Monday, November 17, 2014
Billboard Industry Has Purchased Indianapolis City-County Council
Fellow blogger Pat Andrews has done a great job sounding the alarm bells about the subterfuge the corrupt lobbyists for the billboard industry have been engaged in the backrooms with members of the Indianapolis City-County Council, whose votes are pretty easy to purchase if we're being honest. Apparently for all the lip service paid by many members of the council to the notion of "building better neighborhoods," nothing trumps a few expensive steak dinners at the Capitol Grille or St. Elmos, free Colts and Pacers tickets, topped off with very generous campaign contributions to finance their re-election campaigns next year.
For those of you unfamiliar with the current law, which was worked out under former Mayor Bart Peterson, digital billboards are not permitted in Indianapolis. The billboard industry has devoted tremendous legal resources to overturning that law unsuccessfully over the past decade. Some of you may recall how the industry tried to upend the law as Mayor Greg Ballard was coming into office in 2008 by hiring then-Marion Co. GOP Chairman Tom John to lobby the Ballard administration to prevent the removal of ten billboards owned by Lamar which the City had obtained legal authorization to have torn down. The billboard lobbyists even hired the City's former corporation counsel to work on their behalf. As public pressure mounted, Mayor Ballard blocked moves already underway within his new administration to acquiesce to Lamar's lobbying power.
Under current law, the Metropolitan Development Commission alone has jurisdiction to initiate changes in the City's zoning laws. The lobbyists have successfully worked in the backrooms to convince a bipartisan group of council members to initiate recommended changes to the City's zoning law to prod the MDC into adopting amendments to permit digital billboards. The proposed ordinance in front of the "council for hire" was written by Bose Public Affairs Group, which represents Lamar. Councilor Mary Moriarty-Adams (D) introduced Proposal No. 250 on behalf of Greg Hahn, the lead lobbyist at Bose Public Affairs Group, which is the same lobbying firm associated with the law firm where Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett is now a partner. The other major billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc., is represented by Barnes & Thornburg's Bob Grand and all that that implies. If their proposal would become law, the existing billboard companies would conveniently hold a monopoly on digital billboards in Marion County.
I've posted compelling testimony provided to the Metropolitan & Economic Development Committee by Marjorie Kienle on behalf of Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis ("HUNI"). She pretty much covers the universe of issues which should be foremost in the council members' minds if their votes hadn't been bought. There were two no votes cast by Vop Osili (D) and Jeff Miller (R); however, their comments made clear that they are on board with the concept in general. I learned many years ago when I worked for the Illinois legislature that among the sleaziest lobbyists in the hallways at the State House were the lobbyists for the billboard industry. Not much has changed after all these years. These people will do whatever it takes to get what they need, even if it means standing the process on its head. The council should be embarrassed by how it's being used by this industry, but it takes a lot to shame this council.