Tag Archives: Greg Ballard

From Accidental to Delusional

When Greg Ballard was first elected, many people dubbed him the “accidental Mayor,” in recognition of the fact that virtually no one had voted for him; they had voted against Bart Peterson, who had the bad luck to be in office when the General Assembly raised property taxes. (When voters don’t know that there’s this thing called federalism, they also don’t know who raised their taxes.)

Subsequently, Ballard actually won an election, and we are stuck with him for at least the next couple of years–perhaps more, if the Democrats can’t find a viable candidate pretty soon.

On the one hand, it’s hard not to feel sorry for this or any Hoosier mayor. There is no money to do much of anything. The brutal winter has exhausted snow-removal budgets. The Department of Metropolitan Development is down to three planners. The police force is seriously understaffed. The list goes on.

The problem is, this Mayor came into office not knowing anything about urban policy or administration, and he has not proved to be a quick learner. So we have watched his numerous “economic development” junkets, his enthusiasm for cricket, his lack of enthusiasm for the legislative battles over measures that adversely affect a city in a state with no home rule…again, the list is lengthy.

Now we are told how the Mayor wants to solve the systemic problems that are strangling our city and depriving us of needed revenues: we’ll do it by encouraging higher-income folks to move to Indianapolis and grow our tax base.

Can you spell delusional?

Read my lips: people with the means to decide where they want to live make those choices based upon quality of life. They don’t move to cities with horrendous and growing homicide rates, poorly-maintained parks and streets, badly managed snow removal, struggling schools, abysmal public transportation and dwindling city services. They don’t wake up one morning and say, “Wow, I hear Indianapolis has a cricket field. Let’s move there.”

We’ll be lucky if local people who can decide where they want to live don’t continue to leave Indianapolis. (Marion County had Indiana’s largest absolute net outflow of population over the past decade.)

Our city faces truly monumental challenges. It would be nice if we had an administration capable of understanding those challenges.

Crime and the City

Our son Stephen is home from the Big Apple for Thanksgiving. He lives in a spiffy new high-rise on the west side of Manhattan, in a redeveloping neighborhood that I would have been afraid to walk in even ten years ago.

I don’t worry about his living in that neighborhood, however, because crime in New York has fallen steadily over the past couple of decades. You can quibble about the reasons (my son suggests it’s because poor people can no longer afford to live there; defenders of “stop and frisk” say it’s because racial profiling and willingness to ignore the civil liberties of minorities has worked), but whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that New York is 65.4% less dangerous to live in than Indianapolis.

According to Areavibes.com, ”in New York, as compared to Indianapolis, IN you are: 40.5% less likely to get robbed, 45.6% less likely to get murdered, 81.8% less likely to get your car stolen.”

Last year, Indianapolis had 11.5 murders per 100,000 people. New York had 6.3. We had 52.2 rapes per 100,000; New York had 13.3. Etcetera.

I seem to recall Greg Ballard running for Mayor on the promise that he would make crime “Job One.”

I hope he’s doing better with whatever Job Two was…..

No Lessons Learned from Litebox

Remember the embarrassing Litebox episode? The City and State were offering incentives to “entrepreneurs” who turned out to be little more than con men. The President had a string of liens and unpaid bills, and people knowledgable about the industry said the business plan displayed a lack of understanding of the manufacturing process.

At the time the Lightbox fiasco was uncovered, critics noted that a cursory Google search would have uncovered the problems.

Fast forward to Cricket.

Mayor Ballard is obviously enamored with the idea that Indianapolis will be a Cricket venue–so enamored, in fact, that he prefers to fund Cricket fields rather than the additional police the city so desperately needs. He has ignored bipartisan concerns of the City-County Council, and is moving forward, with an announcement that Indianapolis will host the next three national Cricket Championships.

So what does a cursory Google search tell us about the USA Cricket Association and support for cricket generally? Well, the USACA has no scheduled domestic tournaments for 2013 and has not held a 50-over national championship since 2010. Despite Ballard’s rosy predictions of large turnouts,

“Poor spectator turnout for domestic events has been a routine problem for tournaments staged in Lauderhill, Florida at the $70 million Central Broward Regional Park. After opening in 2008, USACA held their Men’s 50-over National Championship at the 5000 seat stadium in Florida in 2009 and 2010, during which not more than a few dozen people attended. Roughly the same amount of spectators turned out this March for the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament, which USA won 8-0 to clinch a spot at the 2013 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. None of the matches were broadcast on TV or radio.

“Not one of those events puts anybody in the stands,” said Lauderhill Mayor Richard J Kaplan in an interview with ESPNcricinfo in April. “It doesn’t sell one ticket. I don’t need a multi-million dollar stadium with 5000 permanent seats to sit there with nobody using it.”

Other information readily available through a Google search includes lawsuits against the USACA by California and other regional members, and sanctions from the International body.

Now, maybe all of these problems have been resolved. Maybe they haven’t. I’d feel a whole lot better if I thought anyone in the Administration had taken the time to investigate.

Or even just Google.

Ship to Shore

For the past week, I’ve been on a cruise ship in the Atlantic, mercifully isolated from local news—except for the few minutes in the morning when I allow myself to log on to the ship’s expensive internet. I check my email and post to my blog—then it’s off to read a good book, eat (and eat, and eat) and marvel at the advanced age of all the other passengers. (Seriously, the average age on board looks to be in the mid-80s. One fellow told us that all of his children are on Social Security. I’ve rarely felt so young….)

That said, several friends have forwarded articles about the FBI’s arrests in the City-County Building earlier this week. Others have forwarded Matt Tully’s acerbic column about Greg Ballard’s continued absence from those pesky executive responsibilities that are thought to accompany a mayor’s position. Still others have shared a post in which Paul Ogden pointed to the enabling effects of the Star’s lack of reporting—let alone investigative reporting—on matters at city hall.

I find all this depressing, but not surprising.

As many of the readers of this blog know, I served as Corporation Counsel and my husband served as Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development during the Hudnut Administration. No mayor is perfect, and Bill Hudnut certainly had his faults, but lack of oversight wasn’t one of them. Both he and my husband were well aware of DMD’s power, and the potential for its abuse, and both were vigilant overseers of the Department’s activities. (As were the four full time reporters who covered the City-Country Building at the time.)

But then, both of them were deeply immersed in municipal management issues; they were long-time students of urban politics and policy.

Then there’s Greg Ballard.

Ballard campaigned as an outsider who touted his lack of knowledge and experience as a virtue. His self-proclaimed “leadership” qualities (as set out in a self-published book on the subject) came from his experience as a Marine. He hadn’t even lived in Indianapolis during most of his career, and he certainly hadn’t been involved in municipal governance. His initial campaign website was replete with cringe-worthy statements that displayed a total lack of any background or knowledge that would make him fit to run a major city. A participant in his first interview with the Star editorial board told me he had been appalled by Ballard’s utter absence of depth or relevant knowledge.

The only thing worse than a chief executive who knows very little is a chief executive who knows very little but thinks he knows a lot.

We had a chance last year to replace Ballard with someone who actually knew what a city was, but for a variety of reasons (including but not limited to gender) we re-instated Mr. Clueless.

So we have a Mayor who is absent from the legislature when that body is debating issues of great importance to Indianapolis. We have a Mayor who sees no reason to communicate with the City-County Counsel (conveniently, his cronies in the General Assembly have now relieved him of that obligation).

We have a Mayor who relishes traveling with an outsized entourage but who can’t be bothered to supervise—or even understand—what city departments are doing.

We have a Mayor who hires people who are too young and inexperienced to know what they’re doing, or to recognize what their boss doesn’t understand.

We have a Mayor who insisted on controlling all public safety personnel, but then lost interest in the hard work of actually providing for the public’s safety–a child Mayor who has ignored a soaring crime rate while focusing on fanciful (and costly) projects like Cricket fields. (China Town didn’t pan out.)

We have a Mayor who is selling significant pieces of the City–making complicated deals with implications he clearly doesn’t understand—deals that benefit clients of cronies at the expense of taxpayers.

We have a Mayor who is not being held accountable for any of this, because local media is effectively AWOL.

So while Ballard sells the city off, unsupervised city employees are selling the city out.

Maybe I can just stay on this ship. At least I’m getting value for my dollar.

Ballard’s Brand of Socialism

This morning, Matt Tully criticized Melina Kennedy’s campaign for recent, negative ads. Essentially, he said that she had already demonstrated that she was the superior candidate, and that the ads were beneath her–that Ballard, whatever his deficiencies, is a decent guy and didn’t deserve the negative characterizations.

I agree with Tully about negative ads, which are never nuanced arguments about policy. I don’t watch much live television, and thanks to TIVO, rarely watch campaign ads, but I’ve seen distasteful stuff from both campaigns, and we all know why: they work. That’s not an endorsement of the tactic, just a recognition of reality.

And the reality that the Kennedy campaign has not–and probably cannot–address is that, yes, Ballard is a decent guy, but so clueless that he is not really running the city. From what my remaining friends in the GOP tell me, soon after his surprising election, the “usual suspects” swooped in to “help” the neophyte and not-so-incidentally help themselves at taxpayer expense.

I’ve written before about the parking meter fiasco that enriched ACS (a company closely tied to the Mayor’s closest advisers), and I won’t belabor that fifty-year giveaway again (although from my point of view, it is reason enough to vote for Melina Kennedy).

I haven’t previously examined the equally scandalous deal struck for the parking garage in Broad Ripple. As Paul Ogden has amply documented, this is yet another example of what I’ve come to call “Ballard socialism.” The basic story is that taxpayers are paying to build a garage that the city then simply gives to the developer. We pay 6.35 million for a facility that will be owned 100% by Keystone Development (where Paul Okeson, former Deputy Mayor in the Ballard Administration, now works). The developer gets 100% of the parking revenues and 100% of the rent from the commercial space.

As Ogden points out, there is no requirement that the developer put a single penny into this deal.

Why do I call this “Ballard socialism”? Socialism is a term that simply means spreading the cost–we share costs of such services as police and fire protection among all of us, via taxes; we pool the costs of automobile accidents via insurance. But in the Ballard Administration, as a disillusioned Republican friend of mine recently complained, we turn this time-honored approach on its head. We socialize the risk–but we privatize the profits.

I am perfectly willing to believe that Greg Ballard does not understand the details of these sweetheart contracts. But he’s the Mayor, and it is not unfair to hold him responsible for the actions of his administration–actions that will cost the city dearly in an era of diminishing resources.

Cynics will say that city government has always operated to benefit political insiders, and it’s true that people who know people always have an edge. But I’ve lived in Indianapolis my whole adult life; I’ve been involved in both Republican and Democratic politics since I was twenty, and I have never seen anything on this scale. Whether it’s corruption or ineptitude, we need to clean house.