Thursday, May 31, 2012

TIF Study Commission - Last Meeting Before Final Policy Reviews

The TIF Study Commission will meet tonight, beginning at 6 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building.  The agenda is:
Meeting Agenda

Base Taxing Units (Part 2), Infrastructure, Policy Considerations

I.              Welcome and Introduction of Commission Members (5 minutes) Steve Talley, Commission Chair
II.            Presentation – Base Taxing Units, Part 2 (30 minutes)     
Mike Holt, CFO, Warren Township Schools        Debra Hineline, Chief of Financial and Business Services Indianapolis Public Schools        Mike Terry, President and CEO, IndyGo

III.          Infrastructure (45 minutes)                    
Lori Miser, Director, Department of Public Works
IV.          Policy Considerations (45 minutes)                                                                                                                      
                    Brad Beaubien, Director, Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning, Indianapolis Center
                                                                                      Drew Klacik, Senior Policy Analyst, IU Public Policy Institute

VI.          Discussion, Comments and Public Testimony

VII.        Next Meeting:  Thursday, June 21, 2012, 6:00 pm, City-County Building Room TBA

V.      Adjournment

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lawsuits Pile Up Against Decatur Schools

"Reporter of the Year" award recipient, Kara Kenney, reports on two recent lawsuits brought against the MSD Decatur Township.  These are in addition to the racial harassment lawsuit filed last August by a 16 year old student (see "Decatur School District - Discrimination Lawsuits and (Could It Be?) Stinson Retiring").

Kenney reports:
Bus driver Teresa Surber, 56, alleges she went on medical leave for a hysterectomy in the spring of 2011 and when she returned, MSD of Decatur Township did not renew her contract.
Surber had worked with MSD of Decatur Township for 25 years, RTV6's Kara Kenney reported. 
In the lawsuit filed May 11, Surber alleged the district kept younger, less qualified bus drivers.
The next filing mentioned by Kenney is the 2nd one filed by former School District Security Officer, Keith Jones.
Jones filed an age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he was terminated in 2010. 
Jones’ [2nd] lawsuit states the school’s former Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Baer, retaliated against him by coming out of retirement to write a letter in Jones’ file calling him a “bad employee.” 
“That was wrong,” said Ken Roberts, Jones’ attorney. “It’s important because Jones was an elderly employee and elderly employees should have the same rights as everyone else. You should not discriminate on the basis of age. And once someone makes a charge of discrimination you can’t come back and retaliate against the person.” 
Roberts said Jones had no previous write ups, and an otherwise clean employee record.
In addition to suing the District, Jones' lawsuit over retaliation also names individuals Don Stinson, Jeff Baer, Susan Adams as well as the District's attorney, Jon Bailey, and his law firm, Bose, McKinney & Evans.  Bailey was also the attorney for Wayne Township's School District when former Superintendent Thompon's infamous contract was signed and which is now a matter of litigation (see Kenney's earlier report on WRTV "Atty. Central to Superintendent's $1 Million Retirement Fired").

Jones filed an age discrimination complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on January 4, 2011.  On January 19, 2011, after the District was notified of the complaint by the EEOC, Jeff Baer came back to the District headquarters and penned a negative letter against Jones and put it in Jones' file.  Baer had been retired from the District for six months when he penned the letter.  Retaliation against an employee for filing a complaint is strictly against the law.

Curiously, the Distict's attorney handling Jones' age discrimination lawsuit, Karen Sharp, tells Kenney the following:
On behalf of the school district, attorney Karen Sharp told RTV6 there is no evidence Jones’ firing and failure to rehire him was because of his age. 
“Mr. Jones, the Plaintiff in this lawsuit, previously filed two charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against MSD of Decatur Township, both of which have been dismissed as lacking evidence of any violation of the civil rights laws. The school agrees with the assessment of the EEOC that the Plaintiffs claims are meritless and will defend the lawsuit on that basis,” Sharp said in a statement.
It is curious that a lawyer would characterize the EEOC's action of 'dismissing' the complaint as meaning it lacked evidence of a violation.  In two minutes I was able to get the following from the EEOC's website:
If you plan to file a lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or retaliation, you first have to file a charge with one of our field offices (unless you plan to bring your lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, which allows you to go directly to court without filing a charge). We will give you what is called a “Notice-of-Right-to- Sue” at the time we dismiss your charge, usually, after completion of an investigation. However, we may dismiss for other reasons, including failure to cooperate in an investigation. This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.
So, when the EEOC 'dismisses' a charge, it simultaneously issues a "notice-of-right-to-sue".  One cannot file a lawsuit until the EEOC reviews your charges and finds, in fact, that there just may be substance to your claims - not that no such substance exists.  Why a lawyer (also with Bose, McKinney & Evans) would make such statement to the press is perplexing, as it surely misrepresents what the EEOC process actual is.

Jones lawsuit over retaliation claims that Susan Adams, Don Stinson, and Jeff Baer conspired to have Baer to come to the District offices specifically to write the negative letter for the file. It further asserts that the letter contained false information and that Bailey repeated that false information in his response to the EEOC regarding Jones' age discrimination complaint.

At this point, the School District is fighting 4 lawsuits - one for racial discrimination and harrassment, two for age discrimination and one for retaliation.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Airport Board Did Not Authorize Lawsuit On Fast Park Zoning

What an ironic twist.  It turns out that the Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) Board did not authorize the lawsuit filed on its behalf, contesting the authority of the MDC to approve the Fast Park Ride & Relax project for Stansted Road in Ameriplex (see "Yesterday's Zoning Case - Its About More Than a Parking Facility", and "Indianapolis Aiport Stomps  On Free Enterprise With Court Action").

Since the March filing, I have been requesting documents from the Airport.  They show that there was no vote by the Board authorizing the lawsuit.  The final word I got was that Mike Wells, Board President, unilaterally approved it.

Yesterday I filed a complaint with Indiana's Public Access Counselor alleging that this violates Indiana's Open Door Laws - because final action was taken without a vote of the Board in a duly noticed public meeting.

I've been on a number of Boards; most incorporated non-profits and one set up by State Law.  None gave the President the power of the Board itself.  Not through the incorporation and by-laws or statutes and not through Board policy.

The IAA Board apparently did not have a Board policy allowing any President of the Board generally, nor Wells specifically, to usurp their authority or role in deciding to commence legal action.  The explanation for his power was said to be by 'inherent authority' as 'the executive representative of the board'.

State Law gives the IAA Board the sole authority and power to sue and be sued on behalf of the IAA (IC 8-22-3-11).  That means that all members in attendance at a public meeting, the agenda for which has been published at least 48 hours beforehand for the notification of the public, are the ones who get a vote on whether the IAA will be a litigant in a lawsuit - with the majority vote prevailing.  That did not happen.

How ironic that the lawsuit claiming that the action of the MDC was outside of its legal authority, should be filed on behalf of the IAA Board by an action that was outside of the legal authority of the individual (Wells) to file.

This Week's Fundy Goes to Steve Talley - Chairman of theTIF Study Commission

I've been debating how to handle the excellence in public access that is the TIF Study Commission, and I've decided to carve out individual awards as each person is serving a different aspect of public involvement and access.

So, this week's Fundamental Friday Fundy Award is going to Steve Talley, who is the Chairman of the Commission.  He is certainly doing a great job of keeping the meeting flowing, but more importantly, it is Councillor Talley who has managed to maintain an inviting ambiance to public comment time.  Outside of the first meeting, where the length of the meeting took us all by surprise, Talley has not limited the time for comments, either in total or individually.  Now, as we enter the phase of discussion to create policy, he is opening the floor several times for input from those not on the dais.

I've seen my share of public comment periods, and the way Steve Talley is running these ones lowers the threshold for those who might be unaccustomed to speaking their minds in public settings.  He is always attentive, welcoming, and sincerely appreciative of the input of the folks who do comment.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Observations from the Polls

I worked the polls yesterday and my brain is pretty much mush today.  But, a few observations from the flow of folks coming through to vote.

I work in a location that has two precincts that are generally 2 - 1 Republican to Democrat.  The turnout in my precinct was about 16% overall.  But the vote was 4 - 1 R to D.  So turnout was more like 20% of the registered Rs and 10% of the registered Ds.  See what happens when there is a real contest on the ballot?

I have to say that I was surprised by the amount of anger yesterday.  Some folks were not just in favor of Murdock, they were downright angry at Lugar.  A number of people mentioned that they had not realized that the Congressional District in which they now voted was the 7th.  Among the Rs, there was a goodly discussion that they did not know anyone running on their side.  There was even some outright anger that they had been moved at all.

Usually Election Day  in the polls is seeing to the nuts and bolts of the election itself, mixed with seeing friends you only catch up with twice a year when they come in to vote.

I went into the day expecting confusion over the new precincts and changes to the voting location for some.  But, I didn't really see any of that.

What I did see this year there was this undercurrent of anger that I can't say I've seen before, and it ebbed and flowed through the day, but it was present and its impact was felt in the final tally.

On the R side, Mitt Romney won with 55% of the vote, while Ron Paul came in second with half as many supporters.  Cat Ping led the pack of District 7 candidates with 35 votes and her nearest competitors Carlos May and Tony Duncan garnered 19.   36 people chose not to vote for anyone.  Murdock took the Senate race 2 to 1 over Lugar, even though Lugar has a school named for him in the District.  Paul Ogden came in tenth in the Superior Court Judge race, edging out  Borges and Orbison.

On the D side, Andre Carson got 60% of the vote and Greg Bowes came in 8th for Judge, beating out Carroll, Eichholtz, Hawkins, and King.  County Treasurer Fuentes had the highest number of voters opting not to vote for her rather than cast a vote for an unopposed candidate with 9 of 41 voters not filling in the bubble.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Slating Process is Corrupt - Vote Against It

The slating process in Marion County is there to serve the needs of a small group of power brokers who want to be the ones who decide where the spoils of City government go, and many times, to provide employment for their family members.  There may be only one other Boss Hog County in Indiana where slating survives.

Sometimes slating gets excellent candidates.  Other times it picks lousy ones who have a relationship with the County Chairs or others who feel like wielding power in back rooms and out of site of the voters.

They say that the slate is picked by those who know them best - the Precinct Committeemen.  Not true.  The County Party Chairmen appoint the vast majority of PCs, Vice PCs, and Ward Chairs who vote.  Some don't do a minute's work for the party bosses outside of showing up to the slating convention to vote how they were told to vote.

There is no harm done to a good candidate who deserves your vote if a primary election were open to all and YOU, the voter, chose who should represent your party in the fall election.  Good, and even excellent, candidates have been pushed aside for fair to underhanded candidates by the slating process.

The only way to kill off slating and turn the decisions over to the voter is for voters to pass on the message that slating is a malignancy on Democracy here in Marion County, and for those voters to vote for an unslated candidate.

If you are a Democrat, you can vote against slating by voting for Greg Bowes and Mark King for Superior Court Judge as well as Brian Cooper for State House Representative for District 92 or Zach Mullholland in District 100.  If you are a Republican, you can vote against slating by voting for Paul Ogden or Carol Orbison for Superior Court Judge (Go with the O's).

Remember, it is as much your Party as theirs.  Bring Democracy back to the people.

Voter Information Portal -- check here for your polling location and to print a sample ballot.

TIF Study Commission - Looking For YOUR Ideas

The TIF Study Commission is at the halfway point and they want to hear from you.  You and I are the public, and while we don't have a seat on the Commission, this is the exact time for us to weigh in with our thoughts and ideas for making TIFs transparent and for the criteria that should be considered when and if another TIF gets set up (this administration is looking to expand one TIF in two new directions and expand another and create two brand new TIFs).

What kind of notice should the public get in order to review a proposed TIF?

What data should be set up by any administration that seeks to expand an old or create a new TIF?

How should a developer be chosen and how should a project be evaluated?

How big a footprint should a TIF have?

What information should be released annually for existing TIFs?

What should be done with any excess funds generated by a TIF beyond what is needed to make the bond payments?  Should the MDC have exclusive right to decide to give the money to the Pacers by passing it through the CIB?  Should the MDC have the exclusive right to loan a developer nearly $100 million?  Should the MDC have the exclusive right to balance the City's budget while ignoring the other taxing units and any needs they might have?

Should we retire the existing TIFs once the existing bonds are paid off?

Should the Council have more oversite of the use of TIF funds?  How should the public be notified and how much time should the public be given to research and digest any proposal?  Is two minutes per person sufficient? 

Should those opposing the expansion or creation of a TIF be given equal time to present reasons for such opposition?

There are surely many things I am not listing here.  But, do send any ideas and any comments to Hope Tribble, who serves as the Council's CFO and advisor, and who is the one who is keeping this Commission on track.

The next Commission meeting is Thursday, May 17.  It will begin at 6 pm in the Hornet Park Community Center in Beech Grove (5245 Hornet Avenue).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Broad Ripple Parking Garage Denied Variance From Flood Control Ordinance Requirements

On Tuesday the Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously denied the request of the developer of the Broad Ripple parking garage to obtain a variance from the flood control ordinance.  As if to emphasize the wisdom of that decision, the skies opened up and the streets of Broad Ripple flooded about an hour after the vote was taken. Many thanks to Board members, Joanna Taft, Darrell Morton,  Marilyn Halbrook, Mary Clark, and Melissa Coxey for their votes.

This was one of the most unusual variances that I have ever been involved with; not due to the actual variance petition, but some of the unusual goings-on around it.

For those who were not following it, a few entities banded together more than a year ago now, to submit a proposal for a 350 car garage with retail on the first floor.  The winning bidders, the Keystone Group, created an LLC for this specific project and called it 6280 LLC, after the address of the parcel, 6280 N. College.  The City is kicking in $6.34 million from the sale of the parking meters.  I, among others, have tried to get the entire agreement from the City, but no one that I know of has yet been successful.  The total, unverified by public documents, cost of the garage is said to be $12 - $15 million -- depending upon the source of the number.

Last fall the developer filed a number of variances to allow the building to hang over the sidewalks, etc., because the lot had always been too small for the project.  Among that bevy of variance requests was a request for relief from the flood control ordinance.  That particular request, however, was withdrawn with the statement that they would flood proof the building.

For whatever reason, they refiled that request in February, asking that they be allowed to build 4 feet below the required flood protection elevation and to also be allowed not to flood proof the building - which is the allowed alternative if you don't want to elevate a new building that lies within the 100 year flood plain.  According to the City's floodplain management webpages, 18% of Indianapolis is in flood prone areas.  Information we got from the Department of Code Enforcement, was that over 28,000 parcels are eligible for flood insurance.

The problem with granting variances from the flood control ordinance is that the City risks higher premiums from the National Flood Insurance Program, or to be tossed from that program entirely -- leaving property owners who depend upon flood insurance not so high and not so dry.

But, the 6280, LLC, folks were selling the idea that the incomplete floodwall being built nearby, would protect their property and so it was okay.  They claimed that if they were required to follow the City's ordinance, then the building would have to have a smaller footprint and they could not put in as much retail - making it impossible to cover costs.  Also, the cost of building up or floodproofing was not contained in the final agreement with the City, and this additional cost would kill the project.

Long story short - by the end of the hearing they said they could afford to floodproof if the City got in trouble with the National Flood Insurance Program/ FEMA for granting the variance.  So the idea that they could not afford to abide by the ordinance was proven false by their own statements.

I handled the remonstrance on behalf of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations and Clarke Kahlo for the Merdian Kessler Neighbors Helping Neighbors.  We got able and stalwart support from Councillor Zach Adamson, who is proving to be one of those great Councillors who truly care about what is right for Indianapolis and its residents.  He took time from his schedule each of the three times that the petition was scheduled to be heard to come and testify.  Also showing up to one of the scheduled hearing dates, but unable to make it on Tuesday, was Councillor Pam Hickman, who sent a letter in to the Board that was helpful.  Many thanks to Adamson and Hickman.

Now, on to the odd part of this variance - again not the petition itself but the odd stuff around it.

Thankfully, the team who oversees the floodplain management, spearheaded by Donna Price at DCE, and the current planning staff, led by Larry Calloway for this petition, came out in opposition to the variance, primarily because it could put Indy's participation in the National Flood Insurance Program in jeopardy of higher premiums or being kicked out of the program entirely.

Just about an hour before the first scheduled time for hearing this petition, we got word that the petitioners would be asking for a one week continuance and transfer to Board 3.  It seems they hadn't noticed Staff was recommending denial until the Thursday before the Easter weekend and wanted to do some wagon circling. We did challenge that request saying that some might mistake the request for board shopping (trying to get on the docket of a particular BZA board that could be construed as 'friendly').   The continuance and transfer were granted by a vote of 3 - 2.  Subsequently, two of the Board 2 members felt the need to recuse themselves from hearing the petition.

Less than two hours before the 2nd scheduled hearing, we got word that the petitioners were amending their petition from 4 feet below what is required by the City's ordinance to 2 feet below.  They were stating that this met FEMA's standards.  We could not verify their claims with the information we had at hand and so we asked for a continuance so we could have time to look into this new claim.  Our request was granted and the petition was continued for two weeks and transferred to Board 1.

During that time we tried to arrange meetings with Donna Price and Larry Calloway.  Our requests were pushed aside by their respective bosses with excuses of 'it would take too much time' and 'we are not available', respectively.  In all the years I've been doing this, I have never been told that I could not meet with staff of DCE or DMD.  Finally, we got special dispensation to meet half an hour prior to the 3rd scheduled hearing.

Frankly, if the motivation for blocking us from our requested meetings was to keep our presentation to the Board as uninformed as possible, it failed miserably.  Because we could not get up to speed by consulting with the City's in-house experts, we resorted to plowing head first into FEMA's website.  This website has a ton of information.  Not only that, they have gone to extraordinary lengths to express floodplain issues in common English without a bunch of unintelligible jargon.  So, we got better prepared, I do believe, by being forced to learn this stuff from the Internet.

Nonetheless, all of this was odd and unusual - and I hope not to see such maneuverings again.

Ultimately, the Board voted 5 - 0 to deny the variance request.  The flooding in Broad Ripple that very afternoon will hopefully reinforce the thought among BZA members that the flood plain ordinance serves a larger purpose than smply making building in a floodplain more difficult.  And to add more to the string of serendipity and coincidence, Tuesday was also the two year anniversary of the Meridian Kessler Neighbors Helping Neighbors organization - this successful remonstrance is one of their bigger achievements and a very nice anniversary gift, indeed.

I suspect that the parking garage will be built; that the developer just hoped to get out of the cost to comply with the flood control ordinance.  And for myself, the 5 - 0 vote renews my faith that the system is capable of considering the point of view of the public and making decisions that are in the best interest of the community as a whole.

Thursday - TIF Study Commission Reconvenes

After a two week hiatus, the TIF Study Commission meets again tonight.  This time the meeting will begin at 6 pm at Bethel Park Community Center, 2850 Bethel Avenue.  A preliminary report has been drafted and it will be discussed.

The draft is not yet posted on the Study Commission webpage, so I uploaded to Google docs (click here).

Thanks, Valued Reader, For Checking Back

Thanks to all of my valued readers for continuing to check back on this blog.  I've been tied up with everything from the 'joys of homeownership' (aka tending to hail damage) to planting when the weather cooperates to trying to help out with a variance matter.  The rest of the month looks unusually chock full of obligations, so my posting will continue to be sporadic for May.  But, thanks for sticking with it. You are appreciated.