Needed: More Sunlight, Less Secrecy

I recently received an email from IndyCAN–the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network–a consortium of congregations working to build civic capacity in moderate and low-income communities. The mailing raised legitimate questions about the Justice Center project that the Administration seems to be “fast-tracking.” (I hate to be suspicious, but the goal appears to be creation of a “fait accompli” before Open Door law requests require disclosures of terms and partners, and before an election that might force a change in the “players.”)

I’ve previously posted my concerns over the contract process; IndyCAN raises other issues:

“IndyCAN members have been digging into the proposal to build a new criminal justice center and what we’re learning is troubling.

While the details have been kept secret, we believe that city officials are rushing ahead with a plan this fall that would cost as much as half a billion dollars and add 1,500 new jail beds.

This at a time when many cities are shifting away from policies that overcrowd jails with low-level nonviolent offenders and fuel racial inequality, choosing instead to invest in rehabilitation, and open up job opportunities that keep people out of prison.”

I don’t know whether these concerns are justified–and neither does anyone else, because the Ballard Administration has refused to disclose the bases upon which it made its decisions about the proposed facilities: documentation of need, size, cost, financing mechanism, method of choosing (“pre-qualifying”) bidders….all that has been kept secret, not just from the public, but also from members of the City-County Council.

An IBJ editorial in early September said it better than I can:

The city might be negotiating a sweet deal for Indianapolis taxpayers over the proposed $500 million justice center to be built across from the Indianapolis Zoo on the former site of General Motors’ stamping plant.

Or, taxpayers might be getting a bad deal.

There’s no way to know whether either is the case, because Mayor Ballard’s administration has kept secret details of its bidding process. That lack of transparency is bad government and violates the spirit of Indiana’s open-records law.

In April, the city issued a request for proposals for an all-inclusive project-management contract, in which a developer would design, build, finance, maintain and operate the new jail and courts facility. Of five companies that responded to the RFP, the city chose three finalists. Bids are due in October, and the City-County Council will likely vote on the arrangement early next year.

Ballard officials say such a package will provide a sparkling new building with improved city services—without a tax increase. They say the new contract—likely for a 35-year term—will cost the city no more than the annual $123 million it now spends to operate courts and corrections.

And they ask us to take their word for all of that. Everyone else is left to guess.

Putting terms of deals in the public realm while they’re still in the works isn’t just good government. It also can lead to better deals, as was the case in 2010 when public input led the Ballard administration to amend terms of its parking meter privatization.

The Mayor’s Office has cited no exception to state law that would explain why it has provided to justice center bidders but not to the public the maximum fee such a contract will require, why it refuses to release the RFP document, and why it won’t disclose calculations on what the project will cost taxpayers.

This is not the first, or even the second, time the Ballard administration has asked us to accept on trust that it is a wise steward of taxpayer funds. Examples include the development of the former Market Square Arena site, the Mass Ave fire station land swap, and the Broad Ripple parking garage and retail space at College Avenue and Westfield Boulevard….

Trust is not an entitlement; it is earned. Transparency and respect for the law are the surest ways for the Ballard administration to earn it.

 Lack of transparency is an invitation to suspicion and cynicism. This Administration has  repeatedly issued that invitation.


  1. Has the most important question been asked yet? Is there already a behind-the-scenes deal to turn over these 1500 new cots to a for-profit prison operator? Where for-profit prisons go, injustice and corruption follow. From letting prison gangs run the facility to paying kickbacks to judges to send children to prison for years, from starving inmates to feeding them expired food unfit for human consumption, every penny is squeezed from a population that is grown, not to deter crime, but to make sure that the contract guarantees are met.

    (comment posted on Facebook as well)

  2. Where’s Greg Zoeller when you actually need him? Should the state of Indiana block the bidding until the process complies with the requirements of state law? Are criminal charges possible for the individuals who started the process to circumvent the lawful process?

  3. The one aspect of this shady deal that has not been kept secret is why they’re building more jail beds than what is actually needed. Sheriff Layton has repeatedly stated publicly in support of the project that he intends to lease jail bed space to the feds as a way of offsetting his costs. CCA, which operates Jail II, currently leases bed spaces not used by Marion Co. to the feds to house detainees taken into custody by ICE. That was their original intent; however, since the project was announced, the Department of Correction has announced it will not take custody of some lower-level offenders it currently houses, which is obviously intended to shift costs from the state down to the county level. As a consequence, Marion Co. may not have extra bed space to lease to the feds in this new facility.

  4. Can the posting of this blog today, the same day Matthew Tully’s Goldsmith interview appears in the Star, possibly be a coincidence? Goldsmith, whose administration was a Nixon microcosm, was a boilerplate for lack of transparency – and truth. Goldsmith refers to using input from residents to provide needed services and prevent problems before they occur. Sounds good coming from a former mayor of this city whose transparency included publishing financial information regarding his “savings” of tax dollars by cutting down on government employees but omitting the financial amounts used to privatize/outsource work. He saved money to run the Mayor’s Office by placing Mayor’s Office employees in other departments and paid for by those departments. These facts were published in the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News.

    The city is putting forth an apparently concerted effort to go into neighborhoods to prevent crimes before they happen when they have serious problems charging and/or convicting those currently awaiting trial…and keeping them in jail without “accidental” release from custody. Trials that take many months and sometimes years to get to court. Is this holding pattern a deliberte action to await approval and construction of this new prison? Think of the millions of tax dollars that could be saved if victims had the same right to a speedy trial as defendants; this is not the case at this time. Where in our current city government is this new prison provision being studied and by whom – or is it – and which governmental department is paying for any of this planning? Tully’s column very kindly refers to Goldsmith’s fiasco as Deputy Mayor of New York City by stating, “…he attracted a series of unflattering headlines during a rocky stint as the deputy mayor for operations in 2010 and 2011.” We all know that there are Goldsmith cronies still serving in positions on Indianapolis city and Indiana state levels. Where do they fit into this costly, and possibly unnecessary, prison construction, maintainance, staffing, providing all needs to house, feed, clothe, medicate and pretend to rehabilitate prisoners? What private sources for this proposed prison system are being paid for their input and how much are they being paid? Having worked for the city for many years, I am aware there are some instances where transparency before the fact needs to be controlled prior to being made public. This is not one of those instances.

  5. Some help here please; memory fails me. I forget the name or location of the Indiana prison that was in the news nationally a few years ago due to rioting and destruction by prisoners, many of whom were from other states and Indiana was being paid to house them. Also, the deal was that no violent prisoners would be shipped here but it was learned that many were violent offenders (murderers and rapists) with lengthy records. The gripe of many of them from as far away as Arizona, was that families could not visit due to the vast distance involved. Did we not at that time, or now, have enough criminals in Indiana? Or was it the out-of-state money Indiana received to house and control these prisoners at the heart of the matter? I watched the news unfold as it happened and also watched films of the large areas of the prison sitting empty because there was no money to staff them. What is the status on that prison; is it now fully staffed or could tax dollars be used to fully use this facility rather than build the new proposed facility. Are the violent out-of-state offenders still housed there? The murder rate in Indianapolis alone would provide our own home-grown criminals. I believe this is one of the prison systems that is privately maintained and paid for with tax dollars. I’m asking for transparency regarding the current status of this facility.

  6. Jo Ann, If Steve Goldsmith is talking about something, you can take it to the bank that it’s something he’s making money talking about. It’s frankly insulting to the Star’s readers for Tully to write press releases for this man without providing full disclosure to his readers about who is paying him besides the normal BS about him teaching some course up at Harvard promoting the same BS on which he’s getting paid to consult. Steve made quite a bundle for his role in advising Ballard to privatize our parking meter assets as I understand. Someone got paid to develop the software program IMPD is relying upon to target neighborhoods. Follow the money.

  7. I’d rather see the building used to house the mentally ill people we have in prison now especially since the crime rates continue to drop. When the mentally ill are treated fairly and humanely, they can be productive people in our society. That is where the REAL need is.

  8. I am way out of the loop on this topic, being all the way up in South Bend, but has anyone filed suit under the FOIA statute to force the disclosure of the information? Maybe sought an injunction prohibiting the awarding of the contract until the details are released?

    On the one hand, I can understand the desire to not open up details of a RFP in order to avoid the project plan becoming a Christmas tree with everyone hanging his or her own special feature to it. Regardless, though, it’s bad governing to do it the way Ballard has.

    “Trust us,” they say. Even Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”

  9. Gary; I don’t always agree with Mr. Tully’s views but this is the first time I have been disappointed in his lack of awareness or insight into Goldsmith – past, present, or future. After the ugly news about his spousal abuse arrest, outing his lies to NYC regarding his required primary residence and his resignation; David Barras on Channel 8 made the comment, “Maybe this will end his political career.” Surprisingly open opinion for a newscaster on the air; I applauded him sitting in my living room. Maybe the name “Harvard” has over-imressed Mr. Tully and blinded him to the reality of the con man who still has his fingers in too many local pies. It makes me question the qualifications required to teach at Harvard; especially regarding moral turpitude. I’m sure we could find his fingerprints on this proposed prison deal. Hopefully, this city will have memories of his administration – if they are aware of the underside of his activities. It is still “follow the money” in this city and state administration and if, as Goldsmith is quoted in Tully’s column, “There simply is not enough money to do what government needs to do.”, we need look no further for answers than to Lucas Oil Stadium and the growing number of pro sports teams and arenas abounding here.

  10. First, rehabilitative vs confinement. The first line of defense against crime is parenting. Some of those who are tooting the horn for rehabilitation vs confinement might be best served by investing in culture that improves the parenting process because jails are a mighty expensive and ineffective solution.

    The bidding process. Has anyone even offered an explanation as to why secret is better?

  11. Sheila is correct that the IBJ submitted a FOIA request back in July. The administration stonewalled her request so she complained to the state’s public access counselor about the preliminary response she was getting from the corporation counsel’s office about it not being a final RFP (just a draft) and because it supposedly contained trade secrets, it could not be released to the public. The state’s public access counselor offered his opinion on what had been conveyed to the IBJ; however, it’s not a formal opinion yet because, as he noted, the City had not yet sent a letter outright denying release of the RFP. They’re just going to wait until they’ve completed the process and awarded a bid and then say, oh, yeah, we finally have a final RFP, here you go. If Terry Curry was doing his job, he could have charged multiple persons in this administration with at least official misconduct charges, but he refuses to do his job. Why?

  12. Thank you Gary for giving me the perfect opening to ask the same question of Terry Curry and his staff about not doing their jobs in criminal areas. This has nothing to do with Sheila’s issue but…many of you saw the newscasts of my condition on Fox News 59, Channel 8 and Channel 6 for two weeks after I was mugged in my driveway at 11:00 in the morning on April 21st. The two who were arrested are not being charged with Battery on Carrie Lee (age 90) or myself because the Robbery charge contains the phrase “by threat of or using pain” to commit the four robberies of elderly women in a two week period. They are being charged with 4 counts of Robbery and 1 count of Fraud for using their last victim’s credit card; they used my two credit cards a total of 8 times on the day of the mugging, no idea what was used that had been stolen from the other elderly victims. The deputy prosecutor mailed a letter to the wrong address and stated in the letter, “…the above address is incorrect, please provide the correct information…” Fortunately the mail carrier recognized my name and delivered the letter. In a later E-mail she stated they wouldn’t be filing more charges because, “…the more charges we file the more charges we have to prove…” Isn’t this their job? Five days before the second trial continuance date I had not been contacted to be deposed so I sent an E-mail on September 30th asking if the October 6th date had been continued again. I am still waiting for a response. My neighbor who provided medical care for me till EMS arrived that morning is also one of the witnesses; she called the prosecutor’s office on September 29th to ask about the date because she had not been contacted either. It was continued to sometime in February 2015. I sent E-mails seeking information from the deputy prosecutor’s supervisor and Terry Curry; also newscasters at Fox News 59 and Channel 8 and two Star reporters who have started a series of aticles regarding a few thousand gun charges against dangerous felons being dropped by the prosecutor’s office (part of a series of articles); I have received no response. Have also tried to learn if the two arrested for these robberies are still in jail but cannot find their names on the Sheriff’s Department inmate listing. Exactly what is the prosecutor’s office doing; how long before Richmond Hills victims and many others will begin to see action on their cases? I’m sure that one Democrat (Terry Curry) in a sea of Republicans is a difficult position but…he and his staff are being paid to do jobs that are not getting done.

  13. Meanwhile, the state of Oklahoma unveiled it’s revamped death chamber. With … no less … than, the “Kraftmatic, Automatic Adjustable Death Bed” Raises, Lowers, tilts to get the correct angle. After spending $ 100,000 plus. They will be back in action in early to mid November, bumping off the states bad guy’s.

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