I've previously pointed out how Star political columnist Matt Tully has been the loudest cheerleader in the local news media in support of Mayor Greg Ballard's plan to raise property taxes on Marion County homeowners in order to fund a pre-K education program that is not within the constitutional or statutory framework for Indiana's municipal governments. Tully neglected to acknowledge to his readers until I took him to the woodshed that his wife works for Eli Lilly, the big corporate backer of Ballard's pre-K initiative, and also chairs the Day Nursery's board of directors, a nonprofit that stands to benefit financially if the mayor's program is approved.
Today, Tully is bashing Angela Mansfield, the chair of the Administration & Finance Committee, because she entertained a motion to table a pending proposal regarding the Mayor's pre-K education at the end of a lengthy committee hearing where pressing budget matters consumed the committee's work. To read Tully's column, you would have no idea that the council has previously debated the pre-K proposal recently at length and took public testimony before stripping it from the proposal that increased the local income tax rate 10% to benefit public safety. Procedurally speaking, a motion to table is not debatable. Thus, there was no debate by members and no public testimony. Tully describes Mansfield's actions as "arrogant" and "disturbing." He described the actions of Mansfield, who is perhaps one of the least partisan members of the council, as displaying "the most cynical behavior I've written about in 23 years in this business" and treating her constituents "with contempt."
Really, Matt? How selective your memory has become. Have you already forgotten the contentious budget debate back in 2007 when the council approved a budget with blank line items and raised our local income taxes 65%, stifling debate by dissenting members of the public at every turn? That was the kind of contempt and cynical behavior that led to the ouster of what had been a popular two-term mayor and a Democratic-controlled council. It's quite obvious that the personal agenda of your wife's employer and nonprofit she runs is clouding your judgment a bit yet again.
Tully could have stopped there, but he didn't. He had to produce a victim of Councilor Mansfield to demonstrate her lack of "respect for the shrinking group of people who engage in local government issues."
So that was going to be the entirety of my column.
But then I talked to Justin Ohlemiller, a former aide in Democratic mayor Bart Peterson’s administration, who now runs Stand for Children Indiana, a group that works to get parents more involved in education debates. Ohlemiller’s group has helped organize parental support for the preschool proposal; several parents in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting have gone through Stand training.
“The tragedy of what happened,” Ohlemiller said, “is that it meant parents who desperately care about this issue did not get the chance to talk about the impact quality preschool has on children.”
He mentioned Ashley Thomas — an IPS parent who sat in the room for three hours Tuesday evening with her 3-year-old daughter by her side. She had hoped to testify but never got the chance.
Mansfield’s actions were far beneath what should be expected of an elected official. But Ohlemiller was right when he insisted that what is more important than the toxic politics surrounding this debate is the positive impact preschool would have on many at-risk children. He was right when he said that the focus should be on the opportunity for the city to do something momentous. The focus also should be on parents such as Thomas, who has become so active in IPS schools that Ohlemiller recently hired her to work with other parents.
So what would the 32-year-old Eastside mother have told committee members if they had given her the courtesy of an audience? She had with her that night a short and eloquent speech. In it, she urged the council to find a way to support a program that could change the lives of thousands of children. Her 392-word speech told of the financial struggles that prevented her from sending her son, now 6 years old, to a good preschool. The heartbreak in her words races off the page as fast as a child at recess.
“I feel like I failed him,” she wrote. “I won’t let that happen again with my daughter.”
Thomas wrote that she hopes the councilors can focus on what’s important. By that, of course, she meant those children who too often arrive at kindergarten already far behind their peers and on a path toward failure.
“Children shouldn’t be penalized for being born into families who cannot afford quality preschool,” she wanted to say Tuesday night. “Or for having parents who may not know how to teach them the important skills needed for kindergarten. It is the responsibility for all of us as a community to ensure that every child is placed on the path to success at an early age.”
Thomas and others had important words to share with their elected representatives. Those words were not partisan, divisive or angry. Instead, they focused on the only thing that should matter in this debate: The next generation of children in Indianapolis.Poor Ashley Thomas. She waited nearly 3 hours only to have the door slammed in her face by that mean Angela Mansfield. Don't reach for a Kleenex just yet. It turns out that Thomas was actually a paid witness. That's right. That parent mentioned by Justin Ohlemiller of the nonprofit organization, Stand For Children, which is bankrolled by the same powerful corporate interests that are waging war on American workers (i.e, Walton family members, Bill Gates, et al.) and a spin-off of Hillary Clinton's Children's Defense Fund, is an employee of Ohlemiller's organization. Yes, Thomas is in charge of Family Engagement and Organizing, a lobbyist by any other name, for Stand for Children. Have you no shame, Mr. Tully?