Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"No More Country Club Politics" Mayor Accepts Free Memberships To Country Clubs

I still remember it as if it happened yesterday. It was the night of the 2007 November municipal election at the Murat where supporters of Greg Ballard were celebrating his upset win over Democrat Bart Peterson. The Mayor-elect told his cheering supporters that his election marked an end to country club politics in Indianapolis. I just obtained a copy of Mayor Ballard's economic statement of interest he filed on May 1, 2009, which was only recently uploaded to the City's ethics web page. Although Mayor Ballard checked the box next to the word "NO" when asked if he had accepted "any entertainment, food, drink, honoraria, travel expenses and registration fees from a person who has a business relationship with any city/county agency department", an addendum attached to his statement belies that assertion. In the addendum, Mayor Ballard states, "I have been given a membership to the Columbia Club downtown and also the Highland and Woodstock clubs." He adds,"Although I have yet to play golf as a member at Highland or Woodstock, I may play in the future."

Well, isn't that special? The man who promised to end country club politics has accepted free memberships to three private clubs. I don't know what it costs today, but I recall that it used to cost as much as $50,000 to get a club membership at Highland. Woodstock's membership similarly costs in the tens of thousands of dollars to join. And the Columbia Club membership is worth a couple of thousand dollars a year. If he declared all these free gifts on his income tax return, he couldn't afford to pay the taxes on his mayoral salary.

There's still more. Ballard accepted two leather jackets from Rolls-Royce valued at $500. He accepted Celine Dion concert tickets from the Pacers valued at $500. Although he doesn't disclose the value of all the free tickets he, his wife and family receive, his addendum states:

Moreover, I make it a point to participate in as many activities as possible because it is important to lend official support to productive members of the community. Attendance at such functions is often necessary to further the City's economic development interests. Therefore, I regularly attend sporting events, including Colts, Indians, and Pacer games and the Indianapolis 500, as well as cultural events, such as Dance Kaleidoscope.
Tickets to events at properties managed by the Capital Improvement Board are often made available to the City. Additionally, the Pacers provide the City with four near court side tickets, and the Indians provide the City with four seats behind home plate. My staff and I routinely distribute suite tickets to employees and community groups so that more can enjoy those activities. From time to time, I use these tickets because I am an ardent supporter of our local teams.
Finally, this year, I attended the Super Bowl in support of the City's preparations for the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis. This trip was funded by the Super Bowl Committee. My economic development trip to Japan was funded by the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC), with funds designated for economic development. Finally, I also attended the NCAA Final Four this year at personal expense, although the tickets were provided by the NCAA.
There you have it, folks. Our mayor has been totally taken in by the perks of office. He may have a cavalier attitude about accepting free tickets, trips and country club memberships, but I can assure you that you cannot accept all of these freebies and claim it doesn't influence your decision-making. Those court-side tickets to the Pacer games would cost you or me several hundred dollars a pop. The value of his free tickets to sporting events easily reach into the thousands of dollars annually, none of which are individually disclosed on the Mayor's statement of economic interest. In fact, his statement actually states he accepted nothing in excess of $100 value from anyone doing business with the city or county. That may be attributable to the numerous loopholes included in the City's ethics ordinance. For example, "gifts, favors, services, entertainment, food, drink, travel expenses or registration expenses from public agencies or institutions" are exempt from disclosure. I suppose if the CIB and the City get corporate suites to use for the Colts and Pacers games, along with free tickets, and give them to the politicians, they don't feel obliged to report these as gifts under this loophole. As far as I'm concerned, however, these are gifts from the Simons' Pacers and the Colts' Jim Irsay.

What is happening as a result of all of these freebies is that Mayor Ballard and his family are living well beyond what his mayoral salary of $102,000 would otherwise support. Is it any wonder that he's now for whatever the people who've bestowed all of these generous gifts on him support? For a guy who ran on the meme of "I'm just a common person like you", he's doing a hell of a job of being like one of them.


Freedom Fighter said...

So....what you are saying is that Greg Ballard is a liar! Is that really a new perspective? He has been a liar from the very first day that he was elected. He will be remembered for his unethical actions and his incompetent administration.

daltonsbriefs said...

Although some of your shots on the Mayor have been well placed, this one doesn't seem to ring for me.

I think the Mayor should be in attendance at almost every city event, and who should bear that cost? the taxpayers for expenses? No way.

If Tiger Woods shows up at a private club they let him play for free ... why not the Mayor of the City?

Paul K. Ogden said...

If I'm a Democrat political adviser to Ballard's opponent in 2011, I take footage of his "end of country club politics" statement on Election Night, and then follow that with shots of the Columbia Columbia, Highland and Woodstock Country Clubs. I'd put a voice overlay about Ballard taking free membership at the clubs and how much it would cost the average Joe to join those clubs.

It's a no brainer political commercial and it would devastate Ballard's campaign.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Well, I understand that Peyton Manning thinks he should be allowed to play for free at any golf course he visits and eat for free at any restaurant he patronizes, but that doesn't make it right. A professional football game or a basketball game is not an official city event, although I realilze that is hard for most of the elites in this town to understand.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Briefs, I'm sorry, but I believe there is a problem with a Mayor receiving country club memberships worth total maybe as much as a $100,000 per year.

I have less of a problem with his attending a few ballgames. Though the way he described it in the report, it's a lot more than a few games.

Ballard has pretty much layed to rest the notion that he is a "common man." What he is doing will have devastating consequences for the Marion County GOP for years to come.

Jason said...

I just want to rebut the assertion that these memberships are worth "$100,000 per year". Highland and Woodstock have drastically lowered or waived initiation fees, and monthly dues are no more than $1000 per month each. I'm not casting judgment on whether what the mayor is doing is right, just that the benefit is not into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Blog Admin said...

While I'm sure it's a surprise to his ardent supporters (or former supports, in your case, Gary), does it really surprise anyone that a Republican mayor got a membership at the Columbia Club?

Gary R. Welsh said...

IndyStudent, The Columbia Club hasn't been a "Republican" club for many years. You'll find just as many prominent Ds there as Rs.

Thanks, The Bird, for the clarification. I can rest at ease now that I know that the value of the free memberships is south of $100,000 instead of somewhere north of that figure.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I want to clarify that I don't agree with the free tickets for the Mayor to ballgames. He is making a $100K a year. He can spring for the tickets. Still I think the free country club memberships are worse, given how much they cost.

Gary R. Welsh said...

If the sports teams weren't receiving tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies, the free tickets to sporting events wouldn't bother me. Call me cynical, but when you study how much we've paid out to these sports teams from public funds and will continue to do so in the future, it's not hard to jump to the conclusion that there is a connection between our elected officials' willingness to subsidize them at a tremendous cost to the public and the free tickets they get from the teams' owners.

I know said...

All of this is not about a few free tickets and the mayor's attendance at an event. It is about doing what you tell people you will do.

Everyone lost site of the simple rule of being accountable for your promises, your platform and your ability to put your ethics in front of your political wishes and dreams of power.

Most people including Mayor Ballard when he was a gentleman serving our country could not even get close to a free ticket to an event. If the Mayors budget had a line item in it for PAYING for tickets to the events I would think the citizens would thank him for going to them, being honest about the services paid for and rendered.

This maybe the status quo to accept all of these freebies but the public is getting real tired of being taxed to death for the good old boys to have their basketball courts and their football fields and their friend come and go for free.

We paid for our tickets to our kids junior high and high school golf, basketball and volleyball and did not sit on the first row. Our kids did not go into the stands and start fights and get arrested for fights, shootings and such.

The common joe paid his way. Mayor Ballard campaigned as a common joe. Put it in is budget and let the CCC pass it and ay his way too! It is that simple.

jabberdoodle said...


An added note -- I just learned the other night at a budget hearing that GIPC was given the job of administering the first round of crime prevention grants. $5 Million total funds, of which GIPC claimed about $1 Million for administration costs. I know I'd never give to a charity that had that kind of overhead costs.

The crime prevention grant funds come from the last Peterson income tax hike.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The crime prevention money is nothing more than an attempt to funnel money to a group of black ministers who claim they elected Ballard by "suppressing the black vote" for Peterson in 2007. Well, at least they're honest enough to admit they can't deliver votes for a Republican candidate. I'm serious. There are people in the Marion Co. GOP leadership who actually think the only reason Ballard won was because these ministers told their church members to stay home on election day. This is just how pathetic and sad our leadership has become.