An Impressive Start

Indianapolis’ new Mayor, Joe Hogsett, has hit the ground running, as the old saying goes. He has recruited an impressive team of people who understand how a city works, many of whom bring deep backgrounds to their duties (Kathy Davis and Troy Riggs come immediately to mind, and they aren’t the only ones).

He has also reached out in a bipartisan fashion, both to Republican Councilors and to the departing Ballard Administration (of which Riggs was a part). But I was very pleased to see that courtesy to his predecessor has not trumped willingness to revisit some of that predecessor’s more unfortunate decisions. One of those–a contract with Covanta that locks the city in until 2028–is evidently getting a second look.

According to the IBJ,

Hogsett said the city will take the next 90 days to “reassess” plans for the facility, called an Advanced Recycling Center, which was planned for Covanta’s existing Indianapolis campus near its Harding Street trash incinerator. Hogsett said Covanta has offered assistance to the city in that process.

I’ve written before about the very real problems with the Ballard Administration’s “recycling” agreement with Covanta. I put recycling in quotes, because there is good reason to doubt that Covanta’s untested process would actually produce the promised results. The contract calls for use of a process known as “Dirty Recycling” that would allow residents to throw all their trash into one receptacle; actual separation is to occur at the Covanta facility.

This is a process that is simply not suitable for use in many industries that purchase recycled materials.

There are several other aspects of the contract that raise eyebrows, from the manner in which it was negotiated (without the legally-mandated bidding process), to its duration, to provisions that actually punish the city if recycling rates improve. (Covanta has used our trash to generate steam under an arrangement negotiated during the Hudnut Administration; recycling is most definitely not their real goal.)

The re-examination is welcome–and another indication of the competence of the new administration.


  1. I was relieved to see the front page article in the Star today; “City halts recycling deal with Covanta”. I have been watching for references to that Ballard leftover after reading an in-depth article in NUVO (November 4-11, 2015 issue) authored by Ed Wenck and Amber Stearns with additional reporting from Renee Sweaney. I have my copy with my many underlinings and backets and “starred” sections. It contains vital information for all of us who have trash.

    I do support recycling and understand the effect of not doing so on the environment but due to my age, disability and living alone I have little to recycle. The huge recycling bins are more than I can handle rolling down and back up my inclined driveway. To qualify for the “smaller” required new trash cart from DPW I had to schedule an appointment and someone came from their department to interview me and to see that I am actually disabled and qualify for their trash can. After qualifying and receiving the 45 gallon size; it is still difficult to maneuver, I see that other trash cans are still emptied and separate bags are still picked up by DPW so why the requirement for the city cart? You only receive one free, those who have large families must pay for additional carts.

    “(Covanta has used our trash to generate steam under an arrangement negotiated during the Hudnut Administration; recycling is most definitely not their real goal.)”

    In reference to the above copied and pasted comment from Sheila’s blog I will add this from the NUVO article, “For years the city was supposed to provide Covanta 300,000 tons of garbage annually, the actual average has run around 262,000 tons from Indy households. Missing that mark has meant millions in fines paid by the city to the firm Indy’s hired to torch its trash – since 2008.”

    If contracting with this firm has gone on since the Hudnut era, how many millions of our tax dollars have already been wasted on the garbage issue? Let’s hope they do more than “reassess” this plan; only one of the many major costly issues left to Mayor Joe Hogsett.

  2. As a City County Councillor, I have been treated with more courtesy and respect by Mayor Hogsett and members of his administration in two months than I received in eight years under Mayor Ballard. Before Mayor Hogsett assumed office, Republican and Democrat Councillors enjoyed a congenial evening of dinner and friendly conversation. Not once in eight years, did Mayor Ballard invite his own Republican caucus to so much as a weenie roast. I pleaded for personal meetings with the Mayor and never received one. I have already met with the highest level officials of Mayor Hogsett’s team, at their invitation-they desired my input on upcoming proposals. This is so different from discovering an important decision had been made months prior to Republican caucus member’s being apprised of it. At each and every turn, when I have had a question or a request from the new Administration, I have received a response within minutes, even while they were at their very busiest-the day before the Inauguration.
    As a Republican, I find it sad to say that leaders of my party could take lessons from the Democrats, rather than the other way around. Instead of taking action that could build bridges, GOP leadership appears intent on burning them, and then wonder why once loyal members are no longer motivated to support them.
    “Leadership is listening”(Mayor Hogsett).

  3. Even though I don’t live in Indy I am glad to hear that your new mayor is listening to people and actually cares about doing what he was elected to do.

    Christine Scales – I am so glad to see that you are still on the Council. I sent you an encouraging email 2 or 3 years ago when I read in the IBJ about how you were being so mistreated for trying to do what is right for the citizens. You responded that emails like mine were what kept you going during really difficult times within your own party. Keep doing the great work that you have been doing Christine!

  4. Christine Scales; your contacts and interaction with Mayor Joe Hogsett and his new administration is reminiscent of Mayor Bill Hudnut’s 16 years of administration. Thank you for sharing this with us; it is important to know that the trust of those who voted for him has not been misplaced.

  5. It is encouraging to hear such positive words from an insider. However, I have noticed that some operatives are already attacking the new administration because it hasn’t eliminated crime from Indianapolis in its first month. And one the R spokesmen has stated that the Hogsett Administration now owns all the problems left by the previous administration. What a wonderful fantasy world they inhabit and cooperation be damned.

  6. As one who keeps a close eye on the technology that is at once our only hope for the future and the bane of our existance I know that big changes are a’comin’.

    Single stream recycling and energy from waste are givens.

    Others will have to figure out the best business deals that are available for your city but one thing along those lines that I worry about is that decision process being hijacked by conservative dogma that government is alway a problem and never a solution.

    That is merely oligarchy buying minds.

    The truth is that both socialistic and capitalistic solutions have pluses and minuses that vary depending on local and temporal conditions but decisions tend to be for the very long term. Short sightedness can be very expensive in the long term but local politics tend to be short term oriented.

    We are very lucky to live in sort of a democracy which allows us to hold the political process accountable over the long term but only as long as we maintain and enhance that democracy.

    Question GOP’s bearing gifts.

  7. Pete: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case against EPA regulation of coal-fired power plants – why? Someone w significant influence/sway/money must have decided that the justices must set a precedent on this one. This look like a desperate attempt to keep clean energy technology from advancing and replacing our old dirty, expensive technology.

  8. Here’s the problem. Considering the entire economy we can no longer afford fossil fuels. It’s not even close.

    But, considering local economies, state, corporate, and personal this reality is devastating.

    They could lessen the impact by good planning and responsible action but they’d rather have the problem not exist.

    But, like most problems, reality doesn’t give a s**t what we want.

  9. From The Guardian:

    “I have no clue how many climate science denial myths a Republican presidential candidate can fit onto the head of a pin, but given these zingers are generally huge it’s probably not that many.”

    “But we do now have some clue how many myths one of those candidates, Senator Ted Cruz, can fit into an eight-minute diatribe. At least six.”

    “When asked about climate change at recent hustings, Cruz has been delivering a stock set of answers from the Little Book of Climate Change Denial (not a real book).”

    “At one such event in New Hampshire, the representative from Texas delivered a diarrhea-like splurge (sorry) of talking points, myths and cherry-picked factoids.”

    “The world isn’t warming – check. This is all about government control – check. Scientists used to think an ice age was coming – check. Every pinhead contains an etching of Al Gore in a loving embrace with a dirty private jet – no check.”

    “This is not to single out Cruz who, we understand, is currently second in national polls.”

    “The Donald, currently leading in the polls for the Republican nomination, also denies the science of human-caused climate change. So does third placed Marco Rubio. It’s a hat trick.”

  10. Another Ballard item to add to the list for re-evaluation: the Red Line. This multi-million dollar fiasco cannot be justified and will ultimately fail, but not before it causes irreparable harm. Even IndyGo admits that most citizens in Indianapolis really don’t depend on and aren’t interested in bus transportation. Among the reasons it will fail are:

    An express bus with no stops from Hamilton County to Downtown Indy failed due to lack of interest. There will be even less interest for a bus with stops, so Hamilton County will never approve a tax hike to pay for extension up there. Greenwood residents simply aren’t interested. However, IndyGo apparently thinks that if they push through the first leg, they’ll obtain the momentum to push through other segments, arguing that $100 million has already been spent, so let’s spend more and give it a try. This is very unlikely, so Red Line should be stopped now before the first $100 million is spent.

    The College Avenue bus is mostly empty except for rush hour. Running a bus every 10 minutes won’t change this. There simply aren’t enough people wanting or needing bus transportation every 10 minutes throughout the day and every 15 minutes during the night to justify the cost of operation, which is taxpayer-subsidized. Frequency of running the bus is not the reason why IndyGo buses aren’t busy except at rush hour.

    Contrary to IndyGo’s claims, there are no major shopping, employment, college or health care destinations along College Avenue, which is supposed to be the purpose of Red Line, but there are plenty along Keystone, which was one of the original north-south routes. However, Keystone doesn’t have the “redevelopment” potential that College Avenue does, so the plans were changed. A developer has actually cited Red Line in support of a zoning variance petition to build an excessively tall apartment building at College & Kessler where there is not enough land for a huge building and also for sufficient tenant parking. Developers have their eyes on all of College Avenue, especially at signaled intersections, planning on tearing down existing buildings and replacing them with apartments. Putting in dense apartment buildings in a mostly homeowner-occupied neighborhood with quality older homes will decrease property values because it will destroy the entire character of this historic neighborhood. Lower home values means lower property tax revenues.

    Red Line calls for putting a median down College Avenue which would eliminate one entire lane of traffic, putting “stations” in the middle of the street, and forbidding cross traffic and left turns except at signaled intersections. This will cause diversion of traffic onto side streets, especially Central Avenue, which would also have only 2 lanes of traffic like College, but not the 256 daily buses of Red Line nor the turning and cross traffic restrictions. Central Avenue has 4 schools between Kessler and 42nd Street. This substantial increase in traffic would create an unreasonable risk for school walkers.

    Eliminating parking at 52nd and 54th & College will kill businesses at those intersections that depend on street parking for their customers. IndyGo actually has an illustration showing the shops on the west side of 54th & College gone, replaced by an apartment building with retail shops below. IndyGo also envisions large projects at 86th and 96th and College. The small businesses and restaurants of this area are part of its charm and value.

    This entire Red Line scheme was not vetted to the public before IndyGo applied for a federal grant. Opposition to Red Line is growing as people are just now finding out about the costs and damage it will cause, plus the lack of justification for an expensive electric bus system for which there is no demand. Because of the tax increase it will cause, this is an issue for all of Marion County. Mayor Hogsett should pull the plug on this project and call for a referendum and citizen input before it proceeds any further.

  11. I no longer live in Indy, but I would like to suggest that Mayor Hogsett focus on the homeless problem in Indy. When I visit, it seems that every street corner downtown is occupied by a homeless person looking for a handout. The only answer is a housing first program. Research at VA determined that that is the ONLY way out of homelessness. Salt Lake has had a housing first program for a few years. It is very successful. If they can do it, so can Indy.

  12. I don’t know why “NATACHA” wants to halt growth and development progress in central Indiana. Transportation is one of the key components necessary for our future economic health. Our present system can no longer provide for needs of a growing city. Fifteen years ago the transportation planners reported that simply building more lanes would not satisfy our transportation needs and that the costs of increased travel time would be severely inhibit future growth and would in fact result in a decline. A large group of representatives have been working on alternative solutions for our region. The red line will be the first major step forward. Not taking this step would be a serious mistake. Every major city in the US has experienced very positive results from transit improvements without exception.

  13. Dear Robert:

    What “very positive results” are you speaking of? Increased residential property values? Not so across the board. Check out Atlanta’s MARTA experience. In places such as Cleveland, the BRT was successful, but only because Euclid Avenue, where it travels, was a slum to begin with, and Euclid Avenue connects the suburbs to the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve and its teaching hospitals, among other destinations. Such is not the case for College Avenue in Indianapolis.

    Transportation planners, electric bus systems, and builders of such systems do benefit. The results for everyone else? No so much, especially where there is no demand, as here.

    What “growth and development” are you speaking of? Meridian-Kessler is fully developed as a mostly homeowner-occupied high value residential neighborhood, except for a very few lots. Developers, whose markets have dried up elsewhere, want to tear down houses and buildings and put in dense apartments, using Red Line as an excuse. This has been planned for a long time, you are correct, but it is not wanted. In the long-run, it will be detrimental. Why build a bus system for which there is no demand? How can you justify the expenditure of tax money when the Indianapolis Public Schools, IMPD and infrastructure need the money more?

    Where is the citizen input and demand for a complete overhauling of the north side of Indianapolis?

  14. Robert Kennedy; thank you for your words of support for much needed improvement for public transportation here. It has sadly been ignored for years; probably because the majority of riders are low-income and primarily minorities.

    The rest of my comments will be beside the point of today’s blog with one minor connection I attribute to Mayor Hogsett. Some of the friends I have made on this blog might remember that Don Davis of Don’s Guns was my uncle. He was locally famous or infamous depending on your personal views of him; you must admit he was always interesting. To me he was intelligent, interesting, funny, open-handed to anyone who needed help and conversations with him were conversations because he was always interested in what others had to say so he listened. I will miss him. His viewing Monday night was in Greenwood; the trip down was perilous due to the blowing snow and cold. The return trip was over ice-covered streets in Greenwood; as if crossing a line, the Indianapolis streets had been cleared or salted, making for easy driving. Unlike the past few winters here under Ballard.

    The second issue is regarding my mugging, injury and robbery on April 21, 2014, almost two years ago. I have voiced my displeasure at the entire situation for myself and the other three elderly women victims (90, 84 and 85 years of age). On Tuesday, February 2nd, I received a message from the deputy prosecutor that they have finally reached a plea agreement. Mark Jones will be sentenced to 25 years; unless the judge decides to add time to the sentence. I will be speaking at the sentencing on March 9th; will stress months of replacing ID and straightening out serious financial problems and my permanent injuries, I am looking forward to having my “day in court”. Thanks for your past support regarding this crime, I appreciate it.

  15. JoAnn:

    Public transportation can be vastly improved without the Red Line. For example, in San Francisco, each stop has a bus shelter that has a digital board that tells you when the next bus is coming, not just when it is scheduled, but how far out it is and if it is delayed. Each has a map showing you where you are and where you can go with transfers. That would improve things.

    I suggest this: have IndyGo run its current buses every 10 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes at night for a set period of time and see whether the demand is there. See whether this would be a good use of taxpayer money, since current fares only cover 17% of operating expenses. The taxpayers pick up the tab for the other 83%, and this will go up with Red Line. An express bus experiment from Hamilton County failed due to lack of interest.

    At the end of the day, tax dollars are not infinite in amount, and priorities must be set. Transportation is important, but not more important than education, public safety and infrastructure, all of which need more support. Lack of an express bus system is not holding Indianapolis back. There are many other factors, such as the political and actual climate here, that are bigger reasons.

  16. My children and I have kind of a game counting bus passengers here in Indianapolis. We have seen many buses with no passengers and many with very, very few and I often wondered why they don’t use very small buses instead of wasting all that money with few or no passengers. We see a lot of buses in all areas of this city and the passengers simply are not there!

  17. Sabra is onto the problem. First off; it is inane to compare Indy with SF, a city very compact and very dense.

    We need to halt the practice of trying to make our transit system an advertisement for the city and return it to transportation. A ten passenger van costs about $35,000 and should last at least 5 years. After rush hour, the behemoths should be garaged and the vans take over for 16 hours out of 24. This city, under Ballard, spent millions on articulated buses to carry two people. It would have been cheaper to call them a cab!

    There are ways to do it, but we need forward thinkers!

  18. I’m wondering about The TIF funds in Indianapolis. A recent Ball State study found that the majority of TIF funds in the state do not function as economic development, and are instead, “budget management”. Our city desperately needs funds for crime prevention, schools, and necessary infrastructure.

    My understanding is that TIF money is tax money skimmed from the pool before the money enters the general fund. The TIF money is supposed to be used for targeted projects that benefit the public by fulfilling public needs or boosting economic development in distressed areas. What are TIF funds being used for in Indianapolis? Do they benefit the public? Indianapolis has a huge amount of money in TIF, and we can’t afford waste. Residents should be assured that this money is being used wisely.

    There seems to be less oversight of TIF than there should be. TIF money is being requested to help fund redevelopment of the old ATT site on the 5800 block of College. That site is obviously not blighted and is in a very prosperous neighborhood. The majority of residents are actually opposed to the scale of the project, and it seems that TIF funds are helping drive the excessive size. With the added money from TIF, ATT can charge more for the land than it is worth, TWG can pay more, TWG has to justify building bigger because they paid more, the neighborhood gets a monster building they don’t want, and those involved in building it get richer at taxpayer expense. Even if neighbors wanted the project, it seems that the site is prime real estate and should not qualify for public development assistance. More worrisome than that particular project, it is unclear who decides what projects qualify for TIF funding and why, and what sort of checks and balances operate to prevent abuses. It appears that TIF is administered by Midtown, but what exactly Midtown is and who they represent is also unclear. They do not appear to be an elected body, yet they appear to control public funds. Like the Covanta deal and the Redline, this funding method deserves close scrutiny.

  19. Natacha; comparing Indianapolis to San Francisco, a large cosmopolitan city located on the Pacific Coast and with all major city amenities and entertainment available to a very mixed – and accepting population – is like comparing McDonalds to St. Elmo’s Steak House.

  20. The Incidentals: 10 pass van cost $35K and should last about ten years. Articulated city buss cost about $550K and should last at least ten. Minivan run ever 20 minutes and ridership will rapidly increase. Two level of employees with union closed shop. Professional drivers!

  21. on the good side I watched FOX59 TV NEWS the other day and they mentioned the cancelled recycling project, and then the blu electric cars, and the proposed corrections center. More negative publicity than is normal in Indy. More to the good but not usually permitted!

  22. Mayor Hogsett I think the redline should have those futuristic buses found in las Vegas.I think the red line should be in every street in Indianapolis.I also have a beautiful idea how downtown Indianapolis should look like for the future.How about turning west street in downtown Indy into a dodge city like main street.I think Indiana Avenue should be transformed into a New Orleans main street with parades and authentic buildings like New Orleans.I think Meridian street in downtown Indy should look like main street USA like what’s at Disneyland and ditch sports image and get rid of tall buildings.

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