Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Slow Down the Criminal Justice Center Bullet Train

The Ballard Administration no longer pretends that it is transparent.

The behind closed doors decisions being made regarding the proposed criminal justice center is a prime example.

The administration is even blocking press access to the request for proposals it put out.  This comes AFTER the State's Public Access Counselor's opined against the City's position.

IBJ reporter, Kathleen McLaughlin wrote last Saturday in an article about funding the center
Director of Enterprise Development David Rosenberg declined to state the maximum annual fee, which the city already has shared with three pre-qualified bidders. The mayor’s office also refused to release the request for proposals, a type of document typically considered a public record.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said he couldn’t think of an exemption to open-records law that would apply to the RFP. The city still had not cited an exemption as IBJ went to press.
So, behind closed doors, Mayor Ballard's people are happy to share details with bidders, but not with the public who would pay for the deal.

While I'm on paying for the deal, McLaughlin's article extensively quotes past City Controller, Jeff Spaulding, and his skepticism that costs will really be confined to current budget expenditure levels for the services that would move into a justice center.
Former city controller Jeff Spalding said the administration’s unwillingness to walk through the math behind its conclusions makes him skeptical the new facility won’t end up requiring more public dollars.
“I want the criminal justice center to happen,” said Spalding, who left the Ballard administration in April 2013 to become director of fiscal policy and analysis at the Friedman Foundation. “There’s more potential downside if you don’t do it the right way.”
 Ballard is already spending significant amounts of cash that the City can't afford on the proposal.

It was revealed last week, to the shock of most, that a $750,000 no-bid contract had been awarded to the new employer of former campaign manager and special counsel to the Mayor, John Cochran.  Bose Public Affairs Group is in charge of public relations for the justice center by this contract.  John Tuohy, IndyStar reporter who broke the story, quoted Republican City-County Councillor Jeff Miller as saying
Miller said he was not aware of the $750,000 contract Cochran signed.
"That is a big number. Now I know why he's so easy to get a hold of," Miller said. "I knew he was not doing it for free, but I did not know (his firm) was getting that much."
Fellow blogger, Gary Welsh, has written extensively on the justice center and the money being thrown at it over at Advance Indiana.  About the $750,000 contract with Bose, Welsh writes
Does anyone else see the irony in Ballard throwing away $750,000 of our taxpayer dollars on a politically-connected firm which has just hired his likely Democratic opponent next year, Joe Hogsett, and which will in turn invest that money in doing all within its power to ensure that Hogsett defeats Ballard in next year's election?
As I recall, Ballard did the same thing when Melina Kennedy ran against him - awarded her law firm a fat contract on the deal that sold the water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy.   That may have been one reason she never really had an opinion against it - in public at least.  So, with this one $750,000 contract, Ballard is sweetening his old pal's value to his new employer and potentially tying Hogsett's hands as far as being too vocal and too against a justice center.  Of course, who knows if Kennedy personally liked the Citizens deal and if Hogsett will really like or dislike the justice center proposal.

The latest stunner was broken by Mary Milz of WTHR.  Welsh summarized the nearly $10 Million of of additional no-bid contracts uncovered by Milz this way:
WTHR's Mary Milz has now uncovered millions more spent by Mayor Ballard on no-bid contracts. Those include:
  • $1.5 million to Bingham, Greenebaum Doll for legal services, the former law firm of Ballard's likely Democratic opponent in next year's mayoral election, Joe Hogsett;
  • $4.7 million to Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, Inc. ("HOK") for project development services; and
  • $3 million to KPMG Corporate Finance for financial services
Keep in mind that this boondoggle of a project still requires the approval of the City-County Council. If for some reason the council decides against the project, that $10 million is just flushed down the drain. Imagine how many new cops could have been hired with the money Ballard has blown on these no-bid contracts.
Exactly.  This is serious money that we need for other things right now.  But Ballard and his people are going to push this through if its the last thing they do.  And it very well might be.

The public is on the hook for the excessive contracts already let on this deal.  They are being kept in the dark about any details, made all the worse by the Ballard Administration's violation of the Open Records laws in order to keep secret from the public, what it is happy to share with bidders.

Today's IBJ has another article by McLaughlin.  This one deals with the potential impact moving all of the Prosecutor, Sheriff, and Court offices out of the heart of downtown.  Office vacancy rates still have not recovered from the Great Recession.  McLaughlin writes
At a time some large downtown law firms are cutting back on space, the proposed criminal justice center will gut the downtown office market.
Moving the Marion County prosecutor and public defender to the new center at the former GM Stamping Plant southwest of downtown will alone shift 130,000 square feet.
Add in the 590,000 square feet occupied by jails, traffic court and arrestee processing center and the downtown core is on track to empty a total of 720,000 square feet—roughly equivalent to the entire OneAmerica tower.
City officials claim the moves to the new justice center will add only about 1 percentage point to the existing 20-percent downtown vacancy rate. But Jon Owens, an office broker at Cassidy Turley, isn’t buying it. He said the vacancies could account for three times the amount city officials predict.
With a total of 10.5 million square feet of downtown office space, the removal of the prosecutor and public defender offices alone will move the needle 1 percentage point, Owens said.
“It has the potential to take a big chunk of that southeast quadrant, kind of like what the state government center did in the early 1990s,” he said. “It took forever to backfill that space.”
While the proposed justice center is being sold as a complete consolidation of criminal justice services, it is not.  Back in April, McLaughlin reported
Fullbeck [Ballard's senior policy advisor for economic development] said the request for proposals from developers, due out this month, will not include office space for the Marion County prosecutor and public defender. That space will be built under a separate procurement process, which he said will allow the developer to decide whether to build additional leasable space for other users, such as jail-service providers.
The price tag just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The public deserves details and time for discussion.  The current trajectory is for the bids to be back just as the budget for 2015 is being finalized.  If they follow former practices, they'll put out information around the holiday season when most of the public's attention is elsewhere.

But complete transparency is feasible at this point in time.  There is no excuse to keep from the public what the Ballard administration is willing to tell bidders.  There is no excuse to put $10 M of taxpayer money at risk through no-bid contracts for a justice center that may not happen.

There is no excuse.  Then again, I don't think Mayor Ballard and his Chief of Staff, Ryan Vaughn, care one wit, what you or I or the Council or the press thinks.  They see our money as their money.  They see our City as their City.  They have their goals and they don't care how much of our money it takes to reach them, nor how badly it could go for future taxpayers of Indianapolis.

1 comment:

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