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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.

 

An Interesting ‘Factoid’

According to Wallet Hub, a personal finance site

When Barack Obama won Indiana’s electoral votes in 2008, it was an anomaly: Indiana, which went Republican in every presidential election from 1968-2004, is one of the most conservative states in the Midwest and is much more Republican than Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois or Michigan. Pundits have often said that when it comes to politics, Indiana is “more southern than the South.” But the disdain that Indiana Republicans often express for “big government” rings false because according to Wallet Hub, Indiana receives $2.01 from the federal government for every federal tax dollar it contributes and receives 33% of its funding from Uncle Sam. Indiana Republicans can hate coastal Democrats all they want, but without the federal tax revenue Democratic areas generate, Indiana would have a hard time functioning.

It reminded me of this exchange from The West Wing (a show that has to rank as one of the all-time greats), during a Presidential campaign debate:

Governor Robert Ritchie, R-FL: My view of this is simple: we don’t need a Federal Department of Education telling us our children have to learn Esperanto, they have to learn Eskimo poetry. Let the states decide, let the communities decide on health care, on education, on lower taxes, not higher taxes. Now, he’s going to throw a big word at you – “unfunded mandate.” He’s going to say if Washington lets the states do it, it’s an unfunded mandate. But what he doesn’t like is the federal government losing power. But I call it the ingenuity of the American people.

Moderator: President Bartlet, you have 60 seconds for a question and an answer.

President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet: Well, first of all, let’s clear up a couple of things. “Unfunded mandate” is two words, not one big word. There are times when we’re fifty states and there are times when we’re one country, and have national needs. And the way I know this is that Florida didn’t fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights. You think states should do the governing wall-to-wall. That’s a perfectly valid opinion. But your state of Florida got $12.6 billion in federal money last year – from Nebraskans, and Virginians, and New Yorkers, and Alaskans, with their Eskimo poetry. 12.6 out of a state budget of $50 billion. I’m supposed to be using this time for a question, so here it is: Can we have it back, please?

If Hoosiers had to give back the excess funds we get from the Feds, we’d be up that proverbial creek without that equally proverbial paddle….

 

Annoying?

For the past several years, I have asked the following question on my Law and Policy midterm examination:

Town officials in Whitebread, Indiana, became concerned by the number of “undesirables” who were “hanging out” in Whitebread. They passed an ordinance against loitering, defined as “Three or more persons congregating in a manner annoying to passersby.” Is this ordinance enforceable? Why or why not?

The correct answer is that the ordinance is unenforceable, because its language is unconstitutionally vague. What is “annoying” is very subjective–what annoys me may not bother you at all. The rule of law requires far more specificity–any statute, to be enforceable, must be sufficiently clear and specific to allow citizens to know what sorts of behaviors cross the line.

Most of my students answer this correctly.  I discovered that Indiana’s lawmakers know less than my students when I read this about a challenge to our public intoxication law in the Indianapolis Star.

 It takes more than just being drunk to get convicted of public intoxication in Indiana. The law says you also have to be annoying.

As the lawyer challenging the standard correctly pointed out, this language doesn’t tell the public what conduct may annoy another person.

“There needs to be some standard,” she told the justices, “so a person can read the law and know what (conduct) is prohibited.”

A three-judge panel from the court of appeals agreed when it found the “annoying” standard unconstitutionally vague.

The requirement that laws be sufficiently specific to allow citizens to understand what they can and cannot do is fundamental to the rule of law. Any of my former students could have told the General Assembly that “annoying” wasn’t a constitutionally-compliant standard.

I find it very annoying that Hoosier lawmakers evidently don’t know the most basic requirements of the constitution and rule of law.

 

What Do We Teach the Children?

Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life is probably the gold standard when it comes to survey research, and I watch my inbox for their periodic in-depth research updates as well as their daily email list of news from the intersection of religion and society. Yesterday, they released findings on a recent survey of child-rearing practices and attitudes, broken down by religious affiliation.

This particular finding struck an uncomfortable chord:

Those with religious affiliations — and particularly white evangelical Protestants — are more likely than the religiously unaffiliated to prioritize obedience and being well-mannered, and somewhat less likely to say creativity, curiosity or tolerance is important.

The reason this brought me up short was that it reminded me of a study I read several years ago by a couple of psychologists who compared the Germans who hid Jews and otherwise resisted the Nazi regime with those who were swept up in the mythology of   Ayran superiority and either assisted or stood by as their Jewish neighbors were rounded up. The researchers attributed a substantial amount of the differences in behavior to the ways in which the children were raised.

According to the book (which I purchased at the Holocaust Museum and can no longer find in my messy library), children raised in the traditional German fashion, which emphasized the importance of obedience and respect for authority over most other traits and frequently employed corporal punishment, grew (not surprisingly) into adults who were willing to obey authority–and not very willing to question it.

Children whose parents explained their reasons for disapproving of the behavior in question–parents who rarely spanked and who engaged the children in conversation about the reasons for rules and why those rules were important–were far more likely to grow into adults who questioned authority and made their own moral judgments.

We have five children and four grandchildren, and I’d be the last person on earth to suggest that kids shouldn’t be taught to obey the rules. But–as with so many other aspects of life–the question isn’t whether–it’s how. It’s certainly easier to enforce obedience with a smack across the buttocks than to take the time to explain why nice people don’t act that way. It’s lots easier to say “because I say so” (and boy, I’ve done that!), than to explain why I say so.

The problem is, when we make reflexive obedience the measure of our parenting, when we prioritize respect for authority over compassion and critical thinking, we risk raising some pretty flawed people.

Unlike that football player who’s currently all over the news, I’m not a big fan of “spare the rod, spoil the child” theology.

Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage: An Evolution

File this under Things I Never, Ever Thought I’d See.

According to Religion News Service, there’s a new organization called—I am not making this up–Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. It was launched on Tuesday, September 9th, and immediately began collecting signatures from evangelicals who support same-sex marriage. Its advisory board lists several evangelical luminaries.

It is immensely heartening to see prominent evangelicals recognize that, if opposite-sex marriage is good for society, same-sex unions should be equally good for the social fabric. This new organization is yet another expression of a growing recognition that fidelity and stability in relationships require social acceptance—that when you demonize people, when you deny them respect and equal civil rights, you are encouraging the destructive behaviors you claim to deplore.

So—you may be late to the party, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, but we certainly welcome you.

That said, there may also be an element of self-preservation in this sudden turn-around.

Over the past few years, membership in conservative churches has been declining. Young Christians, especially, have increasingly rejected a theology that seemed to place homophobia at the very center of its belief structure.

Polling has confirmed that the demographic split that characterizes the broader American society is equally pronounced among conservative and evangelical Christians. Young evangelicals may not be leading the charge to embrace equal rights for their LGBT peers, but they are demonstrably less homophobic than their elders and changing (for the better) with dizzying speed.

In 2012, Pew found that 29 percent of young white evangelicals (age 18-29) expressed support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, higher than older evangelicals at 17 percent. That’s far below the level of support for same-sex marriage expressed by young adults as a whole (65 percent).

 A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey suggested that white evangelical Protestant millennials are more than twice as likely to favor same-sex marriage as the oldest generation of white evangelical Protestants (43 percent compared to 19 percent).

Other polling has confirmed that continued culture-war messages–and especially anti-gay rhetoric—coming from the pulpits of these churches is a significant element in the disaffection of young evangelicals. A change of message and a softening of that rhetoric can only help rebuild dwindling congregations.

At the end of the day, whether the change of at least some evangelical hearts is prompted by a sincere rethinking of old shibboleths or by a savvy eye on the future, really doesn’t matter.

What matters is that at least some of the most adamant opponents of equality have decided to reconsider a theological tenet requiring belief in an omnipotent god who would create people he disapproved of.

What’s next? Acceptance of evolution? After this, nothing would surprise me….