Indiana Could Learn a Few Things from Oregon

People who live in Indiana are aware that our public officials are somewhat deficient when it comes to recognizing ethical standards. Not to put too fine a point on it, we have far too many people in public office who wouldn’t recognize an ethical issue if they fell over one–and they do have a well-documented tendency to stumble.

The most recent display of ethical chutzpah revolved around Eric Turner, the Senate Republican who knew enough to recuse himself from voting on a bill that would damage his son’s very lucrative business (in which he held a significant interest), but somehow failed to see any problem with strong-arming members of his caucus behind the scenes. Perhaps the most interesting part of that story is that he broke no rules–because Indiana’s legislative code of conduct is for all practical purposes non-existent.

I’ll leave it to others to opine on the ethical propriety of a sitting Governor appointing University Trustees who (what a coincidence!) then hire him to be President of that University. Or the City-County Counselor who cast the deciding vote on a fifty-year contract with a vendor represented by his law firm. Or or or…..the list is long and definitely not pretty.

Indiana might take a lesson from Oregon.

Data from the Justice Department, compiled by political scientists at Indiana University at Bloomington and the City University of Hong Kong, show that, over a period of 32 years, there were fewer corruption convictions in Oregon than in any other state, when controlling for the number of state workers.

The researchers attributed Oregonion honesty to robust transparency laws, tough rules for campaign finance disclosure, and rules forbidding lobbyists and special interest groups from giving gifts worth more than $50 to state employees. It is also significant that Oregon  requires most public-improvement contracts to be awarded based on competitive bidding–they don’t do the no-bid contracts so popular around here.

It’s no surprise that taxpayers foot the bill for corrupt practices, but the number of ways in which corruption costs us did surprise me.

Corruption forces states to spend more on everything from construction and highways to corrections and police. But the authors of the study, John Mikesell and Cheol Liu, also found that states with higher rates of corruption tend to spend less on education, public welfare, health and hospitals. So more corruption costs taxpayers — in terms of money and the social services the government provides.

Hoosiers can and should tighten up our lax ethics laws. But that’s unlikely to happen unless voters make it an issue.

Meanwhile, as we wait for that (thus far undetectable) civic indignation, Indianapolis is proposing to cut a deal with “consultants” and private contractors to build a massive justice center–and being considerably less than forthcoming with the details. The Administration has taken the position that we mere taxpayers (and the City-County Councilors who represent us )have no right to know how these transactions are being structured.

Somehow, knowing that –whatever “extra amounts” that deal ends up costing us, whatever no-bid or “wink wink” arrangements may be involved–none of the deals being cut are likely to violate Indiana’s nonexistent ethics laws doesn’t comfort me.

I hear Portland is a really cool city.


  1. I watched the beginnings of this downward ethical movement under Goldsmith. His first official order to city/county employees was to destroy all files and paperwork from the Hudnut administration. Huge tash bins were rolled into all office to accomplish this unethical and idiotic order; no business (and government is a business) can be run by new “owners” if they know nothing of what has been done, how to do it or what is left to be done. We also received notice from “on high” that we were to disregard laws and ordinances to accomplish HIS orders… he stated laws and ordinances can be changed. He couldn’t decide on a City letterhead for all department stationery for weeks so business could not be carried out and things were basically at a standstill. I lived in Florida during Goldsmith’s second term and moved back when Bart Peterson was in office. I often wondered what he found in the way of record keeping left by Goldsmith to cover up his questionable tactics and what was done with Mayor Peterson’s files and records when Ballard moved in. An annual inventory of all office property, equipment, furniture, decor, etc., in government offices is required (is this federal law or state?); during the 2 years, 3 months and 11 days I lasted under Goldsmith – this was never done. Nor was I ever informed of any changes in laws and ordinances to cover his actions; I fought almost daily to maintain Metropolitan Development Commission procedure and files under required state laws as records secretary. I returned from lunch one day to find my computer system and bookcases gone; the computer belonged to Mel Simon Associates in conjunction with Circle Centre Mall and had been entrusted to me by the Mall’s CFO. Books, papers, files, computer discs, etc., were piled on my desk, chair and the floor. The Goldsmith cronies “acquired” all furniture and equipment by simply taking what they wanted. The sell off and leasing of city property and responsibilities, uncontracted work given to cronies, lack of transparency…and on and on and on…has escalated under Ballard. He must go!

    No need to mention state level control, questionable decisions and lack of transparency; we eventually learn bits and pieces long after the fact. Goldsmith refused to release information to home and business owners and/or their attorneys in his determination to extend Canal Walk. An unnecessary addition to downtown which forced people from homes and businesses they did NOT want to leave, many had been there more than 50 years. After much legal action, I was allowed to continue providing requested information and told to bill them per-page copy charges. The questionable ethics regarding land purchases to construct highway 69 between Indianapolis and Evansville is only one example at state level. Does any of this sound familiar to any of you today? WE – the voters – allow these questionable, under-the-table business dealings to continue by not voting in ALL elections. I am singing that same old song again and will continue to do so ad nauseum. I have President Obama’s continuing “…Audacity of Hope” regarding the residents of Indianapolis and Indiana caring enough to act for needed – necessary – change to protect all of us.

  2. “Ethical government”, to me, means government focused only on the “greater good” of, for, and by we, the people. It’s democracy fully realized and practiced.

    One way in which it falls short is oligarchy. Rule by those who have, one way or another, gathered control of more than their share of our resources. In other words, superior control of resources is rewarded by superior control over the lives of others. The extreme of which is slavery.

    Here’s an interesting article on the history of the GOP as it has wavered between two poles. The party of opportunity vs the party of oligarchy. Dr Jekyll vs Mr Hyde.

    We all hope that the party of Lincoln will return some day. It’s the responsibility of every American until then to just deny them public office through which the opportunity might exist to further redistribute our resources disproportionately to the creation of them.

  3. Eric Turner has been defrocked from his position as Speaker Pro Tem by Brian Bosma. Bosma closed the barn door after the horses left. You would hope the Voters in Turner’s District would vote him out of office.

    I was surprised at how servile the Democrats were in the face of Goldsmithism. They may not have had the votes in the City-Council to stop Goldsmithism, but I did not see any fire in them to seriously oppose it.

    Privatization, Crony-Capitalism and Monopoly Capitalism have become disgustingly commonplace. We have built for the Mega-Billionaire Owners of Professional Sports Teams Stadiums out of tax dollars. There is no risk at all for Colt’s or Pacers. The Local Media has been the Cheer Leaders for this enormous transfer of tax dollars. The list goes on and on of various Down Town schemes to line the pockets of the Chosen Ones.

    Do our City-County Elected and appointed Officials receive tickets to Pacer or Colts Sporting Events?? Would the effort be too great for our Local Press to put this question to our Elected and Appointed Officials. The Local Press will on occasion reveal some nuggets of questionable ethical behavior, but follow-up is weak.

    Even if we had tough ethics laws, you would need a Justice System willing to Prosecute. We have an interlocking defense mechanism in place that protects both the Democrats and Republicans.

    The Democrats and Republicans are fighting over who will control the spoil system, rather than if it is wrong.

  4. Is there no way to keep our Lame Duck Mayor from locking us into a white elephant criminal justice center that will ONLY be of benefit to Republican donors and operatives?
    His parting gift to the party will cost us untold millions.

  5. Could Ballard possibly be pushing this through in a hurry as he bows out of the Mayoral campaign, looking ahead to running for governor when Pence runs for president? In the governor’s seat he would maintain full contol of all privatization of “his” new jail. LIke Putin, he cannot be trusted, especially when claiming to be doing something for the benefit of people.

  6. As Pete said, when one is singularly focused on the common good, that’s good government. It’s amazing how many good actions come out of that and how many bad decisions are avoided. Ethics laws just kind of grow out of that as well as projects that prove to be in everyone’s interest.

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