The Politics of Pay

Whatever the merits of Mayor Ballard’s decision to give his staff huge pay raises, the “optics,” as they say, are terrible. The upcoming city budget will be more than painful, thanks largely to the ill-conceived “tax caps,” and the cuts to services will be draconian in some places. Giving your buddies in the Mayor’s office 20% raises at a time like this is simply tone-deaf. (Someone reminded me yesterday that former Mayor Peterson actually cut¬†pay for his office staff at a time of tight budget constraints.)

For all I know, the raises were an effort to keep people from fleeing the administration; Michael Huber–far and away the most effective member of the Mayor’s staff–has already announced his departure, and this is the time in most second terms when people who can leave–who are actually employable elsewhere–begin their job hunting.

Whatever the calculus, this was a bone-headed move that will make it much harder for the Mayor to get the sort of political concessions he will need during the give-and-take of budget negotiations. It is one more bit of evidence–as if we needed any–that the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” American delusion is just that. Delusional.

Ballard may be a nice enough fellow, but he ran for office proudly proclaiming his “outsider” status. He asked people to vote for him because he wasn’t a “politician”–in other words, because he wasn’t someone who understood how the system worked. Voters bought it; they elected him over two opponents who actually did¬†understand urban issues and politics. The results have been mixed, to put it mildly, and Ballard has relied heavily on outside “advisers” who have had their own interests to advance.

Cities can function with inept leadership when times are reasonably good–when we can afford the learning curve. But when the fiscal belt tightens, we need leadership that understands how cities work, what the priorities must be and how to achieve important goals.

It’s no time for the tone-deaf.


  1. I’m trying to think of how this and some other things (Frank Straub, Pacers CIB subsidy, Bisard) might have played under Bart Peterson or, really, any Democratic mayor.
    I’m guessing much, much more uproar, with the difference being that Marion County’s underlying political/power structure remains strongly GOP and, well, they’re just not going to buck Ballard.

  2. What do they say? The Dems fall in love and the Republicans fall in line. I don’t know much about Indy politics but when I saw this on the news last night, I stopped what I was doing because I was outraged. A 20-30% raise? Just wow.

  3. You must admit Ballard has nerve, not much intelligence but lots of nerve, to publicize giving huge raises to his staff when Public Safety is operating under a shortfall. And – Straub is still sitting in control. Maybe Ballard found lost or misplaced tax dollars in the City budget as Daniels discovered in his state budget. Face it folks, we need to keep a large jar of vasolene near at hand as long as Republicans are controlling our tax dollars. And ain’t it grand, we are going to make another bid to lose more tax dollars by holding a second Super Bowl!

  4. What I don’t think Ballard has quite figured out yet is that people voted AGAINST Peterson just as much as they voted FOR him. Defeating Melina Kennedy for your second term could hardly be considered a mandate, yet all these promises that were supposed to be delivered upon have come up empty. Bart Peterson may have given his staff a 40% pay raise the year before their pay cut, and now we see Ballard doing the exact same thing.

    We’re still seeing bailout after bailout to politically established businesses and, wait, I thought the Super Bowl was supposed to solve all these problems? Now we’re bidding on another one? I understand if you inherit a mess, I do, but don’t say you’re going to fix it without even trying.

    Why is MCSD’s budget going up every year, to a point now where it’s higher than it was before the Police merger and they don’t even have road patrol anymore? Why is the PSD office budget nearly $4.5 million when it formerly operated at less than half that? I understand we have to fund the CIB bailout and we have to pay for Super Bowls, blah blah blah, but can’t we cut non-essential city services? Around the middle of next year, nearly half of IMPD will be eligible for retirement. You’ve got over 100 entering the DROP here in the next two years, I believe, and they’ve had dozens just up and quit (and/or get fired) in the last few years. It’s not uncommon for a holdup alarm to come out in Geist and the responding officer is coming from Butler-Tarkington. During rush hour that’s a good ten to fifteen minutes even with your lights on.

    I know I disagree with what most people write on here, but as far as Ballard being a flop, we’re of a feather.

  5. Absolutely ludicrous. We don’t have enough public safety staffing and facilities, and we can afford big raises for the Mayor’s staff?

    I like sports as an escape from reality as much as the next guy. When I next need a lawyer, I’d rather not settle for a plumber. But, the bending-over-backwards on behalf of professional sports and law firms in this town is nuts. I’d rather voter for Len Farber again versus Mayor Ballard. I would WORK for Pat Andrews if she ran for Mayor.

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