Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Indy Parks Reverses Course on Bel Aire Park

At last Thursday's Mayor's Night Out in Decatur Township, Don Colvin stood in for the illusive Stuart Lowry, head of Indy Parks, and took questions from the audience. One resident asked about the status of Indy Parks lease of Bel Aire Park to a soccer league (see "Dereliction of Duty -- Indy Parks All About the 'Green'"). In response, Colvin said that while the fall lease had already been signed, no new lease will be allowed after that.

WRTV's reporter, Kara Kenney, had reported about this issue back on June 10. (For video and news item click here.) Now the News 6 team has updated the story, quoting Willie Cooley as saying “I think it’s wonderful," and “I think (the city) listened to the community, and once they went down and really looked at the park, they could tell the soccer league was too big."

Meanwhile the City is studying a list of improvements to Bel Aire Park that the neighbors have requested.

Monday, June 28, 2010

City-County Council to Meet Tonight

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council meets tonight. There are a few items that I find particularly interesting on the agenda.

Being introduced tonight include Prop 189, Sponsored by Councillor Cardwell, which would appropriate redevelopment grant dollars to the Indiana Convention and Visitors Association. According to Maury Plambeck, Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, it is a grant from White Foundation, which has insisted that the money flow through the City to the ICVA. But, the grant is said to have been secured by the ICVA. Prop 189 is being assigned to the Metropolitan Development Committee, which next meets on July 12, at 5:30 pm in room 260.

Prop 196, sponsored by Councillor Evans, the digest of which is as follows:

urges the State of Arizona to repeal SB 1070, that no other state enact similar law, that the U.S. Congress consinder [sic] and act expeditiously to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and that the City and County neither hold nor attend official meetings in the State of Arizona, nor enter into any new contract for goods or services with vendors situated in Arizona until the new Arizona immigration law is repealed

Prop 196 is being referred to the Rules committee which next meets on July 6, at 5:30 pm in room 260.

Prop 197 is the proposal to approve the sale of the water and sewer utilities. Unfortunately, the exhibits referred to in the proposal which are purported to contain the details of the sale, are blank in the online version. I will edit this post to include a link as soon as I have one to these all important details. Prop 197 is being assigned to the newly created 'Utility Transfer Oversight Committee'. Melissa Thompson, Clerk of the Council Office, tells me that the committee will meet on July 6, after the Rules committee meeting ends. The committee will also meet on July 19, beginning at 5:30 pm in room 260. Ms. Thompson further informs me that the committee members have not yet been assigned.

Of the Proposals set for a final vote tonight, only Prop 167 seems to have engendered any negative votes in committee. Minutes of the June 8 meeting of the Administration & Finance committee indicate that the point of contention was about the process of Council approval of leases, with Councillor Malone saying voting for the proposal is "just to vote on what has already been completed". Councillors Malone and Lewis both voted against the proposal, while Councillors Pfisterer, Cockrum, Day, and Sanders all voted for it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

June Free-For-All

I'll be back with new posts soon. Meanwhile - what's on your mind? Time for a free-for-all.

Belated Happy Father's Day to all you Dads out there !!!!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bel Aire Deal - Yup, Its About the Money

Indy Star reporter, Francesca Jarosz, did an excellent article about Bel Aire Park and the Indy Parks Department deal to rent it out to a soccer league for 8 weekends in the spring and another 8 in the fall, pushing neighborhood residents from their own neighborhood park. I just recently posted an entry about this same park (see "Dereliction of Duty - Indy Parks All About the "Green") The headline in the Star print version is "It's a nice park... if you get to use it", by the way.

I'm going to leave you to read the bulk of this compelling article, but I did want to bring forward one aspect - that of the money.
Last year, the department generated $16,645 from those leases, dollars that help support the department's shrinking budget. MC United FC's two contracts will net $1,560.

They aren't even generating the salary of the fellow in charge of 'partnerships' with these funds. But, equally clear, this soccer league contract represents a 10 % increase in revenue, and that explains the kowtowing the Parks personnel did to the league representatives at a recent meeting.

Don Colvin, Indy Parks Deputy Director, says its all to fulfill their mission, yet the Department is willing to violate its own Parks Plan in regard to neighborhood parks in order to get a tiny bit more money. I'm not buying it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

iPOPA - Say it Ain't So !

iPOPA (Indy's Painfully Objective Political Analysis) has posted that he might be giving up the blogging.

Indy has a small, but dedicated, community of political bloggers that spans a very wide range of perspectives and styles. When one considers stopping, it definitely diminishes the whole.

Hopefully Chris Worden, iPOPA's author, will have a nice rest and return his unique voice to Indy political blogging. Until that time I'd only like to say that I have enjoyed reading his stuff, and that he has presented a thought-provoking blog to date.

Hurry back, Chris. And, thanks !

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dereliction of Duty -- Indy Parks All About the 'Green'

Indy Parks is running roughshod over the neighbors of Bel Aire Park; renewing a contract with an out-of-county travelling soccer league that has not kept its promises in the past and runs the neighbors out of their own park on weekends. Indy Parks has made it clear that IT and IT alone decides what will happen in IT's Parks, and IT will do so without considering the neighbors, the 'Friends-Of' groups, or its own Parks plan. Even as it pursues cold hard cash, which will never be spent on Bel Aire Park where it is generated, Indy Parks is being penny wise and pound foolish, and failing even at making money.

A little orientation and a little history and I'll return to the misdeeds of Indy Parks.

Bel Aire Park is a neighborhood park situated just inside Wayne Township, off Kentucky Avenue with access from Tibbs Avenue, which by that point is just a little neighborhood street. It has a bowl shaped topography that totals 14 acres. Fewer than 3 of those acres are in a semi-flat area that is large enough to accommodate playing fields. It serves neighborhoods that abut it, both in Wayne and Decatur Townships.

The City Parks Plan, adopted in April, 2009, defines a neighborhood park thusly:

Neighborhood parks remain the basic unit of the park system and serve as the recreational and social focus of the neighborhood. They should be developed for both active and passive recreation activities geared specifically for those living in the service area. Accommodating a wide variety of age and user groups, including children, adults, senior citizens, and special populations, is important. Creating a sense of place by bringing together the unique character of the site with that of the neighborhood is vital to successful design. The neighborhood park is designed to provide the types of recreation one would expect to be able to walk to rather than be required to drive to. Neighborhood Parks offer small areas of open space and a sampling of park resources to service individual neighborhoods.

It further defines the service area of a neighborhood park as:

A neighborhood park is limited by geographical or social limits (maximum 20 minutes walking distance). The park primarily serves the local neighborhoods located within a radius of 1/4 to 1/2 mile of the park, without physical or social barriers to the boundaries.

In addition to many other types of parks, the Parks Plan defines 'Sports Complex' as:

The sports complex classification consolidates heavily programmed athletic fields and associated facilities at larger and fewer sites strategically located throughout the community. This allows for:
• Economies of scale and higher quality facilities
• Improved management /scheduling.
• Improved control of facility use.
• Greater control of negative impacts to neighborhood and community parks, such as overuse, noise, traffic congestion, parking, and domination of facilities by those outside the neighborhood.

and among other criteria for how to locate a sports complex is this:

Identifying-athletic field sites prior to residential development is critical too avoiding long-term conflicts.

So, that is the orientation. Indy Parks recognizes that neighborhood parks are there to serve the immediate neighborhood and that organized sports are best suited for larger areas like sports complexes due to their inherent conflict with abutting neighborhoods.

And yet, Indy Parks let a contract this past spring for a soccer league to use Bel Aire Park for 13 days spanning 8 weekends running from April 10 through June 5; taking up 7 consecutive weekends, one weekend off, and finally one day the last weekend. The total fee taken in by Indy Parks was $780. Of course, they didn't bother to inform, much less consult with, the neighbors and the 'Friends of Bel Aire Park' group.

There are so many problems with the contract it isn't funny. While the contract is with Matt Wallace for "Soccer - Adult" and "Central Indiana Amateur Soccer Association", which is an adult league, the players have been from MC United FC, which is a travelling youth soccer league, based in Mooresville and Martinsville, but which is trying to lure Decatur youth from existing Decatur soccer leagues that play at Southwestway Park's permanent soccer facilities. The contract notes an expected number of 35, while one hundred participants and fans are the norm. The contracts, as mentioned runs from April 10 through June 5, but was signed and paid for on May 12; after 9 of the 13 booking days had already been used. The hours assigned for each of the contract days bears no resemblance to the actual hours of use - with far more hours playing soccer than allotted for in the contract.

There have been many problems with the MC United FC use of the grounds, the major one being that it ends up pushing the neighbors out of their own park. It pulls in fans of their opponents, also primarily from outside the County. Parking has been so tight that these fans have been parking on the lawn and on the walking trail that runs around the field. They have left their six soccer goals up, keeping others from using the fields for other things during the week, and encouraging adult soccer fans to come use the fields after work, again crowding out the neighbors during the week. Allen McClendon, Senior Manager of Community Partnerships, eventually got Wallace to agree to a number of things that MC United FC would do, including pulling the goals off the fields and chaining them up (never happened), no parking on the grass (got somewhat better by parking on nearby private property without the permission of that property owner), and bringing in port-o-lets (which did happen). But, at a recent meeting between the neighbors (who also represent the Friends of Bel Aire Park) and Indy Parks, McClendon said that it was his decision, not the neighbors', and if the league violated just one more rule, the contract would be cancelled. Well, how many times does a group get to violate the rules when they should never have been granted permission to take over a neighborhood park to begin with???? It is absurd. But, evidently $780 means more to Indy Parks than its mission and the Indianapolis public.

And what about Bel Aire Park? How did it get to be an Indy Park? Well, the neighbors got the land donated by Martin-Marietta during a zoning matter back in 2000-2001. It had previously been drive-in movie theater called 'Bel Aire' before being acquired by Martin-Marietta. It was transferred to Indy Parks in 2002. Most of the improvements have been because of the neighbors. They used their influence with Martin-Marietta and Southside Landfill to provide labor and materials to grade and sod the field, put in a gravel parking lot, and fence the perimeter, among other things. The neighbors throw an annual fundraiser every year, the proceeds of which amount to $4000 - $5000, which is spent entirely on improvements in the park, such as a climbing rock, playground area, drinking fountain and walking trail. A shelter was erected as part of a deal between Martin-Marietta and Indy Parks, that MM would donate $25,000 of gravel for Indy Parks use anywhere and in turn Indy Parks would make an equal dollar improvement at Bel Aire. Joe Wynns, previous Director of Indy Parks, donated used playground equipment from another park. Bottom line, this Park would not exist, and certainly not exist in its current shape and condition, without the continued efforts of the neighborhood abutting it. It truly IS THEIR PARK.

But, they were not consulted before the contract to allow the soccer league to play was let. They were not consulted before it was decided to renew that contract for yet another 8 weekends in the fall. There was that meeting last week, but it was evident that the decision to renew had already been made and the real purpose of the meeting was to hope the neighbors backed down and agreed to not protest the renewal. That has not happened. Instead, the neighbors are frustrated and fed up. Talk in the neighborhood is to not hold any more fundraisers for the park they can no longer use. The fundraiser, a combined gospelfest/old car show/chili cookoff, is held the 3rd Saturday of every August, and it is too far into this year's planning to halt now. But, if the neighbors' dissatisfaction with the strong arm tactics of Indy Parks and the fact that they can't use their own park isn't assuaged, Indy Parks stands to lose $4000-$5000 in Bel Aire Park improvements each year --- all for the sake of $780 twice a year from a group that has shown clearly that it hasn't obeyed the rules set down for it and which clearly should never have been located at this Park.

If Indy Parks mission, and the fact that it is there to serve the public, is not enough for the crew that currently runs that Department, then you would think that they could at least come to realize that they are being penny wise and pound foolish. But, its all about how much money in cold heartless cash that can be wrung from public lands, not how Parks can be improved to better serve Indianapolis residents.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stinson Turns Down Alabama Job

Decatur School Superintendent, Don Stinson, has turned down the Baldwin County job. Thanks to alert readers and posters on this blog for the news.

The Mobile Press Register is reporting:

The Baldwin County school system is again in search of a new superintendent after Donald Stinson turned down the job offer, citing "personal reasons at a critical time in my life." Stinson notified board the school board members by e-mail Monday afternoon.

Stinson currently serves as superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Dectatur Township in Indianapolis. Dr. Alan Lee from Virginia was the other finalist for the position. In an prepared statement, School Board President Tracy Roberts said the search will continue.

"We respect the decision of Mr. Stinson who ultimately has to answer what is best for himself and his family. We will quickly move on to fill the superintendent's position. We will contact Dr. Alan Lee, an outstanding finalist. We plan to regroup and proceed as necessary," Roberts said.

"We will keep the community apprised of our progress. We have greatly appreciated the community's involvement in the process. The board continues to put an enormous amount of work into the search effort," she said.

Interm superintendent Janay Dawson has announced plans to retire at the end of this month.

Southside Landfill Zoning Goes Through

The City-County Council voted NOT to hear the rezoning of 230 acres that will provide Southside Landfill with expansion capability. In a front page article on the zoning effort and opposition by some neighbors, Indy Star reporter, Francesca Jarosz did a very nice job laying out the issues.

I have mentioned previously, in "City-County Council to Meet Monday, June 7", that the prime issue would be the unwritten authority of the district Councillor to have the final say in whether or not a zoning case is given a full blown hearing by the Council. While I continue to suspect that that was the meat of the private conversations between Councillors, I haven't a whit of evidence. At last night's meeting, only Councillor Bob Cockrum, district Councillor in this case, spoke against calling the zoning petition down. He cited the various public meetings and the hearing before the MDC as having provided all interested parties with enough opportunity to make changes and have input. On the other side of the question were comments by At-Large Councillors Joanne Sanders, who made the original motion, Barb Malone, and Ed Coleman. They pointed to fully affording the entire public process to the neighbors who opposed the zoning, as well as some unspecified issues that those neighbors had not been able to bring forward in the preceding course of the public process.

The final vote was 13 in support of hearing the zoning matter, and 15 opposed. Councillor Bateman was absent. Here is how they voted:

In support were three of the At-Large Councillors, Sanders (D), Malone (R), and Coleman (L), and Democrats Brown, Gray, Lewis, both Maherns, Mansfield, Minton-McNeill, Moriarty, Nytes, and Oliver. Opposed were lone Democrat Evans, along with Republicans Cain, Cardwell, Cockrum, Day, Freeman, Hunter, Lutz, McHenry, McQuillen, Pfisterer, Rivera, Scales, Speedy, and Vaughn. Councillor Rivera, the fourth At-Large Councillor, was a tardy last vote that suggested he might have been pondering the implications of the possible role of an At-Large Councillor in future zoning matters.

Not being a mind reader I can only surmise the actual role district vs. at-large played. The vote tally certainly suggests that a large portion of the vote was partisan politics, for whatever purpose or aim. That could include the Rs siding with one of their own while the Ds sided against an R, and the Ds feeling there was an inherent problem with the MDC decision while the Rs could not afford that view or else they would politically embarrass one of their own. Or all of the above simultaneously.

All that said and conjectured over, perhaps the Council should review its rules of procedure and nail down the issue of who can call down a zoning matter. If anyone can, if any At-Large or the District Councillor can, or if only the District Councillor can.

Decatur School Board Meets Tonight - Much On Plate

The Decatur Township School Board meets tonight, first in executive session and followed by the regular monthly meeting. No word on whether the executive session will be a catered affair, as per usual, despite the economic hard times.

The agenda is posted here, but contains little information for the public to know what actually will be discussed and voted upon.

Central Office retirements will be buried in item 5.0 "Staff Report". Gary Pellico, Candace Milhon-Baer, Pat Jones, Dave Rather, as well as West Newton Principal, Janet Larch, are all taking their leave of the district. Jeff Baer's retirement was previously announced. Will the retirement incentive packages for these Administrators be discussed in public? Not likely.

Also buried in that staff report will be the layoff of a security officer, as Susan Adams firmly believes that blurry camera footage may not avert crime, but it is cheap and like outgoing Jeff Baer maintains, that's why you have insurance anyway. The Board will not likely discuss how effective cameras are at decreasing tempers at after school functions, giving guidance to youths who could follow many paths to adulthood, and providing immediate response to threatening situations. The latter is one of the many duties that Susan Adams thinks is the responsibility of the custodians, after all. When it comes to security, this Administration has let Adams run amok and to the detriment of all of the students, staff, and anyone of the public who attends events in our schools.

Hopefully buried in the staff report is the resignation of Don Stinson. This one item will get aired with all the usual self congratulatory, fact twisting, ego trip that normally accompanies all Board activities.

Somewhat buried is a fiscal matter for which I have been unable to get all of my questions answered. If and when I do get further information I will post it here. But, this is what I have at this point.

Agenda items 6.02 (Impact of 2010 Circuit Breaker on Marion County Schools), 6.03 (Resolution Approving Transfer to Rainy Day Fund), and 6.04 (Additional Appropriation Resolution), involve moving money from the debt service fund into the rainy day fund followed by the appropriation of money from the rainy day fund for ongoing operations. As you will recall, the Board has not always insisted on approving, in a public meeting and as required by law, all new appropriation of expenses that arise during the year that were not so appropriated during the annual budget hearings. So, this is a move in the right (as in legal) direction.

For the fiscal issues, let me backtrack for a minute into the outlines of what we are taxed on and how schools are now funded in Indiana. Changed from the old ways, schools are now fully funded by the State for operating expenses. This would include salaries, catered school board meals, electricity, and the like. Property taxes are now only levied to cover the amount of principle and interest owed on debt that year (debt service fund), the amount of principle and interest owned on debt encumbered to make pension fund contributions (school pension debt fund), money needed to cover routine building repairs (capital projects fund), and money to replace aging buses (bus replacement fund). For 2010, the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, certified a property tax amount of roughly $12.9 million for debt service, $0.7 million for school pension debt, $3.7 million for capital projects, and $2.1 million for bus replacement, for MSD Decatur Township school district.

Item 6.02 (Impact of 2010 Circuit Breaker on Marion County Schools), will be where Dr. Baer talks about how the tax caps are cutting into how much of that certified levy will NOT be poured into MSD Decatur coffers and must be obtained by transferring money from operating expenses (general fund) to the debt service fund; for by State law, debt must be paid first and then you can spend any other money you have left on ongoing operations. The enormous debt of this school district for the size of the tax base is the cause of much of the budget cuts recently made in the district.

As far as logic goes, this is where things begin to break down.

Item 6.03 (Resolution Approving Transfer to Rainy Day Fund), will ask the Board to approve the transfer of $6.2 million FROM debt service TO the rainy day fund. The rainy day fund is a fund set up to receive excess, unspent money from the other funds, and from which those excess monies may be transferred to a fund with a shortfall. The act of transferring money from debt service to the rainy day fund suggests that this money is excess, which is absurd at this point. I have asked if this is to forgo getting another tax anticipation loan (AKA 'temporary loan'), and Gary Pellico answered that was how he understood it - not a definitive answer to my question. If this proves to be true, it could save the taxpayers interest payments on that loan, but it still does not fully explain why so much money is sitting in the debt service fund when the district has been saying it had to come up with budget cuts which included, among other things, $3 million to pay the interest on the 2009 tax anticipation loan.

Item 6.04 (Additional Appropriation Resolution), will combine the $6.2 million just transferred from the debt service fund with $1.7 million currently sitting in the rainy day fund, and appropriate it for paying ongoing operating expenses - salaries and the like.

Now this last item is a public hearing and the public has the legal right to be heard in the matter. The legally required public notice, published on May 26, says the following:
Notice is hereby given the taxpayers of MSD Decatur Township, Marion County, Indiana, that the School Board will consider the following additional appropriation in excess of the budget for the current year at their regular meeting place at 5275 Kentucky Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46221, at 7:00 pm., on the 8th day of June, 2010, per IC 6-1.1-18-5.
Rainy Day Fund $7,900,000
Taxpayers appearing at the meeting shall have a right to be heard. The additional appropriations as finally made will be referred to the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF). The DLGF will make a written determinations to the sufficiency of funds to support the appropriations made within fifteen (15) days of receipt of a certified copy of the action taken.
Dated: May 26, 2010
Bob Harris
Chief Financial Officer
10-6048--5:24 (3)

Now if these funds are eventually repaid to the debt service fund when future operating funds are received from the State , then this transfer is temporary and makes sense. If not, then it could be digging the Decatur taxpayer into a bigger hole, even as the district has already laid off a score of teachers and accepted about 30 early retirements. We shall have to await more answers before we can be sure which is the situation.

Friday, June 4, 2010

City-County Council to Meet Monday, June 7

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council meets this Monday evening. The agenda has a couple of interesting proposals.

Proposal 183 will be introduced and assigned to the Rules Committee, which has a 5 to 3 Republican to Democratic member composition. This Proposal was initiated by the Mayor's Office and is being sponsored by Councillors Lutz, Speedy, Hunter, Scales, Freeman, Rivera, McQuillen, Cardwell, Day and McHenry - Republicans all. If passed, Prop 183 would eliminate the Board of Waterworks and transfer their duties to the Public Works Board. Indy Star reporter, Francesca Jarosz, had a piece in today's paper about this issue. The online title is "GOP aims to hasten sale of utilities", but the subtitle pretty much says it all: "GOP wants to dismantle bipartisan water board". As Ms. Jarosz notes, the Democrats on the Board of Waterworks have been missing from the meetings, leaving the Republican members shy of a quorum. The Ds say they want an independent review of the proposed sale of the water utility to Citizens Energy. The Rs say the Ds are injecting politics with the delay. Since the Public Works Board already voted in favor of the sale, only approval by the City-County Council and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission would remain as hurdles to the Mayor's sale. The Rules committee next meets on June 15 at 5:30 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building.

Proposal 182 is the rezoning petition 2009-ZON-068, which allows the expansion of the Southside Landfill. This petition was approved by the Metropolitan Development Commission on April 7, 2010. A rezoning decision changes the law on a particular parcel. The MDC does not have that authority, so all rezoning decisions of the MDC move to the City-County Council, which does have the authority to make and change local laws. Usually a stack of rezoning decisions move to the CCC where they usually pass them all without any particular scrutiny. Once in a while one petition is removed from the stack and 'called down' by a Councillor with the request that the full Council conduct its own hearing in the matter. Technically any Councillor may call down any rezoning petition, but the Council practice has been that only the district Councillor where the property is located does so -- successfully. Monday night, one or another at-large Councillor may call down the rezoning for Southside Landfill. Joanne Sanders and Barbara Malone, both at-large Councillors, are rumored names. Bob Cockrum is the district Councillor. The real debate in this matter on Monday night will center on the autonomy of the district Councillors to make this sensitive call in their own districts. I believe it takes a simple majority of the Councillors to agree to 'call down' a petition. If approved, which will be no small task, the next Council meeting would serve as a public hearing on the zoning proposal. If it goes that far, it would take a 2/3 majority of Councillors to overturn the decision of the MDC.

For action Monday night, Proposal 149, which increases fees for the Department of Code Enforcement, will be considered by the full Council. It passed out of the Rules Committee with a 6-1 vote in favor.

The entire agenda is rather short, with only the discussion on calling down Prop 182, the rezoning petition, really looking like it could bring some energy with it. This agenda does, however, portend more energetic debate at the next meeting - June 28.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Don Stinson New Superintendent of Baldwin County School District

The Baldwin County School Board voted unanimously this morning, to hire Don Stinson as their next Superintendent. Thanks to yet another important news 'catch' by a poster here earlier today.

Here's the news story link.

It says in part that:

The Baldwin County Board of Education this morning named Donald Stinson as its choice for superintendent of the county's 27,000 school system. The panel voted unanimously to offer the job to Stinson, of Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township in Indianapolis, Ind.
"I advocate the small learning communities concept," Stinson told the board during interviews.

"We are reinventing education, making it customized for learners. We need to get in touch with our students. For so long we expected one size to fit all, and it simply does not work for 21st century students."

Comments tagged onto the news story mention a $200,000 per year salary and should that just be base salary, Stinson may have scored himself a nice raise. That will be in addition to the handsome pension that Decatur taxpayers have secured for him over the last dozen years.

Good luck Baldwin County School District ! May everything work out to your liking.