Monday, April 27, 2009

Investigation of CIB Practices

Previously I called for a study of the City of Indianapolis' goals for downtown and how to reach them. I now call for an investigation of the money management practices of the Capital Improvement Board over the past twenty-five years. I think it could illuminate how we got to this point in the CIB's financial mess, but it might also bring to light debt management issues that should be questioned more broadly than just the CIB.

Here are some areas I can think of, that should be looked into. You can add your own.

Many are making generalized statements about deficit spending by the CIB since 2000. The documents available online at show detailed comparative data only since 2001, due to an accounting method change. Much of the public focus on the CIB's financial mess has revolved around the new Colts contract with the City (2005) and the operating expenses for the new Lucas Oil Stadium. There is no doubt all of that should be gone over with a fine toothed comb. But I would add that in the late 1990's, then Mayor Goldsmith renegotiated the contract with the Pacers - guaranteeing them a median league income no less, and built them a new stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse, whereby they could make money beyond what their team alone brought in. How did these additional costs affect subsequent annual 'profit and loss' statements?

Also, have the bonds to build the old Market Square Arena ever been paid off or were they rolled into other bonds? We know that the old Hoosier Dome - turned RCA Dome - is now gone, yet we, the taxpayers are on the hook for $70,000,000 when it originally cost only $55,000,000 to build. Have we done the same thing with the MSA? Why was debt allowed to grow like this?

According to the Conseco Fieldhouse website, it cost $183 million to build. Yet, information provided by the Indianapolis Bond Bank that covered the CIB's bonds, show two outstanding bonds for Conseco Fieldhouse. Still due as of June 30, 2008, was $191 million and $14 million. There is a third bond entitled 'Conseco Fieldhouse Cash Flow Funding' with an outstanding amount of $34 million. What is that? Is it related to the $34 million still owed to the Circle Center Mall investors, or are we looking at an additional $34 million on top of the bonds? Not to leave well enough alone, there is a fourth bond for the Virginia Avenue Garage, built primarily for the Pacers along with Conseco Fieldhouse, and part of the City's contract with the Pacers. At an initial cost of $25 million, the outstanding amount was $5 million last year. All taken together, CIB debt related to the Pacers as of June, 2008, was $244 million for facilities that cost a total of $208 million to build ten years ago. And, it is not clear if the Circle Center Mall investors' $34 million has been accounted for in this tally.

The same document shows two RCA Dome bonds. Again as of June 30, 2008, $45 million and $25 million were still outstanding. Recapping, we have an outstanding debt of $70 million for a building that cost $55 million to erect.

In addition to the Lucas Oil Stadium bonds, which are held by the Indiana Stadium & Convention Center Building Authority, the Indianapolis Bond Bank floated a $74 million bond/loan on behalf of Jim Irsay so he could fulfill his $100 million 'contribution' to the cost of building the LOS. That bond was floated in 2007 and not one dime in principal had been paid by April 1 of this year (2009). Those bonds need to be examined as well.

The Convention Center costs may have had an alternate fate - actual reduction of debt. The best I can find online is that the Convention Center cost $26 million to build in 1984, and the 2001 expansion cost $84 million. As of June 30, 2008, the CIB still owed $21 million and $59 million on two bonds that are labeled 'Convention Center'. So, $80 million owed for a building that cost $110 million to build. One still must ask why only $5 million has been paid off the original cost from 25 years ago.

Those of you who take advantage of the only sports venue that is actually affordable for most of us living in Indianapolis, Victory Field, rest assured that only $5 million was still outstanding on a bond for that facility as of June last year.

Debt in general and debt management needs to be examined in Marion County. But, an investigation of the finances of the CIB could lead the way.

The taxpayers deserve clear answers of how we got to where we are today when it comes to our sports teams. We need to know that the mess can actually be put behind us and is not going to explode in our faces yet again due to long term disregard for the actual costs of operating these facilities, sweetheart contracts to retain professional sports teams in a small market, and irresponsible debt service.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Setting Goals and Limits

Every time we turn around in the mess that is the Capital Improvement Board's finances, we have to hear about 66,000 hospitality jobs on the line. Now, I would like to think that the personalities hiding behind the maids and the cocktail servers and the janitors and the ticket takers really worry about the quality and quantity of those particular jobs. But, I'd like to see some salary breakdown. How much aggregate money goes to these 66,000 hospitality workers and how much aggregate money goes to the ball players and ball club owners? Which number would be larger? Who gets health insurance, dental benefits? Who doesn't need a second job to make ends meet?

But, even if there wasn't this duality, should we not ask - at what price do we continue to throw more and more taxpayer money at an industry that does not ever seem able to stand on its own two feet?

I would suggest that we pull together a group to study the downtown hospitality/entertainment / tourist industry. That would include hotels, restaurants, theaters, art galleries, malls, stadiums, and maybe even cross the river and pick up the zoo and gardens. The study group should not have ANY lobbyists on it. It should, however, have regular taxpayers, elected officials, and some folks with particular expertise, like accountants. There should be far more representatives of the funders than representatives of those who want the funds, so that preordained outcomes are avoided.

The purpose of the group would be to ask and answer these questions:

How much taxpayer money has been spent with what results?
How much more money does the taxpayer owe currently?

What is the goal of funding the downtown tourist/hospitality industry?
Is it to provide sports teams to a small market City?
Is it to provide a living wage to lots of people?
Should it be the City's goal?

How do we measure success in the goals?
Can this industry stand on its own and thrive?
If so, how do we reach that goal?
If not, is this the best return on investment industry to target with a forever stream of tax revenues?

What is the structure through which tax money is funneled presently?
Is this the optimum structure to reach the goals?
What is the optimum structure to reach the goals?

Which segments of this industry would produce the best overall results with any funds provided - sports, arts, entertainment?
What mix of funds vs. segment would provide the optimal strategy for meeting the goals?

I'm sure there are other questions and answers that could be derived.

All of this information would be given to the public for input on what they are willing to pay for a thriving downtown. Ample time would be given for comments - not just 2 minutes per person so officials don't have to be up late listening to their constituents.

The haphazard method used for 30 years now does not seem to be doing any more than wrecking havoc on the taxpayers' pocketbooks. The public deserves clear goals, strategies, and standards by which success can be measured. I'd say the public deserves all that BEFORE one more penny of tax money is funneled to the CIB.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Deep Pock'-et

deep pock'-et 1. n. what the Indiana State Legislators, particularly Senators Luke Kenley, Teresa Lubbers, James Merritt, Patricia Miller, and Michael M. Young, think the taxpayers of Marion County have.

deep pock'-et 1. v. act of shielding a bill under consideration by the Indiana State Legislature from a fair vote on the floor example: Speaker of the House, Pat Bauer, sensing passage of the popular bill to put tax caps in the state constitution, deep pockets it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

HB 1604 - CIB bailout bill - how they voted

HB 1604 which authorizes the City-County Council to increase a variety of taxes, the revenue from which is to go to the CIB, has passed out of the Senate with a vote of 33 aye and 17 nay.

Those voting nay were:

Jean Breaux (D, District 34)*
Johnny Nugent (R, District 43)
Marlin Stutzman (R, District 13)
John Waterman (R, District 39)
Mike Delph (R, District 29)*
Lonnie Randolph (D, District 2)
Karen Tallian (D, District 4)
Richard Young (D, District 47)
Sue Errington (D, District 26)
Earline Rogers (D, District 3)
Greg Taylor (D, District 33)*
Lindal Hume (D, District 48)
Connie Sipes (D, District 46)
Greg Walker (R, District 41)
James Lewis (D, District 45)
Tim Skinner (D, District 38)
Brent Waltz (R, District 36)*

* = part of their district falls inside Marion County

HB 1604 - CIB bailout bill - fiscal impact analysis

The Legislative Services Agency (LSA) does a fiscal impact analysis of all bills before the State Legislature. Here is what the LSA considers the new taxes proposed in HB 1604, if implemented, would generate for each of the next three years.

The LSA leaves the revenue prediction for parking fees as 'indeterminable'. The total revenue for all remaining tax increases combined are:

2010 = $19.2 million
2011 = $23.5 million
2012 = $26.8 million

The CIB claims they need an additional $48 million annually to make ends meet. Even if you support the claims of the CIB and the tax increases, this still leaves a sizable gap in revenues.

HB 1604 - CIB bailout bill - what is in the bill

HB 1604 is the bill that would allow the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council to increase a variety of taxes, the revenues of which would go to the Capital Improvements Board (CIB). The bill also contains changes in taxes for CIBs in other cities throughout the State of Indiana. The Marion County CIB provisions are summarized below (taken from the HB 1604 Legislative summary):

Permits the Marion County city-county council to increase: (1) the county supplemental auto rental excise tax from 4% to 6%; (2) the county admissions tax from 6% to 10%; and (3) the county innkeepers tax from 9% to 10%.
Establishes a Marion County option to impose an off-premises alcoholic beverage tax at a rate not to exceed the state alcoholic beverage tax rate.
Permits Indianapolis to impose a new commercial parking fee.
Expires the tax increases and fee January 1, 2020.
Deposits the revenue from these increases in a new sports and convention facilities operating fund for the Marion County capital improvement board of managers (Marion County CIB).
Restricts the use of the new operating fund to paying usual and customary operating expenses that have a positive economic impact with respect to capital improvements operated by the Marion County CIB.
Allows for an addition to the Marion County professional sports development area to include a hotel complex located within 0.5 miles from the Indiana Convention Center. Provides for the deposit of the state sales taxes from the additional area in the new Marion County CIB sports and convention facilities operating fund. Adds an offset to the captured taxes from the new tax area addition if local tax and fee revenue from the increases exceed $21,000,000.
Eliminates the capture of state sales taxes in the tax area addition not later December 31, 2040.
Requires the Marion County CIB to present a long range financial plan to the city-county council before January 1, 2010.
Requires the state board of accounts to audit annually the accounts, books, and records of the Marion County capital improvement board. Requires the SBOA to do a financial and compliance audit of the capital improvement board. Requires the board to submit the SBOA reports to the Marion County legislative body.
Requires the Marion County legislative body to review the SBOA reports at a public hearing. Requires the board to post its proposed budget, its adopted budget, and the SBOA reports on the internet.
Requires the Marion County legislative body to approve the issuance of revenue and general obligation bonds by the capital improvement board. Removes the Marion County board of commissioners from the review and approval of general obligation bonds and adds a requirement for the mayor's approval.
Adds two members to the Marion County CIB who are appointed by the governor. Requires one of these appointments to be a resident of a county (other than Marion County) that has a food and beverage tax in effect that provides revenue to the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority.
Permits Indianapolis to use parking meter revenue for costs associated with the acquisition, construction, renovation, operation, and maintenance of public infrastructure and improvements and securitize parking system revenues in the city.
Makes an appropriation for the distribution of various local taxes and state sales tax in the additional Marion County professional sports development area.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Senator Delph Wants Study Committee on Redistricting Process

From an editorial in today's Indianapolis Star, I have learned that Senator Mike Delph has authored Senate Concurrent Resolution 95, which would create a 'Census Data Study Committee' to examine the processes that could be used in 2011 to redraw new Districts according to the population numbers to be generated by the upcoming Census.

The editorial quotes Delph as saying, "Voters should pick their elected officials rather than elected officials picking their voters." Well said, sir. Well said.

Delph's Resolution has gained other authors; Senators Sue Landske (R, District 6), Timothy Lanane (D, District 25), and Connie Lawson (R, District 24). It passed out of the Senate Elections Committee on April 6 with a unanimous 'do pass' recommendation. The Star editorial reports that it was approved by the Senate on Monday and now awaits an uncertain future in the House.
There are two co-sponsors in the House; Representatives Matt Pierce (D, District 61) and Jerry Torr (R, District 39).

The Star sees this as an opportunity for Indiana to move past the old and tarnished practice of gerrymandering districts to ensure the incumbents retain their seats. This is the very thing that could kill this measure. The resolution does not carve out any particular aim of the study committee to bring Indiana out into the sunshine, rather it suggests

SECTION 1. That the Legislative Council is urged to direct the Census Data
Study Committee to study the topic of redistricting and to make recommendations on processes that could be utilized by the Indiana General Assembly to promote the establishment of easily identifiable boundaries that keep communities of interest together.
SECTION 2. That the Census Data Study Committee, if so directed, shall review the redistricting process and make recommendations on ways to improve the process for 2011. As part of this review, the committee shall investigate computer programs that are available to assist in the redistricting process and make recommendations on the use of such programs. In addition, the committee shall make recommendations on methods to include the public in the process, such as, holding public meetings or holding advisory meetings with community leaders.
SECTION 3. That the committee, if so directed, shall operate under the direction of the Legislative Council and shall issue a report when directed to do so by the Council.
SECTION 4. The Secretary of the Senate is hereby directed to transmit a copy of this Resolution to the Legislative Council through the Executive Director of the Legislative Services Agency.

Surely the House can find a way to support a study committee that would look at the process of determining Districts. The House Democrats in particular are being quite obstructionist in this General Assembly. Crafting only one year's budget and rolling back the referendum process come immediately to mind. Nothing will scream 'absolutely, totally, obstructionist' quite like killing Delph's Resolution.

Lets talk.

Public Opportunities to Review CIB Issues

Two opportunities are coming up in the next couple of days for the public to hear about and question issues revolving around the Capital Improvement Board.

Thursday, April 16, beginning at 6:00 pm, the Municipal Corporations Committee of the City-County Council will get an update on the CIB from Bob Grand (President of the CIB) and Barney Levengood (Executive Director of the Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium). Councillor Mike McQuillen (Chairman of the Committee) has told me that the public will be allowed to ask questions. That meeting will be in Room 260 of the City-County Building. Two other Council Committees will be meeting in that same room - one at 5:00 pm and the other at 5:30 pm.

Saturday, April 18, from 9:00 am to 11:00 am, the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations (McANA) will hold its monthly membership meeting. The meeting's agenda includes, as the primary guest speakers, Barney Levengood and Dorothy Henry (CIB member). After a presentation by the guest speakers, comments and questions will be taken from those in attendance. McANA meets in the basement of the North United Methodist Church on the NW corner of Meridian and 38th Sts. McANA asks that folks attending their meetings please bring a non-perishable food item to donate to the Church's food pantry.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The CIB - An Example of Bad Government In Action

The Capital Improvements Board (CIB) budget shortfall is causing no shortage of outrage and angst in Indianapolis. For the purposes of this blog entry, lets not go into the merits of that debate. Rather, lets look at what the CIB illuminates in how really perverse and structurally unaccountable our government can get.

The CIB is classified as a Municipal Corporation tied to Indianapolis-Marion County government. It provides a political 'arms length' between the duly elected officials - the Mayor, the County Commissioners, and the City-County Councillors - and the decisions of the CIB. These elected officials all appoint members to serve on the CIB, but the Mayor gets 5 of the 9
CIB members and it is really his organization to steer. The CIB has the authority to float bonds and has done so, although they have also used the services of the Indianapolis Bond Bank for other bonds. Part of the CIB budget is reviewed by the City-County Council which must approve that part of the budget. The state law that set up the CIB gave it the authority to levy a property tax, with the prior approval of the City-County Council to do so. So far the CIB has not dipped into that well.

The supposed purpose of the CIB is to manage or operate the Indianapolis Convention Center, Victory Field (triple A Indianapolis Indians baseball team stadium), Conseco Fieldhouse (Pacers stadium), Lucas Oil Stadium (Colts), Capital Commons (a park between the Convention Center and the Statehouse), and a parking garage underneath Capital Commons.

The northern third of Capital Commons was donated by the CIB to Simons Property Group for their new World Headquarters in 2004, as part of a $23 million package of incentives approved by Mayor Bart Peterson and the City-County Council. The building is right across the street from the Indiana Statehouse. The Simons also own the Indiana Pacers.

The CIB manages and operates the facilities, but does not own them. The Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority (ISCBA) built and owns the new Lucas Oil Stadium and will build and own the pending expansion of the Convention Center. Both are leased by the ISCBA to the Indiana Office of Management and Budget (IOMB) which in turns subleases them to the CIB. In addition to the costs of the sublease, the CIB must pay the expenses of the IOMB - presumably only those connected to the stadium and convention center. The other facilities are owned by the Marion County Convention and Recreational Facilities Authority (MCCRFA) which also owns the ill-fated United Maintenance Facility on the grounds of the Indianapolis International Airport. The MCCRFA leases Victory Field, Conseco Fieldhouse, the existing part of hte Convention Center to the CIB. Again, the CIB pays for the expenses of the MCCRFA in addition to the lease payments.

The CIB negotiates and holds the contracts with the ball teams that play in the stadiums run by the CIB. Bob Grand is the current President of the CIB and he and his law firm, Barnes & Thornburg, represent the Simons and the Indiana Pacers. Joe Loftus, also a partner in Barnes & Thornburg, is a member of the board of the ISCBA. Barnes & Thornburg also represent the City of Indianapolis at the Indiana Statehouse.

Why is it so convoluted? Whether on purpose or not, the result is a Rube Goldberg device that makes accountability and transparency pretty much impossible.

The CIB collects taxes from a number of sources -- cigarette, innkeepers, food and beverage, admissions tax, car rental tax, and the sales taxes captured in a special district around the CIB's properties. The CIB must share a fixed percentage of the innkeepers tax revenue it receives with the Indiana Convention & Visitors Association (ICVA). The ICVA advertises the Convention and offers discounts on hotel space through its website,

The much touted reason for keeping the CIB afloat is to keep the Indianapolis tourist and hospitality industry afloat. Oft repeated number is 66,000 service industry jobs. To that end, we not only find taxpayers funding stadiums, conventions centers, and advertising, but the City also has been quite generous with abatements and financing for hotels, and the Circle Center Mall was funded by carving out a TIF area. In addition to the players already mentioned, the City, through a variety of agencies, funds Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. (IDI) to the tune of about $1 million a year. Besides advertising and monitoring downtown office occupancy rates, IDI hires off duty police officers to patrol the mile square. What? IMPD can't do that? Guess not. The Metropolitan Development Commission waived a $6 million fine for the early sale of the Pan Am Plaza by the Indiana Sports Corp. (ISC) A lawsuit has been filed to recoup that money as modest payment for loss of precious downtown public open space.

The CIB has asked major investors of the Circle Center Mall project to forgive $34 million of the money they are owed for their loan of Mall profits to help build Conseco Fieldhouse. They are $20 million short for the annual operating costs of the Lucas Oil Stadium. They anticipate being $6 million in the hole for operating costs of the expanded Convention Center. They owe $17 million to the Indiana Treasurer for a loan so they could get out of some bad swap options. They need another $26 million to create a cash reserve for the repayment of bonds it holds. They are asking for $3 million more to give to the ICVA. And, they want to volunteer to take over the $15 million operating costs of the Conseco Fieldhouse now obligated to be paid by the Simons/Pacers.

The CIB has not been demonstrably successful. From 1998 through 2007 (the latest figures released by the CIB), the number of events held, the number of attendees, and the revenues generated at CIB managed properties has remained flat - despite a 2005 expansion of the Convention Center that increased floor space by one-third.

All these folks are busy busy busy. What never gets done, though, is an analysis of what it has cost the taxpayers to build this 'thriving' downtown and when, if ever, it will be successful enough to fund itself.

Let's talk.

City-County Council Municipal Corporations Committee Calls 'Special Meeting'

Thanks to alert commentor, 'Downtown Indy', on Ogden On Politics blog, we discovered that there is a Special Meeting called for the Municipal Corporations Committee of the City-County Council day after tomorrow. The public notice says that the meeting will be held in Room 260 of the City-County Building beginning at 6:00 pm, Thursday, April 16. The only item on the agenda is:

UPDATE ON THE CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT BOARD – Robert Grand, Chairman and Barney Levengood, Executive Director

The committee is composed of the following Councillors:
Michael McQuillin (Chair)
Jeff Cardwell
Maggie Lewis
Robert Lutz
Dane Mahern
Jackie Nytes
Christine Scales

Monday, April 13, 2009

Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council Meets Tonight

The City-County Council meets tonight, 7:00 pm, Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building.

The agenda looks routine to my eye, except for Proposal 142, 2009. That Proposed Ordinance, if enacted, would require lobbyists to register with the City Controller within 15 days of the start of lobbying activity, and annually thereafter. It seems the specifics that would be required for disclosure would include -- lobbyists name, etc, employer, subject(s) of lobbying activity, how much money they are making from their client(s), and the agencies or officials with whom the lobbyist met.

Required information in the annual registration materials would include, among other things,

A description and the costs of any item of entertainment, food, drink, honoraria, travel expenses, and registration fees given or provided to an official, appointee, or employee; however, the following items need not be listed:
a. Items with a face value of less than twenty-five dollars ($25);
b. Items that are exempt under subdivisions (2) through (11) of Section 293-201(b);

I tried to look up the exceptions in (b), but the link to the City code comes up with a mal-functioning website.

This amended proposal was voted on at the March 31 meeting of the Council Rules & Public Policy Committee with a do pass recommendation that ran along party lines. Minutes for that meeting and the previous one when the Proposal was also discussed show no particular references to why there is opposition.

If enacted, this proposed ordinance would go into effect on January 1, 2010.

Among the Proposals to be introduced tonight are two that stand out.

First is the appropriation of over $514,308 in grant money from a variety of sources, to the Parks Department to pay for, among other things, an after-school program (Prop 116, 2009). If you recall, the Parks budget hearing last year was fairly contentious over the lack of funds for the continuation of the popular and successful after-school programs under the previous Director of Parks. This Proposal will be referred to the Parks Committee, which next meets this Thursday, April 16, beginning at 5:00 pm in Room 260 of the City-County Building.

Second is a change in the City Code which would exclude any federal stimulus money from requirements that all moneys be appropriated by the City-County Council before they can be spent by an agency for which the Council is the fiscal body (Prop 136, 2009). This Proposal will be referred to the Rules Committee, which next meets on Tuesday, April 21, beginning at 5:30 pm in Room 260 of the City-County Building.

Mayor Ballard to Unveil Plan

Mayor Greg Ballard is set to finally unveil his plan to deal with the shortfall in the Capital Improvements Board funding at a press conference at the Convention Center beginning at 2:00 pm.

Comments on the website suggest he will be speaking at a meeting of the Board - and that might be so, as Channel 16 will show a tape of a CIB meeting tomorrow night at 7:00 pm.

Don't bother looking for CIB meetings and their attendant agendas on the City's Calendar pages, thought. All their protestations to the contrary, the CIB does not worry about informing the public about anything it would rather not share, like its meeting schedule or meeting room location.

Its unfortunate that the legislation that would require public notice of meetings be published online has been summarily pocketed by Representative John Bartlett.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Progress on Abatement Review in Jeopardy

House Bill 1155, authored by newly elected Representative Cherish Pryor, appears to have been pocketed by the chairman of the Senate Local Government committee, Connie Lawson.

This bill would give the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council the authority to review and overturn tax abatements granted by the Metropolitan Development Commission. As the legislative and fiscal body of the City and County, it is the Council's responsibility to make appropriations and set budgets for the City, County, and Municipal Corporations each year, even though the starting point is the introduction of a budget by the Mayor of Indianapolis. With each passing year, the public becomes more interested in who is granted a pass on taxes and how much that amounts to. To expect the Council to do any more than trust the Mayor and rubber stamp his fiscal decisions is doing a disservice to all residents of our City.

HB1155 passed out of the House Committee along party lines and out of the House along party lines as well. It would seem that Republicans don't want the fiscal body of the County to have any say in who gets abatements, for what or how much. They also don't want the public to have the opportunity to challenge bad abatement decisions that end up affecting their own tax bills. There's being pro-business, and then there is being blind to giving blank checks out to businesses who use the system to gain a tax advantage.

Senator Lawson represents District 24. (link to district map) It appears to be all of Putnam County and 3/4 of Hendricks County. She can be reached at or 232-9400.

Lets talk - to Senator Lawson.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Progress on Open-Door Laws In Jeopardy

Representative John Bartlett (D), Chairman of the Indiana House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee, has pocketed SB 232, which would strengthen Indiana's Open Door Laws by putting forth penalties for government officials who wantonly ignore the public's right to access and require posting of meeting notices on a governmental website.

Mr. Bartlett represents District 95 which is wholly inside Indianapolis. (link to the district map) Generally, the district is within Lawrence Township, straddling I-465 with a western boundary approaching Binford Blvd., a southern boundary along E. 38th St., the northern boundary encompassing Fort Harrison State Park, and the eastern boundary just past German Church Rd.

You may contact Representative Bartlett with your comments at or 232-9600. Make sure you mention if you live in District 95.

SB 232 passed unanimously out of the Senate Local Government Committee on February 18 and unanimously out of the Senate on February 4. It was referred to Representative Bartlett's committee on March 3 and there it has sat.

Here is the Legislature's digest of the bill:
Public access issues. Provides that the court may impose a civil penalty against an officer or employee of a public agency, or the public agency for violating the public records law or the open door law of: (1) not more than $100 for the first violation; and (2) not more than $500 for any additional violations. Provides that a public agency (excluding a state agency) may provide to persons who annually request notice of meetings, notice by: (1) electronic mail (if the agency has the capacity to transmit electronic mail); or (2) posting the notice on the agency's web site at least 48 hours before the meeting (if the agency has a website). Provides that a public agency may withhold personal information from public disclosure regarding an individual less than 19 years of age who participates in an activity conducted or supervised by a state educational institution, including personal information regarding the individual's parent or guardian. Requires (rather than allows) a court to review public records in camera to determine whether redaction of the records violates the public records act. If a formal complaint is filed, requires the public access counselor to review public records in camera without redaction (excluding redacted information that is work product of an attorney) to determine whether the redaction of the records violated the access to public records act. Creates an education fund for a program administered by the public access counselor to train public officials and educate the public on the rights of the public and the responsibilities of public agencies under the public access laws.

According to an editorial in today's Indianapolis Star, Representative Bartlett remains silent on why he has pocketed this bill and refused to schedule it for hearing, even though it commands wide support and even as the clock ticks toward a deadline for bills to move out of committee.

Let's talk - to Representative Bartlett

Can We Get Some Adult Supervision Over Here?

Just as we were about to change topics away from the political parties, we get a food fight between the two major party Chairmen. Luckily for the public spectators, the Chairman of the Libertarian Party, Tim Maguire, is all growed up and hasn't engaged in name-calling.

True to form, the vitriolic and hyperbolic Ed Treacy, Chairman of the County Democratic Party, denounced Mayor Ballard (R) for not leading the charge to fix the financial quagmire that is the Capital Improvement Board (CIB) and called for him to step down from his Mayor-ship. Yah, Ed ! Like that's going to happen. (read the press release here)

Then, Ed Treacy-wanna be, Tom John, Chairman of the County Republican Party, denounced former Mayor Peterson (D) for giving away the store to Jim Irsay and the Colts. He stopped short of calling for Peterson to step down from his former-Mayor-ship. (read item here)

Do you think as kids that Ed and Tom got swirlies and wedgies and are now spending their 'adult' days getting back at the world?

Heaven forbid that the two major political parties should move forward and work together for the betterment of our community and earn our respect in return.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Problem with Slating In a Democratic Country

My thanks to Paul Ogden for filling in so many blanks in my understanding of slating and how it is limited to Marion County, Indiana. That alone should give Democrats and Republicans pause in supporting the process. For those who don't know, Paul has an excellent blog that I highly recommend. (Ogden On Politics)

The ultimate goal is to elect the best candidates possible for every office in the Country. To do that you really need a process that encourages participation by the electorate as well as a vigorous debate about the issues. Mud-slinging is not an effectively substitute for a discussion of different approaches to challenges, philosophies and visions for the future of any community. And one name on a primary ballot does not a choice constitute. If only one person wants to run in a primary for a particular office, well then, what an unlucky turn of events for the voters. But, if only one person gets to run in a primary for a particular office, well then, that's bad for a thriving democracy.

Take for example the Primary process for Presidential candidates. Last year was an exciting and invigorating election year that was largely driven by an exciting and invigorating race during the Primary season. If a choice for President can exist on a Primary ballot, then surely there can be a choice for Mayor or Councillor or Township Trustee.

The slating process lets a handful of Party activists, lightly or heavily supplemented by the County Party Chairman's placeholder Precinct Committeemen (PCs), to make a decision that rightly belongs to the whole membership of the Party. Slating not only robs the membership of its rightful say in who carries the Party banner into the general election, it also robs the membership of a discussion of what each candidate finds important to the office and robs the membership of a decision on the direction of the party and the direction of the government.

Some try to defend the slating process with two arguments - we don't want to waste campaign money on a fight between Democrats (or between Republicans) and the PCs know the candidates and their platform best.

Campaign finance issues can be dealt with as a separate issue and having slating or not having slating is irrelevant. So, the linkage is a specious argument. As for fighting between any candidates, same party or not, that too is an issue that can be dealt with separately from the issue of slating.

PCs know some of the candidates and some of the platforms, that is true. But again I must say that we are supposed to be a democracy with the voters deciding who should represent them, not a handful of even well-intentioned people cutting off the competition before it gets started.

And from what I have seen, slating conventions can choose not who is best for office, but rather formulate who goes on the ballot using silly and capricious factors. Take for example the Democratic slating convention for Superior Court Judges a couple of years ago. The factor really under consideration was how to keep Becky Pierson-Treacy's name within the first 9 candidates listed alphabetically on the ballot, not a consideration of who would best serve on the bench.

For a fun read I recommend the Bilerico Project item called "The Marion County Democratic Party Has Lost Its Collective Mind".

Now, I don't have anecdotes about the Republican slating conventions, because I haven't attended them. If anyone has a good story to tell, I hope they add their comments.

Nonetheless, by removing candidates from the primary ballot through the slating and purging process, choices are removed from the voters, diminishing the chances that our government will reflect our better selves. This process helps get or keep those well-connect to the County Chairmen on the ballot, but little else, really.

Lets talk.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Political Party Slating System

Since the slating process has already burbled to the top here, lets lay out what that process is and how it differs from how folks get on the ballot in other areas of the state and country.

I readily admit that I know only snippets of the process of slating candidates for election here in Marion County and nothing about how it is done elsewhere. So, please step in and feel free to correct any errors you see in what I think I know, and add information about how the rest of the state does it and how common Marion County's system is. Plus, any other comments you'd like to make, of course.

For purposes of full disclosure -- let me say that I am a precinct committeewoman in the Democratic Party here in Decatur Township. For me that means a really long day twice a year, 3 out of 4 years, working with a great crew of Democrats and Republicans to ensure that our residents get a fair and honest chance to elect the person they find best on the ballot. It also has afforded me some view of the slating process from the cheap seats.

Here are my ABC's of slating. Please correct as needed.

In order to win election to office, you must win among all candidates listed on the ballot for that office in the General Election (the one held in the fall). In order to get your name on the General Election ballot you must first secure the nomination of the political Party of you choice. For Democrats and Republicans this means winning the Primary Election (the one held in the spring) while the Libertarians typically appoint folks to run in the General Election. We'll talk about the Independent candidates at another time.

When a candidate wants to put their name on the ballot for a Primary Election, they sign up with the Marion County Election Board. If they want the endorsement of their County Party, they must also submit their name to the County Party Office. I don't know if that also entails a meeting with the Party Chairman or not. Plus, they must pass some money, called a slating fee, to the County Party - for some reason I think that amounts to 1/4 of the compensation you would get if you were actually elected to the post you seek. For Democrats, you must sign a statement saying that should you not get the 'coveted' slated spot, you will either withdraw your name from the primary ballot or lose the 'donation' you just made to the party. Should you withdraw your name, that money would be returned to you.

Again, should you win the slating contest in the Democratic party, your 'donation' gets you the 'coveted' title of 'slated candidate' and your picture and name on the literature handed out at the polling place on election day in the spring and again in the fall. I have heard that the Republican party also throws in yard signs.

The slating convention has some speeches and then the precinct committee and vice-precinct committee people as well as the ward chairs all vote. They only get to vote for offices that would appear on the ballot in their precinct, not necessarily all offices. The choice of candidates on the slating ballot are only those who paid the slating fee, not necessarily all those who signed up with the Election Board to be on the ballot. The voting is done on the same voting machines used in the primary and general elections and is overseen by a representative of the County Election Board. I certainly hope that the costs are borne by the parties, and not the taxpayers -- but I do not know for sure.

The persons with the highest votes at the slating convention are the ones who are 'slated'. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WIN SLATING to appear on the Primary ballot. Inclusion on the ballot is secured simply by filling out the proper paperwork for the Marion County Election Board.

That ends my understand, so please add to this so that we are all on the same page with the facts.

Tomorrow I'll plow into what I find wrong about the slating process and how slating itself diminishes democracy.

Lets talk.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Use and Abuse of Bully Pulpits

I'm sure we'll get to campaign finance, lobbying, gerrymandering, and the 2 major political parties soon enough.

Right now, though, I'd like to take a minute to speak of the Press and its role in our elections and in the development and execution of public policy.

How do the newspapers you favor impact who you vote for? I don't know anyone who votes solely on basis of the Indy Star's endorsement of a candidate. But, the candidates all seem to want that endorsement, so it means something to somebody. I have two pet peeves about the Indy Star, and endorsements is one of them. Every year the editorial board shouts about the bone-headed stances and actions of various elected officials. Then, they endorse nearly every one of those folks for re-election. How can they reconcile those two views? Is it that they feel free to spout off until it might impact their business? What?

As for this year, they couldn't decide who to endorse for President. Nothing makes your respectability waiver quite as fast as checking the 'not sure' box of an important public opinion poll.

The other pet peeve about the Star is the market-driven structure of the east-west-north-south bureaus. If they want to chase the money to the suburbs, hey go for it. But, they are not fixing the structural problem they created for those of us who live in Marion County. That is - we may or may not get the section with our community or school news. Thus, the Star becomes a newspaper for only downtown news and whatever happens to spill in from the bureaus.

At a time when print newspapers are dropping like flies, one would think they would ask themselves - how can we keep the readers we have?

The role of the fourth estate in a democracy may be inexorably shifting to cable news and internet blogs. For good or for ill, the next round of endorsements you ignore may be from those newer outlets.

What opportunity is there to open up public access to records, create real public input in decisions of government, and real debate of public matters using the media resources that are fading as well as the ones just coming into their own?

Let's talk.

Had Enough Indy?

When running for office, Greg Ballard used the catch phrase "Had Enough?" on his signs. Pretty darn good slogan at the time. Pretty darn good catch phrase now, too. So, I am using it.

Let's be frank here. Mr. Ballard did not win the election for Mayor of Indianapolis in 2007 as much as former Mayor Bart Peterson lost the election. Mayor Peterson stubbornly plowed ahead with his income tax increase agenda even after the property tax issue hit the fan. At a minimum he came across as insensitive to the personal financial situation of his constituents.

While Mayor Ballard still has over half of his term left to serve, his performance to date has not been stellar. He lacks leadership in formulating and selling of his vision for Indianapolis. His abrupt manner is getting stale and a growing number of folks just consider it more 'rude' than 'tough love'. He appears not to understand that, whether he likes it or not, he is the face and voice of Indianapolis. As I said, he still has the majority of his term left and he might just get his feet under himself and prove that he deserves to be Mayor.

For the rest of us, how do we get superior candidates for office on the ballot? What changes do we need to make to the system? I for one believe that the political party system is not optimized for public input any more than the resulting government is. What is our responsibility to improve the election system and not just complain about it?

Do we try to learn to work the system? Do we try to make changes from inside? Do we work on campaign finances and let the parties sort themselves out? Do we work alongside the old system, offering an alternative approach?

All I know for sure is that Indianapolis voted against the last Mayor and we got an unexpected surprise. Now Mayor Ballard either learns on the job and rises to the occasion, or he doesn't. Either way, how do we make our next choice one between compelling visions of competent individuals who will represent us and our City with grace and intelligence? How do we get a choice between the best and the brightest? What role does, or should, the public have in fashioning who gets on the ballot and ensuring that we vote FOR someone and not AGAINST someone?

Let's talk.