Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Star Still Doesn't Take Revolving Door Problem Seriously

One of the roles of the news media is to play watchdog for the taxpayers, but it's a role the Indianapolis Star rarely performs since it was purchased by Gannett from the Pulliam family. Mayor Greg Ballard seems to have no qualms with members of his administration leaving the city payroll to take positions with companies and law firms doing business with the city and neither does the Star apparently. Here's its treatment of the latest high level departures from the Ballard administration in an item labeled "Some familiar faces" in the "Behind Closed Doors" column:

A couple of recently departed officials from Mayor Ballard's administration have landed in the private sector:
Chris Cotterill, who stepped down as chief of staff earlier this month, will start this week as a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, one of the big Indianapolis law firms. He previously worked for Barnes & Thornburg, another major firm, before stints in state and local government. Former City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn succeeded him as chief of staff.
And David Sherman, who left his post as director of public works to return to the private sector, is at MWH Americas. But he'll continue to work with the city in a new role. The city's Board of Public Works signed off Wednesday on a consulting contract with MWH, a company that works in the engineering, construction services and consulting fields.
The one-year contract will cost the city up to $160,000.
Sherman "is basically going to serve as a consultant on infrastructure, neighborhood revitalization projects, parks, forestry, trails, bike lanes, curbs and sidewalks," said Lotter, Ballard's spokesman.
Lotter said Sherman also will look for potential efficiencies between city departments and will examine ways to stretch money being spent on RebuildIndy road and infrastructure projects by seeking grants and partnerships.
"This is the guy who saved us $740 million" as public works director, Lotter said, citing the city's renegotiation of an agreement with federal regulators on its massive sewer system improvement program.
Lotter said the new arrangement would not run afoul of city ethics rules. Those rules prohibit former administration employees from seeking to work on particular matters in which they "personally and substantially" participated while employees.
Sherman's new role will involve work for several Indianapolis departments, Lotter said, not just public works, and only as a consultant.
That Cotterill, an attorney, would take a job with a law firm comes as no surprise. It would have been worse if he had gone to work for his former employer, Barnes & Thornburg, since he steered millions of dollars in legal work to his firm while he worked for Ballard and participated in number of high-level decisions that greatly benefited several clients of the firm, including the parking meter privatization deal and the sale of the utilities to Citizens Energy. The biggest transaction undertaken while Cotterill worked for Ballard was the sale of the assets to Citizens Energy. The law firm that represented the city in that deal: Baker & Daniels.

David Sherman's new job is particularly troubling. The folks at the Star who don't look at these things closely would have learned from its own newspaper's archive that Sherman previously worked for the City under Mayor Steve Goldsmith, who privatized the city's wastewater treatment operations. Sherman then went to work for United Water, the company that was awarded the contract to operate the sewer utilities. Now it looks like the Ballard administration is, in effect, paying Sherman's six-figure salary with his new employer through a new $160,000 contract the City is awarding it at a time the City is supposedly trying to fix a multi-million dollar hole in its current budget. And by the way, Sherman didn't save the taxpayers $740 million. The money for sewer infrastructure improvements required to comply with the EPA consent decree was always a big moving target. Goldsmith made a bunch of bogus claims about how much his privatization efforts supposedly saved the City, most of which never materialized, including the wastewater treatment operations that landed Sherman his previous high-paid private sector job. Just watch your sewer rates continue to climb at double-digit rates. If the City had focused on getting its wastewater problems under Goldsmith/Sherman back in the 1990s instead of privatizing, the compliance cost would not have been as great as it turned out to be.

1 comment:

Citizen Kane said...

So, Sherman is going to consult on something he knows nothing about - how to properly construct infrastructure!