Follow the Money

Many years ago, when I was practicing real estate law, I represented the developers of the Indianapolis Westin. I still remember a meeting with a mortgage broker from New Jersey; he asked me how long it took to pull a building permit, and I responded “About a day.” He looked at me as if I’d sprouted wings. In New Jersey, he informed me, it took about five years. And presumably—although he didn’t say this aloud—several bribes.

Whatever our problems in Indianapolis, we have historically been spared the sort of corruption that plagues other American cities. There have been exceptions, of course, but by and large, we’ve run an honest city government.

That may be changing.

There has been a lot of conversation, via media and especially the local blogs (see here and here), about SB 621, the “imperial Mayor” bill. The criticisms are all accurate enough—the outrage over the process, which entirely bypassed those who will be affected, the irony of Republicans giving increased power to the Mayor’s office given the probability that the increased authority will be exercised in the future by a Democratic Mayor, the gutlessness of the Governor’s signature on a bill that violates every principle he claims to support.

I don’t disagree with those criticisms, but my focus is on one part of the bill that has received far too little scrutiny: the provision giving the Mayor effective control of the Development Commission.

Another story may be instructive.  A former member of the City-County Council recently told me about a contentious zoning decision made by the Commission —a denial of a zoning change that would have increased the value of a particular parcel of land by several million dollars. The denial was appealed to the Council, and the developer who owned the land called upon the Councilor. During the visit, he explained that the Council member could expect continued financial and political support—if the Commission’s denial was reversed.

Before SB 621, the Mayor controlled four of the nine seats on the Development Commission. After January, he will control five.

It will be interesting to see who profits from decisions made by the Commission during the remainder of Ballard’s term, and how “connected” they are.

Administration defenders of the indefensible imperial Mayor bill are claiming—presumably with a straight face—that SB 621 is all about “accountability.” That’s rich, given the utter lack of accountability for a number of highly questionable spending decisions made by this mayor. (Perhaps if we had local newspaper reporters….but we don’t.) Case in point: barely a month ago, Ballard made what seemed to be an offhand remark about a cricket field during a trip to India. Last week, construction contracts were awarded. Contractors cannot bid without plans and specifications—they can’t price work in the abstract. Clearly, the cricket plans had been in the works for a long enough period to allow for the necessary documentation to be prepared. The Administration didn’t see fit to include the City-County Council or the public in the planning process—probably anticipating the criticism that is now being leveled at a fail accompli.

 Thanks to SB 621, the Mayor will no longer have any accountability to the Council or to voters. Thanks also to the provisions of SB 621 and the general lack of understanding of the power exercised by the Development Commission, the administration will have the remainder of Ballard’s term to enrich “connected” folks.

And if a Democrat wins the Mayor’s office next time, the Indiana legislature can simply change the rules again.


  1. I was records secretary for the Metropolitan Development Commission during my last two years working for the City and was literally sickened by many of the “deals” pushed through by Goldsmith. This included appointing a new President of the Commission when the former President resigned – also sickened by the under-the-table antics. Commission members all called me asking who the man was and where he came from; I had no answers, only his name and that he was Commission president.

    Here is one of the worst actions I witnessed and had to deal with. Due to the Goldsmith/Warren Tyler partnership and control over the Commission, they approved selling 15 pieces of property on Indiana Avenue for $82,000 to a developer in Hamilton, Ohio. What is that worth today? These properties had been deeded to the city by Beurt Ser Vaas during Mayor Hudnut’s administration. I asked a DMD Deputy Director about taking action on some issue one day and was told I had to ask Warren Tyler’s permission because Goldsmith had appointed him Director of DMD. When I asked why it had not been publicized or why we had not received a memo regarding this appintment, I was told because it was illegal. Tyler was vice president of a bank in Columbus, Ohio, and was not an Indiana resident; he was also rarely in Indianapolis. Goldsmith didn’t have the legal power Ballard has been given but he got away with many illegal actions such as no-bid contracts or just hiring private businesses with no contract and hiding Mayor’s Office employees in other departments to make his office budget look good. These are examples of what we will be facing with this new bill which Pence supposedly signed with “misgivings”. All those who believe that statement must also believe in the tooth fairy.

  2. Both parties are doing all they can to eliminate clean, open government practices, to turn Indy into Chicago. Ballard’s pay-for-play is the same approach Bart Peterson took, which was the same approach as Steve Goldsmith.

    Where left and right minds meet is increased public spending for massive public works projects – schemes that benefit developers *and* labor unions.

  3. I am in favor of public works projects that repair our decaying infrastructure. The fact that people break laws or subvert programs doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have those laws or programs–it means we need safeguards to insure their proper use.

    Goldsmith and his ilk sneered at those safeguards as “red tape.” Well, one man’s red tape is the next person’s accountability requirement. I well remember when Goldsmith was caught evading applicable regulations governing contracting for wastewater treatment; his excuse was that the laws “weren’t appropriate for a 21st Century City.” When he was prosecutor, I doubt he would be more lenient to a criminal who claimed the law was inappropriate.

  4. The first two orders we received from Goldsmith were – 1. destroy all files and paperwork from the Hudnut administration (huge trash bins were rolled into all offices to accompish this) and – 2. we were not to concern ourselves with laws or ordinances regarding his orders, laws and ordinances could be changed. None were changed that I knew of.

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