City Housework is Dull, But Really Important

No one likes housework. I grumble when I change sheets ; sweeping is a chore. But like all–okay, most–humans who inhabit a built environment (aka a “house”), I know that failure to tend to these mundane tasks will eventually make my home unlivable or dangerous or both.

What is true for houses is true for cities. I realize that the everyday tasks of running a city–cleaning and paving streets, tending to parks, dealing with budgets and myriad other necessary chores–aren’t the fun parts of being a Mayor. But that doesn’t make them less important.

One of my persistent gripes with the Ballard Administration is its neglect of the essential housekeeping tasks that keep a city livable. To be fair, some of those tasks are assigned to municipal corporations like the Health and Hospital Corporation, but those corporations are part of city government, and citizens have a legitimate right to expect the city administration to monitor their performance and ensure that they are doing their job–especially  when public safety is at risk.

That isn’t getting done.

Case in point: We own a property–a double–across from Brookside park. Several weeks ago, a really bad fire destroyed the house immediately east of that double.  You can see through what is still standing.   The remaining roof and sidewalls are clearly dangerous, and burned timbers lie haphazardly on what was the front porch.

It’s very dangerous. And it is still unsecured, weeks after the fire, and despite repeated calls to Health and Hospital. If neighborhood children decided to play in it–or if a homeless person tried to squat there– the likely consequences would be serious.

When I was in City Hall, promptly securing such properties was a high priority. (So was Code Enforcement, which by the looks of several neighborhoods is currently nonexistent.) Money isn’t a problem–a lien against the property secures repayment of amounts spent to make the premises safe.

I understand that things like weed control, securing abandoned properties, and managing city services is anything but glamorous. I’m sure it’s much more fun to bid for a Super Bowl or build a cricket stadium. But there is no excuse for ignoring the boring, necessary work of managing the various agencies that are needed to run a city.

I know that when Mayor Ballard announced that his administration would make “public safety number one” he was thinking of crime. But securing dangerous structures is also a public safety issue.

He’s batting zero on that one, too.


  1. Having worked in the Hudnut administration when so many things got done, I am still upset at the lack of interest in abandoned buildings in this city. In May 1991 Mayor Hudnut ordered a study of abandoned homes; this study garnered the attention of city residents from all levels of life and resulted in an all-day conference with city, business, religious, eductional leaders and neighborhood organizations. Both the study and the conference reports are in book form; I still have both. At that time there were 4,500-5,000 abandoned houses in Marion County; this situation has been ignored since Goldsmith took office in 1992 – other than an occasional mention in the media – and now there are approximately 10,000 abandoned buildings.

    Move forward to 2009 when, working with two neighborhood friends living next door to the ditch, we complained loud and often regarding the overgrown ditch which harbored rats. These rats ran in and out of neighboring properties but no one at the city level seemed interested enough to do anything. This ditch is fenced off by the city in areas near streets and have 8-10 ft. cement retaining walls. Division of Public Health finally sent someone out to “investigate”; this resulted in a letter telling me that the ditch actually comes from an underground creek in a nearby crime-ridden area. This “underground creek” is of course the storm (I hope) sewer running under the subdivision. The report I received also stated that e-coli was found in the water but it was a “safe level of e-coli” so not to worry. One day Mary Moriarty-Adams was campaigning in the neighborhood and I showed her the report. She acted quicky to have the dense overgrowth removed from the ditch/creek which tuns through our neighborhood and into Pleasant Run creek. That was the end of house cleaning in my neighborhood…the neighborhood where I was mugged at 11:00 in the morning on my own driveway. House cleaning comes in many forms when running a city. How many kilings over the past week alone? Who else remembers that old adage, “A new broom sweeps clean.”? November is coming; where will you be on November 4, 2014?

  2. I neglected to mention that this ditch/creek area hasn’t been cleared since 2009 so is again densely overgrown with trees, brush, weeds and grass on both sides of 1700 North Pasadena Avenue and 6700 East 17th Street. The city has knowledge of these areas so should not need to be reminded to maintain them. No one has to tell me to scrub my toilet and this is a good comparison to the situation at this point.

  3. OK, I’m back. Sheila, your mention of Code Enforcement brought back possibly the only fun and funny event during my 2 years, 3 months and 11 days under the Goldsmith adminstration. Part, and only a small part, of my job was secretary to the Lawrence Township Zoning Ordinance manager. I kept detailed records of all reports; including IF or when they had been resolved, many stayed unresolved for months. I began getting calls from Geist residents regarding a Turkish man who owned a large home with a great deal of surrounding property; he had informed them he was building 4-6 $40,000 homes on the back of his property. He would then import people from Turkey to live in these homes and work in his construction company. I logged all reports and gave the manager each and every phone message from the residents; he repeatedly stated he would take care of it when he had time. This went on for weeks and my reminders from Geist residents were ignored. One morning I began getting frantic calls from the residents; the man had begun construction on the homes, footings for some had already been poured. More calls began coming in and I finally reached my saturation point. I gave one woman the home phone number of their City-County Councilor Linda Beadling and told her to pass it on. I gave each resident who called that home phone number. Little more than an hour later Linda and Larry Beadling were quick-stepping down the hall to the office. Did I get reamed by the manager and supervisor after they began taking action? You betcha’ Did I care? No, I enjoyed forcing someone in that administration to do what they were being paid to do…and I would do it again.

  4. We have Government for the people the 99%. Our politicians have decided neglect is their solution. Public Parks, Public Transportation, snow removal, the Library is treated as charitable donation – if we have the money you get some, if we do not too bad.

    Now the 1% that is another story. The Colts and Pacers never suffer from a lack of tax dollars. Billions have been skimmed to build and maintain stadiums, and other subsidies direct and indirect to “Downtown.”

  5. The problem is not unique to Indianapolis or even cities. I live in a small town in Hancock County. There are no services wher I live either. However, there is plenty of money to hire salaried town employees who produce nothing and are not accountable for any of their personal or professional actions. I’m not sure if this is a problem unique to Republicans or not. Is there a reader who lives in a Democrat controlled city or town that can speak to this?

  6. daleb, the problem is everywhere, and not unique to a particular political party. As Sheila pointed out recently, even though Indianapolis has a Republican mayor, it is demographically a Democratic city, and elected both Ballard in 2007 and Obama in 2008. If we aren’t getting the services we’re paying for in Indy or anywhere, it’s our own fault for not getting involved at the local level to change public policies. It’s not enough just to cast a vote.

  7. We have been trying to get the city to help the neighborhood association clear our ditch of trash and debris for 5 years to no avail. This is a city owned waterway that feeds through a public park into the White River (our drinking water source). After years of getting the runaround from one city department after another, we finally got someone to confirm that the adjacent property owners do NOT own the ditch. (We have been told repeatedly that we own the ditch and are responsible for clearing it.) GEG, DPW and MAC have all deferred to someone else to deal with it. Stagnant water, vermin and mosquitoes, dead fish, invasive plants, spills from the gas station that built right over the waterway routinely cause problems and foul smells. I agree with JoAnn. No one should have to tell you to clean your toilet. The city needs to take responsibility. If we must keep our grass mowed and trash removed, so should they.

  8. In my neighborhood, this administration often neglects to even pick up the trash each week. Repeated calls to “the Mayor’s Action Line” get no results. The curt woman who answered offered to send out an inspector rather than someone to pick up the garbage.

    “It’s not as simple as sending out a truck,” she said. “Yes, it is,” I replied.

    Incompetence is the new virtue, apparently.

  9. Interloper; try to access the Mayor’s Action Center on line, what used to be a simple click on MAC is now a process that must be followed. I used to access the Star 911 calls every morning to check crime reports in my neighborhood and my daughter’s. It used to be provided to the Star by Homeland Security but they stopped a few months ago; a notice said to access the site through the Mayor’s Office. If you try and IF you succeed; please tell me how you did it. Under Ballard’s adminisstration the simplest contacts for any reason are now a convoluted process which I believe they HOPE will prevent us from bothering them with these mundane problems.

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