Arguing Responsibly

In Sunday’s Indianapolis Star, John Guy took critics of the proposed justice center (of whom I am one) to task. His arguments boiled down to three: a new Justice Center is badly needed; it has been studied for a long time; and critics have not offered alternatives to the proposal.

None of the critics, to the best of my knowledge, have debated the need for a new facility. And it is true that moving the jail and criminal courts has been studied (or at least discussed) since the early 1990’s, although those studies have been limited in one way or another. So that leaves us with the charge–implicit, but unmistakable–that criticisms that do not offer detailed alternative proposals should be ignored.

Let me say up front that I am very sympathetic to Guy’s impatience with nay-sayers, with knee-jerk opposition to proposals advanced by government voiced by people who have no constructive suggestions to offer. That said, however, it is equally unreasonable to dismiss very specific concerns raised by a wide variety of citizens without specifically addressing or rebutting those concerns.

My own criticisms have included the lack of transparency in the planning process, and the current back-and-forth illuminates why such transparency is important: had the City-County Council and the public been included earlier in the process, rather than being presented with a “take it or leave it” package, concerns could have been aired then and–if good answers were available–rebutted. This is particularly true of the financing mechanism, which the administration acknowledges has rarely been used in this sort of project, but it also applies to issues raised by architects, city planners and real estate brokers. If the city has hard data to support its contentions that the project as envisioned will not adversely affect a downtown market that five administrations have spent 30 plus years developing, that data should be shared.

Criminal justice experts have pointed out that systemic reforms currently being discussed in Congress (for which, amazingly enough, there is bipartisan support) would likely require changes in the size and function of parts of the planned facility. An open process would allow the city and/or the successful bidder to explain whether such policy changes could be accommodated, and if so, how.

I understand impatience (indeed, I tend to share it), but when you are spending huge sums and making decisions that will have an enormous impact on the city–decisions that we will have to live with for decades to come–getting it right is more important than getting it done quickly.


  1. This blog brings to mind the very old and very true adage, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” This is true not only regarding the local Criminal Justice Center but the basic problem at the federal level on most major issues facing this country today. No one seems to offer constructive suggestions or viable solutions to begin taking steps to resolve the dilemma of the Criminal Justice Center here or finding solutions to problems at the national level – such as ending the repeated attempts to repeal or defund the ACA. Both situations are “follow the money” at their core.

    As a victim, stuck in the current criminal justice system, I must ask – will the new Criminal Justice Center (whatever the solution) bring with it improvements to the criminal justice system? Or; will we simply move the old, non-working system into new facilities? Both situations are “follow the money” in nature. We, as tax payers, have a right to the promised “transparency” – under the freedom of information act – regarding decision making on this needed but very expensive resolution to a vital local issue.

  2. There is a great deal of academic work going on today driven by the field of climate change in the field of post capitalist economic systems. It’s abundantly clear the capitalism has evolved from benefitting human existence to preying in it and will expire based on the clear fact of not being sustainable by human existence. It’s not unlike cancer. It outgrows the tissues that it needs for survival and can’t survive on its own.

    Much of the academic work IMO is based oddly enough on accounting reform. Accounting being the means by which economic systems inform their hosts of the details of their operation.

    What’s clear is that obsolete accounting systems are based on obviously gross simplifications of informing only in monetary currency, only for affairs internal to the specific organism they are instituted to serve, and only for selected parts of the take, make, waste cycle of the resources which we are limited to by our insignificance in the universe.

    Unaffordable going forward.

    I can’t claim familiarity with your Justice Center but it seems perhaps one of the final products of a dying by inadequacy economic system.

    The accounting system is failing to inform you, the Justice Center’s owners, of all of the ways that it will both serve and cost you.

    To me an intolerable failure.

    Don’t allow it.

  3. I certainly hope that we ARE the owners of any new justice center (per Pete). I fear that it is a private profit generating scheme. Here are a few suggestions for version 2
    1. Fund it with Municipal Bonds – Rates are low. We understand how they work
    2. The City of Indianapolis is the total — one and only — owner of the facility
    3. The Employees are Employees of the City of Indianapolis
    That seems like an excellent start to a justice center for the people of INDIANAPOLIS.
    Not a scheme to enrich a few Republican cronies.

  4. Not being an Indianapolis resident, I have no skin in this game. However, everything that I have read about it seems to point to some type of behind-the-door dealings that will enrich a few people. The current administration did not offer any plausible excuse or reason for keeping the negotiations and details of their process or plans a secret. A last minute take it or leave it ultimatum is always a bad thing – high pressure sales tactics are never good for the uninformed buyer.

  5. This was exactly how the bond issue for Faith Baptist expansion in Lafayette and West Lafayette was presented to the public–along with the lawyer’s opening salvo which boiled down to ‘you must be an atheistic socialist and a bad person if you are against the State pimping for Faith Baptist.’ Of course, the lawyers got a percentage of the bond issue, but I’m sure that had NOTHING to do with it. Just like the comment period for TPP–but if congress fast tracts it, there can be no amendments. So you can comment all you like–won’t do any damn good.

  6. The administration did a poor job of making a compelling argument for the Justice Center. Closed bidding, limited bidding, selected contractors all made it uncertain to the portion of the public that wasn’t willing to accept on faith that the administration had done its best. John Guy’s letter did little to deal with the uncertainty. It only made me wonder what he has to gain from the project.

  7. Well-stated. This is the exact same lazy argument that “Ed-Reformers” always make when questioned at all about the cost of their proposed ideas. I think reasonable people may fairly reject the notion that the only two options to ever be possible are: “The thing I just said and refuse to answer any questions about” or “Nothing”.

  8. The “failure of an alternative plan” is a logical fallacy.

    When smart grandson sees grandma about two take two medications he knows from Science class have a horrible cross-reaction, he doesn’t need to be a staff physician at the Mayo Clinic for her to heed his warning.

    In no way is grandson obligated to provide a proper full course of treatment to keep grandma from poisoning herself.

    The Star is truly reprehensible for passing off a logical fallacy as reporting.

  9. The problem with John Guy’s column is the Ballard Gang came up with one plan, that was developed behind closed doors. A project of this magnitude should have have had numerous options presented to the public. You never do have a good idea of what the criminal justice building is supposed to be in it’s totality, who is it supposed to serve, specifications can then be set to full fill the requirements.

    The Ballard Gang just brought a take it now and trust us approach. A similar approach was taken on the ROC, which has not worked out to well.

  10. Don’t you have a an architect for the whole city, not just the non-profit workplace center for government workers to inventory daily? You have slums, tenements, sources of those high-turnover school personnel and unnurtured, criminally neglected tenants of drug dealers and absentee cohorts. Everybody has to go to school – despite the clearly futile records of the city’s recurrent generations of partisan public graduates’ as shoppers, not successful services providers . Landowners and managers for them need to build to last where they mean inhabitants to stay for a whole civilized and educated-educating population.

  11. Pete, I Iike your ideas about capitalism. You put into words what I have sensed for some time. Thanks.

  12. Sheila: this is yet another example of the failure of The Indianapolis Star to do its job and the extreme necessity of journalists like yourself to uncover the truth and inform people. In addition to failing to report on this story and the underhanded, secret dealings underlying this project, now The Star is pushing for it. Why? Are they afraid a competitor newspaper will curry favor with the Ballard Administration? I miss the days when we had The Indianapolis Times.

  13. The old Market Square Arena property sat vacant for many years and was the ideal site for the new justice center since it was right across the street from the City County Bldg.
    where other court rooms are housed. The city already owned that property.
    Attorney and bail bond offices are within walking distance of it. Why in the world wasn’t that property considered for the Juvenile Justice Center? Are proposed high-rise residences built by developers that much more important than public services to maintain law and order?

  14. Government and business serve we the people in different ways. One of the ways that government serves us is to regulate business when it becomes self serving rather than “us” serving.

    We of course regulate government through democracy.

    Business is self regulating only through competition which imposes limits on make more money regardless of the cost to others. When competition is present businesses running amok get replace by those who aren’t.

    One of the justice or fairness or freedom challenges that we screwed up was the concept of resource rights. Both the right to take them and to waste them.

    In contrast are most Middle East countries who based their economic justice on ownership of resources being by all not bought and sold by some. So countries like Dubai which I have experienced spread the wealth from resources to all of the owners at least according to the definition that the owners are the citizens of Dubai.

    We’re now challenged by that limitation as no country is in any way an island anymore. What we take and waste has consequences to all of humanity regardless of the accident of location in the world.

    Our numbers and technology have changed faster than our evolutionary progress in living collaboratively.

    Trouble right here in River City.

    Will this crises spur evolutionary progress sufficient to enable continued human dominance of the planet or will we compete ourselves into a minor role or extinction?

    Fair question IMO. It certainly can be argued either way. The only thing certain is that what has worked in the past no longer does.

    Some people have Faith that their God will save us. That’d be nice but the evidence so far is that He gave us all that we need to move on and now it’s up to us.

    How scary is that!

  15. Because, Nancy, the developers want to keep building housing (of all things!) in Indianapolis’ downtown, and the developers make the contributions, hire the law firms and give payoff jobs to administration alumni, so the developers get what they paid for.

    The developers don’t want messy government business and customers intruding on the Evanston-cum-downtown they’re building in Indy.

    The developers also want a very expensive ground-up public building project, and the only thing they can make a case for in Indianapolis is some idiotic “justice” center.

  16. Developers are doing what developers do best. Make more money regardless of the cost to others.

    Prison operations firms are doing what they do best. Make more money regardless of the cost to others.

    Corporations are not capable of operating outside their purpose. Making more money regardless of the cost to others.

    Time to move on. To progress. To pursue what’s best in the big picture for the most not what’s financially beneficial to the fewest.

    Help decide on how to pull off that necessary transition.


  17. Its another 9 digit project. Ballad has the largest amoutn of 7-9 digit projects of the last several mayors. 7-9 digit projects all take bond financing. Bond financing requires 30 year management contracts. Interesting to see which law firm got those contracts.
    Same reason why the Hoosier Dome bonds were refinanced instead of being paid off.

  18. Oops – not the the JUVENILE Justice Center – just the Justice Center. Juvenile was a Freudian slip.

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