Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is The Sale Of City Assets The Real Reason For This Year's Budget Chrunch?

This is the fifth year that I have spearheaded the budget review effort of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations.  Each year is different to some extent.  This year there are some real anomalies and, frankly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around them.  So, none of that in this post.

Mayor Ballard and his administration are focusing their comments, and hoping thereby to focus the public's attention, on decreased tax revenues and waving their hands about a $64 million shortfall in order to justify transferring $38.5 million from the consolidated downtown TIF to make ends meet.  I cannot actually locate the $4.2 million transfer from the CIB in the 2012 budget, so I am leaving that off for now.

The rhetoric is that property taxes are stable, but income taxes are off $85 million from their peak in 2010.  A closer look at the numbers provided in the 2012 budget book show a drop of $11 million in combined local tax revenues, an increase of $7 million in property tax revenues, and a drop of $15 million in income tax revenues between the 2011 and 2012 budget years.  Add it all up and you have a drop of $19 million.  Real money to be sure, but the City claims to have cut the budget by $20 million simply by requesting non-safety departments that rely on these very tax revenues to each cut their budgets by 6%.

Ordinarily I would also be commenting upon all of the other sources of revenue in this paragraph.  But, unfortunately this year's budget book does not supply a summary table of revenues.  I will have to slog through the details of the budget, which has been provided online, create my own spreadsheet and from that, my own summary table.  I have not had the time.  Representatives of the Office of Finance and Management insist that a summary table will be provided before the budget ordinance is passed.  Great.

Moving on.

The budget for the Department of Public Works is more than interesting this year.  That Department operated the profitable sewer utility that was the sweetheart part of the sale of the water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy - a deal that closed this past week.  DPW's budget is also the one that serves as the collector of parking meter fees.  You will recall that the meters were sold via a 50 year lease with ACS and some local parking companies with enough political clout to get themselves included in this great giveaway of public assets.

Comparing the DPW budgets for 2011 and 2012 it is easy to see that expenses (p. 41 of the link) have dropped by $78.4 million (largely due to the off-loading of the sewer and water utilities), but a drop in revenues (p. 37 of the link) of $153.0 million.  Looking closer, there is a drop in contribution from the Indianapolis Foundation/Central Indiana Foundation from $8 million to $200 thousand. 

Under parking meters you can see a drop from $2.3 m in 2011 to $1.3 m in 2012.  This, of course, is part and parcel of the fee-sharing demanded by the parking meter contract.  None the less, it means less money for the City each year.  In 2012 it means $1 m less.  Still real money.

The rest appears to be mostly sewer utility related - so, roughly a drop of $144 m, give or take a couple of million.  There is a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) that was increased this year and continues to flow from the sewer utility.  That seems to be contained in its own fund which shows revenue for 2012 of $7.5 m.  There is also another roughly $3.5 m scattered among a number of funds from PILOT payments from Waterworks.  Good money, but not enough to cover the cash cow that the sewer utility was for the City and its taxpayers. 

All of this distills down to about a $50 million revenue shortfall due to the sale of the sewer and water utilities and a $1 million revenue shortfall due to the 50 year lease of the parking meters.

It is apparent that the sale of our assets, especially our profitable assets, is having a much larger impact on the 2012 budget than is any drop in tax revenues.  And while tax revenues will recover, loss of our assets will be a permanent loss to all future City/County budgets. 

It therefore becomes imperative that the cuts be considered permanent and structural changes be made for sustainable budgets going forward.  Sure, Mayor Ballard can transfer (aka 'rob') $38.5 million from the consolidated downtown TIF to make ends meet in 2012.  But, lets not pretend that that is a permanent solution to a permanent change in City finances.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Combined, Marion County TIF Districts Lost $28 Million In Base Value In One Year

Taken all together, there was an aggregate loss of $28 million in the base assessed value of the Marion County TIF Districts.  For some background see "TIF Districts - Who Knew The Base Could Drop?".  The cliff notes are that each year the County Auditor sends a form to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance for each and every TIF District in the County.  This is vital information for the DLGF and the County in calculating property tax rates.

I mentioned in that July blog entry that there were 15 TIF Districts whose base value had dropped to $0 at some time in the past.  I have now obtained the forms filed for these districts for tax year 2012 and have compared them with those filed last year.  No additional districts saw their base assessed value drop to zero.  But, all districts not at zero base AV, saw the value of the base drop between 2011 and 2012 taxing year.  When a TIF district is begun, the base AV is the value of all property in the district on day zero.  We are led to believe that that property value of the base continues to rise and fall with the market over time, but the taxes collected from those properties will always flow to the "base", or all of the taxing units (schools, townships, library, IndyGo, etc), and not be taken to pay off the TIF debt.  This turns out not to be true.

Combined, as I said above, the drop in Marion County TIF district base AV was $28,093,698.  Part of that drop is due to the fact that property values have dropped as the recession continues.  Using the drop in the total gross assessed value for the entire County as an good estimate of the general drop, we can see a loss of 0.48%.  Applying that percentage to the TIF district base AV, one would expect a drop in value of only $7.5 million.

The TIF Districts that experienced a drop in base AV greater than one expects from the recession were:
From the consolidated downtown TIF (8 districts - 6 at zero base AV)
145 - union station project - dropped $819,419 or 2.50%

From the airport eda (7 districts - 3 at zero base AV, one of which is government owned)
940 - wayne twp airport eda - dropped $1,353,814 or 0.58%
941 - wayne twp airport eda - dropped $7,779,920 or 55.55%

Both Glendale eda TIF districts have base AV's of zero

Other Indianapolis TIF districts (13 districts - 6 at zero base AV)
149 - united nw area - dropped $4,873,206 or 9.86%

From the Beech Grove Hospital TIF (3 districts - none at zero base AV)
170 - beech grove consolidated allocation area - dropped $182,146 or 5.59%

From the Beech Grove Amtrak/Conrail Redev. area (3 districts - none at zero base AV)
552 - south emerson redevelopment area - dropped $133,886 or 2.66%

Lawrence TIFs (3 districts - one with zero base AV and it was government owned) - recession drop only

Speedway TIFs (3 districts - one with zero base AV)
947 - speedway allocation area 2 - dropped $7,369,351 or 9.49%

Inactive TIF districts ( increment value is passed on to base - base is recalculated since TIF district still exists) (3 such districts - one with zero base AV - recession drop only)
Why these particular districts saw extra large drops in base AVs, I have no clue.  But, its a start just to know that they did.  Maybe someone with influence can find out and let the rest of us know.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ballard Pushes New TIFs Forward - Attempts To Complete Before Term Of Office Up

With a schedule that appears to be reverse engineered to beat the expiry date of Ballard's _____ (first, last) term, the Mayor is pushing 4 new TIF districts forward (see earlier blog entry, "Going For Broke - The Ballard Paradigm?").  While the schedule is known, the target projects and their beneficiaries are not publicly disclosed.

September 7 - MDC to vote on the establishment of economic redevelopment areas

September 19 - Introduction to City-County Council

Some time in September and/or October, committee to which proposal is assigned (likely Metropolitan Development committee, chaired by Janice (Shhh!) McHenry) will consider and may take public comment

Depending on committee pace, the full Council would vote on the matter some time in October or November

November or December - if passed by the full Council, the MDC will hold its public hearing followed by its final vote

The past practice of this administration has been to withhold any information which it is not explicitly asked about.  Expect the continuing rhetoric to be that they MIGHT invoke a TIF district, right now they just want the flexibility to do so some time in the future and want to be able to lend assistance from other sources when it is appropriate.  It sure would be nice if they just came out and said "if passed, they will be TIF districts, just like we always planned", for then the public could comment on reality, not a supposed hypothetical.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meeting Tomorrow (Thursday, August 25) To Take Back Decatur Schools

There is a meeting tomorrow night that was announced in the comments section of my blog entry "Cataloging Nepotism At MSD Decatur Township".  I am cutting and pasting that announcement below.
Meeting Thursday the 25Th @ 7:00 @ the home place off of mooresville Rd. Please come and voice your concerns, also looking for GOOD people to run for school board. If your child class room has to many in it , there is to many on their bus,their on the bus to long,their walking a long way to get on or off the bus, or your just a tax payer in decatur township PLEASE come and help us make changes.

Alert Reader, Jon, Delves Into Our2012SB, Inc., Contract

Alert reader Jon, has done a bang up job of delving into the contract between DPW and Our2012SB, Inc, which I exposed in my post the other day (see "Super Bowl Host Committee Got To Design Georgia Street - Taxpayers Get To Pay For It")  He has pulled some interesting items from this contract and made mention of those in the comments section of that blog post.  I think they deserve broader exposure, so I will cut and paste his findings below.  Here is the link to contract 8667 (in the log in screen, enter "public" in both boxes).  Contract 8667 is between DPW and Our2012SB, Inc., for $1.6 million, signed 2/22/11. Jon also brings up contract 8131, which is a contract between INDOT and DPW for the Georgia Street project, for $8 million of federal road construction money, signed 10/15/10.

Thanks Jon.  Great work.
Did some quick browsing on contract 8667 among the interesting things I found; most of the initial design work was planned in February and March of 2010 but the contract 8667 have a start date of 03/2011. I don't read construction contracts on a regular basis so I don't know if this is unusual or not.

The project grew from 4 million to over 10 million in less then six months, pages 66-67. The initial 4 million was from federal highway dollars, wonder where the other 6+ million will come from. There is some mention of steam heated sidewalks and that alone is 1+ million dollars.

Somewhere in attachment D the total "Optional" cost is over 13 million dollars; part of those costs, bicycle racks $13,882.50, ornamental rails $85,000.00, rain gardens $16,056.00, trees (8")$150,000.00, trees (6") $60,000.00, trees (4") $20,000.00 and radiant heat items, intersections $243,000.00, on Georgia Street $791,610.00 and vault for radiant heat $120,000.00.
No wonder they don't want anyone to see what is really going on!
Contract #8131, 10/18/2010, for 10 million for Georgia St. Project, 8 million fed and 2 million local. Is this contract also part of the SB update? I can't tell there aren't a lot of spefifics in the document.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Cash Flows At The CIB

Its like we have our very own soap opera.  Instead of who is sleeping with whom, we have the always entertaining exhibition of the Capital Improvement Board being dirt poor one day, flush with cash the next, only to fall into abject need soon after.

Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana (see "Georgia Street Project Includes Heated Street and Sidewalks") and Paul Ogden at Ogden On Politics (see "CIB To Spend $8 Million on Super Bowl") have both taken up WTHR's Mary Milz report that the CIB has an additional $8 million to contribute to the super bowl effort.  I began leaving comments on their blogs, but I have too much to say.  Figured I'd say it here.

Milz reports that the CIB will contribute about $8 million to the superbowl effort -- $4 million to help pay for Indianapolis' Department of Public Safety costs and another $4.2 million for more private security and other gameday expenses, which the CIB says the NFL will repay.  Some excerpts from Milz' report:
On Monday, the board approved a plan to cover private security as well as some of the other operational costs including staffing and utilities. Also included in that $8 million appropriation is $4 million for the city's Department of Public Safety. A spokesperson for Public Safety Director Frank Straub said it's earmarked to cover overtime for police and firefighters during the Super Bowl, noting 150 officers would be positioned inside the stadium alone.

Lathrop said the NFL has agreed to reimburse the CIB roughly $4.2 for specific gameday expenses including private security. She said the CIB hopes to recoup the remaining $4 million from the extra tax revenue generated during the Super Bowl.

Right now they're looking at a net loss of roughly $800,000. Lathrop said the goal of the CIB wasn't to make money off the Super Bowl but to help the city facilitate an event expected to generate millions in economic impact.

She said the lease between the CIB and NFL for the use of LOS and the Convention Center will cover the reimbursements. She said it's expected to be finalized very soon.
Here are my thoughts in no particular order -

1) Mayor Greg Ballard is facing reelection and cannot afford, politically, to cover the costs of IMPD and IFD overtime due to the superbowl - while cutting all departments except the Department of Code Enforcement. 

2) Last year the Mayor, through the MDC, gifted the CIB $8 million a year that is really destined for the Pacers, but which began with a December payment of $4 million that amounted to a surplus over what was "needed" for the Pacers.  The CIB now re-purposes that gift and returns it to Mayor Ballard for superbowl expenses that the public was told would not be.

3) The CIB knows full well that it will be back to begging for more tax increases next spring.  So, as a foreshadowing, it says that they will incur a "net loss of roughly $800,000".  The CIB bailout passed by the Indiana Legislature a couple of years ago, still has two tax rates that are scheduled to come up for consideration during a couple month window in the spring of 2012.  The City-Council can vote to raise the car rental tax and the admissions tax during that window.  If it fails to act, the option dies.  So, the CIB cannot go full tilt boogey with their flamoyant lifestyle at this time, lest they lose the sympathy of the Council next spring when they will again claim that hard times  have once again descended upon them - through no fault of their own, mind you.

4) Nobody will release the terms of the agreement between the City and the NFL for hosting the superbowl next year.  The City appears to be using the Host Committee (officially known as Our 2012 SB, Inc.) as a shell to protect the City from disclosure of the deal to the public.  The state has agreed to turn over to the NFL all of its parking garages and their profits, as well as the State's tax profits from the superbowl.  HB1125, passed in 2008, grants an exemption covering all state and local taxes, including the 6% admissions tax,  to the NFL and the NCAA when Indianapolis is the host city for a Super Bowl or Men's or Women's Final Four event.  It isn't a stretch, nor does it invoke a vast conspiracy theory, to conjecture that the City also agreed to such things.  It is a bit more than curious that the CIB's Ann Lathrop says that the $4 million 'gift' is just about the same as the $4 million the CIB expects to profit from increased taxes during the superbowl.  This can easily be the slight of hand employed to turn over all tax proceeds to the NFL - by paying for one of the NFL's legitimate costs.  If that is not true, the City can prove it by releasing the terms of the deal with the NFL.

Gary Welsh said it all, when he said : "How stupid do they think people are?"

Meanwhile, the soap opera continues.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our2012SB, Inc., Tax Returns

What I hope to accomplish with my posts on Super Bowl 2012 is to get the City of Indianapolis to divulge all that it has committed to do for that event, what they have committed to spend on that event, and what laws they have agreed to suspend, bend, or overrule through the Superbowl ordinance that just passed.  The public has an inherent right to know what their elected officials have contracted for - even if it is accomplished through shell companies.  Then, with full disclosure, the public can decide if it is worth it or not.

Last week I noted that there is a contract between Our 2012 SB, Inc, also known as the Indianapolis 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee and the City of Indianapolis' Department of Public Works (see "Super Bowl Host Committee Got To Design Georgia Street - Taxpayers Get To Pay For It").  The contract calls on DPW to expend $1.6 million to pay for the design work that originally was part of a contract between design firms and Our 2012 SB, Inc.  The contracts call the project the "Super Bowl Village/Georgia Street" project.  One of the more interesting, some might say frivolous, design changes noted in the initial round of contracts, subsequently taken over by DPW to pay, was to heat Georgia Street.  Yes, the street and sidewalks will be heated from underneath with forced steam pipes.  The cost estimate was another $1 million.  Now, just how useful will that be beyond the Superbowl???  Come on.  This clearly is a case of what sorts of things you spend money on, when you are spending someone else's money.  Its just like the retractable roof on Lucas Oil Stadium, that rarely is retracted when the sun shines, but I hear, often leaks when it rains.

This brings me to the oft repeated promise that the superbowl would not cost taxpayers any  money.  The Host Committee would raise $25 million in private donations.  Well, so far we have $600,000 of the City's budget allocated to creating free WiFi for superbowl visitors to the mile square - posted in the budget two years ago.  We found out a week ago that IMPD spent $500,000 on superbowl expenses in the first 7 months of this year alone.  We found the DPW contract for $1.6 million.  The "Super Bowl Village/Georgia Street" project will cost taxpayers some $12 million.  How much of that amount is specifically for the super bowl is not readily available. [edited to add: Mayor Ballard's 2012 budget calls for a one time $4 million donation to the City from the CIB to pay for IMPD efforts during the super bowl.  This has not yet been approved]

One way to find more information would be to review the tax returns for the Host Committee.  If you are not familiar, is a website that catalogues all tax returns for non-profits.  One thing leading to another, I finally found the tax returns under the corporate name Our 2012 SB, Inc.  From the tax returns I found that the former name was Indianapolis 2011, Inc.  This was the Host Committee's formal name when it first attempted to land the superbowl, during the Peterson administration. has 3 tax returns, covering the calendar years 2007, 2008, and 2009.  The 2007 return was filed under the old corporate name.

In 2007, Indianapolis 2011, Inc., took in $400,772 and spent $377,184, apparently on the superbowl bid presentation.  They reported no paid staff.  The Board of Directors was co-chaired by Mitch Daniels, Bart Peterson, Jim Irsay, and Tony George.

In 2008, Our 2012 SB, Inc, took in $4,436,907 and spent $3,896,082.  Towards the end of the year they hired a President/CEO, Allison Melangton.  They paid her $57,622.00 salary plus benefits for those unspecified months of employment.

'Bid materials & expenses' accounted for $303,266.  If anyone is interested in the articles of incorporation, they are included in the second half of this tax return.

In 2009, Our 2012 SB, Inc, took in $5,216,249 and spent $4,284,206. Melangton was paid $232,822.00 in salary plus benefits for the entire calendar year. 

So, from 2007 through 2009, the Host Committee took in just over $10 million of the promised $25 million.

What we have on our hands is government officials using an intermediate company to keep pertinent documents from the public.  Whether this was one of the initial reasons for setting up the Host Committee or a lucky accident, I cannot say.  But, given that getting information from the Ballard administration regarding promise made to the NFL is like pulling teeth, I have to conclude they like it this way.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Super Bowl Host Committee Got To Design Georgia Street - Taxpayers Get To Pay For It

One thing leads to another.  I will spare you the bread crumbs leading me to this contract, but suffice it to say, it took over a month to get to this point.

Contained in the City's contract database is one between the Department of Public Works and Our 2012 SB, Inc, for $1,561,200.  It is contact 8667 if you would like to read it.  It is 146 pages long.  I have read only the beginning of it, but wanted to share it with you.

The gist is that INDOT selected a designer for Georgia Street (Crawford Murphy & Tilley).  The Designer entered into a consulting agreement with the Host Committee (aka Our 2012 SB, Inc) to design the Street and assume responsibility for paying for the design.  On February 22, 2011, DPW agreed to reimburse Our 2012 SB, Inc., for the cost of that design.

Our 2012 SB, Inc., is a 501 (c)(6) not for profit corporation whose purpose is described as

a mutual benefit corporation organized to promote the common business interests, growth and opportunity, and the general economic welfare for businesses in and around Indianapolis, Indiana (the "City"), by attracting and hosting a professional football championship game in the City.

Our 2012SB, Inc, submitted a successful bid for the National Football League's Super Bowl XLVI, a profession football championship to be held in Indianapolis in 2012.

Under the supervision of the National Football League, Our 2012SB will centralize the planning and the execution of the 2012 Super Bowl to ensure coordination of all efforts and community resources.  Our 2012 SB will serve as an extension to the National Football League in the local community, as the City's ambassador to the incoming Super Bowl fans, guests, and corporations, and as a manager of local resources such as City services, event venues, accommodations, and thousands of volunteers.

The Public's Right To Know - Dragging The Superbowl Expenditures Out Into The Open

It is my contention that the public has an inherent right to know how much the Superbowl is costing us, and how the City's deal with the NFL is affecting our laws.  I now see the beginning of bipartisan movement within the Council to pull at least the costs out of the Ballard administration.  While more is needed, I'll give one big HOORAY ! to the Council for getting the ball rolling.

There were two proposals considered on Monday night that, together, illuminated the fact that its not just those of us accustomed to the cheap seats who do not know what is going on, but also the Council whose statutory role is to hold the purse strings.

First up was Prop 171 which both changed how previously appropriated Public Safety dollars could be spent and added new money to that budget.  Fellow blogger Gary Welsh has posted about the lack of toilet paper and other essentials in Public Safety offices (see "Life in Straubville" and "More On Life In Straubville"). 

The overall reasoning offered to the Council for the need to shuffle funds between categories of types of expenditures was this -  The usual pattern of expenditures for supplies is about $1.5 m a year.  Public Safety was allowed to ask for only about $800 k for supplies in last year's budget and "challenged to find operational efficiencies" with the understanding that they would then go back to the Council and shuffle those savings into the supplies category.  In addition, there is money in the federal law enforcement fund that has never been appropriated.

Now, I did attend those budget hearings and it was never disclosed aloud that such an agreement was working.  I don't know what the Councillors were told. 

They seem to have found "operational efficiencies" in personnel costs, as that is the only category from which money is being shuffled.  But, supplies is not the only category getting the newly allocated funds.  The category that includes outside contracts is actually getting more money from the combination of "operational efficiencies" and the federal law enforcement fund.  While $731,650 is now going into supplies, just over $2 million is going into the category of "Other Services and Charges", which includes professional contracts and outside consulting contracts and the like.  No explanation was given at the Council meeting for the need for beefing up that category.

During the explanation of all of this, it also came out, that the Department of Public Safety has already spent over $500,000 this year on expenses for the Superbowl.  During last year's budget hearings, absolutely no mention was made of the need for money for the Superbowl and it seems to have been news to the Councillors that the total was already so high.

The vote on Prop 171 was 20 yeas and 7 nays.  The yeas were Democrats Brown, Evans, B. Mahern, D. Mahern, Minton-McNeill, Oliver, joining Republicans Cain, Cardwell, Cockrum, Day, Freeman, Hunter, Malone, McHenry, McQuillen, Pfisterer, Rivera, Sandlin, Vaughn, and lone Libertarian Coleman.  The nays were Democrats Gray, Lewis, Manfield, Moriarty, Nytes, Sanders along with Republican Lutz.  Councillor Bateman was listed as "not voting" and Councillor Scales was absent all evening.

This leads to Proposal 188, the Superbowl Ordinance, and its discussion.  An amendment was offered by Councillor Brian Mahern to get an accounting of the City's costs for each civic event each year by May 1.  There was a gentleman's agreement that Council President, Ryan Vaughn, would ask that the accounting for actual and expected Superbowl expenditures be provided to the Council by November 1, 2011.  I think I heard that it would be offered at a public meeting.

The Mahern amendment was offered with the bipartisan support of the sponsor of the Superbowl Ordinance, Councillor Angel Rivera.

The vote on the Superbowl Ordinance, Prop 188, was 22 yeas and 5 nays.  The yea votes were cast by Republicans Cain, Cockrum, Day, Hunter, Malone, McHenry, McQuillen, Pfisterer, Rivera, Vaughn, along with Democrats Brown, Evans, Gray, Lewis, B. Mahern, D. Mahern, Mansfield, Minton-McNeill, Moriarty, Nytes, Oliver and Sanders.  The nay votes came from Republicans Cardwell, Freeman, Lutz, Sandlin joined by Libertarian Coleman.  Councillor Bateman was listed as "not voting" and Councillor Scales was absent all evening.

So, through all of this, we, the Citizens of Indianapolis, will be getting some advance knowledge on how much money has been spent and how much more is expected to be spent on the Superbowl by the City/County.  It may be worth it or not, but at least we will have the information upon which we can come to our conclusions.
We still do not have similar information regarding which of our laws will be avoided by the passage of the Superbowl Ordinance, and unfortunately, no real push evident on the part of the Council to get just such an accounting.  I'll continue to write on this blog about the effect of the illusive agreement between the City and the NFL, as I firmly believe that it is an inherent right of the public to know exactly what has been promised the NFL in return for their naming our City as the host of the 2012 Superbowl.
For now, though, it is a good sign that the Councillors are waking up to the fact that this Superbowl will actually have scarce City and County government dollars spent on it.  They are the fiscal body for the City and County and they are asserting that role - which is very good to see indeed.

Cataloging Nepotism At MSD Decatur Township

Okay fellow Decaturites, I can use your help.  I want to make a sidebar on this blog that lists all of the relatives of Board members and Administrators who are on the payroll at MSD Decatur Township.  Please contribute the name of the employee, position, and relation to person of influence.  Also add any other fact you think would enhance the utility of this list to waking up the Township to how much advantage these folks are personally taking of the District and its taxpayers.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Right Of Public Comment Debated At City-County Council

On Monday night the content of Proposal 210 was not the issue.  The issue was how the Councillors in charge chose to shut down public comment on it.  And this time, Democrats spoke up plainly and in numbers to challenge the ban.

Paul Ogden blogged about this episode of the Council meeting over at Ogden On Politics (see "Republican Councilors Vote to Oppose Public Comment and Open Government") yesterday.

The focal point of this whole thing was the appointment of one Richard Kraft to the Board of Zoning Appeals.  At the committee meeting, Chairwoman Janice McHenry, announced that there would be no public comment taken.  Furthermore, she cited the fact that Council rules leave the decision on whether there will or will not be any public testimony up to the discretion of the Chair (see "Public Input Sacrificed For The Convenience Of Elected Officials").  To make matters just a little bit worse, the public was also barred from obtaining a copy of Mr. Kraft's bio before the meeting started.

When Prop 210 was brought forth for full Council consideration Monday night,  Councillor Angela Mansfield moved that the Council send it back to committee for the purpose of having public comment.  Councillor McHenry reiterated that it was up to the Chair and that they did not have to take public comment.  Councillor Vernon Brown stated that taking public comment was in the interest of open and transparent government.  Mansfield's motion went to a vote and failed by a vote of 12 in support and 16 against sending Prop 210 back to committee.

Those voting yea were Democrats Bateman, Brown, Evans, Gray, Lewis, B. Mahern, D. Mahern, Mansfield, Moriarty, Nytes, Oliver and Sanders.

Those voting nay were Libertarian Coleman, Republicans Cain, Cardwell, Cockrum, Day, Freeman, Hunter, Lutz, Malone, McHenry, McQuillen, Pfisterer, Rivera, Sandlin, Vaughn, and lone Democrat Minton-McNeill.

The discussion continued to revolve around the issue of allowing public comment in committee meetings.  Councillor Brian Mahern asked if they could take public comment right there and then and Council President Ryan Vaughn noted that it had not been posted for public comment therefore they could not.

Various Republican Councillors cast aspersions on the potential public commenters and said it made it difficult to find people who would want to serve.  Various Democratic Councillors noted that the Chair should be able to control the meeting if inappropriate comments were being made, but that the public just might have something important to add to the decision making process.  I think Councillor Monroe Gray had the most succinct take on it when he said "How do you know what someone is going to say, if you don't let them speak?"

I am glad that this dialog took place in the Council chambers.  It is high time that Councillors put their heads together to find a new public process that protects the feelings of appointees, but weighs more heavily the public's right to make their opinions known.  The BZAs and the MDC make extremely impactful decisions nearly every time they meet.  Those of us who represent the interests of our neighborhoods have been reluctant to speak publicly about the reappointment of members of these bodies whose decisions or interactions with remonstrators are poor, for fear of recrimination when we appear before those individuals again.  But, that self-imposed reluctance is falling by the wayside.

For myself, I hit a wall a couple of years ago and figured that certain members of the BZA could not possibly do any more harm to my area than they were already doing.  These members actually ended up in the majority that granted a variance to a homeowner in an area with more than 5 houses per acre, allowing them to park a semi at their house.  In the course of the hearing, one of these board members actually said to me, "if we make a decision today, will you stop coming down here?".  This particular person had snotty comments to make to remonstrators all the time.  I contacted the appointing bodies of these three individuals and noted that I would appear publicly and speak against their reappointment, should that ever happen.  Since none of these three people were reappointed, I did not appear.  But, I was fed up and certainly would have.

Sticking simply to the process - there must be a way to craft an open public process that meets multiple objectives.  But, until such a process is crafted, one would hope that all of the Councillors would put far more weight on the integrity of open government, validated by open public hearings on all matters that come before the Council, including appointments to Boards and Commissions.

After much discussion on everything but Mr. Kraft, Prop 210 went to a vote.  It passed by a vote of 17 to 11.

Those voting yea was Libertarian Coleman, Republicans Cain, Cardwell, Cockrum, Day, Freeman, Hunter, Lutz, Malone, McHenry, McQuillen, Pfisterer, Rivera, Sandlin, Vaughn, and Democrats B. Mahern and D. Mahern.

Those voting nay were Democrats Bateman, Brown, Evans, Gray, Lewis, Mansfield, Minton-McNeill, Moriarty, Nytes, Oliver, and Sanders.

[edited to note that Councillor Christine Scales was not present Monday night]

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Unite Here ! Raises The Temperature On Behalf Of Downtown Hotel Workers

Its one part brazen, one part brilliant. 

Unite Here ! is a national group seeking to unionize hotel workers here in Indianapolis.  Organizer Becky Smith is spearheading the 'adopt a hotel worker' movement that showed up in force at last night's City-County Council meeting.

You may recall how hotel management hid behind the skirts and aprons of the hotel workers two years ago, in order to get more tax money to the Capital Improvement Board (CIB).  The CIB provides about 75% of the funding of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association (ICVA).  The ICVA spends money to discount room rates to conventions.  See how tax revenues gets into the hands of the hotels? 

Concurrent with raising their voices and using hotel workers as props to get taxes raised that would benefit themselves, these same hotel managers were increasing work loads, outsourcing jobs, and fighting the workers' right to unionize.

It does not take much of a realist to know that any hotel worker who stands up and speaks out against hotel management risks losing their job.  Unite Here's answer - other folks step and and speak out on behalf of hotel workers - one person/one worker at a time.

Its one part gutzy, one part genius.

The focus of the adopt a hotel worker program is Prop 242, which was introduced at last night's Council meeting.

This proposal, sponsored by Councillors Lewis, Sanders, B. Mahern, D. Mahern, and Moriarty Adams, would return to a qualified hotel worker, the amount of County Option Income Tax paid by the worker.  The aggregate payments could not exceed $250,000 or 10% of all money spent by the City/County on outside consultants in any particular year, whichever is less.  The hotel worker must pay Marion County's COIT, must make more than $10,000 as a downtown hotel worker, and must make less than $25,000 total. 

Smith is interested in getting Prop 242 passed with a bi-partisan majority of the Council.

It strikes me that the effort alone will help shed a bright light on the fact that those in top spots of the downtown hospitality industry are personally prospering, partially due to the largess of taxpayers, but also partially due to greater workloads and lower wages for those who occupy lower spots on the ladder.

It was exciting to see the crowd of red-shirted stand-ins for the hotel workers last night.  They filled the seats, they filled the aisles, and they spilled into the lobby.  It is good to be reminded that sometimes we simply must lead with our heart and our conscience and do what is right - simply because it is right.

I cannot end this piece without giving props to Council President, Ryan Vaughn.  He did exactly the right thing last night regarding the crowd.  He asked all city workers to give up their seats, and he let those folks standing in the aisles remain.  So, kudos to him for being absolutely reasonable.

The proposal was assigned to the Rules committee, which will consider it on September 27 beginning at 5:30 pm, in the Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building.

All in all, this will be one to watch.  For now though, you have to admit that Unite Here's adopt a hotel worker approach has some cachet.  Its one part sassy, one part smart.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Oy Vey ! They Are Robbing The Downtown TIF District - AGAIN !

I don't know if it was luck that I had too much to do yesterday, so I couldn't blog about how intrigued I was with the Ballard Administration's interest in creating a 'fiscal stability fund' with $80 million of the money they will soon receive from the sale of the water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy Group.  Now I read in today's Star a report by Chris Sikich, that the Mayor intends to steal $40 million from the Consolidated Downtown TIF District for use in the 2012 budget.  Yes, I used the word 'steal'.   There is so much wrong with this idea, that I will have to slow myself down just to be clear.

Back up to the fiscal stability fund.  I attended the Council Rules committee meeting Wednesday night because they were going to consider the super bowl ordinance, and I had comments to make that I knew would fall on deaf ears - which they did.  Not long before leaving the house I got an email alert from the IBJ about Scott Olson's report regarding the fiscal stability fund's creation and uses.  So, I decided to stay and hear more.  The fund would have a single deposit of $80 million from the proceeds of the sale of the utilities.  Its purpose would be to maintain the same dollar amount now used to calm bond buyers that we can repay our water and sewer utility bonds.  The responsibility to repay those bonds will transfer along with the assets of the utilities upon closing to Citizens Energy.  The nut of the idea was to assure bond buyers that the City was flush with cash and our bonds were extra outstanding.  It should be noted that during the Ballard term, our bond rating did slip temporarily from AAA.  The stated intention of the fiscal stability fund was to keep the AAA rating.  The need supposedly would only be for a year or two, then the money could be moved over to the RebuildIndy fund for use toward infrastructure projects. 

I did ask one question that may be more pertinent than I thought at the time.  That question was: could the MDC use accounting tricks in order to allow the reserve amounts in the TIF district funds to drop below prudent levels, by assuring bond holders that we had this extra $80 million just sitting there - so we were going to be able to make our payments on the bonds they bought.  The answer came back - no.

I know that Democrats were trying to make the case that this fiscal stability fund was just being used as an accounting trick to make the City's 2012 budget seem balanced.  I figured, and still do, that the validity of that assertion would become clear with the release of the budget numbers Monday night.

Fast forward to today's news about the City stealing $40 million from the Consolidated Downtown TIF district.  The Mayor is saying that the City has the right to get a refund from that TIF district for all of the infrastructure work it has done over the years on downtown.  Well...  I wouldn't bet the farm that the City has that legal right.  It has overstepped its legal authority time and again with that TIF district in the past couple of years to the point that they just say whatever they think they have to in order to use that TIF money as a slush fund.

Here are the thoughts running through my head on this news:

There is a difference between the MDC having a public hearing on the expenditure of funds from the Downtown TIF district for infrastructure improvements downtown BEFORE they occur, and the Mayor demanding a refund AFTER they occur.

Show the public the receipts from these improvements.

Any extra money in a TIF district belongs to all of the taxing units, not just the City.  In fact, only about 1/3 of the property taxes would have gone into City/County coffers.  About half would have flowed to IPS.  There is a real disconnect when the City simply claims it all as their own.

Are the reserve funds that will be left in the consolidated downtown TIF district fund at the prudent level for the assurance of bond holders?  The Council's economic advisor, Jim Steele, mentioned 15% as such a prudent benchmark.  Or, is the City going to force that reserve to drop below prudent levels, then point to the $80 million fiscal stability fund to reassure bond holders that we can repay our debts?

Are the Democrats correct about the shell game?  Is Mayor Ballard taking $80 million from the sale of the utility, using that as a substitute for the prudent reserve that should be left in the Downtown TIF fund, and absconding with $40 million from that fund to pay the City's bills in 2012?  Is the real reason to maintain the fiscal stability fund for one or two years in order to give the Downtown TIF fund time to take in enough property taxes to replenish the prudent reserve?

Even if there is no shell game and the reserves of the Consolidated Downtown TIF fund are kept at the 15% prudent reserve level, there remains the basic issue of Mayor Ballard time and again using the extra funds in the TIF as his slush fund - to spend any way he wants instead of sending the excess back to the taxing units and relieving the taxpayers of some of their burden.

Will the Council stop this latest theft from the Downtown TIF?  The Council has recently said they want to find ways to ensure that TIF districts are dealt with in a responsibility manner (see "Excellent").  Even Council President, Ryan Vaughn, was quoted as being in favor.  Is that really true?  If so, they should back it up by denying Mayor Ballard this one last mega-misuse of the TIF district fund.

Oy Vey !

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Superbowl Ordinance Back At Council Committee Tonight

The first item on the City-County Council Rules committee agenda for tonight is Prop 188, the Superbowl Ordinance.  The meeting starts at 6 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building.

Prop 188 hands over almost all of the detail and certainly all of the authority for decisions to the Department of Code Enforcement.  More specifically, it hands over the promulgation of specific regulations to the approval of that agency's Board, and the licensing and more decisions to the Department's License Administrator.

The ordinance defines 'special event zones' and 'clean zones', but leaves the approval of same in the hands of the License Administrator, with no public input possible.  Licenses for vending and other activity within the clean zone also requires the approval of the event sponsor.

The License Administrator would also have the sole power, again without any public input, to approve signage that is currently illegal inside Marion County.  This is "including but not limited to inflatables, cold air balloons, banners, pennants, flags, building wraps, A-frame signs, T-frame signs, projected image signs, electronic variable message signs, and light emitting diode signs. Mobile advertising signs shall not be  permitted under this provision."

From the beginning (see "Superbowl Ordinance Before City-County Council")  I have tried to obtain the details of what is actually going to be the end result should this ordinance pass.  I have been rebuffed by the Administration that claims to be 'transparant'. 

I first requested of DCE, what regulations it was considering proposing to its Board, should Prop 188 be enacted.  I was told, "As a matter of process, we cannot develop or propose regulation unless an ordinance is in place".  I then asked them for a copy of all correspondence between DCE and any member of the Indianapolis 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee, as it was apparent that the NFL and the Host committee and the City had some sort of agreements in place - if only to land the 2012 Super Bowl.  Monday I obtained 702 pages of emails - more on them below. 

At the same time, I requested of City Legal, a copy of any agreement between the City and the NFL regarding Super Bowl 2012.  I was told the City "did not locate any documents responsive to your request".  I then asked for any agreement between the City of Indianapolis and any organization regarding Super Bowl 2012.  I was told that my request lacked enough specificity to be fulfilled, according to State Law requirements. 

Nobody is divulging exactly what is being agreed to through this ordinance.  The public and the Councillors are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

Back to the 702 pages of emails that I did receive.  Most were mundane - setting up meeting dates, etc.  Here are some of the piece that I could glean from the messages:

1) the superbowl ordinance is based on what the City or the Indianapolis 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee (ISC),I do not know which, proposed to the NFL as part of its bid package to land the 2012 Super Bowl for Indianapolis.  In an email dated September 18, 2010, Adam Collins (the author of the ordianance and DCE's license administrator) introduced himself to Michele Raines (VP, Event Operations & Government Relations, ISC) saying:
By way of introduction, I have been tasked to head the City's efforts to revise our current special events ordinance to accommodate changes required for the upcoming Super Bowl and other civic sponsored major events.  To ensure that we are tackling all the areas that the City has agreed to in the Super Bowl bid, I was hoping you had a copy of the executive summary that you could send to me electronically.
the response from Raines:
Adam - it's nice to meet you and I look forward to working with you.  Attached are the bid specs for the Clean Zone ordinance from the NFL that we have committed to meet.
There was an attachment which was not provide to me in the 702 pages.  I subsequently requested a copy of it.

2) the public has been the last to be enlightened about what is in the ordinance - and I would also say that we are still very much in the dark as to what details will emerge AFTER prop 188 passes.

For several months, the draft ordinance that Collins was working on was called the 'Clean Zone ordinanance' in emails.

The initial draft ordinance was ready in mid-December, 2010.  By early January, 2011, the ISC was reviewing it.  On January 28, 2011, a review and comments on it were returned to Collins from Scott Bearby, Managing Director of Legal Affairs/Associate General Counsel for the NCAA.

On June 13, 2011, there was an inquiry to Collins from the ISC's Andrew Arnold, Director of Event Operations, as to whether he might share the draft with the NFL's Clean Zone attorney.  The response was:
I see no issues with it, so long as he agrees that we're in the top 1% of ordinances relative to the Clean Zone in the country.
Personally, I think that the City needs to create ordinances that hold the residents' interests above all others.

On June 22, 2011, there was a meeting with the Indiana Sports Corp. to inform them of the ordinance and solicit their support before the Council.

Also on June 22, Collins requested help in arranging a briefing for Mark Wolf from BRVA and Susan Vogt from Riley Area/MAMA and to solicit their support at the Council.

Prop 188 was introduced at the June 27 meeting of the full Council.

On June 30 there was a meeting with residents of the Babe Denny neighborhood that abuts the south side of Lucas Oil Stadium, where an 'events ordinance' was noted fairly in passing.  It was mentioned that this ordinance had been introduced to the Council as Prop 188.

3) meetings with neighbors deliberately held back information

There was a meeting with residents of the Babe Denny neighborhood earlier, as well, on January 26.  In an email conversation that started two days earlier between Arnold (ISC), Collins (DCE), and Rick Powers (Director, DCE) -- Arnold asked Powers if he wanted to discuss potential parking ordinance changes with the neighborhood.  Powers asked Collins if his work was far enough along to do so.  Collins said "So long as we emphasize the fact that our concept is preliminary, we could begin to provide information.  Andy [Arnold], I'm assuming this means that you didn't have any significant issues with the parking portion of the ordinance?"

The response from Arnold was:
That's correct...however, after further discussion with Mel [Raines] today, we think that we should hold off on discussing this detail for now, and save it for a future meeting that when we can discuss in further detail, along with most of the other details.  If I remember correctly, we initially added this to the agenda as a way to flush out potential issues/concerns with the changes.

I think our general course for tomorrow should be to briefly mention parking in the overall Super Bowl planning overview, saying that we know everyone has some interest in the topic.  Inform them that we will be gathering additional info while in North Texas, and share that we will continue to address in ongoing meetings with them. If attendees have specific questions during the Q&A period, try to avoid too much detail until a future meeting.

Our goal is to work very hard to keep the meeting positive, and we're afraid that introducing something that everyone may not agree with could turn the meeting negative quickly, I hope that this makes sense and that you both agree.

This also gives us time to discuss the draft ordinance as a committee on Friday, before presenting anything to anyone publically.

Please let me know if you have additional questions.


Parking is the number one issue with the residents of Babe Denny.  The neighbors were handled, not dealt with as adults who had a right to information.

4) there are, indeed, specifics being considered that are not called out in Prop 188, but would be implemented should it pass into law.

A number of links to news items were circulated regarding the Dallas Super Bowl.  Of note is one from the the Fort Worth Star Telegram ("Super Bowl kept Arlington staffers busy")
From cracking down on counterfeit NFL merchandise sales to addressing illegal parking and advertising, Super Bowl weekend kept Arlington's code compliance officers busy.

Code officers, along with health inspectors, logged more than 320 inspections at neighborhoods and businesses around Cowboys Stadium on Feb. 4-6, city records show.

Much of the activity focused on making sure private businesses and churches were legally operating their entrepreneurial parking lots, though code officers also addressed issues such as junked cars, abandoned shopping carts and illegally operating pedicabs and pulled up at least 80 so-called bandit signs along street medians.
We know from a presentation that Collins made on July 16, 2011, to the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, that there are plans for a 'rocket docket' during the weeks of Super Bowl festivities, where a Judge will be available at all times to shut down violators nabbed by Code Enforcement Officers.  Who, exactly will be paying for these services that will be provided to protect the NFL's commercial license agreements?

Minutes of the December 9, 2010, meeting of the ISC Restaurant Super Service Commitee provided as part of the 702 pages illuminate some additional expectations.  The NFL will be the deciding factor if vendor food carts will be allowed.  A requirement of a special placard for display in restaurant windows to indicate state inspection complete will likely be built into the superbowl ordinance.  Permanent restaurants should expand their seating by 20%.  They should use their sidewalk cafes to prepare food and beverage outside of their restaurants.  They should seek encroachment permits to serve food and beverage on the sidewalk.  The city should clarify laws to allow the public to walk around with an 'open beverage' [I think they are referring to alcohol and not Sprite].  The city should also work on a legal manner through which businesses will be able to serve these beverages to the public for walking around with.

All in all, I did get some details of what is actually intended to be accomplished with the passage of Prop 188.  But, the entire story should be shared with the public before that proposal is passed into law and it is too late for public input.  This ordinance should fit our City and our residents.  We should be its focus, and not the NFL.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Decatur School District - Discrimination Lawsuits and (Could It Be?) Stinson Retiring

The MSD Decatur Township School District has been rocked by not one, but two federal lawsuits claiming discrimination. 

The first was filed in June by the Mother of a Decatur Central High School student who suffered racial harassment by fellow students, which it seems, the administration did little to stop.  WRTV's Joanna Massee reported it thusly:
The family of a former Decatur Central High School student has filed suit against the district, which they claim did little to stop repeated racial taunts aimed at the 16-year-old girl.

The sophomore, who is black, said she received an offensive cellphone message during class and had been approached by other students who addressed her using racial slurs, 6News' Joanna Massee reported.

The girl's mother, Chereall DeBoest, played 6News the cellphone message, which includes a picture of a Ku Klux Klan member fishing with fried chicken, as well as audio including defamatory language.
Just last week, a former employee filed an age and disability lawsuit against the District.  Fox 59 reporter, Anne Yeager, described it this way:
A former employee said a Central Indiana school fired him because he was diagnosed with cancer.  
Keith Jones, 61, worked as a police officer for the Decatur Township School District for 14 years. He was stunned to lose his job last summer.

His boss told him he was being laid off due to "fiscal restructuring." Jones' friends and colleagues told him that wasn't the reason at all, though. Co-workers told him the district's insurance carrier had red-flagged Jones, after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and 2005.

Jones admits he needed regular radiation treatments and expensive surgeries. He said he was appalled when he learned that just two months later, the district hired an officer "half his age" to fill the position.
Whether related to the pressures of these lawsuits or the crushing debt he imposed on the District, Superintendent Don Stinson is rumored to be looking to retire.  By the way, Stinson is said to have announced all this to the staff of the Gold Academy on Monday.

The rumors are consistent in that Nan Wiseman, current Principal at the Gold Academy, will move into the Central Office and take Assistant Superintendent Debbie Sullivan's job.  Sullivan would move up to Superintendent. 

Where the rumors diverge is whether Stinson would retire in January, or stay on, ala Wayne Township's Tommy Thompson, hauling down a fit salary for little work.  In this version of the rumor, Stinson would remain on salary as a "mentor" to Sullivan.  As we know, Thompson was turned out of his cush semi-retirement, "Superintendent Emeritus" gig once the public became aware of his scamming the taxpayers.  Stinson may believe he can out Thompson Thompson, given his rubberstamping School Board who questions nothing he does.

We shall see.  The District is in a huge mess and after all, rats will be rats and flee a sinking ship. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

City Way - The Rebranding Of North of South

You know that a deal stinks to high heaven when the powers that be are forced to rename it.

So it went the other day, when Mayor Greg Ballard helped break ground on the renamed North of South (aka No-So) project.  The new name is City Way (aka City No Way To Run A City).  Lest the Google bots not find sufficient linkage between the worst deal for taxpayers to come out of the Ballard years as Mayor and its new name, let me provide some contextual linkage here.

City Way is the new name for North of South.

This project takes all of the risk off the developer and puts it squarely on the taxpayers of Indianapolis.

The taxpayers loaned the City Way (No-So) developer $86 million that it got by floating a $98 million bond that was secured with property taxes gathered from the Consolidated Downtown TIF district.  The developer gets to pay the loan back with whatever money it would pay in property taxes on its development, in effect granting the developer a 10-year 100% abatement on the project.  Should part of the project be profitable, swell -- the developer can pay back the City for that portion and pocket the rest of the profit.  Should part of the project be unprofitable, no problem -- the developer can default on that portion despite the fact the rest of the project is profitable.

The developer is supposed to seek refinancing for the project in ten years.  But, the City floated 30 year bonds - and whether or not the City will use the money to pay off the rest of the $98 million bond at that time is anyone's guess.  Should there be a problem with the development, no problem - the City will  foreclose on it and add millions more taxpayer money to finish it.

The City will also put in some $9 million of streets and sewers and parking meters.

With about 30,000 square feet of office space and, hopefully one small wet lab, the State of Indiana designated it a Certified Technology Park and tossed a free $6 million to the developer. 

Eli Lilly stands to benefit substantially.  Although they are credited with donating $30 million to the project, half is a way early payment from the City on another TIF district set up specifically to benefit Lilly and half is credit for the value of the land upon which City Way (No-So) will be built.  The latter is not really a contribution, as Lilly will retain ownership and lease the ground to whomever owns the buildings erected on it. 

The developer is only putting up $6 million.  The developer could not get a bank to finance the deal. So, Mayor Ballard stepped up and put the taxpayers on the hook.

Hopefully the Google bot has enough clues in this blog entry to make sure that City Way and North of South both come up whenever City Way is the search term.  The taxpayers of Indianapolis need a good historical record about how huge a boondoggle this City Way (North of South) project is.

If you want more information about the City Way boondoggle, you can read my earlier blog entries "North of South - Details of Proposed Deal", "No-So Field of Dreams - Lie And They Will Build It", and "No-So Deal Worse Than Even I Thought" for the highlights.