Shenanigans and the Proposed Justice Center

The Ballard Administration’s proposal to build a new Justice Center complex across the river from downtown just hasn’t smelled right for a whole host of reasons.

No one seriously doubts the need for such a facility, but critics have raised a host of legitimate concerns about this particular proposal. The excessive secrecy with which bids were solicited and evaluated raised red flags. The decision to use private financing via a lease/purchase when a public bond issue would be significantly cheaper makes no sense. The Council’s fiscal analyst has challenged the accuracy of claims that cost savings would cover lease payments without a need to raise taxes.

It isn’t just fiscal concerns, important as those are. Prior administrations have spent millions of dollars and much political capital building a robust downtown; what will happen to that downtown market if lawyers and other justice system enterprises (from bondsmen to court reporters) no longer work, shop and eat in the center city?

Architects and city planners have panned the design, and criminal justice reform groups have warned that going ahead as currently planned will foreclose needed changes to a dysfunctional system.

The Administration has ignored the critics, shrugged off the concerns and intensified pressure on the Council for a quick approval. That insistence on the need for haste has been unseemly, considering the huge amounts of money involved and the important issues raised, and Councilors on both sides of the aisle have expressed a desire to engage in a far more thorough and public review.

Unseemly, however, wasn’t the word that came to mind when I read the following in the Indiana Lawyer. 

Indianapolis City-County Council Chief Financial Officer Bart Brown said councilors have told him they’ve been offered up to $50 million in projects spread among five districts if they vote to approve the proposed $1.6 billion criminal justice complex.

The Administration has dismissed these allegations as “rumor,” and I certainly have no independent evidence one way or the other. It seems highly  unlikely, however, that five City-County Council members would invent such a story out of whole cloth.

As I wrote last month,

a deal this complex and expensive, intended to span this long a time-frame, needs to be done right. That means it needs to be thoroughly vetted by all stakeholders. I get suspicious when we’re given a short window within which to commit vast amounts of public money, and when the purported need for speed is based upon dark warnings that we need to move quickly in order to “lock in” benefits we aren’t even sure are there. 

I get a lot more suspicious when those lobbying for speed are offering a quid pro quo.

I suspect that someone stands to make a lot of money, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t us taxpayers.


  1. One lesson we never seem to learn in Indiana is to follow the money. We also have ample evidence that insider knowledge and quid pro quo are standard operating procedure when it comes to public projects.

    Of major concern for this kind of lease/purchase agreement should not only be the enormous costs, but the length of the lease. Will the private companies involved even be in business for the length of the lease? If they default, what are the outcomes for the city? The toll road was sold to the citizens under false pretenses.

    A disengaged populace is clearly a recipe for disastrous outcomes. Will we ever learn to question the constant lies and FOLLOW THE MONEY!?!

  2. While I don’t disagree with you on the haste this decision is trying to be made in and the numbers, Sheila, I do want to add that there are plans to backfill the building with City Offices that are paying market rent elsewhere. Not that that completely plugs the hole, but it is worth mentioning. Additionally, while there’s concern that we will lose some business and dollars spent in the immediate downtown for a given period of time, we’re also putting in Cummins, 310,000 sq. feet of office space and hundreds of apartments/condos. I’m no numbers person but I would like to think that the money spent by residents in their immediate community could start to offset dollars missed from Monday-Friday lawyers/bondsman. Lastly, the relocation of the justice center undoubtedly taking the bails bonds business with them, could not happen faster. I understand it is a legitimate business and is more than needed but, the wall of bondsman we have separate the downtown from the Market East District that we’ve been trying to build for decades. The Indianapolis City Market, The Hall, Mass Ave, and countless developments that, while only two blocks away from Monument Circle, see the backs of people that turn around at Penn or Delaware because of the lack of street level retail, engagement, and relevance to the average persons every day life.
    For those reasons, I agree. We must look deeper into the justice center funding in a true effort to make it happen because it is undoubtedly needed in that community. I would hate see it dead in the water because it wasn’t done correctly, or worse, done in the shadows and fail.

  3. As I have never been to Indianapolis, I’m not qualified for an opinion on these specifics. At a more general level though there is always to me an issue of opacity vs oversight on large public projects.

    The reason is the nature of oversight which ranges from helpful expert informed objective contribution to self serving uninformed rumor driven meddling.

    Believe it or not I can use climate change as a metaphor. The scientific community is inherently transparent because if their allegiance to peer review. The fossil full world stirs into that, in the guise of oversight, self serving opacity by sowing doubt and confusion where none need exist.

  4. (Continued)

    Transparancy tends to be pondering. Slow, careful, constantly raising issues that demand resolution. Opacity, like benevolent dictatorship is rapid and decisive even when wrong.

    Back to jail. It’s easy to me for me to be very suspicious even though my only insight is what I read here. Well, that added to my natural suspicion that conservative politicians are inherently egoist. Their entitlement to power comes from their demonstrated ability to redistribute wealth from the rubes. And creating rubes from people through the magic of mass media culture creation.

    Of course I am without advice on how to demand constructive oversight of public projects in a constituency of rubes already created like zombies from the bite of self serving conservative politicians on the prowl sucking money instead of blood.

    The only advice that I offer is to return to democracy by getting those not voting informed enough to be motivated to avoid becoming zombies.

    Not very useful advice I fear.

  5. Yes Prof. This does NOT pass the smell test. I hope they know that a veteran prosecuter may well be taking over soon and they run the risk of being in jail. Stop this in its tracks until Ballard is gone.

  6. This project along with the ROC reminds me of the Infomercials we see everyday -Don’t wait call in the next 5 minutes and we will throw in blah, blah for half price. I would say it is hard to believe such a complex and expensive project should be so shrouded in secrecy. However, this is Indianapolis where Secrecy and Deals with the favored few are now Standard Operation Procedure.

    If we had Real Journalists in Indianapolis that truly were a Fourth Estate, you expect them to be all over this story. They would either be trying to refute the story or validate the story. Instead we have virtual silence. This $ 50M offer is at least IMHO naked brazen bribery.

  7. Sheila: Have you asked Joe Hogsett what he thinks of this plan since the fruition or demise of it , as the case may be, will likely come under his administration. It amazes me that you seem always critical of Republican administrations yet you worked for the Goldsmith Republican administration. You might also want to ask former Mayor Goldsmith what he thinks about the plan.

  8. Jim Anderson; you should begin seeking a hiding place immediately. Sheila Kennedy worked for the Mayor Bill Hudnut administration – as did I. We proudly worked with and for Mayor Hudnut who did much for the city of Indianapolis, all residents and cleaned City government of nepotism, cronyism, racism, sexism, political patronage and forced donations to the Republican party every payday – in cash by the end of the day. I had the misfortune of working in the Goldsmith administrationf for 2 years, 3 months and 11 days – it still makes my blood boil to remember the damage he did to this city and city government with his under-the-table shenanigans, privatization/outsourcing, sell-off and give-aways of city property and our tax dollars. He would have already accomplished the new Justice Center because the public would know nothing about even the possibility of erecting it. It would have been a done-deal and we would have been handed the tax bill to pay his friends and associates for it’s creation.

  9. Neither the criminal justice center project not the ROC project passes the smell test. If it’s such a great deal, then why refuse to put the details out there? Why try to rush it through without due diligence? Why ignore the bright and experienced people who offer their expertise and instead make so many deals behind closed doors? And the report that five city councilors were offered deals? Slimey. I wish I were surprised. Hopefully Hoosiers are becoming less tolerant of having bad deals being forced down our throats. And I wouldn’t ask Goldsmith for advice on anything….his record isn’t much to brag about. Almost forgot – anyone for cricket?

  10. I was a consultant for many years. I NEVER got paid to bid on a project. The rule for us was you take the risk by competing for the opportunity, no guarantees. I wish I could get paid to bid; I could string together enough failing proposals that I wouldn’t need to win or work. If I were connected maybe I wouldn’t even need a real job.

  11. The Criminal Justice center under a new administration is only one of our worries; paying for bids is a major problem ethically along with the lack of transparency that has been uncovered. How much more is still unknown regarding the Criminal Justice Center and how did Ballard so swiftly get aproval for additional pro sports teams and arenas? Another area that bears watching is the resignation of Oesterle as CEO of Angie’s List. Supposedly his resignation is connected to recalling the plea for tax dollars to expand on the east side due to Pence’s RFRA fiasco. He may not know if he will run as a candidate or support someone else but this shenanigan is aimed directly at renewing their bid for tax dollars – hopefully with a new Republican Mayor. I feel quite sure Joe Hogsett is wise enough to recognize the importance of addressing all issues such as the Criminal Justice Center which we are aware of and some we know nothing about.

  12. Apparently there’s more bureaucracy and oversight to obtain a marriage license than for officials to spend $1.6 billion of taxpayer funds. Yet another reason not to pay taxes.

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