Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Every Citizen Should Know About INDOT

This past week has seen INDOT-related items simply everywhere.  They paint a pretty accurate picture of INDOT.

First, there was a letter to the editor in Friday's Indy Star.  It was written by a consortium of interest groups - the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, Health by Design, Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana Citizens' Alliance for Transit, Indiana High Speed Rail Association, Hoosier Rails to Trails Council, and AARP.  It is nicely written and you very well might want to read it in its entirety.  In short, though, it exposes how INDOT pretends to fulfill federal public input requirements for its transportation plans, but in reality makes its meetings as inaccessible to the public as possible, all the while not getting timely information to the public that any hearings are actually being held.  By holding public input meetings in out of the way places, at inconvenient times, INDOT reduces real public input to a minimum and can have its parade of special interest groups attend and weigh the 'public input' in a direction that the well connected campaign contributors would want.

The same day (Friday the 13th was certainly shaping up for INDOT), an email announcement from Thomas and Sandra Tokarski of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads hit mailboxes throughout the State.  Once again, the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) booted I-69 from its long range transportation plan.  The email thanked supporters and "Mayor Mark Kruzan, and all the members of the MPO who took this courageous action".  And, courageous it was. 

Saturday's Bloomington Alternative had an article by reporter Linda Green, illuminating what occurred at that MPO meeting and exposing INDOT's bullying tactics toward the various MPOs throughout the state. 

Before I quote that report, let me divert for a second to why the MPO system was set up in the first place.  The federal government saw the States putting in transportation improvements with gas tax proceeds that were not what was most needed. This sort of thing has led, for instance, to the huge number of bridges that are in serious need of repair throughout the Country. The US DOT began to require public input and set up the local MPOs so that local needs could be recognized and integrated within local transportation plans. These local plans would be coordinated with the entire state's plans through a cooperative relationship between the MPOs and the state's DOT.

INDOT abuses this relationship and denies access to funds if a local MPO does not do what INDOT wants. INDOT wants to spend money on highways. A pittance of the nearly $1 billion a year of gas tax money goes to much needed and desired mass transit. Another pittance goes to local improvements. The bulk goes to highways, highways, and more highways. Why? Because the highway lobby gives money to political campaigns and owns one Governor after another and one Legislator after another. And, because the gravel industry pulls the wagon at local Chambers of Commerce (including here in Indianapolis).

Green reported on the MPO meeting thusly:

Opponents of Interstate 69 erupted in cheers and applause when Mayor Mark Kruzan and the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee (MPO) on May 13 voted to exclude I-69 in its Transportation Improvement Program for fiscal years 2012–15.

The 8-to-3 vote followed several hours of intense testimony from the public in opposition to I-69. The move includes section 4, which would bisect Monroe County.

“There comes a time when you stand up to a bully,” City Council member Andy Ruff said. “It is time to stand up for ourselves. It is time to stop the bully from adding I-69 to his political trophy case.”
On INDOT's tactics she wrote:
Last November’s vote to include I-69 followed blackmail threats from the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to withhold other state and federal funds from Bloomington and Monroe County in retaliation. MPOs were created to coordinate transportation planning at the federal, state and local levels. If the local and state plans do not match, federal funds can be withheld until an MPO either comes into compliance or is re-certified.
State highway officials last fall also warned that Gov. Mitch Daniels had the legal authority to assume responsibility for transportation projects in Bloomington if the MPO denied I-69 in its plan.

INDOT Deputy Commissioner Sam Sarvis told the Bloomington Herald-Times after the latest vote that he had not anticipated the MPO not including I-69 in its plan.

“I haven’t talked to anyone about the consequences of the action,” Sarvis said. “(INDOT) would take a serious look at all discretionary funding within the MPO area.”
Today's Indy Star has an article on the Bloomington/Monroe County action by reporter Chris Sikich and an editorial on INDOT's quackery when it comes to true public input.
Sikich omits the fact that the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council formally opposes I-69 through Perry Township and that I-69 is only temporarily in the Indianapolis
MPO's long range transportation plan.  INDOT must return with thorough environmental studies on the impact of the proposed route for I-69 in central Indiana in order to convince our MDC (which acts as our MPO) to include it permanently.
The MPO system struggles with enough autonomy, at least here in Indiana.  We citizens need to be aware of the ideal relationship between MPOs and INDOT; where local MPOs spend their portion of the State's funds in ways that help their area.  We citizens need to be aware of the perverted relationship between Indiana's MPOs and INDOT that actually exists; where INDOT bullys and insists and threatens and spends the lion's share of the money in politically advantageous ways that benefit the few and well connected.  We citizens need to push for more autonomy for the MPOs and more courageous actions for the benefit of the MPOs' regions by those with a vote in these matters.

Congratulations to the Bloomington/Monroe County MPO for standing up for its citizens and for standing up to INDOT.  This is what Democracy looks like.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hallelujah ! They Are Paving My Street - Warning, This Post Takes A Turn

Not since 1987, has my one block street been repaved.  With one pothole connected to another, we have survived on pothole filler for at least 10 years.  We were to the point where the real choice was - repave, or let it revert to gravel and dirt.

This morning when I saw the parade of trucks staging, then inching down my street, I was envisioning writing an entry about the impact of massive road repair on Ballard's re-election campaign, and the low regard many D's and some of my R friends have for giving Ballard an edge.  But, I also began reflecting on a few things I heard on the campaign trail and this entry turned to a new focus.  At some point I will make mention of DPW's role in any chance Ballard has to gain a 2nd term.  Just not today.

For now, let me describe what I see happening.  This morning's activity has been to scrape the years of built up paving, some as recent as last week's pothole filling, off the top.  As I write, they have gone down each side once and are now scraping the middle.

My block is somewhere between a quarter to half a mile long.  No sidewalks.  No sewers.  No city water.  No streetlights.  So, I figure, we've sort of been a donor block with regard to City and County taxes for quite a number of years.  Until today.  So, a hardy thanks to all of you who live in the rest of Indianapolis.

The parade of vehicles begins with a dump truck, travelling at a leisurely walking speed.  Behind is a machine that is scraping the top layer off the road and, via an aerial conveyor belt, sending the old paving off to the dump truck.  Then comes a water truck.  Then a medium size plow, doing what I cannot tell.  Then, at varying distances and seemingly occupied by its own activities, is another plow, rigged with a large wire brush on its underbelly, cleaning the scraped roadbed of remaining debris.  There are also two extra dump trucks awaiting their turn in rotation.  And, there is a police car stopped at each end of the block - both T intersections with other streets that are far more busy than mine.

All well and good.

Except, I then began to recall the comments I heard in various locations across the City, that a) the road crews were not diverse, and b) they seemed to hail from other Cities, with Ohio origins mentioned most often.  So, I looked a little closer.  Each truck was manned by either one or two white men.  No women.  No men of color.   Around the corner was apparently the spot for the crew to park their cars.  I could only catch the county on the license plate of one of about 6 cars - it was county number 41, or Johnson County (Marion County is 49).  All did have Indiana plates, though.

The sign on one of the police cars was Pittsboro Police.  The other was ATS.  A Google search of ATS does bring up Advance Tactics Security, out of Indianapolis.

The sign on the scraper and the water truck, and on the reflective vest of one of the walking workmen, was Mamco, Jeffersonville, IN.  Jeffersonville is across the Ohio River from Louisville, KY.

I didn't spy any other signs of origin.

So, here you have at least one road crew that will prosper from the taxes and water rate hikes that Indianapolis residents pay.  Maybe some live in Indianapolis, which would be an excellent situation.  Still, Jeffesonville, Pittsboro, and Johnson County were three of the four locations I could discern from the vehicles.  I just think that there should be more concern from the Ballard administration to hire Marion County firms and Marion County residents with all of our money (and children's money and grandchildren's money).  The employees should also reflect our pool of workers.

Oh, and one (and only one) complaint about the crew.  Most everyone was occupied in their work, so no problems there.  I had run an errand and as I was beginning to unload my car, one of the road crew was very nice in asking if I needed to get out of my driveway, not realizing I had just returned.  But, minutes before...  As I turned onto my block from a busy street, about two car lengths in, and on the right hand side of the road, sat the Pittsboro Police car.  The sun was reflecting off his windshield and I just barely caught the glimpse of his hand held up to the window with the universal 'halt' signal.  I then had to back up onto the busy street to exit.  Come on.  There are better ways to control traffic at work sites.  They do entail getting out of the air conditioned comfort of your vehicle, but they weigh public safety just a bit higher. 

All in all, and for many reasons, I look forward to seeing the crew that lays down new asphalt.  It has, after all, been 24 years since this tired old street was gussied up.

Decaturites - The Bus Drivers Need Your Help

Tonight, the MSD Decatur Township school board will vote on a new transportation plan that has the aim of pushing out our longest serving and most experienced bus drivers.

The agenda  (abysmal in its lack of detail, as always) notes the item as "4.05 Approval of Transportation Restructuring Plan -- Mr. Stinson".  Don't know what the transportation restructuring plan is?  That's what they want - nobody in the public has access to the exact plan without filing an open records request and hope to get it by tonight. 

This administration is putting out different information to different people - some of it simple falsehoods to keep the fires low. 

The bus drivers have been told that on May 27 they will be "technically unemployed".  They have been required to fill out a job application, including submitting references.  They have been told that they will be evaluated on a points system that has secretly been in place all year.  They have been told that the secret points system includes giving a demerit for using sick leave.  When asked to provide the drivers with the criteria for the point system, they were told that they could not see it.  When asked for the criteria for re-hiring, they are told that nothing exists to show them. 

The press is being told that property tax caps and school funding cuts are the cause of the districts transportation budget woes.  Even though the district knew last year, that the budget for transportation would be $2 million, they are spending almost twice that on a transportation scheme that was tried and failed in Perry Township earlier.  Even though they bought more buses and hired more drivers, this administration supposedly thought they would save money, not spend more money.  This is exhibit A in how very incompetent the Stinson administration and this rubber stamping school board are.

Some people have been told that the bus drivers have only been asked to indicate their intent to return to work next year.  This is a lie.

This administration has a clear pattern of keeping as much of the community in the dark as possible.  The agenda is uninformative.  Unlike any number of other school districts whose agendas are posted online with the underlying documents easily accessible, our district continues to keep the agenda limited to pablum. 

If you go to a meeting, you cannot tell what is being discussed because there is never full disclosure of the information, even at the meeting.  It is as if you walked into a private conversation if you go to a board meeting - which is pretty much the reality.  Community input is only a hindrence to these people.

Stinson and the rubber stamping school board just bought 134 acres of land.  The district has so much debt, that property taxes will not cover the payments and they had to let teachers go just last year to make ends meet.  Yet, their greed knows no bounds and they bought land they actually have no idea how they will use.  They already own over 100 acres; some of which was purchased without following the law for appraisals and some land for which they paid half again as much as it was worth.  They already own the old Concentra Building on Kentucky Avenue and refuse to sell it.  Our debt payments could be much lower if they showed any fiscal responsibility.  Yet, they buy even more property. 

So, there is enough money to buy unneeded property, but not enough money to safely and efficiently transport Decatur's children to school. 

Meanwhile, the bus drivers are our neighbors.  They are among the handful of employees who actually live in Decatur.  Go figure -- your tax dollars are going to pay outrageous salaries to administrators who refuse to live with us.  But, most of the drivers are from our community.  They know your children.  They care for your children.  They will call you if your child is not where they were supposed to be or if you are not home when they go to drop your child off.

Stinson gets an obscene amount of money for a Superintendent of a small district.  He gives administrators unusually high salaries and benefits - plus has implemented an unfunded liability in promised future payments for retirement packages that will haunt our budget for the next generation. 

The bus drivers' sin is that they do not matter to Don Stinson.  Stinson told the drivers that all employees had to share in the pain.  When asked what he was giving up, he said, : "If you don't like it, quit."

This community ought to tell Stinson and the rubber stamping school board that they need to cut administrator salaries and positions (as they promised to do, but have not done), and if they don't like it, they can quit.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

To all Moms out there -  Have a very happy Mother's Day !

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Continued Incompetence At Decatur Schools - Now Threatens Bus Driver Jobs

WRTV reporter, Kara Kenney, reports on a $1.9 million cost overrun in the MSD Decatur Township transportation budget.  You will remember that just last year, the district began targeting bus drivers in an attempt to get the older, more highly paid, drivers to resign.  The district bought more new buses, added drivers, and began using a transportation plan that had previously failed in Perry Township while raising costs there.  Now, predictably, the plan is failing in Decatur and raising costs here.

Here is Kenney's report ("Parents, Bus Drivers Upset Over Plan to Cut Routes"):

Parents, Bus Drivers Upset Over Plan To Cut Routes
Plan Would Lay Off Drivers, Limit Parents' Options

A Decatur Township Schools bus driver and some parents claim the district's cost-cutting transportation plan could put students' safety in jeopardy.

The school system is considering laying off bus drivers, cutting routes and changing pickup and drop-off times, 6News' Kara Kenney reported.

"My concerns are the overcrowding of the buses. There's already enough fights and enough problems on the buses," said a bus driver who did not want to be identified for fear of losing her job. "Add more kids, they're going to be crowded, three to a seat. They can't fit. The kids are too big."

The bus driver said she normally transports 50 to 60 children, but under the new plan, she expects almost 80 students per bus.

"I don't think the school district is looking at the kids' best interest," the bus driver said.
Numbers obtained by 6News show the district is spending twice the transportation dollars it has. Projected revenues for 2011 are $2,050,000, while estimated expenditures are $3,910,000, a difference of $1.9 million.

Operations Director Susan Adams told 6News one way the district operated inefficiently was by assigning all 6,600 children in the district to a school bus, whether they ride or not.

The school district has already asked parents to register for bus transportation so that the district can account for car riders and fill buses to capacity.

Also under the cost-cutting plan, the school will no longer allow children to be picked up and dropped off in different locations, which would impact many divorced and working parents.

"If they stop doing that, what's going to happen with the kids? They're going to be stuck," said grandparent Cindy Parker. "What's going to happen with the parents? They're not going to be able to go to work and make the money."

"Baby sitter, day cares, people arrange to have certain drop-off points," said mother Barbara Tedrow. "They have certain hours they work, and it's going to mess up everything."

6News emailed school administrators and stopped by Thursday, but no one would discuss the transportation plan.

In February 2010, 6News uncovered Decatur Township school buses idling unnecessarily and pointed it out to Superintendent Don Stinson.

"As we look at cutting transportation dollars, all aspects will have to be looked at. The fuel cost, how can we reduce fuel, and you've shown me a way," said Stinson last year.

Decatur Township Schools Operations Director Susan Adams told 6News the district wants to offer busing because 60 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch programs and the bus is their only way to school.

The school board is expected to consider the transportation plan at its meeting Tuesday.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Indianapolis Crime Rates vs. Top Ten Cities By Population

As regular readers of this blog know, I like to gather data in order to look at a variety of issues.  While on the campaign trail, I wanted to get a better grasp on how hopeful we could be as a City, that crime could be diminished.  To do that, I looked at crime rates for Indianapolis compared with the rates in the top ten US Cities by population.

The data originated with the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, which categorizes crime in ten broad areas: total violent crime, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, total property crime, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.  The FBI warns against rating cities by crime rates, and I believe I am avoiding that - you can judge for yourself as this entry proceeds.

The data are from 2009, the last full calendar year for which the FBI has released its Uniform Crime Report.  While Evansville, Fort Wayne, and South Bend crime stats are reported by the FBI for January-June 2010, Indianapolis is missing from the list for some reason.

I looked at the Indianapolis crime rate for each of the ten broad categories of crime, compared with the top ten US Cities by population in 2009 (Indianapolis was listed as the 14th most populous City in that report).  I then simply noted the number of top ten Cities with a rate higher than Indianapolis.  The top ten Cities were:

New York, NY (8,400,907)
Los Angeles, CA (3,848,776)
Chicago, IL (2,848,431)
Houston, TX (2,273,771)
Phoenix, AZ (1,597,397)
Philadelphia, PA (1,547,605)
Las Vegas, NY (1,377,282)
San Antonio, TX (1,373,936)
San Diego, CA (1,314,773)
Dallas, TX (1,290,266)

with Indianapolis weighing in at 813,471 people

Here are the Number of top ten US Cities (by population) with rate of crime higher than Indianapolis in 2009:

Total Violent Crime : 2
Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter : 4
Forcible Rape : 1 (and one not reporting)
Robbery : 3
Aggravated Assault : 0
Total Property Crime : 1
Burglary : 0
Larceny-theft : 1
Motor Vehicle Theft : 6
Arson : 1 (and one not reporting)

Interestingly enough, New York and Los Angeles were the only two Cities with lower crime rates than Indianapolis in all categories.  None of the top ten Cities had a higher rate in more than half the categories.

For me, this indicates that we should be able to bring down our crime rate in all of these categories (with the possible exception of motor vehicle theft), and that we have something to learn from other Cities.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Decatur Central High School Lifts Lockdown - Unloaded Gun Found

WRTV is reporting

Decatur Central High School lifted its lockdown about noon.

"During third period today, a teacher found an unloaded gun in a student's backpack," read a statement from Robin Gregory, community relations specialist for the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township. "The unloaded handgun was immediately handed over to administration."

The district said it put its safety protocols in place and that students and staff were not in any position to be hurt.

School officials said the student who brought the gun to school was taken into police custody.