Longing for a Little Competence

Back in “the day,” Bill Hudnut used to make speeches about the importance of being a city that worked. The basic message was simple: we can’t do the big things if we can’t get the day-to-day mechanics right. The first order of business for any public manager is to ensure that public services are being delivered properly and the public’s business is being handled prudently.

If Bill was right–and I believe he was–then all I can say is “Houston, We Have a Problem.”

According to news reports, Mayor Ballard and 100 “city leaders” are leaving on a trade mission to Germany.  And the City is putting together another SuperBowl bid.  (Let’s just ignore that 6 million dollar cricket field…) Big things, check.

But how are we doing with the humdrum everyday stuff? How is that “city that works” thing going?

Is the public’s business being handled properly?  Paul Ogden has the truly jaw-dropping details of a lease between the City and a  campaign contributor for an uninhabitable  Regional Operations Center that wouldn’t pass the smell test of a first-year law student. I spent 17 years practicing real estate law, and I have never seen anything remotely that egregious.  Either the lease was the result of corruption, or it was negotiated by the most incompetent lawyer in central Indiana. Either way, it represented a colossal waste of ever-more-scarce tax dollars.

How about those public services? My commute from my home in downtown Indianapolis to IUPUI is about a mile and a half. Usually, it takes 5-8 minutes, depending upon the time of day. But for the past several weeks, it has taken nearly half an hour. Traffic has been bumper to bumper, thanks to poorly managed street repair projects and (evidently unregulated and unsupervised) private construction that has brought traffic on some of our busiest downtown streets to a virtual standstill. Some  congestion is obviously inescapable, but it is clear that much of it is a result of poor–or nonexistent–management. The resulting mess increases drive time, air pollution and frayed nerves.

The city isn’t the only inept manager of local construction projects, of course.  The state has closed I65 and the downtown split, in order to raise bridges that keep getting damaged because trucks keep hitting them. Barely ten years ago, the much-ballyhood “Hyperfix”  shut down those same portions of the interstates, so that multiple repairs could be made. For reasons that have never been explained, the Hyperfix project didn’t include work to raise the bridges–and this isn’t a new problem.

What’s the old saying? There’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it over?

Managing curb and sidewalk construction, ensuring that highways are safe, vetting contracts to ensure that taxpayers aren’t getting ripped off–these and many other municipal tasks aren’t glamorous. But they’re necessary and important. They are essential elements of a city that works.

You’ve gotta drive to the airport if you’re going to fly to exotic places on that junket. The fifteen people in Indy who play cricket need to drive to the game.

And eventually, if you keep flushing tax dollars down friends’ toilets, there won’t be any left.


  1. “Hyperfix” was not a repair project, it was total reconstruction including the overpass decks. There was a comprehensive plan to alleviate traffic congestion, special express buses, ride sharing etc. This time nothing and no explanation or recognition of the failure to do the job last time.

  2. To view another vast waste of our tax dollars, drive by the former Eastgate Mall location. It is (I think) a public safety substation but has appeared the past two years or so to be a storage site for construction materials. It is unpainted, ugly and unkempt and appears to be vacant; the empty mall was a more appealing site.

    The area of Shortride Road between East Washington Street and 10th Street was nicely resurfaced at least two months ago but sat with no lane markings for weeks making driving confusing and dangerous. The bike lanes along East 10th Street between Shortridge Road and Arlington Avenue start and stop indiscriminately depending on the width of the street, putting potential bike riders in and out of the main traffic lane. This is the case on both sides of 10th Street. I have been driving that area for the past 12 years and have yet to see a bicycle.

    Maybe Pence in Japan and Ballard in Germany will see possible solutions to these problems (if they are aware of and consider them problems) as they enjoy the pleasures of travel away from such hum-drum infrastructure and public safety conditions at home.

  3. I wish someone would explain to me why INDOT never sought to hold the original Hyperfix engineers and construction firm liable for their failure to reconstruct the interstate highway so that it provided the proper clearance under those bridges. I suppose their campaign contributions prevent the people in charge from holding them responsible.

    Also, with respect to the ROC, follow the money. The owner of the building leased by the city has funneled tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to various Republican committees. Even Councilor Ben Hunter, who chaired the Public Safety Committee that signed off on the deal, received a large contribution. Imagine that.

  4. Would someone please stop maligning the game of cricket? More than fifteen people, in Indy, play cricket. Leagues are active in many bars here. Players compete in both steel-tipped and plastic-tipped darts while they imbibe a few beers, or mixed drinks, or wine. They might even drink non-alcohol beverages. None of the players, to the best of my knowledge, wears silly white garments with pads and throw balls at people with fat paddles. I speak of real cricket that we play in Indianapolis. I wish that people would get that straight. As for the six million dollars, invest it in streets and sidewalks and law enforcement so that people can travel safely to and from those places where cricket, as Hoosiers know it, is played.

  5. When I posted my first comment, I didn’t realize or had forgotten that the former Eastgate Mall is now called the Regional Operations Center. Either way, Sheila’s reference and my own are timely. See the article on page 1 of today’s Star; Owner: Regional Center Is Safe. I got the feeling while reading the article that our elected officials and their appointees were too busy with the Super Bowl bid to concentrate on public safety, use of long abandoned property of where out tax dollars were being spent. By the next mayoral election; what will be left for a new mayor to waste money on? Unless Ballard is in for a third term (God forbid) and he comes up with another sports venue or finds something else to sell or lease off to make money for the city which we never see.

  6. You know what else “increases air pollution and frayed nerves?” Driving a single occupancy vehicle a mile and a half to work.

  7. True. But I’m 71 years old and I schlep a laptop and paperwork back and forth. Biking and/or walking aren’t practical alternatives. I’d take mass transit in a heartbeat if we had any.

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