Tuesday, March 31, 2009

State's Secretive Plan To Build State Archives Building On Canal

Community activist Clark Kahlo has led a valiant battle to get the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis to commit vacant land along the City's canal downtown to green space. He has met with resistance every step of the way from state and city leaders. Kahlo has just recently uncovered a secret plan to build a new state archives building on the land. His efforts to get public records on the project are being stymied. He only discovered the project's existence after finding funding for it buried in the state's budget. Kahlo writes in a press release:

This April Fools Day, Canal Park Advocates calls on the Indiana State Archives division of the Indiana Commission on Public Records, and the related Friends of the Indiana State Archives advocacy group, to fully disclose the public records pertinent to the need for, feasibility of, and alternatives to their heretofore secret plan to build a new state archives building on the publicly-owned 1-acre site on the downtown canal just north of Ohio Street. There is no legitimate reason to try to make fools of either the taxpaying public or of the proponents of a competing potential use for the site, as the Archives representatives are apparently attempting to do.

“Some Archives employees and Friends of the Indiana State Archives, a non-profit organization, have taken great pains to keep secret their plan to build a new building on this site,” said Clarke Kahlo, a park advocates representative.

“We’ve been working very hard to have an open and public conversation with all officials who might have an interest in the ultimate use of the property. We’ve approached personnel from the Governor’s office, White River State Park Commission, the Indiana Finance Authority, the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks and Reservoirs, the Indiana State Library, the State Judiciary and the City’s parks and development departments. We also approached several board members of the Friends group (by happenstance), and several state Senators and Representatives. However, for well over a year, as we now know, many of these people have been working on, or at least cognizant of, a secret plan to build a new archives building on the site. Not one of these officials provided the courtesy of offering a heads-up or other notice so our group could be apprised, and so public scrutiny could rightfully occur. Fortunately, we recently discovered that the building plan was quietly being shepherded through the legislature, buried in the House Bill 1001, the House budget bill. We learned this just in time to testify to the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 26th that the archives plan was being kept a virtual secret from the public and would be a poor use of the key downtown site.”

Unfortunately, Canal Park Advocates has been unable to review the adequacy of the state’s needs analysis or feasibility studies because those materials have not been disclosed by the Indiana Commission on Public Records. In response to its March 12th public records request, the group was advised, by Director Jim Corridan on March 19th, that the ICPR would provide any pertinent records on or before April 30th. That date would of course be too late to be of any use in the legislative deliberations—the legislature adjourns on April 29th.

Agencies and their paid employees hold a position of public trust. That trust is violated if secrecy is used to hide self-serving agency actions, especially, as in this case, on important community issues and large expenditures.

Agency secrecy diminishes good governance. The City of Indianapolis re-experienced this embarrassing lesson in November 2007 when its secret plan to build a $2 million elevator/waterfall at the Ohio Street basin of the downtown canal was discovered and shown to be unnecessary, and a demonstrable boondoggle, based on Canal Park Advocates’ comprehensive public access facilities inventory.

Canal Park Advocates believes that our state officials should perform according to a much higher standard of ethical performance than reneging on a promise of a public hearing (IFA, 8-07) and hiding the ball from citizens and taxpayers and, in the case of the proposed archives building, trying to fool them by slipping a hidden provision into the budget bill.

The section of the House budget bill proposing funding for architectural/engineering plans for a new archives building at the indicated controversial location should be either removed entirely by the Senate or amended to provide for full public disclosure and thorough review before any funding authorizations are considered.


Unknown said...

I'm so sick of hearing about this "canal park" nonsense. It's not a park, it's a vacant lot that should have a building on it. But it should be a private development that will generate tax revenue and urban activity, not an expansion of the monolithic government complex. Why would they waste waterfront real estate (such as it is in Indy) on a building that will only house paper instead of people?

The canal could be so much more than what it is today if not for similar development mistakes in the past. But, if there's one thing Indiana government is good at, it's repeating past mistakes.

Heath Sayers said...

As a new resident to Indiana I was surprised to see the conditions along the White River here in Indianapolis. The state capital has a beautiful riverway with a diverse wildlife base that is being lost. Citizens of Indianapolis travel to other parts of the state in order to enjoy the states rivers instead of being able to enjoy them right here in there own backyard. I would love to see more green space here in Indianapolis. There are many empty buildings in the city. Why should tax payers front the money for yet another building when Indianapolis needs more green space? Green space inside the city also means more tax revenue being generated by the city, a fact that has been proven time and time again by other cities going green.