Category Archives: Local Government

J.D. Ford, Mike Delph and the Social Contract

At a recent candidate forum, J.D. Ford–who is running against Mike Delph–made what should have been one of those “duh, yeah, we learned that in high school civics” observations: when businesses open their doors to the public, that constitutes an obligation to serve all members of that public.

There is a reciprocal relationship–a social contract– between business and government. The government (which collects taxes from everyone in its jurisdiction, no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation) uses those tax dollars to provide services. Those services are an essential infrastructure for the American businesses that must ship goods over publicly-financed roads, depend upon police and fire departments for safety, and (in some cities, at least) public transportation to bring workers and customers to their premises.

As Ford noted, business that want to discriminate– who want to pick and choose which members of the public they will serve–are violating that social contract. They want the services that are supported by the tax dollars of all segments of the public, but they don’t want to live up to their end of the bargain.

Where Ford (and I) see fundamental fairness, Mike Delph (surprise, surprise!) sees religious intolerance.

“I was saddened to hear him express such intolerance for those of us that hold deep religious conviction,” Delph told The Star. “Religious liberty is a fundamental American ideal.”

Let’s call this the bull*** that it is.

If your religious beliefs preclude you from doing business with gays, or Jews, or blacks, then don’t open a retail establishment. Don’t enter into a contract knowing that you will not honor its terms.

Religious liberty allows you to hold any beliefs you want. It allows you to preach those beliefs in the streets, and to refuse to socialize with people of whom you disapprove. You have the right to observe the rules of your particular religion in your home and church, and the government cannot interfere. But when you use religious beliefs–no matter how sincere–to disadvantage people who are entitled to expect equal treatment, when you use those beliefs as an excuse not to uphold your end of the social contract, that’s a bridge too far.

Mike Delph wants a government that favors (certain) religious beliefs, and gives adherents of (certain) religions a “pass” when they don’t follow the rules that apply to all of us.

I want Mike Delph out of Indiana government.

 

 

Can We Spell “Short-Sighted and Stupid”?

In Indiana, we seem well along the way to achieving Grover Norquist’s wet dream of a government small enough to drown in a bathtub.

The IBJ recently reported:

The State Board of Accounts no longer is auditing the financial records of Indiana libraries, conservancy districts, some public school accounts, and small towns and townships, its leader says.

The agency doesn’t have enough money or staff to perform those audits, State Examiner Paul Joyce told The Herald Bulletin for a story Sunday. Instead, it will concentrate on local governments with bonding authority or federal grants worth at least $500,000.

“I only have so many people to do a job. It’s not that I don’t want to do them,” Joyce said of the audits. “I have places that have not been reviewed in five years.”

If the Indianapolis Star noticed this, I missed it.

So let’s see….we don’t have enough money in our “low tax” state to police units of government. Will we have enough money to prosecute the people who see this as an invitation to siphon off funds for their personal use? Will we have enough money to replace the funds that get “misplaced”?

Governor Pence has been praised by law-and-order Republicans for amassing a 2 Billion Dollar “surplus.” I can run a surplus at my house, too, if I just decide not to pay for mowing the yard or repairing the roof…..

This is pathetic.

Mayor Ballard–TMI!

For a Mayor whose administration has been uncommonly secretive about information his constituents have a right to know, Mayor Ballard seems totally unaware of the damage that can come from TMI–too much information.

Ballard has been very defensive about his administration’s inability to reduce our horrendous crime rate (which is substantially higher than New York’s). That’s understandable. He has also insisted that the problem won’t be solved simply by adding more police, although he has conceded that IMPD is far, far below optimal staffing. A couple of days ago, he announced–with considerable fanfare–that the officers we do have will be deployed differently; that more police will be assigned to neighborhoods experiencing the most crime.

Okay. Maybe that helps, maybe not, but certainly reasonable.

The problem is, he identified those neighborhoods.

If you think about this for a minute–something I’m fairly confident no one in the Mayor’s office did–you can see the problem. Each area identified has neighborhood organizations, urban pioneers, nonprofits and others working hard to improve these communities and trying to encourage people to move in and become part of the area’s revitalization struggle. The administration has effectively undercut those efforts, labeling their neighborhoods as places people shouldn’t want to live.

The city might just as well have posted “Danger, Keep Out” signs.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, folks living in other neighborhoods–areas with problems that aren’t “the worst”–look at the Mayor’s deployment strategy and worry that the already thin police presence in our neighborhoods will decline, inviting a corresponding rise in crime. (If I were a burglar, I’d certainly consult that map–and confine my nighttime activities to non-targeted areas.)

The strategy of deploying resources to areas that most need those resources is fine. Announcing the specifics is bone-headed.

And this from an Administration that ignores legitimate Freedom of Information requests and refuses to share truly public information with the public.

 

 

Needed: More Sunlight, Less Secrecy

I recently received an email from IndyCAN–the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network–a consortium of congregations working to build civic capacity in moderate and low-income communities. The mailing raised legitimate questions about the Justice Center project that the Administration seems to be “fast-tracking.” (I hate to be suspicious, but the goal appears to be creation of a “fait accompli” before Open Door law requests require disclosures of terms and partners, and before an election that might force a change in the “players.”)

I’ve previously posted my concerns over the contract process; IndyCAN raises other issues:

“IndyCAN members have been digging into the proposal to build a new criminal justice center and what we’re learning is troubling.

While the details have been kept secret, we believe that city officials are rushing ahead with a plan this fall that would cost as much as half a billion dollars and add 1,500 new jail beds.

This at a time when many cities are shifting away from policies that overcrowd jails with low-level nonviolent offenders and fuel racial inequality, choosing instead to invest in rehabilitation, and open up job opportunities that keep people out of prison.”

I don’t know whether these concerns are justified–and neither does anyone else, because the Ballard Administration has refused to disclose the bases upon which it made its decisions about the proposed facilities: documentation of need, size, cost, financing mechanism, method of choosing (“pre-qualifying”) bidders….all that has been kept secret, not just from the public, but also from members of the City-County Council.

An IBJ editorial in early September said it better than I can:

The city might be negotiating a sweet deal for Indianapolis taxpayers over the proposed $500 million justice center to be built across from the Indianapolis Zoo on the former site of General Motors’ stamping plant.

Or, taxpayers might be getting a bad deal.

There’s no way to know whether either is the case, because Mayor Ballard’s administration has kept secret details of its bidding process. That lack of transparency is bad government and violates the spirit of Indiana’s open-records law.

In April, the city issued a request for proposals for an all-inclusive project-management contract, in which a developer would design, build, finance, maintain and operate the new jail and courts facility. Of five companies that responded to the RFP, the city chose three finalists. Bids are due in October, and the City-County Council will likely vote on the arrangement early next year.

Ballard officials say such a package will provide a sparkling new building with improved city services—without a tax increase. They say the new contract—likely for a 35-year term—will cost the city no more than the annual $123 million it now spends to operate courts and corrections.

And they ask us to take their word for all of that. Everyone else is left to guess.

Putting terms of deals in the public realm while they’re still in the works isn’t just good government. It also can lead to better deals, as was the case in 2010 when public input led the Ballard administration to amend terms of its parking meter privatization.

The Mayor’s Office has cited no exception to state law that would explain why it has provided to justice center bidders but not to the public the maximum fee such a contract will require, why it refuses to release the RFP document, and why it won’t disclose calculations on what the project will cost taxpayers.

This is not the first, or even the second, time the Ballard administration has asked us to accept on trust that it is a wise steward of taxpayer funds. Examples include the development of the former Market Square Arena site, the Mass Ave fire station land swap, and the Broad Ripple parking garage and retail space at College Avenue and Westfield Boulevard….

Trust is not an entitlement; it is earned. Transparency and respect for the law are the surest ways for the Ballard administration to earn it.

 Lack of transparency is an invitation to suspicion and cynicism. This Administration has  repeatedly issued that invitation.

 

 

Time for Ballard to Go

The City of Indianapolis is seeking bids for a massively expensive Justice Center. This huge and complex project–which makes a lot of sense, conceptually–is being headed up by a twenty-something administrator on behalf of the Ballard Administration.

The Indianapolis Business Journal requested a copy of the Request for Proposals the City issued in July. Its request was denied, and the excuse for that denial was so ridiculous that even the Pence Administration’s public access counselor has protested.

The City is claiming that the information in a Request for Proposals is confidential. Think about that.

An RFP is supposed to be publicly distributed to any and all developers or development teams that might conceivably be interested in bidding on the project. By definition, the information it contains is public, and the IBJ–not to mention members of the City-County Council who have also been kept in the dark–are entitled to see it.

Marc Lotter, the Mayor’s spokesman, responded that the RFP was released to “three qualified bidders,” and that it would not be made public until after a successful bidder has been chosen.

Why would an honest, aboveboard administration hand-pick three bidders, and proceed to share information only with those developers? Why would it keep the terms of the proposed project secret until the City is legally committed to proceed?

The whole purpose of an RFP is to cast a wide net; to encourage genuinely competitive proposals from anyone or any team qualified to perform. “Pre-selecting” those who will be permitted to respond undercuts the entire purpose of the exercise.

At best, pre-selection of a small group of developers makes it likely that responses will be less competitive and the project will be more expensive. At worst, secrecy and pre-selection are intended to ensure that the “right” people get the City’s business.

The Justice Center is estimated to cost over $500 million dollars. Quite a plum project. When that much tax money is being spent, the need for transparency–the need for public assurance that the project is being handled ethically and in a fiscally-responsible manner– is obvious.

The City says that the RFP contained “trade secrets” necessitating secrecy. As the public access counselor noted, “If an RFP sent out into the marketplace does indeed contain trade secrets, it stands to reason that the secret is out once it goes to potential contractors.”

Unless, of course, those “secrets” are only going to one’s cronies.

Up to this point, I have attributed the many ethically dubious decisions of the Ballard Administration (the 50-year lease of our parking infrastructure, the garage no one uses in Broad Ripple, etc.) to those advising our “accidental’ Mayor, who has always seemed in over his head.

Maybe I  have underrated him. Maybe he really does know what he’s doing.

Either way–puppet or puppet master–he needs to go.