uniformed police officers with cruisers as is customary in many other large cities. Only recently has the City considered a change that would require police officers to reimburse the City for off-duty fuel consumption after fuel prices reach a certain threshold; however, the recent decline in fuel prices means the City is likely to recover little, if any at all.

A recent lawsuit against IMPD by a local doctor nabbed in a sex sting at NIFS health club facilities raised serious conflict of interest and abuse of power concerns where police officers were being employed for off-duty work, alongside other police officers working undercover at the facility to rid the club of reports that men were engaging in sex in the club's locker room. One of the criticisms I heard from my suggestion that IMPD require compensation by private security firms for the use of uniformed police officers was that it would make the City liable for officers off-duty work. From the appearance of this lawsuit, the police department is encountering potential liability problems under its current policy.

I'm happy to see the Ballard administration is taking some action to change its current policy. Nonetheless, I remain skeptical that it's all just window dressing. Too many times in the past we hear about changes that are being made to restore confidence in our police department. Later, when nobody is looking, things return to business as usual. What about all of those busts of police officers last year involving IMPD officers? Anyone heard anything about any of those investigations lately?

House Democrats Continue Assault On Property Tax Reforms

As I've stated before, the House Democrats under the leadership of House Speaker Pat Bauer are determined to undo the property tax reforms adopted by the General Assembly ahead of the 2008 elections to squash voter anger over burdensome property taxes. They say we don't need a constitutional amendment to make property tax caps permanent. And now they want to take away your right to vote at a referendum on proposals to borrow money for capital projects and levy higher property taxes to pay for the debt, which bypass the limits posed by the property tax caps. The Star's Bill Ruthhart reports on yesterday's party line vote:

The state's new voter referendums, aimed at giving Hoosiers the power over whether to raise taxes for publicly funded projects, would be tossed out the window under a bill approved by the Indiana House on Wednesday.

School and other public construction projects no longer would be subject to the referendums -- approved last year as part of sweeping taxpayer relief legislation -- as long as the buildings meet certain energy-efficiency standards.

House Democrats pushed for House Bill 1730, saying they wanted to remove the hurdles posed by referendums so that local school districts and governments can more quickly spend federal stimulus dollars on "green" projects.

But the bill makes no mention of federal stimulus money and would apply only to projects funded by property taxes. The bill's author later said he was open to amending the legislation so that it applies only to projects that receive money from the federal stimulus.

The House passed the bill on a 52-48 party-line vote. The legislation now moves to the Senate.

This is precisely the reason we need those property tax caps made permanent in our state constitution. The property tax reform law is barely a year old and they're already undoing it. The reason Democrats want to undo the law is very simple. They are bought and paid for by the teachers' unions, which want to make it as easy as possible to raise property taxes for schools. Notice that all four of Marion County's newly-elected members of the House of Representatives, John Barnes, Cherrish Pryor, Mary Ann Sullivan and Ed DeLaney, voted to take away your right to vote at a referendum on these tax issues. Barnes and Sullivan received more special interest money from the teachers' unions than any other special interest group. DeLaney, too, received significant financial support from the teachers' union.

In last year's election, Marion County residents living in IPS listened to the arguments and approved a referendum that will allow the school district to borrow money and raise taxes to fund several hundred million dollars worth of capital projects. It's not like voters collectively are incapable of making rational decisions. If you're not upset by the House Democrats' action yesterday to deny you the right to vote and decide these issues, then don't complain the next time you get a property tax bill with which you are unhappy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Unraveling The Tangled Web Of Conflicts On The CIB Board

The American people scratch their heads and wonder how government regulators of banks and publicly-traded and regulated businesses could allow them to betray the public's trust. We wonder how there could be trillions of dollars in unaccounted expenditures by the Pentagon. And closer to home, we ask how an unelected board could shoulder the people of our community with a mountain of debt and and a $50 million operating deficit incurred primarily for the personal benefit of the state's wealthiest two families and be told the public must pay higher taxes to fix the problem. In each instance, you can track the root of the problem back to a pervasive pay-to-play environment and a never-ending revolving door between the entrusted regulators and the regulated.

To illustrate this problem with our own deeply-indebted Capital Improvement Board of Managers of Marion County, I requested from the City's Public Access Counselor the most recent statement of economic interest statement on file for the Board's nine appointed members. Despite Indianapolis' vague and incomplete disclosure requirements, more than enough information could be gleaned from the members' statements to shed light on why this obscure, unelected board is so non-responsive to the public interest and, at the same time, such a big cheerleader for those who benefit directly from the capital improvements over which it has been entrusted. Not surprisingly, I found reporting among the members inconsistent and, in some cases, incomplete. This is an important point for members of my own Republican Party to keep in mind, as they were quick to cast stones at the former Democratic President of the City-County Council, Councilor Monroe Gray, when he failed to disclose contracts a business he owned had with the government-related entities.

Let's start with the Board's President, Robert Grand. He answers affirmatively questions asking if he has a "direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any contract with the City of Indianapolis or Marion County" and has "received any compensation from any business entity" that is "doing or contemplates doing business with an agency of the City of Indianapolis" during his term on the Board. Grand also affirmatively acknowledges owning stocks, bonds or other investments" which have "a value in excess of $5,000 and which business entity" is "doing or contemplates doing business with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County." Grand's disclosure, however, becomes blurred on the part of the form where he is asked to provide an "additional explanation" if the answers he gave on the form "needs additional explanation."

Grand discloses that he is a partner with the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg. Grand's biographical listing on his firm's website also lists him as the firm's "Managing Partner", a fact not mentioned in his disclosure. The firm's bio for him states that he "concentrates his practice in the areas of public finance and governmental regulation." "In the public finance area, he counsels State officials, county officials, and mayors on various aspects of bond financing issues and also assists them with many aspects of economic development initiatives." Grand is also known in Republican circles for his ability to raise lots of campaign contributions for Republican candidates. His bio notes he has served as an advisor to many Indiana Republican candidates and chaired the Bush-Cheney Indiana finance committee. It should also be noted that Grand's law firm raised more money for Ballard's mayoral campaign in 2007 than any other city law firm.

Grand's disclosure states that his firm "has represented the City and County from time to time for several years based on the knowledge and expertise of the firm." He states that he anticipates his firm "will have other contracts." He adds, "The firm does not represent the Capital Improvement Board of Managers of Marion County. Noticeably missing from Grand's disclosure statement is his representation of the Simon Property Group and the Indiana Pacers. Much ado was made about this conflict of interest because of the CIB's lease with the Pacers on Conseco Fieldhouse and its financial relationship with Circle Centre Mall, which is operated by Simon Property Group. Grand assured the public he had taken steps up to wall himself off from participation in matters which presented a conflict of interest. Yet, reading his disclosure statement, you would have no idea such a conflict even existed. Instead, Grand vaguely discloses the fact that "several clients for whom I do legal work are doing business with the City of Indianapolis and Marion County. That list is quite lengthy, but his statement does not list who those businesses are. The fact that his firm represents AT&T, for example, should be disclosed but is not. Also, Grand on at least two separate occasions as Board President had to abstain on votes approving parking agreements between the CIB and Wellpoint and Dora Brothers, two adjoining property owners of the CIB. Those clients aren't listed on Grand's disclosure form.

Grand does list 557 shares of common stock he owns in Citigroup and another 184 shares of common stock in Microsoft, neither of which would seem to pose serious conflicts for Grand. I should also note that Grand's disclosure states that he, his spouse or minor children have not accepted any gift or honoraria in excess of $100 from a business entity which is "doing business with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County.

Patrick Early is the Board's Vice President, its former President and its longest-serving member. His disclosure statement is very brief. He lists as his employer, Somerset CPA. Although his firm's website bio lists him as one of "25 principals" and identifies him as the company's "President", his disclosure statement omits those two items. He answered negatively to every question pertaining to potential conflicts. He acknowledges receiving one gift valued at $225 from the Indianapolis Colts identified as a "Super Bowl Souvenir". I'm surprised that his firm, unlike many of the other major CPA/consulting firms in town, has not done business with the City of Indianapolis or Marion County. I'm also surprised Early had no free tickets to disclose.

Ann Lathrop is a recent addition to the Board and serves as its treasurer. Lathrop formerly served as City Controller during the administration of Mayor Steve Goldsmith. She also formerly worked for ACS, a client of Bob Grand's Barnes & Thornburg. ACS recently won the contract to privatize Indiana's welfare delivery system. She discloses as her employer, Crowe Chizek, and offers this additional explanation: "From time to time, Crowe provides services to the City of Indianapolis and Marion County." Although Crowe's website identifies her as a "partner" of the firm, her disclosure statement does not state that fact or the type of work she performs for Crowe. She adds, "My spouse, Michael Gargano, is employed by KPMG." "KPMG provides services to the City of Indianapolis and Marion County." She had no gifts or honoraria in excess of $100 to report.

On the one hand, Lathrop's experience as the City's former controller makes her a potentially valuable asset for the Board. At the same time, both she and her husband work for companies which rely on contracts with the City of Indianapolis and Marion County. Because of Lathrop's and her husband's jobs, their employers are vulnerable to financial retaliation if she doesn't conform her actions on the Board to persons who have influence within the Ballard administration. Grand and another Barnes & Thornburg attorney, Joe Loftus, exercise enormous power in the Ballard administration. The two ran Ballard's transition team and, according to the Indianapolis Star, they sit in on weekly senior staff meetings with Mayor Ballard. Lathrop's desire for her company to win favor with key people to ensure a steady stream of contracts for her employer could severely cloud her independent judgment as a CIB board member.

Dorothy Henry serves as the Board's secretary. She states that her employer is the Indiana Healthcare Association. The Association is a trade organization for nursing homes in the State of Indiana, and Henry is a registered lobbyist for the organization, neither of which are mentioned on her disclosure statement. Henry formerly worked for the City of Indianapolis in the Goldsmith administration with Joe Loftus and Ann Lathrop. Her husband, Bruce Henry, was promoted to head up human services at IMPD in the Ballard administration after his unsuccessful bid for a City-County Council seat as a Republican in 2007. Her husband's employment is not disclosed; however, the wording of the disclosure statement purports to exclude a "contract of employment" from the disclosure requirement. Henry indicates that neither she nor her spouse or minor children have accepted gifts or honoraria exceeding $100, and she answers in the negative on every question pertaining to potential conflicts of interest. Coincidentally, Barnes & Thornburg represents some of the IHCA's clients and has lobbied the Indiana legislature in the past for its nursing home clients. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Henry would be wise not to risk offending certain persons in her service on the Board and face potential retaliation.

Craig Huse is one of the newly-appointed members of the Board by Mayor Greg Ballard. Huse discloses that St. Elmo Inc. and Harry & Izzy's Inc. are his employers. His disclosure statement does not indicate that he is a co-owner of these neighboring, downtown restaurants. Huse's statement indicates that he has no direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any contract with the City of Indianapolis or Marion County. Harry & Izzy's operates a restaurant at Indianapolis' new International Airport, which is not mentioned on Huse's statement. His St. Elmo's and Harry & Izzy's restaurants are located just a block from the Indiana Convention Center, two blocks from Conseco Fieldhouse and within walking distance of Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field. It goes without saying that his businesses receives a direct economic benefit from the CIB's facilities that most businesses in Marion County never see.

Huse's disclosures offer just one additional explanation for one of his investments. He states that he is an investor in Centaur, Inc. Centaur is a large gaming/entertainment-related company with a controversial past. Centaur owns Hoosier Park horse race track in Anderson, which operates an off-track betting parlor in Claypool Court, which is owned by Simon Property Group and connects to Circle Centre Mall. Its race track recently won the right from the Indiana legislature to operate a racino at its horse race track. It also helped establish the Argosy riverboat casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Centaur's lobbying activities became the subject of scrutiny last year in Pennsylvania, where the company's attempt to win a gaming license to operate slots at a horse race track was turned down. The company was criticized for making hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to key politicians prior to the passage of a state law banning gaming-related contributions. It was also criticized for its ties to former Conseco CEO Steve Hilbert.

There have been recent discussions about the possibility of establishing a downtown casino to bail out the CIB, an idea originally proposed by former Mayor Bart Peterson as a way of funding the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium. Centaur would no doubt be in the driver's seat to win a downtown casino license because of its OTB's presence in Claypool Court tied to its racino in Anderson. Centaur's business relationship with the Simons, who own the Pacers, could be an added boost for the company.

Doug Brown is another attorney member of the CIB. He identifies Stewart & Irwin, P.C. as his employer, in which he discloses that he is an "Equity Shareholder." Brown adds, "One or more of Stewart & Irwin's clients may from time to time to business with the City of Indianapolis." Brown, unlike Grand, specifically identifies one such client posing a conflict for his role on the board. "The firm has performed legal services for Lucas Oil Co., the new naming sponsor of the Indiana stadium." He adds, "I abstained from voting on the approval of the Lucas Oil Co. Agreement and will abstain from voting on any Agreements in the future involving my Firm or its clients." Brown also acknowledges that he has received gifts or honoraria in excess of $100, but he does not itemizes them.

While it's noble that Brown disclosed his firm's relationship with Lucas Oil, it raises a serious concern that a member of the Board was involved in representing a company that was competing with other companies to purchase the naming rights to the new stadium from Colts' owner Jim Irsay. Brown's disclosure does not specify the legal services his firm performed for Lucas Oil so it is unclear whether it had anything to do with the naming rights. Lucas Oil obviously had a vested interest in seeing the new stadium built and a new lease entered into between the CIB and the Colts. There is the potential for the appearance that Brown's knowledge of the Board's negotiations with the Colts could have aided Lucas Oil in winning the naming rights it purchased for a whopping $120 million. Under the lease deal with the Colts and the CIB, Irsay gets to keep the revenues from the stadium naming rights, as well as all other advertising opportunities at the new stadium. The Colts have refused to disclose the amount it is earning from those other revenue opportunities.

Brown also lobbies for Indianapolis Downs, the Shelbyville horse race track that won a state gaming license for a racino last year. Like Huse's Centaur, Indianapolis Downs would have a considerable interest in a potential downtown casino to bail out the CIB. A casino that didn't involve Indianapolis Downs could prove financially devastating to the company.

City-County Council President Bob Cockrum is the Council's representative on the CIB. Cockrum's disclosure statement lists him as being retired. He discloses that one of his sons is an executive with White Lodging, the company to which the City of Indianapolis awarded the right to develop a new J.W. Marriott convention hotel adjacent to the Indiana Convention Center to be connected by an elevated connector. The City pumped approximately $65 million in public funds into the project. Cockrum is the only Board member who itemized a number of gifts, totalling almost $1,000. Cockrum identified $150 worth of free Colts tickets he received from the CIB and another $150 worth of free tickets he received from the Colts. He also listed several free dinners he received courtesy of United Water, IUPUI, Marion County Soil & Water, IPL and the Indianapolis Parks Foundation. I found it very odd that Cockrum was the only CIB board member who disclosed receiving free Colts tickets.

Jay Potesta identifies his employer as the Sheet Metal Workers Union No. 20. He notes that he serves on the Mayor's Labor Advisory Board in addition to the CIB. Potesta says that he has received no gifts or honoraria exceeding $100 and answered in the negative on all other questions about potential conflicts. Potesta's union contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the campaign of former Mayor Bart Peterson. Last year, the union made similar contributions to Ballard's political campaign after he took office. Thousands of the union's members have won work in recent years on various projects undertaken by the CIB, including Lucas Oil Stadium and the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center. It goes without saying that the more the CIB taxes us for public works projects, the more members of Potesta's union will win work on those projects.

John Short, the ninth and last board member, discloses that he works for Indiana University. He doesn't state the specific job he holds, and he indicates he answers in the negative on every question relating to potential conflicts. He also indicates that he has accepted no gifts or honoraria exceeding $100. Short may not have any relationship with the City of Indianapolis or Marion County, but you can bet his IUPUI employer does. Shouldn't those be identified if they exist?

There you have it in a nutshell. In the case of virtually every member on the Board, potential conflicts of interest or prevailing influences exist that would inhibit them from exercising independent judgment and acting on behalf of the public's interest and not on behalf of their employer's or one of their employer's clients interests. I'm reminded of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address in 1961 in which he warned us against the growing influence of the vast military industrial complex:

We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the counsels of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Now, Eisenhower's message was directed at the influence of the military and the defense industries which support it, but the same influences have emerged at all levels of government and in all facets of government relating to the interaction of government regulators and the various overseers and the persons who seek to influence them. Our failure to heed Eisenhower's warning has been met with disastrous consequences for our country. Indeed, our individual liberties and democratic processes have suffered greatly because of the improper meshing of these conflicted and self-serving actors.

I consider it my civic duty to make the citizenry of this city and state as knowledgeable as possible to help guard the public interest. It comes at a personal cost, though, for those of us who are willing to stand up and fight for this cause. Paid bloggers who won't disclose who is paying them launch personal and defamatory attacks against us, calling us "batshit crazy bloggers" and seeking to discredit our volunteer work for the public good. Anonymous bloggers employed by our city government and the Marion County Republican Party have launched a blog devoted entirely to discrediting citizen activist and fellow blogger Paul Ogden, often taking swipes at me and others as well along the way. Sadly, the Citizen Kane mayoral candidate many of us fought so hard to elect when others in our party wouldn't give him the time of day, and who promised us on his election night victory to end "country club politics" in Indianapolis as we know it, will not even give us an ear to hear our concerns. He won't even speak to me or acknowledge my presence when he sees me. Even U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, a politician who has been on the receiving end of many barbs from this blogger, always greets me with a friendly handshake and a smile. No sooner had our new mayor taken office than the same government contractors who populated his predecessor's campaign finance reports began writing similar checks to his campaign committee. True to form, publicly-funded contracts were rolled out to satisfy many of those same contributors.

What these people can't understand is that there are some people who still want to participate in the political process who aren't looking for a job or a government contract. We're driven by civic virtue and the public good. Unfortunately, we've created a political system at all levels of government in this country where the free and unfettered are not welcome. If you cannot be controlled, then just go away. Well, we're not going away and these people will just have to learn to live with that fact.

A Tax On The Arts To Support The CIB?

I thought I had seen it all but obviously indecency has no limits when it comes to billionaire sports team owners and the politicians who do their bidding for them figuring out ways to make the public subsidize the professional sports team. Believe it or not, your esteemed elected leaders are contemplating a tax on admissions to Indianapolis' theaters and symphony to bail out the CIB so it can find the money it needs to support Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse. WTHR's Mary Milz reports on this absurdity:

For one, the mayor and others have suggested increasing the entertainment tax. It's six percent for sports and other events at the stadium, Conseco and Victory Field.

"We have to figure out ways to get revenue," said Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville).
Kenley said another option being discussed is extending the entertainment tax to other venues such as the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

"We're trying not to do that but we may be forced to, maybe on those (venues) within a mile of (the stadium). Those with activities related to conventions," he said.

It's an idea that's not expected to win rave reviews within the arts community.

"Taxing tickets and not seeing the benefit, I think that would be an interesting and challenging conversation to have with the board of directors and the theatre leadership," said Steven Stolen, managing director of the IRT.

Like other arts venues, Stolen said the IRT is working hard to fill the seats during tough times. "We're trying to hold the line on cost, hold the line on prices and not pass them on to the public," he said.

And what if the CIB doesn't get the new tax revenues it is demanding? Well, it may just turn over the keys to Lucas Oil to the state. Milz says:

So, what if the city didn't find the money? The state paid for the stadium, so couldn't the city essentially give back the keys and let the state deal with the money issues?

"Ultimately, yes. But that's a worst case scenario. We're just going to keep cutting and I think the CIB will operate for some time," said CIB President Bob Grand.

"That's so unlikely we'd ever get to that point. The city wouldn't let that happen, the mayor wouldn't allow it. We have too much regional pride to go there," Kenley said.

The CIB has been awarding several million dollars in grants to the local arts community on top of the City's budget, which was recently reduced from $2 million to $1 million. The CIB is contemplating the elimination of that support, among other things, to close its budget gap. The theaters and symphony already struggle to find enough ticket buyers and supporters to keep their doors open. Would a higher admissions price at this time not be self-defeating? As for turning over the keys to Lucas Oil Stadium to the state, that may not be a bad idea. I can't possibly imagine the state doing any worse job than the CIB has done in its bargaining with the Colts. Perhaps we could get better public accountability from the state for its management than we currently get from the unelected CIB.

Tax Break Enlarged By House To Include All Indiana Casinos

House Speaker Pat Bauer and his Democratic majority are determined to make sure that no vote will take place this year on a constitutional amendment to make permanent the property tax caps approved by the legislature last year. He and his members are, however, determined to provide a multi-million dollar tax break for the state's casino industry. Remember that amendment last week the House Ways & Means Committee adopted to provide tax breaks to the two horse race tracks' racinos and the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City? Well, the House yesterday approved an amendment to extend that tax break to all casinos. The Courier-Journal reports:

Originally, the bill would have provided cuts to only three casinos – the new racinos in Anderson and Shelbyville that are struggling to pay debt left by hefty state licensing fees, and Blue Chip Casino near Michigan City that is losing business to a Native American-operated gambling venue in Michigan.

But today, the House voted to expand the promotional tax break to the state’s original casinos and limited it to the next four years. As amended, the bill would allow casinos to deduct from their wagering income some of the free credits or game plays they give customers as promotions. Currently, those plays are counted as wagering revenue and taxed.

The deduction only applies to the amount of promotional credits that exceed the previous year’s total. So if a casino had $2 million in promotional credits this year and $5 million next year, it could deduct only $3 million from its 2010 taxable wagering income.The deduction also is capped at $5 million per casino per year.

Mike Smith, executive director of the Casino Association of Indiana, said the bill would encourage gambling boats to increase their marketing budgets, which could boost wagering and maybe taxes paid to the state.

“Being the most highly taxed business in the state, we appreciate the changes made to the bill,” Smith said. “In other jurisdictions this is a deductible expense from dollar one.”

The state is facing its worst economic downturn in decades and the legislature is more concerned about awarding tax breaks to casino owners than finding a way to fix Indiana's bankrupt unemployment insurance trust fund.

Ballard Supports Tax Increase He Won't Pay

One of the few points Mayor Greg Ballard has now made clear on how he intends to deal with the CIB's colossal financial mess is his support of a ticket tax increase on admissions. It's an easy choice for Ballard and other politicians because they don't pay the tax. He and other politicians who will decide this issue get free tickets to Colts and Pacers games. They are invited to luxury suites while attending the games where they can eat all of the food and drink they want for free. Attendees are already paying a 6% admissions tax on the tickets they purchase. The Pacers claim they eat the cost of the tax rather than pass it on to their fans according to the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy, a claim which should be doubted. He notes that the Colts oppose an increase in the tax. The tax increase won't come close to erasing the CIB's $43 million deficit (that's the number we're working with today). A 1 percentage point increase generates just $1.5 million.

Ballard is saying he wants a thirty to forty-year solution for the CIB, which means he plans to tap other revenues sources to close the funding gap. Asking Irsay and the Simons to contribute to solving the problem is obviously out of the question as far as Ballard is concerned. As I mentioned in my previous post, Mayor Ballard was asked about the CIB's financial woes last night at his Mayor's Night Out for downtown neighborhoods. His staff altered a written question I submitted prior to the event to pose it as a pro sports team question, boasting of the contribution of the two sports franchises to downtown. Ballard suggested to the audience that they chose to live downtown because of the Pacers and Colts being here, and that downtown development would have never occurred without them. In noting his support for the ticket tax increase, he posed a false negative for those of us who oppose making taxpayers pay higher taxes to pay for the CIB's financial woes. If you oppose bailing out the CIB through higher taxes, Ballard suggested you want the Colts and Pacers to leave town. Again, as has been every case in the past when the City has negotiated with these two teams, a gun is held to our heads and we're told to pay up or our city will lose them. Ballard's staff is already spreading rumors that there is a real danger of the City losing the Pacers to Seattle and the Colts to L.A. if this bail out is not accomplished on the backs of taxpayers.

The bottom line is that Ballard, like his predecessors, has been bought off by the Simons and Irsay and those who lobby for them, with campaign contributions and free tickets. Ballard appointed the Simons' own lawyer, Bob Grand, to run the CIB and is allowing him to lead the bail out discussions despite his direct conflict of interest and a promise he made when he appointed him that he would be walled off from participating in any matters that represented a conflict of interest. Ballard seeks no input from the public on this question because he takes his orders from people working on behalf of Irsay and the Simons.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mayor Still Dodging Questions On CIB

I don't know how else to say it than to say it was really painful listening to Mayor Greg Ballard try to answer questions before the Indianapolis Star editorial board today. His non-answer replies this far into his term is simply unacceptable. He totally dodged giving a straight answer to Matt Tully's question about his plans for dealing with the CIB's so-called budget shortfall. The Mayor acts like it's someone else's decision over at the CIB or at the State House to come up with a solution for the CIB's budget problem. Whenever they figure it out, he'll tell us what is going to happen. That is unacceptable leadership. It's also clear that his commitment not to rely on a general tax increase is very narrowly defined. For example, a food and beverage tax increase would be paid by someone who benefits from the sports facilities by his way of thinking. His responses to questions relating to public safety, his supposed forte, were abysmal. It is becoming all too apparent that he's not calling the shots in his own administration. Someone hands him some brief talking points on each subject and he simply repeats those lines, albeit in a butchered fashion, over and over again without really saying anything you can really understand. Click here to view the interview.

UPDATE: I attended the Mayor's Night Out tonight for my downtown neighborhood. I could not be more angry at Mayor Ballard's handling of my question about the CIB problem. Firstly, his staff altered the written question I submitted asking the Mayor to explain which taxes he intended to raise to bail out the CIB. His staff altered it so that it was posed as a pro sports team question, extolling the virtue of having two professional sports teams and how our downtown wouldn't exist but for their presence. The Mayor feigned astonishment that the question would be posed positively and not negatively as he says he's accustomed to hearing the question. He once again deflected responsibility to the CIB and the legislature for figuring out what had to be done; however, he made it clear there would at least be a new ticket tax imposed to address the problem. The ticket tax is very popular with politicians like Mayor Ballard because they never purchase tickets to sporting events. They get their tickets for free from the CIB or lobbyists and enjoy free food and drinks in the luxury suites. What really angered me, though, was Mayor Ballard's suggestion that the motive of anyone who opposed increasing taxes to bail out the CIB was to get the Colts and Pacers to leave town. That's what your Mayor said tonight. If you think the public has paid enough and that the billionaire sports team owners should pay their fair share, you are essentially telling the Colts and Pacers to leave town. I've commented that the Mayor's staff has been quietly telling people that if this bailout does not go through the state legislature, there is a real possibility that the City will lose the Pacers to Seattle and the Colts to L.A. As far as I'm concerned, the Mayor essentially stated the same tonight. Either you, the taxpaying public, dig deeper into your pockets to provide additional subsidies to the Colts and Pacers, or they will leave the City. Forget about the billions you've already subsidized them over the years. That all means nothing now. A gun is being held to your heads. Hand over the money or else. Particularly insulting to the downtown residents gathered tonight was the Mayor's suggestion that the only reason we choose downtown as our home is because of the Colts and Pacers. You are completely clueless, Mr. Mayor. Unlike you, I have spent almost 20 years living in downtown Indianapolis. My decision to live downtown has absolutely nothing to do with the presence of the Colts and Pacers. If you think downtown's existence is totally dependent upon the presence of these two teams, then you demonstrate just how little you know about this City. Thanks for nothing, Mayor Ballard.

Active Duty Soldier Joins Suit Against Obama The "Impostor"

An active duty soldier in the United States Army joins a growing number of citizens who have challenged President Barack Obama's eligibility to be president of the United States because he is not a "natural born citizen" as required under Article 2 of the Constitution. Lt. Scott Easterling pens the following letter announcing his participation in a California lawsuit challenging Obama's constitutional qualilfication to hold the office in which he calls his Commander-In-Chief an "impostor":

To Any and All Interested Parties,

As an active-duty Officer in the United States Army, I have grave concerns about the constitutional eligibilty of Barack Hussein Obama to hold the Office of President of the United States. He has absolutely refused to provide to the American public his original birth certificate, as well as other documents which may prove or disprove his eligibility. In fact, he has fought every attempt made by concerned citizens in their effort to force him to do so.

Until Mr. Obama releases a "vault copy" of his original birth certificate for public review, I will consider him neither my Commander in Chief nor my President, but rather, a usurper to the Office - an impostor.

My conviction is such that I am compelled to join Dr. Orly Taitz's lawsuit, as a plaintiff, against Mr. Obama. As a citizen, it pains me to do this, but as an Offficer, my sworn oath to support and defend our Constitution requires this action.

I joined the Army at age 40, after working in Iraq as a contractor with KBR in 05/'06. I chose to work with KBR to support my troops and then left that lucrative position when the Army raised it's maximum enlistment age to 40. Upon completion of Basic Training, I entered Officer Candidate School and commissioned as a 2LT in August 2007. After completing the subsequent Basic Officer Leadership courses, I was assigned to Ft. Knox and shortly therafter deployed to Balad, Iraq. I was promoted to 1LT on Feb. 2, 2009 and I have approximately five months remaining of our fifteen month deployment.

I implore all Service-members and citizens to contact their Senators and epresentatives and demand that they require Mr. Obama prove his eligibility. Our Constitution and our great nation must not be allowed to be disgraced.

Very Respectfully,
Scott R. Easterling
United States

Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley thinks Easterling's comments and participation in the lawsuit are more likely to lead to his being court martialed because of his status as an active duty officer in the U.S. military. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the country. Thus far, the lawsuits have been dismissed on the ground that the person bringing the suit lacks standing to bring the suit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Police Raid Scrap Metal Business Where 51 IMPD Officers Worked Off-Duty

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies raided the City's largest scrap metal business, Omni Source, on suspicion the business may have been knowingly purchasing stolen metal products. What is particularly alarming about today's raid is the Star's Vic Ryckaert's report that as many as 51 IMPD officers have been employed part-time by Omni Source to provide security for the company's six locations. Ryckaert writes:

OmniSource employs 51 IMPD officers to run security at its yards in Marion County. Chief Michael Spears on Monday suspended those work permits. It was unclear whether any IMPD officers are implicated in the investigation.

The company's practice of hiring off-duty officers "causes us a great deal of concern," Spears said. Among the officers employed by OmniSource are Maj. David Allender, commander of the north district, and south district Detective Jason Prendergast, the department's chief investigator of scrap metal thefts.

"Each one of these work permits will be evaluated," Spears said.

Spears on Monday barred officers from working part-time jobs at OmniSource. Prendergast was reassigned from investigating metal thefts. Spears declined to talk about details of the investigation, saying it has been placed in the hands of detectives with the prosecutor's grand jury division.

Ironically, IMPD Chief Spears' off-duty work providing security for the Indianapolis Colts raised concerns in the past that Colts' players may have been receiving special treatment from the police department. Spears' predecessor also worked security for the Colts at the same time law enforcement agencies were probing Colts' owner Jim Irsay for prescription drug fraud. That probe got swept under the rug. I've raised concerns about police powers being used in connection with security services off-duty IMPD officers were providing the National Institute for Sports and Fitness.

Will this probe bring about changes in IMPD's policies? Perhaps. "This investigation is extremely important," said IMPD Major Chris Boomershine. "This is a very large company." Boomershine declined to comment on how high in the organization the probe will reach. "I believe you could see some changes in how business is done in Marion County and Indianapolis," Boomershine said. I'm sure Major Boomershine is sincere in that belief. It's just that I've seen these types of probes wind up in the garbage after the prosecutor's office makes a half-assed attempt to prosecute a few low-level types before it moves on to something else, leaving those most responsible for the wrongdoing completely unscathed.

Anyone have any word on the media blackout on why City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman was moved out of the Major's job in charge of investigations at IMPD a few months back, a job to which Scott Newman promoted him less than a year ago, and replaced by the imminently more qualified Boomershine? Inquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE: The Star's story quotes a spokesman for the company, Vice President Ben Eisbart. Eisbart is a former Fort Wayne school board member and Democratic member of the Fort Wayne City Council before being defeated by now-Senate President Pro Tempore David Long. “We want to see that justice is done,” Eisbart said. “This is a total surprise,” Eisbart said, noting employees who knowingly purchase stolen goods are fired. “We don’t tolerate that. That goes against everything we believe in.” Omni Source has contributed nearly $20,000 to state and local candidates over the past several years, including former Governor Frank O'Bannon, Governor Joe Kernan, Governor Mitch Daniels, Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Sen. David Long, Sen. Jean Breaux, State Reps. David Wolkins, Win Moses and Randy Borror. The Fort Wayne-based company was acquired by Steel Dynamics, a publicly-traded company, a couple of years ago. The company was originally founded by the Rifkin family of Fort Wayne.

Here's an interesting item. Awhile back, a person who works on assisting ex-offenders in re-entering the workforce after completing their jail sentences explained to me a serious problem with our community corrections program. Community corrections is a sort of half-way house before complete freedom. In order to participate in the community corrections program rather than spend the balance of their terms in prison, the ex-offenders are required to pay a weekly fee, which many cannot afford to pay. According to this source, some of the ex-offenders were stealing copper and other scrap metal anywhere they could find it in order to sell it to scrap metal dealers to pay for the cost of the community corrections program. Ironically, the City boasts about ex-offenders' participation in a program locally that recycles computer parts. "According to the Office of Sustainability, more than 143,000 pounds of electronics were recycled as part of the effort that pairs SustainIndy with Workforce, Inc., the city's ex-offender re-entry initiative that hires ex-offenders to collect and process electronics for recycling," Nuvo reports in its most recent edition in a story discussing e-cycling legislation proposed by State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis).

City's Parks Rot: It's A Question Of Priorities

Indianapolis' Capital Improvement Board spends tens of millions annually maintaining the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium, Victory Field and Conseco Fieldhouse, but when it comes to maintaining our city's parks, the City makes our parks department scrimp by on a $3.5 million a year budget to maintain and improve them. The CIB's Barney Levengood calls it a big sacrifice if Conseco Fieldhouse will have to make do for another year without a new ramp or put a hold on replacing carpeting in the convention center. The parks department can't even fix leaks in swimming pools. Instead, it spends $387,000 a year to refill water to replace the lost water. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy discussed the problem:

In recent years, Colvin's job with Indy Parks has been to stretch $3.5 million dedicated to maintenance and capital improvements as far as it can go each year.

The reality, he said, is that he's had to use most of the money to react to emergencies such as leaky roofs and dangerous playgrounds.

Indy Parks Director Stuart Lowry and his staff came up with a comprehensive project backlog list after touring and evaluating nearly 200 properties last year. The $100 million figure includes $9 million for dozens of playgrounds where the equipment is years beyond the point at which it would typically be replaced.

Pools are also a problem. Bethel Pool lost 100,000 gallons of water a day last summer, about half of what it takes to fill the pool. Instead of fixing its leaky pipes and water-cleaning system, Indy Parks installed a $63,000 pool liner that only addresses a small part of the problem.

The city's inability to address such problems often leads to waste.

For example, it costs taxpayers $87,000 to fill 15 outdoor pools at the start of each summer, but an additional $387,000 to refill what leaks out.

"Typically, what we do is Band-Aids with little projects," Lowry said.

The parks department is already facing a $3.7 million operating budget this year according to O'Shaughnessy's report. What is the Ballard administration's answer to this problem? "The Indy Parks board recently approved a slew of new fees, including increases of $1 for admission to some pools and to Eagle Creek Beach," O'Shaughnessy writes. Any surprise here? The burden always falls on the little people. With any luck, some of the much-needed projects will be addressed with the millions the City expects to receive from the federal stimulus plan.

Meanwhile, the Ballard administration is conducting secret talks with state legislators to get state authority to raise a slew of new taxes on tickets, food and beverage, diversions of tax revenues from other government services, etc. to raise another $37 million (or take your pick of what the number is on any given day) in order to continue the taxpayers' one-sided obligation to maintain and operate the sports palaces from which the billionaire sports team owners get to keep all of the revenues generated.

To be fair to Ballard, his administration inherited the nearly $100 million backlog in repairs and improvements to the City's parks from Bart Peterson, who always chose funding of new sports stadiums and public subsidies for private development within the City's downtown over the City's parks. As I recall, he knocked off several weeks from the summer season for the operation of the pools at the City's parks to save money. It is clear that Ballard's approach is to continue the tradition of helping the most well-off among us to the detriment of those of modest or low-income means. After all, those elites wouldn't be caught dead in our city parks. Why do they care what they look like or whether they are functioning as intended.
Cartoon by Star editorial cartoonist Gary Varvel.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Obama And The Democrats Changed Welfare As We Know It Overnight

Without question, the greatest achievement of the Clinton administration was the landmark welfare to work law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, who had promised to change welfare as we know it when he first ran for president in 1992. The legislation led to a marked reduction in the number of people drawing welfare benefits as people were moved into jobs. More importantly, it dramatically reduced the number of children living in poverty, particularly among African-Americans. How many of you knew that President Barack Obama's stimulus plan did away with those welfare reforms in one fell swoop? That's right. Under a provision tucked away in the bill nobody read is a provision that rewards states with additional funding if they add more people to the welfare rolls, the complete opposite of Clinton's welfare to work law, which paid states a flat amount for their welfare programs but allowed them to retain any surplus funds. President Obama opposed those changes as an Illinois state senator. Interestingly, Obama discussed as far back as then a strategy for reversing this policy. Who knew he would achieve that objective during the first 30 days in office. The consequences of these changes could prove dramatic and negative on the very people who he claims to be helping. Check out this video and see for yourself.

Daniels' Plane Makes Emergency Landing

A state aircraft flying Gov. Mitch Daniels to Washington, D.C. this morning was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Columbus, Ohio after the plane's windshield cracked. This late-breaking news was delivered by CBS News' Bob Schieffer, host of "Face The Nation", where Daniels was scheduled to make an appearance this morning while attending a meeting of the National Governors Association. Ohio state police drove Daniels to a television station in Columbus where he participated in the news show to discuss the President's federal stimulus plan.

More On The Worst Legislature

A Star analysis of the job township trustees do in delivering relief to the poor confirms what you already knew. They do a lousy job.

A continuing examination of township government by The Indianapolis Star reveals the following: Administrative costs are excessive, reducing the amount of taxpayer money available to the poor; and eligibility requirements are so inconsistent that whether someone receives aid often depends more on where they live than on how badly they need assistance.

According to the Star analysis, average average administrative costs statewide are 74 cents for every dollar given in aid. Marion County's Center Township's Trustee spends $1.74 for every dollar given in aid. The story doesn't explain why Center Township's costs are so high, but it essentially boils down to the fact that Carl Drummer, like his predecessor Julia Carson, uses the office to employ as many political hacks as needed to work the polls on election day without regard to the quality or quantity of the work they perform for taxpayers. Other interesting facts:

  • One-fifth of the townships delivered aid to five or fewer people in 2007.
  • Income aid ranged from $350 a month to $1,800 a month.
  • In Marion County, eight of nine townships failed to file a report annually detailing eligibility requirements.
  • 89 townships failed to file accounting records for aid to the poor.
  • Townships have amassed large reserves, including $50 million intended for aid to the poor.

An interesting note on why Center Township has written criteria for eligibility while the other townships in Marion County don't. During the late Julia Carson's reign as Center Township Trustee, she was sued by the ACLU for applying arbitrary standards for determining eligibility. She deemed the lawsuit frivolous at the time but agreed to change the way the township did business as part of a settlement agreement.

Hope of getting legislation passed to eliminate the politically-driven and inefficient township trustees and replacing them with a professionally-run county office was flushed down the toilet in the Senate this week. That should make radio talk show host Amos Brown happy. He has decided that anyone who favors a better system is a racist. According to Brown, only a "lily white group" favors the change. He has told his radio listeners that Mitch Daniels is a racist, Mayor Greg Ballard is a racist, Senator James Merritt is a racist. This past week, he concluded the same about Marilyn Schultz and Kevin Brinegar, coalition organizers. Brown is beginning to sound like Uncle Leo on "Seinfeld", who was convinced every non-Jew was anti-Semitic. Don't confuse Brown with the facts. He would rather protect the high-paid jobs of a handful of elected black officials by defaming the proponents than do something to help poor blacks dependent on the delivery of services at which these elected officials are failing miserably.

Meanwhile, the Star's political columnist Matt Tully reminds us of how Indiana lawmakers take care of themselves while killing the township reform legislation in order to protect the jobs of their political cronies. Remember that health care for life perk the legislature finally eliminated for themselves and family members after a public outcry? Well, they slipped another health care perk for themselves through the legislature when nobody was looking. It's a supplemental health care savings account worth about $1,000 for each year of service for their part-time job. The benefit becomes vested after 10 years of service; it's 15 years for full-time state employees.

The same super wealthy Noblesville senator who wants to raise your taxes to bail out the CIB for the benefit of the billionaire sports team owners, Sen. Luke Kenley, sponsored the perk, which passed the Senate on a vote of 47-1. The House passed the measure by a 77-21 vote with Rep. Charlie Brown taking the authorship honor. Tully notes that the House-passed budget uses $23 million in revenues derived from the cigarette tax increase for the state's new Health Indiana Plan for low-income persons to access affordable health care plan to pay for part of the costs of their new perk. Tully says there was a brief discussion on the benefit during debate on the budget. Tully writes, "Defending the decision to do so, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, offered fellow lawmakers this gem: 'Remember,' he said, 'we got a benefit out of that.'"

While legislators are busy lining their own pockets with this generous health care perk, they are continuing their annual tradition of killing meaningful lobbying reform legislation, including Sen. Mike Delph's proposals to reduce the threshold for lobbyists to report gifts to legislators from $100 to $25 and to file more frequest reports of their lobbying activities. The same fate has been handed to Sen. Pat Miller's proposal to make legislators wait at least a year after they leave the legislature before they become a lobbyist. Yep, Harrison Ullman was right. It's the worst legislature.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Obama Makes Serious Foreign Policy Blunder In Pakistan

A decision by the Pakistani government to win peace with the radical Talibans in the Swat Valley region of this nuclear-armed country in the most troubled region of the world received the blessing of the administration of President Barack Obama. That capitulation to Islamic radicals will undoubtedly cost the lives of more American troops fighting to protect the democratically-elected government in Afghanistan and could lead to the entire government falling into the hands of a Tehran-like regime with dozens of nuclear weapons at its disposal. Our own government has heretofore been resisting the idea of ceding any part of Pakistan to the Taliban. The former Afghan Talibans harbored Osama bin Laden and his Al Quaeda terrorist network when they ran the government there prior to 9/11. After a number of military offensives by American forces in Afghanistan against Taliban fighters, it is believed that the radicals are settling down in the Swat region not more than a hundred miles from the nation's capital city. The New York Times explains the Obama administration's take on the decision:

Speaking in India on the last leg of his trip to Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the Obama administration’s special envoy to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, did not address the truce directly but said the turmoil in Swat served as a reminder that the United States, Pakistan and India faced an “enemy which poses direct threats to our leadership, our capitals, and our people." . .

“The Taliban was trying to take advantage of the local movement and desire for a judicial system,” the official said. The official insisted that the Obama administration, informed of the accord, “showed understanding of our strategy.”

On Monday, a White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said only, “We have seen the press reports and are in touch with the government of Pakistan about the ongoing situation in Swat.”

The Pakistani government will allow this region to be ruled by harsh Sharia law rather than the civil law. For the peaceful people who call this area home, the consequences could not be worse. A recent New York Times article depicts what is happening in the region based on accounts of recent Pakistani immigrants to our country:

Pakistani immigrants from the Swat Valley, where the Taliban have been battling Pakistani security forces since 2007, say some of their families are being singled out for threats, kidnapping and even murder by Taliban forces, who view them as potential American collaborators and lucrative sources of ransom. Some immigrants also say they, too, have been threatened in the United States by the Taliban or its sympathizers, and some immigrants say they have been attacked or kidnapped when they have returned home.

The threats have brought an added dimension of suffering for the immigrants, who say fresh reports of hardship arrive here every day, sometimes several times a day, and spread quickly among the several thousand Swati immigrants in the New York region: families driven from their villages, houses being destroyed, relatives disappearing. The fate of the valley dominates conversation among the exiles.

“It’s 24/7,” said Zakrya Khan, 30, the owner of two gyro restaurants in New York whose staff of 15 is almost entirely Swati. “This is their only concern now.”

By not standing up for the rights of the people in the Swat Valley region, the Obama administration is causing danger to every person living in the region with American ties. "Though every community of exiles from a conflict-ridden country suffers when relatives who remain behind are caught in the fight, the immigrants from Swat also bear the burden of believing that their presence in America is endangering their relatives back home, where the Taliban have imposed their authority over vast swaths of the region, about 100 miles northwest of Islamabad," the NY Times says. It's hard to believe that this region was Pakistan's most popular tourist region until the Taliban started moving into the region a couple of years ago. "But the tourism industry has evaporated amid the Taliban’s uprising, and by some estimates, hundreds of thousands of residents have abandoned their homes, fleeing for Mingora or other regions of Pakistan," the NY Times observes.

This development happens just as Obama prepares to deploy an additional 17,000 American troops to neighboring Afghanistan. Allowing the Taliban to gain a foothold in Pakistan makes absolutely no sense. The possibility of Pakistan becoming an Islamic republic is a far greater threat to world stability right now than the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. The country is said to have 60 nuclear warheads. The country's top nuclear scientist has been identified as a part of an international nuclear proliferation network and other scientists are believed to have Al Quaeda ties. Have we learned nothing from the history of dealing with these terrorists?

Ballard's State Of The City Address Falls Short On CIB Problem

If you were hoping for some straight talk and specifics from Mayor Greg Ballard on the colossal financial crisis of the CIB in his State of the City Address, you will be disappointed. "We are working with Governor Daniels and the General Assembly on solutions--solutions that directly involve the users of the facilities and those who benefit from them," is all that Ballard had to offer on the "$36 million deficit" at the CIB, which Ballard laments is "grab[bing] the headlines". "[The] challenges we face go beyond the headlines, and impact our citizens every day and in every paycheck," he explains. He adds, "Placing blame for this problem is not important, but fixing the problem is."

I couldn't disagree with Ballard more on that last point. Assessing blame for the current CIB requires analyzing how we got ourselves in this mess and what we can do to avoid facing similar problems in the future. Even worse, it clearly signals his belief that the problem can only be corrected by increasing public expenditures. While Ballard offered zero specifics on what he means by asking "users of the facilities and those who benefit from them" to provide the money for the additional spending, we know from well-placed leaks to the mainstream media what he has in mind. He wants anyone who attends an event at one of the facilities to pay a ticket tax. He wants to capture revenues which would otherwise fund other government services from an expanded development area around the CIB facilities and divert them to the CIB. He wants higher taxes on food and beverages and hotel stays. There's even talk of imposing a local income tax on people who work in Marion County but lived outside of it.

Ballard said in his speech today that "[w]e must tell the truth when we talk to our fellow citizens." Sadly, he won't even talk to us about his plans to fix the CIB. Instead, he allows guys like Bob Grand and Pat Early, both of whom have contributed to the very problem we find ourselves in today, to do the talking for him. To the extent they've spoken to the media, the information they've supplied has been very misleading and omits key information. Instead of talking to the man or woman on the street, the people who elected the outsider Ballard, he puts his trust in the same people who have consistently failed us and selfishly used public resources to benefit themselves and their friends and clients. "We must rely on the wisdom of our elected officials in the General Assembly and the City-County Council" and "the sage advice of those who came before us . . . ," he says. These are the same people candidate Ballard told us were the problem. Now he's telling us they are the solution. Why didn't we just re-elect Bart Peterson? Isn't that the same thing he told us? And please don't tell us you have made the budget process transparent when these folks you entrust play hide the ball with the facts and figures and negotiate in secret, behind closed doors with State House leaders to bail us out this mess.

Speaking of telling the truth, what's with the moving target on exactly what the CIB's deficit is? One day it's $20 million. The next day its $43 million. Then $50 million. And now we're down to $36 million. It's not exactly inspiring confidence in the people you expect to foot the bill to close this so-called budget gap.

What is a win for civic pride to Ballard? "We opened Lucas Oil Stadium, the new Indianapolis International Airport and finalized the JW Marriott Hotel tower project." "And, there's this event known as Super Bowl 46." It's all about the trophy projects. What about the state of our parks? What about the state of our streets and sidewalks? What about the lack of sewers in many neighborhoods? What about the skyrocketing number of abandoned homes in old neighborhoods and the blight and crime that accompanies them? These are things that affect the quality of life for the average person who lives in Indianapolis. Most residents can't afford the cost of tickets to see a Colts or Pacers game, let alone eat out at some of the fine but expensive restaurant in the mile square. They would be happy if you would just fix the sewers so raw sewage doesn't back up in their basement, give them a sidewalk, fix the potholes or do something about the abandoned house next to them. I found it remarkable that the Mayor had nothing to say about the 20% rate hike water users in the city are facing because the water company foolishly borrowed money using variable rate bonds that are now costing us over 9% in interest.

The Mayor assures us the city is safer today with him in charge of the police department, even without the 100 additional police officers you were promised as part of a $90 million, 65% increase in the local income tax. Hey, only 8 police officers are calling in sick on average during weekend duty. The number used to be 45 before Ballard took control of the police department he tells us. They had better be showing up for work. We are giving them back-to-back pay raises well above the rate of inflation, while most people are seeing their wages frozen or slashed. The Mayor is also very proud of the $5 million he passed out in crime prevention grants "to organizations fighting the good fight at the grassroots, neighborhood level." Sorry, I'll take my chances on the benefit of additional police officers over well-dressed ministers and career government grant seekers for my personal safety any day.

Addressing the infrastructure problem that has been ignored for too long is now a priority the mayor tells us. To address that problem, he has put a political science professor at IUPUI in charge. As a person with a political science degree, I can't recall any of my professors to whom I would turn for such a task. Again, it just reflects the failure of this administration to think outside the box on anything. Everything is approached as business as usual. Ballard intends to tap federal stimulus dollars to address some of those needs. While some high-dollar projects are focused on the federally-mandated sewage water collection and treatment improvements, many others are directed largely to the mile square area in an effort to "look our best" for the 2012 Super Bowl.

Overall, I would give this speech a D-minus. I'm just glad I didn't have to sit through it. Truly disappointing. What a difference a year makes. This guy has been transformed entirely from a modern-day Citizen Kane to just another politician whose decision-making is totally driven by the will of the same campaign contributors and elite insiders who have bled every last ounce of blood out of this city for their own benefit.