Ends and Means

In my classes on Law and Public Affairs, one of the things I try to explain to my students is the importance of process.  The way in which you achieve a goal is often just as important–sometimes even more important–than the goal itself.

This is, of course, a central principle of civil liberties. The effort to protect the public safety is a good example; important as that effort is, we cannot achieve it by imposing a police state, or engaging in random searches for which no probable cause exists. Eradicating racism and discrimination are important goals, but government cannot censor hateful speech as part of that effort.

The principle goes well beyond civil liberties. Economic development efforts focused on bringing new businesses into an area need to avoid recruitment incentives that privilege new enterprises at the expense of those already operating. Initiatives to redevelop blighted areas need to treat property owners and bidders on proposed projects fairly. When the public believes that government officials have favored their friends, or disregarded the rights of others, the trust essential to governance is eroded and other goals are endangered.

We have a perfect example of that scenario right now in Indianapolis.

The development of the Massachusetts Avenue corridor is one of the city’s success stories. When my husband and I were in City Hall, Mass Avenue was home to broken-down and boarded-up buildings interrupted by gaping holes where buildings no longer stood. Today, it’s the center of a vibrant arts scene, with restaurants, theaters, galleries and businesses. There are still a few gaps to be filled in, however; one of those is the block currently occupied by a fire headquarters building and Barton Towers, a senior citizen apartment complex  constructed back when any structure on the Avenue was seen as an improvement. Today, those buildings are a jarring interruption of the pedestrian flow on the Avenue.

The Ballard Administration has proposed redeveloping that block, continuing the street-level activity and providing other needed amenities like parking. It’s an important and necessary initiative. But it is threatened by concerns about the way the administration has conducted business in the past.

I’ve posted before about the parking meter deal that benefited a well-connected vendor to the detriment of the city. Paul Ogden and others have blogged about the serious questions raised by the parking garage in Broad Ripple, being developed by a crony of the Mayor with public tax dollars and apparently little or no investment or risk of his own. CityWay is a great project, but most knowledgable observers charged that the financing was an unnecessary giveaway.

The Massachusetts Avenue project is supposed to be financed by the extension of an existing TIF–a tax increment financing district. Democrats on the Council are threatening to derail it until and unless the administration becomes more forthright and transparent about its use and abuse of those districts. Several councilors have charged that TIF repayments that should have gone back into the City’s General Fund have instead been diverted into a Mayoral “slush fund,” an account subject to less oversight, and with fewer controls on its use.

The Council’s concerns are valid. At the very least, the Ballard Administration has been less than transparent. But now, its chickens have come home to roost on Mass Avenue, and the failure of that project would be a setback for downtown and the whole city.

The Administration’s lack of appreciation for the importance of transparency and process has generated resistance from the Council. But while understandable, the Council’s willingness to block an important project in order to make its point would be a similar failure. The questions need to be answered, but not at the expense of city progress.

In this age of toxic partisanship, I suppose it is unrealistic to ask both sides to grow up and have a conversation in which the interests of the city come first.

“He started it!” may be true, but it isn’t the best place to start that discussion.


  1. I agree on the necessity of process being transparent. Even if the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare/ObamaTax) was truly affordable and something wanted by most of America, the lack of transparency and bipartisan participation in it’s gestation, after-hours and behind closed doors, was absolutely breathtaking. If this had been done by a Republican President and Congress….

    With you 100% on the TIFs, except I have my limits on corruption. I support “…the Council’s willingness to block an important project in order to make its point…”. I may not always agree with them ideologically, but I think it’s a marvelous point to be made: They’re out to protect taxpayer dollars from the corruption of political whim.

    Very similar to federal legislation putting a ring through the nose of every citizen, while nationalizing a sixth of the economy in a manner worthy of Somali pirates.

  2. I wasn’t aware that any industry has been nationalized during the last four years, Dave. Care to elaborate?

  3. Privatized health care in America is transitioning with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare/ObamaTax). This legislation was passed by the U.S. Congress when under Democratic control, and signed by President Obama (in a highly veiled, non-transparent “process”.) I would call that a federal (“national”) action, to control the health care of Americans.

    You want to argue that our health care was in need of reform- granted. However, there were Republican proposals (ignored) at the time of creation of the act on portability, pre-existing conditions, etc., that were ignored to pass the overall act.

    To me tackling the individual problems with health care is the obvious way to go, versus government running the whole thing. Same with the original point on preserving existent “process” for local govermental real estate development. When we can’t adequately fund public safety, how can we justify it? While we have a need for government, it has proven that it cannot and (has proven) should not do everything.

  4. What I want to argue about is not that health care needed reforming (though it obviously did), but the definition of nationalization. I can tell you for a fact that the commonly-understood definition of it is not the way you’re using it. Neither the health care industry nor the health insurance industry has been brought under the control or ownership of the US government as a result of the ACA.

  5. In the current issue of The Economist, there’s an article about private oil wells being taken over by the state in China’s Shaanxi province. Cited is an “…unwritten rule of private business in China: do not grow so big as to make the state covetous.”

    Similar to the unfair compensation offered to the private well-owners in China, the present federal administration sees too much of an opportunity to avoid intrusion. Given a majority of America have made it clear they don’t want the ACA (ObamaCare/ObamaTax), blatant seizure of assets lacks the finesse as it does in China. However, needed reformation of individual elements of the private sector was also overruled: pre-existing conditions, purchase across state lines, etc. Instead, health care and the health care insurance industry have been taken over with the same veneer of benevolence as absorbing Chinese oil wells. The Economist calls it “national(ised)”: “….the public always profits when the state wins.”

    The expansion of control and regulation for ACA took place in closed-door negotiations, including the AMA, AARP, Pharma, the insurance industry, trial lawyers, and others (excluding Republicans). As detailed in ‘Doctor in the House’, by Dr. Michael Burgess, some of these parties had serious reservations without enough perceived “return” for their respective constituency: the full-spectrum of health benefits had to be imposed upon all Americans.

    The Economist featured at least half a dozen Senator Obama covers to none for Senator McCain in the last presidential election. Nonetheless, I don’t think their closing comment after the quote from the state news agency of Shaanxi (below), is anything less than tongue-in-cheek, and highly applicable to our health “reform”:

    “Before, oil was only making a small number of people rich. Now oil is bringing wealth to all the people.” So that’s all right then.

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