Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trouble With The Justification Story

I don't know how many people have been bamboozled by the story justifying the need for new precinct maps, but I was certainly one of them !

If you read through yesterday's blog entry, "New Precincts And Proposed New Council Districts", you will see that the justification for reprecincting was that the State Legislature had created their new House and Senate districts by totally ignoring the precinct boundaries.  Thus, new precincts had to be cobbled together to try to make the Legislative districts whole.

Well.....  That storyline turns out to be fabrication. 

The truth turns out to be that the House and Senate districts were defined by listing the precincts they include.  You can read it for yourself, but I'll summarize it here:

IC 2-1-12 - lists 2011 House districts by precinct.  Scroll down and you will find Marion County precincts included in districts 86-100.  I can find no precinct that has been included in more than one House district.

IC 2-1-13 - lists 2011 Senate districts by precinct.  Districts 28-36 contain Marion County precincts.  Once again, I can find no precinct that has been included in more than one Senate district.

So - there was no need to create new precincts at this time.  The impact I noted yesterday on creating split precincts from the redistricting of Township Board lines using the old precincts, still holds however.  Bottom line, these new precincts will increase the confusion and expense of the Primary and General Elections in 2012. 

If it were up to me, I'd revoke these precinct boundaries and honor the electorate with both the chance to weigh in on new Council districts and by telling them the truth.

[hat tip to fellow bloggers Paul Ogden and Gary Welsh for illuminating this corner for me]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Precincts and Proposed New Council Districts

I've had a bundle of information provided to me about new precinct and Council district maps in the last 24 hours.  Short story - the political parties are girding for battle and the only ones who aren't getting their fair say appears to be the public and the taxpayers.

Lets start with the new precinct maps.  The Mayor of Indianapolis has the sole authority to draw precinct boundaries.  According to City-County Council President, Ryan Vaughn,  Mayor Greg Ballard requested that Vaughn get the precincts drawn up on behalf of the Mayor.  Vaughn, through a Council contract, hired Republican operative David Brooks, to redraw the precinct boundaries.  The Republican 'explanation' for the need for new precincts is that the State Legislature drew up their new House and Senate districts without regard for precinct boundaries, in some cases splitting those precincts.

Now when a precinct is split, that means that there must be multiple ballots in the split precinct on Election Day, to accommodate the different constituents of the different districts.  Split precincts are not fun on election day as there are invariably folks given the wrong ballot and frustrated voters and poll workers.  In addition, the need for multiple variations of the ballot for a precinct drives up the cost of conducting the election; the added expense being passed on to the taxpayers, of course.

So, at first blush, reprecincting would seem to be a good way to save the taxpayers money by covering the lack of intelligent redistricting by the State Legislature.

However, consider this additional fact.  The Township Boards just finished redrawing their districts to conform to the 2000 census.  They had to finish their mapping by earlier this month as the Board seats are on the 2012 ballot.  State law bans redistricting during any year a district is up for election.  The Boards drew their new districts using the old precinct boundaries.  By introducing new precincts, the Mayor has guaranteed that there will be many split districts during next year's Primary and General Elections.  Some of the new precincts may be split by more than one Township Board district.

My examination of Indiana House and Senate districts leads me to a count of 15 House and 9 Senate districts that include any precincts in Marion County.  Compare that with the 9 Township Boards in our County, with 7 districts each, or 63 seats total.  The probability is high that there will be far more split precincts with the new map than had the old map been retained.  Expect a concomitant increase in expense for the two elections next year as a result.

Now on to the newly proposed Council district maps.  The Democratic caucus of the Council does bring up some legitimate criticisms of the way Vaughn has maneuvered the introduction of the maps to the Council for a vote.  Jon Easter posted the caucus' statement on his blog, Indy Democrat, just yesterday.  The Democrats point to the timing of the Mayor's approval of the new precinct maps, coming just two hours before the deadline for introduction of new proposals to the Council for 2011 - and - introduction by Vaughn of a Council Proposal to accept the new Council district maps drawn up under contract by Brooks, just minutes before the deadline.  This left the Democratic caucus with no opportunity to either draw their own proposed map with the new precinct boundaries, or to introduce said map to the Council for consideration.  That move by Vaughn was a clear partisan steamroller approach to party politics.

This is not to say that the Democrats can't draw their own maps when they take over in January. Obviously, Mayor Ballard will not sign such a map.  Also, it does not preclude a Court contest of any Republican map adopted in 2011, as State law seems to ban adoption of Council district maps any earlier than 2012.

I would remind all readers that ten years ago, the State Supreme Court came up with the districts we are now using and that they are nicely compact and in the best interest of Democracy.  The Democrat and Republican proposed maps introduced ten years ago suffered from as much gerrymandering as the ones to be introduced to the Council on December 5.

Meanwhile, there are 4 public meetings - one of which was held last night, with almost no notice.  From one attendee, I am told that the only basis of comment that will be considered by Brooks and the Republican caucus, is if there is a problem with the process.  They will not consider problems with the resultant map.

I spoke with Julia Vaughn (no relation to Ryan) of Common Cause about the mapping process.  Common Cause has, for a long time now, taken an interest in how district maps at all levels of government are drawn and has promoted a process that would embrace the least amount of gerrymandering at the lowest cost to taxpayers.  She has mentioned that there are programs that can be used, inexpensively, by any computer literate citizen to draw up their own proposal for compact districts that keep connected features of interest together.  Such a program, of course, would have to include the precinct boundaries in its code.  The speed with which Ryan Vaughn and Greg Ballard kicked through the new precincts followed by the introduction of a proposed Council map obviated any real participation by voters and taxpayers.

Julia Vaughn further suggests the following for a good public process to redistrict:
Best way would have been to appoint a diverse group of people - black, white, Latino, Republican. Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, northside, southside, eastside, westside, (you get the idea) of folks that would sponsor meetings in every township before any maps were drawn to get public input on what communities of interest exist (might be a racial group, neighborhood group, historic district etc) and what voters think the new districts should emphasize (competitive elections vs. a compact geographic area for example).  The map drawer should have weighed all of these considerations and then produced a map.  A second round of meetings should have followed to get or not get the public's buy-in on  what was proposed. 
This did not happen with the Republican map.  We mere citizens, who should be in the loop on such an important thing like Council districts, are left standing on the sidelines.  We can hope that the Democrats, who surely will proposed their own Council map in 2012, will follow an inclusive process like that suggested by Julia Vaughn.  Somebody in office needs to give a hoot about the public interest and the inclusion of the public in a fair and ample public process.

If you would like to attend one of the three remaining meetings on the new maps they are:

December 1st (Thursday) 6-8pm  ---  John Boner Center, 2236 East 10th Street

December 6th  (Tuesday) 6-8pm ---  Sterrett Center, 8950 Otis Avenue

December 8th (Thursday) 6-8pm ---  City County Building, Public Assembly Room

The Council Proposal containing the Republican Council district maps, will be introduced next Monday, December 5.  It likely will be assigned to the Rules Committee for a public hearing.  There are no currently scheduled meetings for that committee for the rest of the year, but one will surely be added to accommodate this issue.  Stay tuned for date and time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving !

The pies were made yesterday, and very shortly the mad rush to stuff the bird and get it into the oven will commence.

I want to take this moment to wish all of my readers a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving.  This is the best holiday of the year !  Hope your family is near and celebrating with you.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seeds of Hope

Jon Murray, Indy Star reporter, has another good article in today's paper about the drama over competing expansions of Indy's smoking ban.  See "Smoking ban gets unlikely support" for the entire piece.

What could have shaped up as a lose-lose head butting contest, may instead hold the seeds of hope for working government in Indianapolis.

As noted two days ago, there are two competing proposals - one to be introduced by Council President Ryan Vaughn at the next Council meeting, and one to be introduced by Councillors Angela Mansfield and Ben Hunter in January, after the Democrats gain control of the Council.  Both would bring significant enhancement to the current smoking ban, extending the ban to all bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other public gathering places.  Vaughn's proposal would continue to exempt private organizations, tobacco shops and tobacco bars.  The Mansfield / Hunter proposal would exempt only tobacco shops.

As Murray writes:
Anti-smoking advocacy group Smoke Free Indy, which backs only the comprehensive plan [Mansfield / Hunter] so far, estimates 370 bars and other establishments still allow smoking. Most likely would be covered under an expanded ban.
By the group's count, Vaughn's proposal would exclude about 60 from the smoking ban: nearly 20 cigar and hookah bars, five retail tobacco shops, and 35 nonprofit private organizations, including country clubs, social clubs, fraternal organizations and veterans halls.
Only the retail tobacco shops would be exempted by the proposal outlined by council members Angela Mansfield, a Democrat, and Ben Hunter, a Republican.
The rub is, Vaughn can get his ordinance signed by Mayor Ballard, but may not get enough Democrat votes to get out of the Council and on to Ballard's desk.  The Mansfield / Hunter proposal could be passed by the Council, but is not likely to be signed by Ballard - and they likely don't have the votes to overturn a veto.

So, the upshot of it all could very well be that nothing gets done by those who agree on an extension of the ban to cover about 310 of the approximately 370 locations that currently allow smoking.

However, Murray's article contains the seeds of hope, not only for a more comprehensive smoking ban in Indianapolis, but also as a harbinger of working government for the next 4 years.
Mansfield expressed hope that Ballard would sit down with her and Hunter "to see exactly where he is on the issue." Marc Lotter, Ballard's spokesman, said such a meeting shouldn't be a problem in coming weeks, as long as Vaughn also is at the table.
"We're both open to compromise," Hunter said. "We'll look at (Vaughn's) language when we get it in the next 24 to 48 hours."
Mansfield, Hunter and Vaughn all say they want to rid bars of smoking before Super Bowl activities begin in late January, but Mansfield amended that goal Thursday: "I'd much rather see a good, comprehensive proposal in place, even if it's after the Super Bowl."
Vaughn said earlier this week that timing was the reason for his surprise push. He sees a requirement for a period of published notice as a stumbling block before the Super Bowl. Mansfield disagrees that it would be.
But Vaughn said supporters of a more comprehensive ban should support his proposal as an "interim step."
[edited to correct mistake in original Star posting]

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How To Argue About Something You Agree On

The morning paper (and last night's Ogden on Politics) has a story about Council President Ryan Vaughn's intention to offer enhancements to the current smoking ban in Indianapolis.   (see "Bars could be smoke-free soon" by Star reporters Jon Murray and Shari Rudavsky, and Paul Ogden's "Indianapolis' Mayor Ballard, (Some) Council Republicans To Throw Bar Owners Under the Bus In Expanded Smoking Ban")

Instead of ushering in a spirit of cordiality and bipartisanship, which one could have hoped would be the tone for next year's split party governance, it appears to be the first volley in party warfare.  Hopefully I am way off the mark and cooler heads will prevail.

At its core is the intention of many to have a full or nearly full ban on smoking in Indianapolis - tightening up the law passed in 2005.

The Democrats have more Councillors, both on and soon to join the Council, in favor of a stricter ban than do the Republicans.  According to Councillor Angela Mansfield, she would have a veto proof 18 votes in favor of a ban come January.  Mansfield is working again with Republican Ben Hunter to craft a stricter ban than they were able to get passed previously.

Neither the Mansfield/ Hunter plan nor the Vaughn plan are available for public review.   I am not sure that Mansfield's proposal would be a 100% ban, either, but, according to the Star, Vaughn's proposal would :
In addition to bars and bowling alleys, Vaughn says, his proposal would ban smoking in hotel rooms as well as restaurants that slipped through the current law by allowing only patrons who are 18 or older.

His proposal would exempt cigar and hookah bars -- newly defined as "tobacco specialty bars" based on sales -- as well as retail tobacco stores and nonprofit fraternal organizations, including veterans' halls.

Vaughn says his plan has the virtue of the backing of Mayor Ballard, and an earlier passage date which would be in keeping with state law notification time requirements on enacting laws that impose penalties.  Mansfield sites her 18 votes and says the penalties were contained in the 2005 ordinance and are therefore not subject to another time limit.

I understand the all or nothing approach of Smoke Free Indy, but this is the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council.  Passage of the weaker Vaughn proposal may wipe out some of the 18 votes Mansfield would need to veto proof additional expansion of the smoking ban in January, and if that happened, Vaughn's weaker proposal would stand for some time to come.  But, if Vaughn's approach is satisfactory to some of Mansfield's 18 votes, then how solid is her support in reality?

One aim is to have a ban in place by the Super Bowl, in order to leave a more progressive impression with visitors.  Even if Mansfield's interpretation is ultimately correct, an appeal to the Courts could delay any proposal passed in January while the Court considers the validity of the challenge.  A long term outlook for the health of bar workers would continue to be satisfied, but the opportunity some see in marketing Indy could be lost.

At some point, the new Council and the Mayor will either have to learn to talk and consider compromises that move our City forward, or we will have 4 years of gridlock.

[edited to add: My mistake, 18 votes is not veto-proof.  According to the Indianapolis Code, a 2/3 majority is needed to override a veto.  That calculates to 19.33 votes required - so I assume 20 are in reality required to override.  This makes discussion by the Council and Mayor even more imperative.  On a smoking ban, even if Mansfield can get all 16 Ds and Ben Hunter, Ryan Vaughn, and Mike McQuillen to vote for her proposal, it would not be enough votes to overturn a Ballard veto.]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Council Meets Tonight

The City-County Council will hold its first lame duck meeting tonight.  The agenda is posted on the Council website.

A few items caught my eye.

Of interest tonight is Prop 303, which, unless an agreement has been reached by both sides, would cause the Council to hear a zoning matter - petition 2011-CZN-825 (2855 N. Keystone Ave.) which was approved by the MDC on October 5, 2011.  A brief review of the online documents, including staff report, suggests that Herman & Kittle want to rezone 1.6 acres from commercial uses to a multi-family residential use.  They want a 3 story, 56-unit building.  The current planning staff recommended denial of the petition, primarily due to how different this use and structure would be from the surrounding neighborhood of single story residences and a community center.  Should the matter go to a full hearing by the Council, a 2/3 majority vote of the Council is required to overturn the decision of the MDC.

Prop 286 is kind of peculiar, in that it appropriates about $8 million for this year's budget, $7.6 million of which is for debt service.  The proposal says that it will all be paid with new revenues.  One has to wonder how a) somebody missed the need for $7.6 million in debt service payments due in 2011, and b) failed to appropriate the money during the budget process for 2011.  Debt service schedules are highly predictable.

Props 286, 304, 307,  and 308, excluding the debt service noted above, adds $1.9 million to the current budgets of 6 departments or agencies (Mayor's Office, Department of Code Enforcement, Public Defender, Cooperative Extension, Community Corrections, and Superior Court) and cuts the current budget of the County Prosecutor by $211,500.  Now, just over $600,000 is from newly obtained grant money, which certainly needs to be appropriated.  But, in a twist, the entire $1.9 million would be reduced by $1.5 million if Prop 309, which is being introduced tonight, is passed.  Prop 309 cuts 24 budgets by a total of $16 million, "for the purpose of ensuring the city and county have adequate fund balances going into 2012 and beyond".

Also being introduced tonight are three Proposals authored by Councillor Angela Mansfield aimed at the unilateral decision of Council President, Ryan Vaughn, to expend $50,000 for redrawing precinct lines and another $225,000 for redrawing Council District lines.  Indy Star reporter, Jon Murray, has a really good article on this set of proposals in today's paperProp 315 would censure Vaughn for the expenditure and remove him from the Presidency.  Prop 316 would rescind the contract to redraw Council District lines and hold the money for use next year.  Prop 317 would require any expenditure over $500 by the Council officers to be approved by the Council's Committee on Committees.  All three will be assigned to the Rules committee.

Two more proposals to be introduced tonight are tied together.  Prop 336 appropriates $2 million from the Rebuild Indy fund, to a charter school incubator to be created by a partnership with the Mind Trust.  Prop 338 creates an Office of Education Innovation, a Board to oversee it, and the charter school incubator.  It further grants the Director of the OEI, the authority to approve sending back to the non-profit, all of the County Option Income Tax revenue collected from employees of any Marion County non-profit that "is committed to reform and improve educational outcomes in our county".  All 5 members of the Board would be appointed by the Mayor and may either reside or work in Marion County as one of the minimum qualifications.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fun With Math - Voting Stats

As I read about the election day results, the percentage turnout caught my eye.  As I usually do, I wondered why we pin so much faith in the calculated turnout percentage of registered voters.  There is usually mention of how low it is relative to the importance of the election - whichever election one might be talking about just after that election day.  And, to a point I agree.

However, the list of registered voters is very difficult too purge.  If any of us were to view the list for our neighborhood, we likely would pick out names of deceased or moved voters.

Here's a little math for your Friday. 

First - how many eligible voters in Marion County would you guess are registered to vote?  Pick a percentage - any percentage.  From those on my block, I'd guess a high percentage would be 50%.

The election board website gives us the results from this election.  It notes a total of 604,641 registered voters and 181,171 ballots cast for a turnout of just under 30%.

But, the 2010 census counts a Marion County total population of 903,393 with 25% under the age of 18.  A little math gives us an eligible voting population in our county of 676,641. 

Now if 604,641 people were registered to vote, out of an eligible voting population of 676,641, that would calculate out to a staggering registration rate of 89% !

If my anecdotal 50% rate from my block were to hold upon inspection throughout the county, that would indicate that 44% of the registered voter list is erroneous.  This would further lead to the calculated conclusion that just over half of the registered voters turned out to vote in the latest election; or 54%.

So, with all that hand waving and number crunching, what we have is a clear conclusion that we simply must find a way to either purge the voter registration list of dead and moved voters, or, begin to note that the voter turnout isn't anywhere near as low as it appears when a bad voter list is used as part of the calculation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nasty Politics - A Backlash Maybe?

While they say that negative ads are used because they work, results from yesterday's elections are suggestive of a different paradigm.  Yesterday there was some backlash on the Melina Kennedy campaign because of race baiting tactics undoubtedly initiated by Ed Treacy, Chairman of the Democratic County Party, but likely signed off on by Kennedy herself.

Treacy engaged in a laundry list of gutter politics and attempted intimidation.  He is a stain upon the Party and the good people in it.

Up in the northside, Christine Scales appears to have won reelection as District 4 Councillor, defeating the the enormously funded Kostas Poulakidas by all of 39 votes.  One of the mysteries of this campaign season is why the Star remained silent about the postcard smear tactics used by the Poulakidas' side against Scales.  Well, at least they will be following what anyone would expect now - a recount.

So, for this time at least, nasty politics did not determine the ultimate outcome.  That is a good thing.

The Council and the Mayor are of different political persuasions for the next four years.  Facts are, beyond the political posturing for impact's sake, there is not a huge difference between the 'sides' and there is much room for amicable relations - if hatchets can be buried, politics removed for a while, and clear heads prevail.  Another thing is, there is not much wiggle room to finance any modest, much less grandiose, 'visions'.  The budget I saw passed by the Council for 2012 is likely too 'small' to actually do all the things that were promised, much less accommodate many additional services. 

But, at the end of the day, two honest perspectives offered without hidden agendas can often lead to improved outcomes.  Let us hope that the Council and the Mayor can find their way to move in that direction and lay the best foundation for Indianapolis' future.

Friday, November 4, 2011


A lie is a most curious thing.

Lies cover a spectrum - from one end, telling a lie indicates you are a good person, and at the other end, it proves you are not.

Our tolerance for lying is a personal thing.  Much like salt on food, the point of 'too much' varies by individual and it is one of those things that are hard to pin down, but we all know it when we see it.

I would also offer the thought that there is a situational aspect to our tolerance for lies.  Again using the salt analogy, more salt is expected on potatoes but not on ice cream.

Such as it is, lying is part of our political contests.  From small omissions of fact to improve a candidate's appeal, to knowingly false accusations of the worst sort against one's opponent - we have seen it all in this race for Mayor and Council.

Our individual tolerance has been tested.  Some respond much better to the worst of lies if it is their party or their preferred candidate doing the lying.  What would shock and appall if it were done by the 'other side', is grudgingly embraced by some as 'just how the game is played', simply because it is 'their side' doing it.

Every member of a political party has as much right as any other to demand either a high ethical standard, or let a low standard prevail.  Each may not have the same power to achieve those demands.  However, when you vote you can, and I would suggest should, consider it in your choices of which candidates to vote for.  Is your candidate and your party fairly representing your values and standards in their actual conduct during the campaign?  How far askew have they gone by your reckoning?  Do they deserve your vote, given how their conduct reflects on their character?

We can all lament election time as the silly season and proclaim how we will be glad when all the negative ads are gone.  But if we, with our vote, condone the most egregious tactics, then we are part of the problem.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What's Going On At Early Voting?

Let me say from the outset that I am a big fan of Marion County Clerk, Beth White.  I was not always, but when she stepped up to take the responsibility after her first election went terribly wrong - then made vast improvements over even the previous status quo - well, she earned my admiration.

I fully realize the budget constraints under which her office is operating and White's commitment to the efficient use of taxpayer funds.  But, even with that, I have to question what is being reported by fellow blogger Josh Featherstone over at Featherstone On Government.  I have only recently become aware of Featherstone's blog, but am impressed with the quality of the writing.  I suggest everyone read his latest entry "Problems with Early Voting at the Clerk's Office Today?" in its entirety.

Featherstone relates his experience while voting at the Early Voting Center in the Clerk's Office of the City-County Building.  He points out that the election board is using early voting ballot envelopes that are from the last primary.  Highlighted on those envelopes are the blanks that must be filled in - well, must be filled in if the ballot going into them are primary ballots.  One of the highlighted questions apparently is party affiliation.  Featherstone writes:
The first problems lie at your first stop, the entry desk where you complete the information on your envelope. See, the areas of essential information you need to fill out have been highlighted for you. The problem is, many (if not all) of the envelopes in use are left over from the primary. The problem with that is that the section asking for you to declare a party for your ballot are highlighted.
I'm knowledgeable enough about politics that I am aware that declaration does not occur in a general election, only in a primary. I asked why it was highlighted, the gentleman said it was a leftover from primary and to ignore it. Then the gentleman to my right asked why he had to declare and was told the same thing. The person to my left did not ask, and checked the box for a political party.

It makes me wonder his many people didn't bother or know to ask, and just checked a party. If there, God forbid, was a nefarious election worker, they would then have clear indication of what ballots to "misplace" on election day.
Featherstone hit the nail on the head.  What of the potential for abuse offered by these leftover ballot envelopes.  Elections are not only supposed to be above board, they are supposed to be preventative of abuses. 

I am also left wondering about how these many pre-highlighted ballot envelopes remain from the May primary?  Yes, I can see having leftover envelopes in goodly quantities.  Its just that over 6000 people are reported to have voted early already for the November 8 election.  How is it that there were over 6000 leftover ballots that were already highlighted by hand? 

White's integrity on election matters is above reproach in my mind.  But, what I think does not matter.  The use of old ballot envelopes may be fiscally prudent, but their use with pre-highlighted requests for statement of party affiliation is logically imprudent.  If this election ends up being close, these old ballot envelopes may just be fodder for not only an appeal, but fodder for an electorate who does not recognize the ultimate victor's legitimacy.