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.
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.