Friday, December 31, 2010

Lack of Full Disclosure - Modus Operandi for MSD Decatur Township

After Gary Pellico supposedly left the employ of MSD Decatur Township this fall, his duties as public information officer/media contact person for the District were divided between Superintendent Don Stinson and a Robin Gregory. Gregory, her husband Todd, and their children, live in Decatur Township.

Gregory has a growing reputation as someone who ignores open records requests, as she has mine and other individuals that I know. So, giving out information is not her strong suit.

But, you do have to wonder why a person whose job it is to interact with the media and foster good will among reporters, would hold back important information from those same people. But, apparently, that is what Gregory has done.

A front page story in today's IndyStar, by Bill McCleery, quotes Gregory, but identifies her as just another parent of a Decatur student. I am sure McCleery could not have been informed of her day job as Stinson's mouthpiece. If he had known, he would have either tagged her with her job title, or found another parent to interview. McCleery's article was a well rounded piece looking at the effect of the "don't drink and drive" message given to teens, and how that message is damaged when role models get caught doing it. While MSD Decatur Township's Don Stinson's recent arrest for drunk driving was the main example, he was not the only one. McCleery didn't just phone this story in. He interviewed experts in the field, found this 'parent' to interview during the Christmas break, and pulled together a multi-faceted report on the issue.

He quotes Gregory thusly:

Furthermore, Dean-Mooney [national President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving] said, when such incidents occur, that's when parents have to be especially vigilant.

Robin Gregory, a parent in Decatur Township, agrees.

"The kids are watching to see what happens," said Gregory, 45. "Parents have to reinforce that you need to behave responsibly. It's dinner-table conversation."

The issue came to the fore again earlier this month when Decatur Township Superintendent Donald Stinson was arrested in Hendricks County.

Gregory and her husband, Todd, respect the job Stinson has done as superintendent. They have told their children that even good people sometimes make mistakes.

"None of us is perfect," she said. "But as a parent, certainly the burden is on us to set an example. If we're going to drink in front of our children, we can't drink and drive."

Telling part of the truth is the hallmark of the Stinson regime. Gregory crossed a real line when she failed to identify her position within the District. A line with real consequences to her future credibility.

IURC Takes Utility Sale To The Community For Comment

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has taken up the issue of Indianapolis' sale of the water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy. Still pending a final decision by the IURC, is the older request for a 35% rate hike, the outcome of which will decide whether Citizens Energy pulls the plug on the deal itself.

Jon Murray, IndyStar reporter with the City Hall beat, has been doing an exceptional job covering the hearings conducted by the IURC on the utility deal (see "IURC begins hearing on proposed sale of utilities", "Public hearing set on Indianapolis' utilities sale", "Can city sell the IURC on utility deal?", and the latest, "Fee to sell utilities is focus of submissions"). His series illuminates a vigorous debate by consumer advocates and City officials before the IURC. The idea that the IURC could trim back or deny the sale is even in the air as a slim possibility.

Murray reported yesterday:
The ratepayer group, represented by Indianapolis attorney John Price, disputes the city's decision to pay Veolia to end its 20-year contract early. It argues there was ample cause to cancel the contract without payment because of performance problems and other violations.

One possibility is highlighted in new testimony by Tom Plummer. The ratepayer group member and a longtime water utility operating supervisor repeats allegations that Veolia, formerly US Filter, falsified records to receive some incentive payments from the city.

"Several Indianapolis Water employees told me that they were asked by USFilter/Veolia personnel to alter records in order to make it appear that USFilter/Veolia had earned an incentive payment when in fact the unchanged records would not have supported the claim for the incentive payment," Plummer testified.

In 2005, federal authorities investigated similar allegations of falsified water records. No charges were filed.

The ratepayer group also objects to the utilities transfer based on deep cuts to nonunion employees' benefits -- despite city leaders' assurances at the time -- after the city bought the water utility in 2002. A lawsuit filed by employees about the same issue failed several years ago.

The IURC has announce a field hearing for next week, and the Office of Consumer Counselor, which represents the interests of ratepayers before the IURC, will take comments through their website and via fax. Again, from an earlier Murray report:

On Jan. 5, the IURC will have the public hearing at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School, according to a news release today from the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.

An information session will begin at 5:30 p.m., and the public comment portion of the hearing will start at 6 p.m. The school is at 1140 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.

The consumer counselor's office also is accepting comments via its website, Click "comment on a case." You can also send a fax to (317) 232-5923 or mail a comment to Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, PNC Center, 115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South, Indianapolis, IN 46204. Include the case number: 43936'

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How About a Free For All?

I'm swamped with getting some things done before the year is over. So, how about a free for all, where you post what's on your mind?

Got any New Year's resolutions? Were you stranded back east and have a tale to share? Did the blizzard churn up old stories of blizzards from bygone years? Any thoughts on politics or the new Legislative agenda? Anything else strike your fancy to post about?

Hopefully I'll be back at the blog tomorrow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone !

Here's wishing you a warm and fuzzy Christmas and all of your loved ones are near and healthy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Questions Mount Regarding City's Purchase of Garage

The City's purchase last February, of a garage at 101 N. New Jersey Street, has suddenly engendered a growing mountain of questions. At their core, the aim of these questions is to illuminate the legal authority under which the City made that purchase.

The garage is part of a complex deal proposed and approved by the MDC over a year ago (see "Dramatic Week for 450 E. Market Street (Bad) Deal"). The resolution, number 09-R-006, passed by the MDC included the following section:
The Commission's authorization of the purchase of the Parking Garage is conditioned upon the negotiation and execution of a Project Agreement between DMD and Market Square Garage/Ops Partners, LLC, substantially incorporating the terms and conditions set forth in the attached Term Sheet.
I requested a copy of the Project Agreement and a copy of documentation of available financing that should have been supplied by the developer, Market Square Garage/Ops Partners, LLC, within 3 months of the crafting of the Project Agreement, and prior to the purchase of the garage by the City. The response was "Bond Bank Manger Deron Kintner says the project Agreement has not been finalized. Evidence of financing has not been obtained to my knowledge yet; that would be one of our closing items."

The project agreement was never inked down, therefore the authority to purchase the property could not have come from this MDC Resolution.

I asked then, how does the City justify the purchased the garage. That was two days ago, and I have not received an answer to the question. This is an important question, because the laws for purchase and sale of property by governmental units, contain provisions to keep the process open to the public and to assure a fair deal for government assets.

The City should follow the laws.

I did obtain the sales disclosure forms from the Marion County Assessor's office. These are related to the purchase of this property and the purchase by Market Square Garage/Ops Partners, LLC, of the former Bank One Ops Center block across the street from the garage, and part of the proposed Project Agreement. Tadd Miller signed these sales disclosure forms for that LLC. The sales disclosure form for the garage, indicates that the property is being purchased by the City (by DMD on behalf of the MDC), under a land contract.

I have requested a copy of that land contract. Presumably the City has not bought a property for over $13 million with just a wink and a nod. I will update you when I receive that contract.

I also requested a copy of any payments made by the City on the garage property, and if they exist, from what fund the money came.

Also swirling around this purchase, is the fact that back taxes are owed on the garage, and are now the City's responsibility. The back taxes now amount to $533,529.16. The City's payment of taxes due the 2nd half of 2009 and both halves of 2010, was envisioned by the MDC resolution. So, two rhetorical questions arise from that. Why is the City in arrears on taxes it owes? And, since the MDC resolution cannot be the basis of the authority to purchase the garage property, from where will the money to pay those back taxes come?

Frankly, what I think we see play out here in this one really bad deal for the taxpayers, is a pattern of conduct by the Ballard Administration, particularly this past year. They find small and large loopholes in the law that they use to benefit well connected individuals and firms, with little regard to the risks to the taxpayers of those deals. They go through the motions of putting these deals through at least some of the appropriate governing bodies (in this case the MDC), but then ignore the actual resolutions that authorized the deal and do whatever they want regardless of the legal authority to do so. We saw that with the deal to pay $8 million in property taxes a year to the Pacers, where the Ballard Administration did not bring the issue before the Council for a vote, as required by law. We saw partial truths expounded upon with the parking meter deal. We see partial truths dosed out in the North of South deal, as well as hiding the fact that a 10 year 100% abatement is at the core of that deal - while keeping the Council from a vote on that abatement. And we see the use of an abatement deal that uses money that should go to schools and other governmental units, instead used to purchase a parking garage by the City, in the original intent of this deal.

More on this when the documents I have requested are produced or said to not exist.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Scratch That - City Bought Garage Last February

Sales disclosure documents obtained through Marion County Assessor, Greg Bowes, office, show that the City purchased the garage and property at 101 N. New Jersey Street on February 25, 2010, much earlier than I reported previously. They purchased it from Market Square Garage/Ops Partners, LLC, with Tadd Miller signing for the LLC. That means that public requests for information regarding this deal were being falsely denied for over nine months.

The sales price for the garage property was $13,600,000, and the sales disclosure document indicates that the City bought the property on contract, in keeping with the MDC Resolution authorizing purchase (approved on June 6, 2009). The wording in Resolution #09-R-006, specifies:
The Commission's authorization of the purchase of the Parking Garage is conditioned upon the negotiation and execution of a Project Agreement between DMD and Market Square Garage/Ops Partners, LLC, substantially incorporating the terms and conditions set forth in the attached Term Sheet.

That attached term sheet includes such things as a requirement that the developer prove within 3 months, that financing for the project 'is available', and that the developer commences development within 12 months. I have requested the 'Project Agreement' and the proof of financing documents.

Also on February 25, 2010, Market Square Garage/Ops Partners, LLC, purchased the garage property from Market District Garage, LLC, based in Columbus, Ohio, for the very same $13,600,000. They also purchased the city block with the address of 450 E. Market Street (and 450 E. Washington Street), the same day for $1,381,366.20, from MS Ops Center, LLC, based in Columbus Ohio, and using the same address as Market District Garage, LLC.

City Owes Taxes on Its New Garage

According to the County Assessor's website the now City-owned parking garage at 101 N. New Jersey Street, and the former Bank One Ops Center block at 450 E. Market Street, now owned by Market Square Garage Ops Partners, LLC, both have taxes due. I checked on the taxes due for my house, which I know are paid up for this year, and the Assessor's database reports $0.00 due on it.

The Assessor's website shows $533,529.16 due on the garage, and $213,401.44 due on the Ops Center.

Just this morning, I have confirmed these amounts due with Marion County Treasurer, Mike Rodman. He notes that the official records show 450 E. Market Street with an address of 450 E. Washington Street (this parcel is a full city block with frontage on both streets).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bell, CA, In Huge Financial Hole

An alert reader of this blog sent me the following article, which updates what is going on in Bell, CA. As regular visitors to this blog will note, there have been occasional entries about this small southern California town. Bell's claim to fame (or infamy), is the scandalous salaries received by the top City managers and most of the Town's Councilors (see "Arrest of Bell, CA, Officials", "Update on Bell", and "Bell City - Just the Absurd Apex of Business As Usual").

Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vibes, wrote the following for yesterday's LA Times:
Scandal-plagued Bell is hovering on the brink of insolvency and drastic cuts in city services — including disbanding the Police Department — probably will be necessary to fix its finances, according to a review of the city's books that Los Angeles County officials plan to release next month.

The report by the Los Angeles County auditor-controller paints the most dire financial picture yet of the southeast Los Angeles County city, where eight current and former city officials have been charged in a sweeping public corruption case. The findings were discussed with The Times by officials familiar with its contents who spoke on condition of anonymity because the document remains under wraps.

The review found that Bell has been running a deficit totaling several million dollars over at least the last three years under former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo. The red ink is the result of hefty salaries and pensions for top Bell officials and extensive city-run programs, the review found. To cover part of the deficit, city officials took money raised by the sale of bonds for specific projects and diverted it to the general fund, a likely violation of the law, according to experts on municipal finance.

When cities issue bonds, they must spell out in legal documents how the proceeds will be spent. Diverting the proceeds to other purposes would be "definitely against the law," said Erik R. Schleicher, a trader and fixed income analyst with M&I investment Management Corp. in Milwaukee, who has followed the Bell scandal closely.

"There are certain provisions that say bond proceeds need to be used for the designated project, and that only a small percentage can be used for costs of issuance and things like that," he said.

The budget shortfall described in the audit may explain the city's relentless drive for money under Rizzo. The Times has reported that Bell had aggressive — and legally uncertain — programs to tow cars, enforce questionable city codes and charge arbitrary business fees to merchants. Some of these programs are the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

As the Town tries to right its ship, extra bills are piling up:

The city has been forced to refund more than $5 million in illegal taxes levied during the Rizzo era and faces hefty legal bills because of the scandal. In addition, it has racked up $600,000 in fees from interim City Atty. Jamie Casso and his law firm since they were hired last summer. And, like virtually all municipal governments in California, Bell has been hurt by the poor economy.

And, they are left wondering what bond proceeds have actually been spent on:

It's unclear which bond revenues the city used to help close its operating deficit. In 2003, voters approved a measure allowing the city to issue $70 million in general obligation bonds. The bonds were to be used to build a gym, expand the Bell Community Center and build a library, civic center and theater.

An audit by state Controller John Chiang found that little had been done with the money and that a promised sports park consisted of a dirt lot encircled by a fence.

The $70-million bond was issued in two phases. Chiang's audit found "no rationale" for the city's decision to issue the second $35-million phase. About $23.5 million of that money was moved into a city bank account that did not earn interest.

It appears that any path to fixing the finances will be rocky:

The county review concluded that Bell will have to make deep cuts in services, including possibly closing the Police Department and contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said Bell officials had informally contacted the agency about replacing the Police Department before the scandal broke. He said that the Sheriff's Department would be cheaper than a hometown police force because much of the infrastructure already is in place.

Gilbert Jara, president of the Bell Police Officers Assn., said the city could disband the department fairly quickly because officers' contract with the city expired in June. The police association has been unable to meet with Carrillo to negotiate a new pact, he said.

Neighboring Maywood disbanded its Police Department this summer in favor of sheriff's deputies. The city, which is slightly larger than Bell, pays the county $3.8 million. In 2009, Bell spent roughly $6 million on its police.

Closing the department would require approval from the Bell City Council and would probably generate intense controversy. One of Bell's largest activist groups, BASTA, is funded in part by the Bell Police Officers Assn.

"It's devastating. You just handed me a gut bomb," Bell Police Capt. Anthony Miranda said when told about the auditor's finding. "I hope that through this turmoil, we can maintain the Police Department and find a way to keep that ship afloat."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Garage and Ops Center Parcels Listed With Taxes Due

According to the County Assessor's website the now City-owned parking garage at 101 N. New Jersey Street, and the former Bank One Ops Center block at 450 E. Market Street, both have taxes due. I checked on the taxes due for my house, which I know are paid up for this year, and the Assessor's database reports $0.00 due on it.

The Assessor's website shows $533,529.16 due on the garage, and $213,401.44 due on the Ops Center.

Just this morning, I have confirmed these amounts due with Marion County Treasurer, Mike Rodman. He notes that the official records show 450 E. Market Street with an address of 450 E. Washington Street (this parcel is a full city block with frontage on both streets).

City Bought Parking Garage - In July !

I must have been snoozing, but, back on July 19, 2010, the City of Indianapolis purchased the parking garage at 101 N. New Jersey Street. This from records on the County Assessor's website.

The reason this is important, is because this garage factored heavily in a really bad deal proposed by the Ballard Administration and Tadd Miller Enterprises, that was passed by the MDC over a year ago. (see "Dramatic Week for 450 E. Market Street (Bad) Deal" from October 9, 2009). The crux of that deal was to purchase the parking garage from Tadd Miller Enterprises for $18 million after that company purchased the parking garage and an entire city block across the street for that same amount, give the company a sweet deal to operate and use parking spaces for free, and abate Tadd Miller Enterprises and funnel that money into repayment of the bonds the city would use to purchase the garage.

The Assessor's records show that the garage (101 N. New Jersey Street), had a 2009 gross assessed value of $10.5 m, and a 2010 gross assessed value of $12 m. The owner is listed as "INDPLS, CITY OF DEPARTMENT OF METROPOLITAN DEVELOPMENT" and to have been the owner since July 19, 2010. I looked online for past Metropolitan Development Commission agendas to see when they approved this purchase, but only December's agenda is posted at this point. I have requested the resolution and any appraisals substantiating the purchase price. I will post an update once those records are provided.

The Assessor's records also show that the block across the street (450 E. Market Street), was purchased on exactly the same day, by Market Square Garage Ops Partners, LLC. The 2009 and 2010 gross assessed value of that property is shown as $3 m.

What surprises me the most is that I asked frequently for a copy of the final agreement between the City and Tadd Miller Enterprises and have been consistently told that 'the deal has not been finalize'. As coincidence happens, I actually last asked Maury Plambeck, Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development on July 29, 2010, "Has the deal with TM Miller Enterprises concerning 450 E. Market Street been finalized? If so, could I please get a copy of the agreement?" Plambeck's response that same day was "Pat, The deal has not been finalized. I'll remember that you want a copy, if and when an agreement is reached. Maury". Trusting Plambeck as I did, I stopped requesting the information.

It hasn't only been me who has been inquiring as to the status of the deal. I know that some reporters have tried to stay on top of it. I either snoozed through their articles on the City's purchase, or they, too, have missed this important development.

And, last but certainly not least, is that during the presentation on the proposed North of South deal to the Metropolitan Development Commission's, Economic Development committee, Commissioner Jim Curtis specifically asked how that deal was coming. He was told that there were still ongoing negotiations.

This is yet another example of Mayor Ballard's brand of "transparency". A bad deal gets morphed into a deal that is entirely invisible to the public.

Council Meets Monday Night

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council will meet this Monday night, December 20. A couple of items on their agenda have proven contentious.

Clearly, the re-appointment of Frank Straub as Director of Public Safety (Prop 366) is far and away the most contentious. The Public Safety Committee voted 5-2 in favor of his reappointment.

Prop 374, would reappoint Jennifer Ping to the Alcoholic Beverage Board. That proposal passed out of the Rules committee with a 4-3 vote in favor.

An offer of incentives for City employees to retire early, Prop 296, passed out of the Admin & Finance committee with a 5-2 vote in favor.

And lastly, a proposal to split the Council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee into two separate committees (Prop 376) passed out of the Rule's committee with a 4-3 vote in favor.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reposting Ogden Blog: "Decatur Superintendent Arrested For DUI; Does Lying Matter?"

Yesterday, Paul Ogden, author of the OgdenOnPolitics blog, posted about Stinson's statements to the police on the night of his arrest. I reprint it here with Paul's permission:

The city, particularly the southwest portion of the county, is abuzz over the recent arrest of Decatur Township Superintendent Don Stinson for DUI. The Star reports:

Decatur Township Schools Superintendent Donald Stinson expressed remorse and regret Monday, a day after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in Plainfield.

"I made a terrible error in judgment," Stinson said Monday in a telephone interview with The Indianapolis Star. "I've embarrassed myself. Even worse, I've embarrassed my family and friends and have unnecessarily brought negative attention to our district."

Decatur School Board President Dale Henson said board members would discuss sanctions against Stinson tonight during the board's regular meeting. Stinson was not suspended Monday.

Stinson, 60, was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 when an officer stopped his pickup truck on Ind. 267 near Stafford Road at 1:42 a.m. Sunday, according to a Plainfield Police Department report.

Police arrested Stinson on initial charges of drunken driving and public intoxication, the report said.

Officer Michael Pigman saw Stinson drive a 2008 Chevrolet Tacoma over a curb and weave across the lane markers before he pulled the vehicle over, the report said.

Stinson smelled of alcohol and initially told the officer he was returning from a Walmart and had consumed a beer. Later he admitted drinking two glasses of wine at one tavern and two more beers at another, the report said.

To see the rest of the article click here.

It's unfortunate that the claims of drivers arrested for DUI regarding how much alcohol was consumed are never challenged by reporters. Stinson tested at .12 which he said was based on drinking two glasses of wine and two beers. BS.

If Stinson drank those two glasses of wine and two beers in a one hour period, his BAC would probably only be at .06. If he didn't drink that fast and he spent three hours consuming those two beers and two glasses of wine, he would have only been at .02.

Stinson would have had to drank at least 10 glasses of wine or beers over a three hour period to get to .12. Stinson clearly has not told the truth. Does that matter?

Note: I used the drink wheel to measure BAC. That can be found here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

IndyStar Reports on Stinson Arrest, Recent Penalties To Others

IndyStar reporter, Vic Ryckaert, reported on the weekend arrest of Decatur Schools Superintendent, Don Stinson, in today's paper. Of particular interest was Ryckaert's addition of a list of punishments meted out to other educators for the same offence. He reports:

-- Former Fall Creek Valley Middle School Principal James C. Joiner was arrested twice in 2008 on drunken-driving charges. He resigned and was sentenced to a year on probation.

-- Martinsville Schools Superintendent Ron Furniss was arrested and charged with drunken driving in March 2009 after visiting several Central Indiana restaurants and clubs. Furniss was suspended as superintendent and given other penalties. He was barred from using a district vehicle for 60 days and was ordered to enter an alcohol treatment program at his own expense and submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

-- Carmel Middle School Principal Denise Jacobs was arrested on a drunken-driving charge in January 2009 after a Fishers police officer saw her car weaving on the road. She was suspended without pay for a week and later voluntarily stepped down as principal. Jacobs pleaded guilty and received a $400 fine, had her license suspended for 90 days and received one year's probation.

-- Fishers High School Principal Scott Syverson was stopped by police in December 2007 after attending a party at the home of then-Hamilton Southeastern High School Principal Concetta Raimondi. Syverson was charged with drunken driving a few weeks later, and he resigned as principal in February 2008.

Ryckaert notes that Stinson has not been suspended. He also recaps Stinson's changing story from the arresting officer's report:
Stinson smelled of alcohol and initially told the officer he was returning from a Walmart and had consumed a beer. Later he admitted drinking two glasses of wine at one tavern and two more beers at another, the report said.
The Decatur School Board meets at 5:30 pm tonight in Executive Session, which they always schedule. The agenda was created on December 9, before Stinson's arrest. The Board could take this opportunity to actually use an executive session for the legally allowed purpose mentioned in the notice, and discuss Stinson's suspension without pay or his removal. The Regular Meeting of the Board follows at 7:00 pm.

WRTV Reporters On Top Of Stinson Arrest

WRTV, Channel 6, reporters Jack Rinehart and Rick Hightower, filed the most complete reports last night on the drunk driving and public intoxication arrest of MSD Decatur Township Superintendent, Don Stinson. Rinehart reported on the arrest and Hightower had an exclusive interview with Stinson.

Hightower reports that "The Decatur Township School Board meets Tuesday night, but board members told Stinson they won't take any action until his case goes to court and formal charges are filed."

Since Stinson admits to drunk driving, I don't know why the Board is waiting.

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Details on Stinson's Arrest Emerge

Channel 6 has an updated report posted on their website. In part it says:

According to a police report, Stinson was pulled over at 1:45 a.m. after Officer Michael Pigman saw his vehicle swerving on State Road 267.

"I could smell the odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from the driver's person, and his eyes were bloodshot," Pigman said in the police report.

Police said Stinson admitted being at Bubbaz Bar and Grill and another bar earlier in the evening.

Pigman said Stinson failed field sobriety tests and that his blood-alcohol content was 0.12 in a portable breath test.

Stinson told the officer that he had been drinking more frequently since his wife of 39 years left him unexpectedly.

Edited to add: WISH-TV also has a story on their website.

Decatur Superintendent, Don Stinson, Arrested

Don Stinson, Superintendent of MSD Decatur Township, was arrested this weekend for driving under the influence. This according to a WRTV, channel 6 web posting . Stay tuned and check out the 5:00 broadcast.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

David Baird Steps Up for Wayne Township Residents

IndyStar reporter, Jon Murray, has an article in today's paper about the proposal for Wayne Township to put $200,000 into the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library's hands, in exchange for keeping the Wayne Township branches open more hours.

Murray frames it this way:

No one disputes the Wayne Township trustee's heart is in the right place with his plan to spend about $200,000 to restore longer hours at four nearby library branches.

But some state lawmakers view the proposal as another example of township excess. And it comes as the General Assembly is gearing up for more debate about reforming local government.

David Baird, who leaves office after this month, said he saw an opportunity to help residents who rely on the ailing Indianapolis library system by tapping the township's rainy-day fund.

While proponents of eliminating Township Government see this as an argument in their favor, I have to say, I see it as simply doing the right thing.

As Baird explains it in Murray's piece:

Baird, a Democrat, says his plan fits within the township's statutory mission of poor relief. The heavily used libraries provide computers and other resources for job-seekers and safe havens for children, and he says residents are reeling from cutbacks in operating hours across nearly all of the library system's branches in October.

"I'm not robbing Peter to pay Paul," Baird said. "It's just very vital that people need to understand that we've got serious unemployment and a lack of resources in Wayne Township."

And, Baird says that the money is actually extra:

But in this case, Baird said, he is tapping a $3.5 million rainy-day fund that was stocked specifically to replace an aging fire station. More county income taxes came in than expected, he said, leaving more than enough for the fire station.

David Baird is stepping up for the residents of his Township, because Mayor Ballard and the City-County Council failed to be champions for all of Indy's residents. See my post "Muni Corps Committee To Move Forward on CIB, Library, and IndyGo Budgets" for more detail, but the short story is that during the budget hearings, the Library asked for a $1.8 million shortfall appeal, which would have replaced taxes that were expected, but never collected, due to the lagging property value assessments that we went through for a couple of years. The Council and Mayor ended up raiding $1 million from the Ameriplex TIF, leaving it with little resources, and cutting the Library budget by $800,000.

Mayor Ballard had numerous options presented to him all year long. But, his priorities were demonstrated time after time after time. And, his priorities do not include quality of life improvements for Indy's residents; no priority for Parks, no priority for Libraries, no priority for public transportation.

For example - the Ballard Administration pulled in $5 million of the $35 million owed, from a clawback provision of Navistar abatement agreements (see "Abatements - Scary Loopholes Need Closing"). Instead of using that money for necessities, Ballard sent the money on to the IEDI and the ICVA. The IEDI funds the Mayor's trips abroad, by the way. This was more than ample funds to plug the leak that everyone saw coming in the Library budget, and could have been used to supplement Parks funds.

Another example - the Ballard Administration adamantly took the position that the nearly $100 million in excess funds held in the consolidated downtown TIF could not possibly be tapped to help the Library. But, somehow, the Ameriplex TIF could be. The very same mechanism that 'laundered' the Ameriplex TIF funds, could have been applied to the consolidated downtown TIF funds, and the full $1.8 million, perhaps more, could have been provided to the Library. Let us not forget, that only days before, Mayor Ballard engineered the use of consolidated downtown TIF funds to provide the Pacers organization with an ongoing $8 million per year from the property taxes held by that fund.

And, a last example - the Ballard Administration could have simply said, "Okay, just this one time", to the Library's request for a shortfall appeal. They approved IndyGo's request to file a shortfall appeal for $1.5 million.

So, back to David Baird. At least somebody in this City is stepping up to do the right thing. Kudos to Baird for finding a way to keep services available to his Township's citizens.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Campaign Website Is Up !

It took a while, but my campaign website is up and fully functional. I also created a facebook page and a twitter feed.

Suggestions are always welcome.

Proposals Flowing Through Council

The Council is not being idle in the holiday season, by any means. Among the Proposals now flowing through the system, there are some that caught my eye.

Prop 292 would approve the sweetheart deal for the North of South developer, Buckingham Cos., whereby the City and taxpayers would act as banker and Uncle Money-Bags, so that the developer only need invest $6 million of their own money in a $188 m project. No financial institution felt the project warranted their backing. That goes to the Economic Development Committee, which next meets on December 15.

Tonight, the Administration & Finance Committee will hear, among other things, three Proposals of interest. First is Prop 324, which would require all City or County government related websites to be hosted by the Information Services Agency on or

Second is Prop 247, which would approve the refunding of the bonds floated in 1991 for the Harding Street TIF, which amounted to $35 million in principle back then. As seems all too usual, it appears that not much of the principle has been paid down over these nearly two decades. One of the expressed goals of this proposal is to also gain enough added principle to pay Eli Lilly back for a loan it made to the City back in 1991 and related to this TIF. Although the amount is not stated in the Proposal (keep repeating "transparency, transparency, transparency"), other documents suggest a price tag of $14-$15 million for the loan repayment. The bond to be floated, if this proposal is successful, would be for $45 million. The loan repayment is part of the No-So deal and the cash would flow through Lilly, directly to the developer.

Third is Prop 296, which seeks approval of an early retirement plan for City and County government workers, who have put in enough years of service to qualify. The package sets a limit of $45,000 per employee who enters into the early retirement plan. It would seem that the City has enough money to throw $33.5 million at the Pacers and serve as a banker for $93 million for the No-So development, but it needs to cut its own payroll. Yes, I know there are different pots of money that Ballard is turning into his own piggy bank for favored recipients of his largess, but it seems that this Administration's priorities are all messed up. This proposal was tabled at the last Admin & Finance meeting.

Also coming up is Prop 337, which seeks to encourage the Indianapolis International Airport to release TSA from doing security at the airport, and either hire their own workforce, or hire an outside contractor. This has been assigned to the Municipal Corporations Committee, which next meets on December 13.

And last but not least, is this proposal that caught my eye. Prop 377 would create a fund into which folks could donate money to the City at the same time as they pay their property tax bills. I'd be curious if enough money will be donated to cover the expenses of soliciting and administering those donations? This proposal has been assigned to the Rules & Public Policy Committee, which next meets on December 14.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Victory for David !

In a classic David vs. Goliath story, a group of citizens took on the tree trimming practices of some of the State's utility companies -- and have won a major victory.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) announced a decision in the year long investigation of these practices. I'll go into the particulars of the decision in just a moment.

But, first, let me give hearty congratulations to Charlie Goodman, the only Citizen Lobbyist working the halls of the State Legislature, Jerry Baker, of Trader's Point, and all the others who formed the Indiana Tree Alliance, and systematically pursued the issue with the IURC. Their objections to the practices were not to the need for tree trimming when the trees pose a risk to power lines, but rather, to the over-reach of utilities, in particular Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL), in what amounted to a taking of private property. IPL claimed that they had the right to enter onto personal property to trim any tree it deemed in need of trimming - without any easement or permission of the property owner. They also exhibited a habit of trimming trees in ways that endangered the trees and did not in all cases, clean up the mess that the trimming created. You can visit the Alliance's website, , for more details.

The IURC press release summarizes the 111 page order issued on Tuesday, November 30. Briefly, they determined that "Hoosiers would benefit from having consistency with regard to the rules and regulations surrounding tree-trimming practices and procedures". The Press Release goes on to say:
In its decision, the Commission stated that the utilities are required to adhere to nationally recognized best practices, as outlined by the ANSI A300 standards as well as other vegetation management guidelines detailed in the Order. For example, the utilities are now prohibited from "topping" trees or removing more than 25 percent of a tree's canopy without the property owner's consent. This decision stems from consumer complaints broached during the course of the proceeding. If the property owner does not consent, the utility must offer alternatives.

When contacting customers, the utilities must now provide notice in person or over the phone and provide at least one form of written notice to the customer. The initial notice should be no later than two weeks before the trimming is estimated to occur. In doing so, customers and utilities will have more time to discuss and resolve concerns. Further, once normal maintenance trimming is complete, the Commission finds that it is reasonable for the utility to have the debris promptly removed within three calendar days.

With regard to accessing property, utilities should use the public rights of way or easements. If the existing access points are insufficient, utilities either need to obtain such additional easements as necessary from the property owner, or obtain the consent of the property owner prior to trimming vegetation outside of the easement or right of way.

The major point that the Indiana Tree Alliance lost on, was the IURC decision that property owners may not hire their own tree professionals to do the trimming, but must rely upon the utilities.

The IURC will hold a 'technical conference' at 2:00 pm, December 15, to begin to craft new rules that will regulate the specifics of how Indiana utilities can trim trees on private property. They meet in room 220 of the PNC Center, which is on the southeast corner of Washington Street and Capital Avenue. The Indiana Tree Alliance is urging the public to attend to speak to what rules they would like to see created.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MDC To Vote On No-So Deal Today

On today's Metropolitan Development Commission docket, is the North of South sweetheart deal. It is in the form of an MDC resolution that will allow the loan of up to $86 million to Buckingham Cos. to develop about 11-14 acres just north of Lilly's corporate center. The resolution is posted here. (Again, you will need to log in with a Google account. If you prefer, just email me at and I'm happy to send you the document.) I have also uploaded the MOU (memorandum of understanding) between the City and the developer. And, the Council Proposal 292 working through the City-County Council is posted here.

This particular document was quite a slog when I read through it. It formally modifies a bond resolution from 2004 - but without fully incorporating that resolution. So, it runs from noted modification to modification, without giving an understanding of what remains in the old resolution.

What is obvious from the resolution, though, is that the MDC is tangentially approving the deal and the project, even before considering the merits of a rezoning of the property. In the resolution there is mention of a loan to the developer and the issuance of bonds. In addition, the document does note that these bonds will be secured with TIF revenues - presumably from the consolidated downtown TIF. However, there is NO mention of the developer's obligation to repay the City, NO mention of the amount of the loan, NO mention of a first mortgage on the project, NO mention of the amount of the bond issue, and NO mention of the use of property tax revenue derived from the project to buy down the repayment obligation of the developer.

It continues to stun me how incomplete a picture this administration is willing to pass on to the decision-making entities.

Beyond what the MDC is voting on, the City is pledging to repay a $14 million loan to Lilly, who will turn that over to the developer, put in $9 million of infrastructure, and rig what amounts to a 10 year, 100% abatement on the property. It is the latter point that I actually find most bothersome of all of the bothersome aspects of this deal.

When an abatement within a TIF district is granted, there are goals and clawback details agreed to, there is a vote by the MDC, but also a vote on that abatement by the City-County Council. By doing an end run around the abatement rules, the Ballard Administration can parse out pieces of the entire deal to separate entities, with a connection between the decisions, but no real overlap on the actual pieces being decided. The MDC votes on the use of TIF revenues to secure bonds, the project, and the loan, while the Council votes to float the actual bonds.

By calling the property tax revenue generated by the project a 'credit' to be applied to the developer's repayment of the bond, the Administration is seeking to avoid the checks and balances written into the laws regarding abatements. In fact, I can find no place where ANY body, not the MDC and not the Council, actually will vote for this use of the property tax revenues.

This deal is just the latest in a long string of bad deals for the taxpayers of Marion County. In addition, the City puts itself out as a financial institution, putting the taxpayers on the hook for a project that no bank will touch, and simultaneously absorbs all of the financial resources of the consolidated downtown TIF. At no point has the Ballard Administration mentioned an analysis of the benefits and risks of this project compared with paying off the existing TIF bonds as soon as possible, nor compared with applying the same deal to the development of the old MSA site, which is owned by the taxpayers and would spur more private investment and City renewal than the No-So deal can spur.

You have to wonder why Ballard would put the taxpayers on the hook for nearly $100 million, while the developer of No-So only has to come up with $6 million. There is something not right about this deal.