Tag Archives: Mayor Ballard

Is It November Yet?

Every so often, our Accidental Mayor does something to remind us why it’s not a good idea to elect people who don’t understand how government is supposed to work.

As reported on the IndyDemocrat blog, Council President Maggie Lewis recently issued the following statement:

“Very recently I was informed that Mayor Ballard unilaterally authorized a withdraw of $6.8 million dollars out of the IMPD general fund without consultation or approval from the Council. This is not how good municipal government works. The Council recently overrode the Mayor’s veto to add appropriations to fund critically needed pursuit rated vehicles and necessary upgrades to IMPD facilities. His decision means many IMPD officers will continue to operate substandard vehicles and train at outdated facilities. We have too few officers on the street to begin with and this action by the administration may put at risk the city’s ability to fund this Fall’s final recruit class of 2015. I call on the Mayor to immediately reverse course and follow both the letter and spirit of Indiana law by returning the money to IMPD now.”

The most important sentence in that statement is “This is not how good municipal government works.”

Perhaps the Mayor had a perfectly good reason for withdrawing those funds. Or perhaps he didn’t. The purpose is irrelevant; the “rules of the game” require the Mayor and Council to communicate, to work together, and to jointly authorize fiscal decisions. The fact that the Council is controlled by a different political party than the Administration does not eliminate that requirement. (I should note that, back in the days of the Hudnut Administration, factional disputes among the Republicans on the Council made relations every bit as testy as the partisan divisions today–but despite a lot of grousing,  the Administration didn’t try to “sneak” things past the Council.)

Process matters.

Government in a democratic system is not run like the military, or like business, where the person at the top of the pyramid makes decisions that others must follow. That’s one reason why calls to run government “like a business” are so misplaced–government isn’t a business. It should be run in a “business-like” fashion (meaning efficiently and cost-effectively), but we should never lose sight of the fact that government’s mission is not focused on the bottom line, and the rules by which it operates must meet democratic accountability standards.

Mayor Ballard isn’t in the Marines anymore. He doesn’t get to unilaterally call the shots.

Aside from the inappropriateness of the Mayor’s action, I can’t help wondering: what was the money used for? In a city with an unacceptably high crime rate, what was more important than (our already grossly  underfunded) public safety?


Crime and the City: Some Unsolicited Advice to the Next Mayor

Several years ago, when Bart Peterson and Sue Ann Gilroy were running for Mayor, the IBJ asked Morton Marcus and yours truly to write a series of dueling recommendations to the eventual winner, titled “Letters to the Next Mayor.” My recollection is that they discontinued the feature fairly early on, but in that spirit, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice to the winner of next year’s mayoral contest.

Give public safety back to the Sheriff.

When Greg Ballard was elected, one of the first things he did was take the newly combined IMPD away from the Sheriff, and assume responsibility for public safety. That was my first clue that he had no idea what he was doing. This wrongheaded move was prompted more by machismo and ego and the fact that the Sheriff was a Democrat than by any requirement of good governance.

Back when I was Corporation Counsel, I urged Bill Hudnut to consolidate IPD with the Sheriff’s department and give the new entity to the Sheriff. There was a reason for that advice. For one thing, there’s efficiency: a mayor has multiple responsibilities–public works, parks, economic and community development and numerous others–that compete for his time and attention, while the Sheriff is a constitutional officer whose sole responsibility and focus is criminal justice.

It isn’t simply a matter of efficiency, however. Good government and good politics both weigh in favor of letting the Sheriff take primary responsibility for IMPD.

Good government requires clear lines of accountability. When voters are going to the polls to vote for a mayor, they must “grade” an incumbent on what Ed Koch used to call the “How’m I doing?” scale. The multiple responsibilities of the office require voters to balance the incumbent’s record on crime against multiple other aspects of performance; as a result, the message sent by voters will necessarily be mixed and subject to different interpretations. Voting for a Sheriff whose entire portfolio is policing allows for much more direct accountability.

Politically, taking charge of public safety was foolish–what we might call an “unforced error.” When Ballard was elected, he told everyone who would listen that crime was going to be his “Number One” priority, and invited voters to judge him on that basis. They will, and it won’t be pretty.

Sometimes, the political game of “Mr. Macho” works. More often, it comes back to bite you.



Not Exactly Bragging Rights

A recent analysis by the Bloomberg Administration found that New York’s poverty rate held steady since 2000. That makes the Big Apple the only large U.S. city not to see a spike in that rate.

New York’s Center for Economic Opportunity released the survey last Thursday. It used U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000 and 2012, and determined that the nation’s largest city had maintained a 21.2 percent poverty rate during the intervening 12 years.

It also found that poverty rates in the country’s 19 other largest cities increased, on average, by 36 percent. That’s just an average, however. Rates of increase ranged from 3 percent in El Paso, Tex., to 88 percent in Indianapolis.

That’s right: while we’ve been focusing on bright shiny objects like cricket fields and Super Bowls, we’ve had an 88 percent increase in poverty.

If Mayor Ballard has addressed this issue, I haven’t heard about it.

As a friend of mine recently pointed out, Ballard rarely bothers to visit the Statehouse. He was willing to lobby  for elimination of the at-large council seats, a partisan move that increased his political power, but he’s been conspicuously absent on a whole range of issues having a direct impact on the economic well-being of Marion County residents. His support for public transportation was both tepid and a long time coming, despite the fact that–among other things–transportation is desperately needed to improve poor folks’  access to employment opportunities. He’s said nothing about the importance of expanding Medicaid. Yet lack of access to medical insurance is a major cause of poverty, and the recent hospital layoffs that increase local unemployment are a direct result of Pence’s unconscionable  refusal to expand Indiana’s Medicaid program.

Ballard has also said nothing about the recent, draconian cuts to the Food Stamp program despite the fact that the economic impact of Food Stamp dollars flowing to Marion County is equivalent to holding a Super Bowl every four months.

I guess we know where his priorities lie.


Mayor Ballard’s Very Strange, Utterly Misplaced Priorities

Anyone who lives in Indianapolis and reads or listens to the news knows that Mayor Ballard recently vetoed a bipartisan measure passed by the City-County Council that would have increased the size of the police recruit class. He says we can’t afford it.

The news also confirms that Ballard is hell-bent on spending $6 million dollars to build a Cricket field.

A friend recently sent me the following clip from a news story, in which Ballard defended his priorities.

During an interview last week, Ballard grew impassioned when asked about the decision-making behind the nearly 50-acre sports complex and the shaky history of the United States of America Cricket Association. (It has new leadership after struggling to put on cricket tournaments in recent years.) He called local reaction to the plans “very upsetting.” “We have basketball courts, swimming pools, tennis courts, baseball fields — we have all these other sports — and these guys have nowhere to play rugby, hurling, lacrosse, Australian-rules football, cricket,” Ballard said. “Why are they not allowed to have their fields, too? … I think, as a mayor, that’s a good thing to be doing.”

Let’s deconstruct this. (I will try to do so without hurling.)

Because our parks have swimming pools and basketball courts, we have an obligation to offer cricket and lacrosse fields? Why not dodgeball (which actually has more fans than cricket, at least judging from Facebook likes)? How about people who compete in hammer-throw tournaments? Curling? Surely Ballard is not suggesting that this is some sort of equal protection issue–that taxpayers have an obligation to meet the sports needs of aficionados of even the least popular sports?

And I’m still debating the propriety of government providing golf courses…

If there is one thing on which virtually all Americans agree, it is that providing public safety is a government obligation. (That may be the only thing Americans all agree on.) Police may not be as exciting as cricket (actually, they are; I’ve seen cricket), but providing adequate police protection is–along with ensuring that we can flush–an absolutely basic government function.

So, as Ed Koch might have asked, how are we doing?

According to the Mayor’s own task force, the Indianapolis police force is short 685 uniformed officers. The national average is 2.5 officers per 1000 residents; the current IMPD ratio is 1.7 officers per 1000.

The murder rate in New York City is 3.4 per 100,000. The murder rate in Indianapolis is 17.5 per 100,000.

The City is shifting IMPD assignments in a desperate effort to put more cops on the street without actually adding personnel, but given our current staffing levels, that’s equivalent to rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. The Mayor’s own task force reported that there is no alternative to hiring more officers–redeploying may help at the margins, but there is no alternative to hiring more police.

Now, I’m not unsympathetic to the fiscal problems created by Mitch Daniels’ tax caps. (Caps that Ballard supported, unbelievable as that is.) Constitutionalizing those caps was brilliant politics, and terrible government. The caps starve units of local government of badly needed resources, requiring not only creative fiscal management (we are running out of public assets to sell off), but also those “hard decisions” that politicians talk about endlessly but rarely if ever actually make.

The Council’s proposal would have paid for the recruiting class only for the first year; the City would have to come up with the money to pay for the additional officers going forward. That would require hard trade-offs–at a minimum, fewer subsidies to local sports franchises, fewer cushy deals for developer friends of the Mayor. It might also require the Mayor to actually appear at the legislature–something he’s been loathe to do, especially if such appearances would interfere with one of his frequent “economic development” junkets–and petition our state-level rulers to get rid of the 40 plus “funds” that currently prevent Indianapolis from setting its own priorities.

The problem is, unless the citizens of Indianapolis feel safe, we can’t accomplish any of our other goals. We can’t revitalize neighborhoods. Economic development efforts will go nowhere. The bike lanes, the Monon Trail and the justifiably lauded Cultural Trail will empty. Downtown businesses will suffer. There will be a downward spiral that will make all other efforts immeasurably more difficult.

We have a real public safety crisis in Indianapolis right now–a public safety crisis that could undo the years of progress we have enjoyed.

And instead of focusing on that crisis and working with the legislature to address it, we have an utterly clueless Mayor who is spending what little political capital he has on a cricket field.






Woe is Mayor

These are rough days to be a mayor. If you don’t believe me, look at just two of the issues bedeviling Mayor Ballard right now: police and parking.

In both cases, the Mayor has correctly identified a problem. But in both cases, there are substantial questions about his chosen solutions.

Managing the police is a perennial problem for mayors. Controlling crime and keeping citizens safe is an essential foundation for all the other things a mayor must do. It is no exaggeration to suggest that economic development, service delivery and a city’s quality of life all depend upon the safety of its citizens.

Given the importance of public safety, it’s understandable that Ballard wanted to control IMPD. When he assumed office and wrested control from Sheriff Frank Anderson, he made clear his belief that the Mayor should be the one held accountable for the department’s performance.

Those of us who disagreed pointed out that, in Indiana, the Sheriff is a constitutional office. Unlike the Director of Public Safety, he is elected by and answerable to the voters. Unlike mayors, who have multiple responsibilities, a Sheriffs’ duties and focus all involve law enforcement. If the Sheriff has responsibility for police behavior and public safety, and scandals erupt, voters can express their disapproval quite clearly at the ballot box. If the Mayor controls IMPD, voters must balance approval or disapproval of his public safety performance against their approval or disapproval of other initiatives, sending an inevitably mixed signal.      

The Mayor’s current policing woes stem from that decision to seize control early in his term. Both that decision and his current proposal to privatize parking enforcement will hamstring future mayors as well.

Once again, the Mayor has identified a legitimate issue. Our parking meters are old and outdated; our parking fees have not been raised in many years. It is time to take a holistic look at all aspects of downtown parking—revenue to the city, the effect on downtown businesses, the placement of meters and so on. None of the solutions identified for existing problems, however, requires the City to give a private company control of our parking decisions—and a significant portion of our parking revenues—for fifty years.

As several people have pointed out, had a contract of this sort been in effect a few years ago, the City would not have been able to give permission to build the Cultural Trail. 

The Mayor’s office defends the proposed privatization by pointing to the large capital outlay needed for new equipment, but the City could easily issue a twenty-year revenue bond for that purpose, and keep both control and all revenues in excess of those needed for bond repayment.

One of the most significant leadership challenges mayors face is deciding when to keep control of a public service and when to vest that control elsewhere. These are structural decisions, and they are especially consequential because they tie the hands of future administrations.

They are ultimately the decisions that determine a Mayor’s legacy.