Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Inaugural Ball a Campaign Finance Affair

Joe Hogsett is joining what now appears to be a tradition for Indianapolis Mayors - holding a dual purpose inaugural ball; a campaign fundraiser combined with a great party.

Just in case anyone who might want to be on a newly seated Mayor Hogsett's good side failed to donate to the campaign, you still have the opportunity to toss in anywhere from $100 for a single ticket to $10,000 to be a 'gold sponsor' and attend the Inaugural Ball.  The information is posted on which is paid for by his campaign.  The information gathered for registration is identical to the campaign finance information that is to be gathered for public disclosure purposes.

The adherence to the letter of the campaign finance laws is a good thing.  And, the fact that those ponying up the cash will be listed in a future campaign finance report for all the public to peruse is awesome.

For those of us who were heartened by Hogsett's campaign that, in part, spoke against the same old deal for the same old downtown insiders, the price tags raise the hair on the back of one's neck.  It doesn't help that 'The Inaugural Committee' and 'Browning Investments' are co-hosts of the affair.  My attempts to find out who comprises the Committee have not been productive - but at some point I expect that list will be publicly disclosed.  What I do know is the Browning Investments has been a beneficiary of City Government largess in the past - and some might very well think they are one of the downtown insiders the campaign commercial alluded to.

Maybe a new Mayor, some day down the road, could add a 'less than affluent - less than influential - just as important' ball that same night.  The new Mayor could hop from party to party and all of us would have a chance to celebrate the hope and good will that a new Mayor sweeps into office with them.

Keeping my fingers crossed that January 1, 2016, will actually be a new day for Indianapolis and its neighborhoods....  But, I'm not tossing in $100 to attend a fundraiser disguised as a black tie optional ball.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Say No To the Mayor and Council Raises

At tomorrow night's City-County Council meeting, Prop 413 will be introduced.  If passed it would increase the salary of the Indianapolis Mayor and base compensation of Council members.  The Mayor would receive $125,000 per year, up from $95,000 - a 31.6% increase.  The Council would untether its compensation to whatever the Mayor makes and opt for a $16,400 base salary.  That would increase their base from $11,400 to $16,400 - a 43.9% increase.  Both receive other, smaller categories of compensation as well.

The press is reporting that this would put the Indy Mayor closer to the salaries of certain donut-county Mayors.  This does not convince me of the wisdom of the proposed raise.  $95,000 is still high enough to put bread on the table.

While we are at it, the Deputy Mayor salaries should be rolled back to pre-2014 levels, or just less than the Mayor makes.  While I often hear that those at the top positions in government need to be paid enough to keep them from moving on to the private sector - I find that is usually what they intend to do all along, and that they are using the government position as a key stepping stone, no matter the salary for those 'lean' years.

According to the US Census, fewer than 5% of Indianapolis residents made over $100,000 in 2014.  This "over $100,000" category is a catchall for the upper limit earners.  So, the Mayor and Deputy Mayors are not grievously harmed by receiving compensation less than $100 grand.  Methinks there are other reasons to be Mayor or one of his closest advisers - public service among them.

Mayor-elect Hogsett should ask that the increases instead be applied to an effort to bring all City-County employees up to a living wage as serving a greater good.  Combining the proposed increases for Mayor and Council with a rolled back Deputy Mayor compensation would provide well over $200,000 a year in seed money.

It is unclear how many city employees do not earn a living wage - and that ignorance in itself is not a good thing.  The lowest salaries listed in the budget ordinance do cover a living wage for a single person with no children - just over $20,000.  The living wage doubles with the addition of one child.  I doubt the city can afford that much as a minimum, but we need to have our City Government be a good employer, too.  That means we need to know where our employees stand, whether we are equipping them with knowledge and skills to move forward in life, and how to best compensate all of our employees.  We need to look at the reality of the job holders, too - are they entry level workers developing their skills for better paying jobs elsewhere, or are they on a career path that will become problematic as their families increase?

Every year, select employees get raises - usually those with union contracts and some with higher salaries who could earn more elsewhere.  In the near decade I have been following the budget process, only once was a comprehensive compensation review conducted, followed by raises to move some employees out of poverty wages.  Most every year, most employees get no raises.

This is an opportunity for Mayor-elect Hogsett to set a positive tone for his Administration - that all employees matter and that a living wage is a goal worth evaluating, setting and meeting for the City of Indianapolis.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Invisible Hand(out) of the (Taxpayer Financed) Market

The war between cities and regions to attract business development generated the handouts known as 'incentives', 'tax increment financing', 'abatements', and more - a virtual cottage industry in how to funnel taxpayer funds to well connected developers.  There are more noble goals in play at the same time, like, hoping for a catalyst to spur private sector investment.  But the subsidies don't seem to ever end.

We have seen this cottage industry begin to morph from incentives to entitlements - industries that are begging for land upon which to develop, still expect hefty abatements to "level the playing field" and they no longer even try to tie job gains with those tax benefits.

Now, quietly yet out in the open, there is another transformation happening - the perpetual enrichment of favored landowner through taxpayer funded inducements for development upon leased real estate.

The North of South/City Way investment of about $100 M of taxpayer money involved development of the housing/retail/hotel/fake tech park built on top of land leased from Eli Lilly.  How much cash flow that provides Lilly is - well - none of your damn business, Ms. Taxpayer.

While the land lease model worked out in City Way, it does not always go so smoothly.  The airport has been trying to lease prime real estate where its old terminal used to be.  It has prominent frontage along I-465 and enviable access, not to mention an already existing parking garage.  Plus the old building has been torn down and hauled away.  Height restrictions do play a role here, but there is also the ingredient of who would want to lease the land upon which to construct a building.  Even a fifty year lease will find a day when the tenant must either re-up the lease or move on -- and at what cost?  The only offer they have noted in public has been a casino complex - which I personally root for, but the point here is the paucity of interest.

Last night the City-County Council voted to float $75 M in TIF bonds for the 16 Tech project.  Roughly $55 M would go to move water lines, power lines, and gas lines, and build a bridge and a park - all of which will make the land owned by IU Foundation, IU, Beurt R & Corena J  Servaas, the Benjamin Franklin Literary Medical Society, Health & Hospitals Corp. of Marion County, and Methodist Hospital much more valuable.  Yet, this land will be leased to eventual developers, not sold for the development.  But, it gets even better for these entities - 16 Tech Community Corp has been set up and will be funded by the rest of the bonds to the tune of just over half a million a year (with salaries ranging from $30,000 to $200,000) and their job will be to market the property to developers - so that these not-for-profits don't have to lift a finger or pay a single salary in order to cash in on the taxpayers' largess.

All that said, this one kind of amuses me.  I like the area in question getting a leg up and I like trying to promote biotech for the long run.  I do wonder, though, how viable the land-leasing model will be. In worst case, Mass Ave and Union Station and Circle Center Mall and the rest of the consolidated downtown TIF can all contribute to paying off the bonds.

I've wandered off the point of this post.  What we now have are the taxpayers being expected to fund a quarter to a third of all downtown development AND sustain abatements that need not include increased employment ALL THE WHILE our investments are quietly generating a perpetual revenue stream to well connected landowners.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

IHPC Delays Digital Billboard Decision

I just posted this entry on the IBJ's Indiana Forefront.  I would only add - many thanks to Councillors Joe Simpson and Zach Adamson for supporting the broader community interest by asking that the digital billboard variance be delayed until after the sign regulations are reviewed in a vigorous, transparent, and public process. ---

Last night, as reported by Hayleigh Colombo in the IBJ, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission continued to October 7, both the building design and the digital billboard variance proposed for Mass. Ave.
I was in the audience, waiting to speak to the digital billboard variance on behalf of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations.
From November to June, 59 organizations joined forces to move the digital billboard debate from behind closed doors to the appropriate public venue – the upcoming Department of Metropolitan Development review of the entire sign ordinance.  After all the meetings and all the debate, the Council agreed.
The proposed ‘digital canvas’ envisioned for the building that would replace the Mass Ave fire station needs a variance expressly because it would be a digital billboard.  They propose posting ‘sponsors’ information either on 20% of the space or 20% of the time.  Motion and sound would be allowed.
A continuance was proposed by two Councillors – Joe Simpson, whose current district includes the site, and Zach Adamson, who is running for reelection to the new district boundaries that will include this site – via letter to the IHPC.  Initially the Commission was moving toward a continuance until after the Council passes the new sign ordinance, presumably some time next year.  Then the developer and his representative asked for the October 7 date so they could discuss it with the two Councillors.
Continuing this variance request is wise for a couple of reasons.  The broad community deserves its hard fought and hard won vigorous public process that would decide if digital billboards are right for Indianapolis.  If lifting the ban was found in the community’s best interest, then issues such as how to measure and regulate light levels, size, motion, sound, appropriate locations, interactivity with the driving public, and other safety issues would be discussed and appropriate parameters would be set.
If the Mass. Ave. digital billboard variance comes first, it could create a precedent and set a standard that became the tail that wagged the dog.  That, undoubtedly, was why John Kisiel, Vice President of Clear Channel, was in the audience for 5 hours last night.  Kisiel has stated that he was assigned to Indianapolis by Clear Channel to open Indy up to digital billboards.
Let’s face it, the billboard industry is a litigious group.  They have shown they will take cities to court if they can find any chink in the rules or application of the rules.  Indy’s billboard ban has successfully weathered their attempts to gain variances and prevailed in the subsequent lawsuits.  Granting this digital billboard variance would demonstrate uneven application of the ban.  Given these are the waning months for the Ballard administration, who know whether the variance would be challenged.  As they did in other cities, the biggest mess being in Los Angeles, this would give the billboard industry just the opening they need to seek unfettered and unregulated access to Indy’s streetscapes.
Some will say this is only relevant to the Mass. Ave. neighborhoods.  But, given the dynamics at play in the digital billboard arena, the digital billboard variance is about all of our neighborhoods.

City Loses No Time Asking for Bids On Electric Fleet

Today's paper reports that just yesterday, Mayor Ballard and Council President Lewis signed an agreement over the new electric car fleet.  The 212 electric cars already delivered by Vision Fleet would continue to be subject to maintenance through Vision Fleet, but the remaining 213 would be put out for public bid.

Yesterday afternoon, the Purchasing Division put out RFP14-DPW-598
Four (4) Year Term Contract to provide an Electric Vehicle Program to the Consolidated City of Indianapolis - Marion County, through the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, Fleet Services Division
They wasted no time.

I have to ask, though, where is the public discussion on how many electric cars we should have, what attributes those cars should have and to whom they should be assigned?

Most certainly, the $45,000 lifetime cost per car was outrageous, and I am quite glad that the Council took a hard stance against the deal, if for that reason only.   Equally outrageous was the way the Mayor's office yet again circumvented the proper procedures - whether simply to avoid scrutiny by the Council and the public or to assure the award went to the favored company, or both.  Both of these have been stopped in their tracks, which is half a loaf.

Council discussions over filing the lawsuit against the Mayor have divulged other issues including problems with charging the cars overnight in the homes of those assigned the cars and lack of truck space for heavy arms that police officers want to carry.  The last one I still don't get - the cars were supposed to be assigned to administrators who don't really need a peppy car to get them to the scene.  So, whether more than this category of officers got the electric cars or these administrators just want to carry assault rifles, I don't know.

For me, it is not just about the Mayor's office circumventing proper procedures, and probably the law, its about them doing it so often that Vision Fleet has simply become a poster child for "The Ballard Way".  It is shocking to see how Ballard's time in office has devolved from him being a champion of transparency to being a manager of insider deals kept from the light of day, surreptitiously funded with moneys not appropriated for the purpose, and protected by a 'just say no' attitude to releasing public documents.

In any case, if you are interested in leasing the City 213 electric cars and taking care of them for 4 years, get your proposal in by October 2.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Board of Public Works Approves $6 M Expenditure for Blue Indy Infrastructure

Blogger Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana has been following the Blue Indy contract with the Ballard Administration (see here and here for the latest).

He reports that on Tuesday the Public Works Board voted on putting $6 M in a Region's Bank escrow account for Blue Indy to draw down - refusing to take public comments when he requested time to speak.

I have embedded the WCTY broadcast of the Blue-Indy escrow account section of the meeting below.

From what was said at the Board meeting, the Ballard administration is pooling the $6 M from three funds - the parking meter fund, the city's cumulative capital projects fund, and the rebuild indy fund.  Whether this allotment of funding sources is a last-minute maneuver on the administration's part, or was buried in the budget from the get-go is not clear.  From testimony by Bart Brown, the Council's CFO, it is clear that the Council did not know of this project and to its thinking, did not appropriate funds for it.

What also is left up in the air, is whether the administration cancelled or postponed other projects in order to have enough money to pay the $6 M tab - which is evidently due by Sept 1 according to testimony on the details of the contract in response to a Board member's question.

The 2016 budget for the Department of Public Works is up at tonight's Council Public Works committee meeting - beginning at 5:30 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

CIB Meeting - Pacers Agenda Item

Here is the 18 minute clip from WCTY's broadcast of yesterday's CIB meeting - the portion where the Pacers deal for use of CIB land for 40 years (with an option for a 10 year extension) was 'discussed'.

The vote was whether or not to pursue negotiations for an agreement, based on the general points to which the Board had access. Presumably it is the same list of points published in Mary Milz' peice yesterday on WTHR.

Most questions were asked by City-County Council President, Maggie Lewis, who sits on the CIB due to her position on the Council.  She asked great questions, but most were referred to a Pacers press conference supposedly being held in the next few days - so left unanswered.

Please note, that the Board President, Earl Goode, referred to "individual briefings" on the particulars.

It is too bad that the public does not have access to what the general terms will be, as there is nothing posted on the CIB website, nor was there any presentation to inform the public.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pacers to Get 40 Year Deal - Taxpayers Only Got 10 Year Deal

I'm still getting up to speed, but Mary Milz, WTHR reporter, is telling us that the CIB voted to move forward to ink down a deal with the Pacers' on their proposed $50 M training facility.

Under the deal, the Pacers would get the land east of the Fieldhouse, now used for parking, for $1 a year for forty years, and 240 additional parking spots in the Virginia Street parking garage for free.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Pacers agreement with the CIB only has the team guaranteed to stay in town for 10 years (9 more at this point).

Milz' report includes what appears to be a handout from CIB meeting this afternoon, sketching out the rough terms of the deal.

If the Pacers leave town before the 40 years are up, the CIB may purchase the training facility building for a preset price, or the then-operable market price, whichever is greater.

My first question is, why would the CIB give these terms to the Pacers for 40 years, but only extract a ten year commitment to keep the team?  Sounds like the Pacers are (oh gasp !) getting a better deal than Indy taxpayers once again.

I'll have to wait for the WCTY taping of the meeting to get logged into the archives to hear more.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hell NO Pacers !

Google "Pacers CIB" and you'll get a raft of links to $160 Million deal with the Pacers in 2014 - yes, just last year - that raised taxes and supposedly had the Pacers in town for another 10 years.

WTHR reporter Mary Milz is reporting tonight, that the Pacers will ask the CIB to build them a new practice facility - at what cost they do not say.

Its time to pull the plug on all this nonsense.  This city gets blackmailed year after year by one after another sports team or venue.

JUST SAY NO and lets begin to work on making Indy a great place to live beyond downtown.  That will take money, too.  It's long past time to invest in the rest of Indianapolis.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ballard Uses Neighborhood Services to Shill For Blue Indy

The Ballard Administration is pushing out ads for Blue Indy's electric car rental for profit business.

Like many of you, I receive messages from my Mayor's Neighborhood Liaison that sometimes tell you about trash pickup schedules, neighborhood clean ups, public information meetings and other items of interest to residents and neighborhoods.

Yesterday I got one from "Mayor's Neighborhood Services" and it contained an ad for Blue Indy.  When I posted on Facebook about it, Ted Dobracki mentioned it was the second one.  So I scrolled back through my not-yet-deleted emails, and sure enough, I had received an ad for Blue Indy in an email blast from my MNL on Tuesday as well.

This isn't right, guys.  These email communications are supposed to be for government business, not ads for companies.

The Tuesday ad was brief and followed by a note on the rise in stormwater drainage fee - which is where my attention was drawn.

Yesterday's ad was more glossy and came after information about a grant  opportunity for neighborhoods :

The blast list must be enormous.  Not to mention the further reach effected when public officials and neighborhood folks forward Neighborhood Services' emails to others.  It has actual monetary value to advertisers.

This misuse of taxpayer funded communications needs to stop.  Hopefully this will be the last ad I get from the City government.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

State Legislature Meddling in Indy Yet Again

Last night began the City-County Council committee work to review, amend, and adopt the 2016 budget.

There was one particular item that got a bit of discussion that was quite interesting.

You will recall that the last few budget sessions have been punctuated with an ongoing fight over whether or not to eliminate the local homestead credit on property tax bills of homeowners.  The Democrat controlled Council has refused to eliminate it all at once and even refused to phase it out.

Well, it seems the Ballard Administration has once again turned to the State Legislature to change the rules so that Ballard can get his way.

Currently, income tax revenue (COIT) is used to fund the local homestead credit.  According to Council Counsel Fred Biesecker, with HEA 1485, COIT can no longer be used in this manner after January 1, 2017.  If the Council wants to continue the local homestead credit (LHC) in 2017, it will be forced to RAISE a NEW TAX.

The LHC costs $10 M, but only $2 M actually makes any difference in homeowners' property taxes, since so many of us are being protected by the tax caps.  But, the remaining $8 M doesn't just evaporate, it lessens the tax cap/circuit breaker impact on the many school districts in Marion County, IndyGo, Health & Hospitals, and the Library system.

By upending the current funding source, the Republican controlled State Legislature is reaching into what will likely be a Democrat controlled Mayor's office and forcing it to RAISE TAXES to maintain the status quo.  Of course, if a Republican were to somehow win the election, the Legislature left itself a year to 'correct' course so that no such dilemma would have to be faced by a Republican.

The upshot is not just having to raise a new tax - it also includes having to wade through the weeds and convince the public that it is somehow wise to raise taxes by $10 M so that members of the public can benefit by $2 M.

This is clever and cursed at the same time.

Whenever a local problem is brought to the State Legislature by a Republican, the solution is to do whatever makes the Republican's political life easier.

Whenever a local problem is brought to the State Legislature by a Democrat, the solution is to give them the authority to raise taxes.

And now we see that when a Republican is likely to be succeeded by a Democrat, the solution is to delay the authority to raise taxes until the Democrat is seated and crafting his first budget.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lobbyist Ties To Councillor Leroy Robinson Continue Unabated

Councillor Leroy Robinson, Chairman of the Metropolitan & Economic Development committee of the City-County Council, continues his cozy relationship with lobbyists who have business before his powerful committee.

His latest campaign finance report, covering contributions from January 1 and April 10 of this year, lists contributions from lobbyists D. William Moreau, Jr. and Greg Hahn.   Hahn is, and has been for some time, a registered lobbyist for Lamar Companies and Outfront Media, both billboard companies.  Moreau was registered to lobby for Clear Channel last year, but has not registered to lobby for them this year.

Hahn is also Robinson's Campaign Treasurer.

Hahn is not doing a particularly good job at that position as far as filing a complete report is concerned.  Hahn reports, as he should, donations for the reporting period as well as the total donation by an individual for the year-to-date.  Since these time periods are one and the same, both columns should be identical.  They are not.  Hahn lists himself as having given a $250 donation on March 15 and a year-to-date total of $500.  There is no entry of another time at which Hahn gave Robinson's campaign the other $250, as there is required to be. 

Additionally, Hahn lists Moreau's $250 donation on February 15, with a year-to-date total of $700.  Again, there is not another entry showing exactly when Moreau gave that money.

And, the summary cover page does not report the year-to-date figures.

Also, there is no mention of any donor's occupation, whereby the public might have a shot at putting two and two together.

You might be interested in the fact that on April 21, after the campaign finance reporting period ended, Robinson had a fundraiser, co-sponsored in part by not one, not two, not three, but four lobbyists with business before his committee --  Greg Hahn, Ahmed Young, Carl Drummer and Lacy Johnson.  Of course, the public will not be able to find out how much these 'interested citizens' helped Robinson's campaign raise that night, until after the Primary Election on May 5.

Robinson has tried to do some good things while in office, of that I have no doubt.  But, he is damaging, if not destroying, his reputation and the public confidence in him by continuing to have lobbyists front and center of his campaign.  The fact that they have business before his committee is cause for immense concern.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

New Property Taxes to Pay for Criminal Justice Center????

At last night's Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee meeting, Council CFO, Bart Brown, presented part of the analysis the Council commissioned to analyze the Ballard Administration's estimates of the cost for their proposed Criminal Justice Center.

The completed report, "Marion County Justice Center Fiscal Feasibility Analysis", which also compares the cost to the taxpayer for the City to build and operate such a facility without the elaborate public-private partnership Ballard favors, can be found on the Council's website.  I have read it once, and have a number of questions to follow up with before I say anything here about it.

Brown's presentation last night, however, was more tailored to where the Administration says there are present funds that can be turned to pay for the construction and operation contract it hopes to ink down with WMB Heartland Justice Partners and how reliable the Fiscal Feasibility Analysis finds each of these sources to be. 

Below is the clip from WCTY's broadcast of Brown's presentation, along with a very pertinent follow-up question from Councillor Leroy Robinson, where Brown suggests new property taxes just might have to be raised should the Council approve the CJC plans now on the table.

Brown's last PowerPoint slide kind of says it all:
"There exist[s] a high probability that the next Mayor & Council must raise revenue to meet an obligation to WMB"

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Councillor Leroy Robinson Signs Billboard Lobbyist as Campaign Treasurer

Brian Eason's expose` on the flood of campaign contributions to key Councillors coming from billboard industry lobbyists, leaves an open question of who is influenced by those dollars.  The billboarders are pushing for digital billboards through Prop 250, which they and their lobbyists wrote.

Chairman of the Council's Metropolitan & Economic Development committee, Leroy Robinson, to whose committee Prop 250 is assigned, got nearly a third of all money from these guys in 2014 - or $4000 in cash and in-kind donations out of $12,037 in total Council campaign donations.

Wait, it gets worse.

The billboard lobbyists even threw him a fundraiser.

Wait, it gets worse. 

Robinson's campaign finance report for 2014 shows that the fundraiser was held the day AFTER Robinson released the agenda for the November 17 MEDC meeting.  This was the first time Prop 250 was placed on an agenda of the committee, even though it was introduced back in August.  The delay violated Council rules, but, hey, they violate their own rules on a regular basis.

So, he held off placing Prop 250 on the committee agenda for more than 3 months.  It's hard to believe that the timing of the fundraiser and the movement of Prop 250 onto an agenda are mere coincidence; not probable, but still possible.

Wait, it gets worse.

Robinson recently reorganized his Campaign Committee and reported the changes to the Election Board on a "Statement of Organization" form file dated January 20, 2015, but hand dated January 7, 2015.  This change puts Gregory Hahn, billboard lobbyist for, and partner of, Bose, McKinney & Evans, in the position of Robinson's Campaign Treasurer.

That's right - a billboard lobbyist doing business before the Council committee that Robinson Chairs - is now the keeper of Robinson's campaign cash.  Hahn is kind of a one-man band - donating, throwing fundraisers, and now logging the checks.

Robinson's feting by the billboard lobby and his flaunting of the public interest by putting one of them in as his Campaign Treasurer, is a clear conflict of interest, and should be raising eyebrows all over Indianapolis.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Billboard Industry Insider's Assessment of Councillor Attitudes Toward Prop 250

Gary Welsh is reporting quite the email from Clear Channel billboarder, John Kisiel.  It was written just over a year ago and the names of the persons to whom it is addressed have been omitted.

As someone who has been working strenuously against Prop 250, it was a chilling read.

I'm going to let you read it, then begin my comments.

From Gary's update to his post on Brian Eason's IndyStar report on Prop 250 and campaign contributions:

From: "Kisiel, John" <>
Sent: Monday, February 24, 2014 3:03 PM
Subject: Digital Billboard Resolution

Resolution: Attached is the final version of the Resolution regarding digital billboards. Bob Elrod looked at my original version and pared it back to make it more streamlined and more palatable for the Council and I agree with what he has produced.
Timing and Headcount in Caucus: I think we are to a point where we need to get a hard headcount from your respective Caucuses to see who we need to go after in order to get this initial piece through Council at the next meeting in three weeks. I have attached the Resolution along with my most recent assessment of support among the Council members. Please keep my assessment confidential. I thought you should have this so you can also target those members who are still undecided and give you the opportunity to give me updates in case I am wrong in how I am reading the Council. Please talk to the members of your Caucuses and to your Council about whether this can go on the next agenda or how this needs to proceed. Both the Mayor’s office and DMD are aware that we are following this process and we will update them on the timing.
Talking Points: I also attached a brief set of talking points on the 2% Solution to give you some additional background to refer to if asked about the proposal.
I will be at Council tonight in case you want to talk to me about any of this.
Thank you again for your work on this.       
Below is the lobbyist's assessment of council member's leanings on the issue last year when things first got rolling:
ZACH ADAMSON (D) ) Noncommittal, tough reelection fight may impact but he is tech savvy guy
FRANK MASCARI (D) Yes - sponsor    
JOHN BARTH (D)   Noncommittal, positive bias company buys billboards
VERNON BROWN (D)  Noncommittal - one day yes another I don't know 
VIRGINIA J. CAIN (R) Yes - sponsor       
MARY MORIARTY ADAMS (D) Noncommittal - supporter of Marion County Fairgrounds and would probably like digital at Fairgrounds for revenue
JOSE M EVANS (R)  Yes     
WILLIAM C. OLIVER (D)  Unknown - no return calls or e-mails      
AARON FREEMAN (R)  Yes - R lead sponsor    
MONROE GRAY, JR. (D) Noncommittal negative bias      
VOP OSILI (D) Noncommittal positive bias (Councillor Simpson believes  he is a yes but voted for ban in 2006)
WILL GOODEN (R) Yes - offered to sponsor    
MARILYN PFISTERER (R) No - concerns about impact on neighborhoods 
PAMELA L. HICKMAN (D) Yes - sponsor       
LEROY ROBINSON (D) Yes - Chair of Committee where this will likely land 
JASON HOLLIDAY (R) Noncommittal negative bias   
BEN HUNTER ( R )  Yes - very strong supporter     
JACK SANDLIN (R) Noncommittal, positive bias. Councillor Freeman says he will vote yes
MAGGIE A. LEWIS (D) Noncommittal, positive bias - likes public safety element   
CHRISTINE SCALES (R) Noncommittal, negative bias     
ROBERT B. LUTZ (R) Yes -      
JEFFERSON SHREVE (R) Yes - may have issue as lessor for CCO and JR promotions
BRIAN MAHERN (D) Noncommittal    
JOSEPH SIMPSON (D) Yes - D Lead sponsor and strong supporter 
ANGELA MANSFIELD (D) Non committal - strong negative bias. Hates Lamar billboard at 86th and Ditch
STEVE TALLEY (D) Noncommittal - concerned about neighborhoods' position
JEFF MILLER Yes -BUT, he may have issue with neighborhoods has positive e-poll he conducted 

Now - for my reflections on this email....

First of all, are the taxpayers paying for Elrod's rewrite of the billboard industry proposed ordinance?  And what on earth is the "2% Solution"; with a capital S no less???

More importantly, HOW VERY COZY Kisiel is with whomever he sent this email to.  "Please keep my assessment confidential. I thought you should have this so you can also target those members who are still undecided and give you the opportunity to give me updates in case I am wrong in how I am reading the Council."  They seem to be taking orders from him, like he was their boss and they his employees.

He was also keeping DMD and the Mayor's office in the loop - to what end and how supportive those two entities were is not clear - "Both the Mayor’s office and DMD are aware that we are following this process and we will update them on the timing."  

All of this time, the public was not in the loop.  Kisiel had pegged the following people as sponsors:  Frank Mascari, Virginia Cain, Aaron Freeman, Will Gooden, Pam Hickman, and Joe Simpson.  Cain and Gooden serve on the Metropolitan & Economic Development committee (MEDC).

Of the MEDC members -
   Chairman Leroy Robinson - yes
   Zach Adamson - noncommittal
   John Barth - noncommittal
   Ginnie Cain - yes
   Mary Adams - noncommittal
   Vop Osili - noncommittal
   Will Gooden - yes
   Jeff Miller - yes
All Republicans on the committee plus the Chair - YES. 

Of the full Council, Kisiel thought he had 13 votes.  15 would be needed to pass.
   Mascari, McQuillen, Cain, Evans, Freeman, Gooden, Hickman, Robinson, Hunter, Lutz, Shreve, Simpson, and Miller.

I keep wondering who he addressed this email to.  Obviously it is at least two Councillors as he mentions their 'respective caucuses'.

Is this the way things are done on the Council?  Do industry insiders usually bark orders to their serfs on the Council?  I certainly cannot say.

Is this any way to serve the public and the public good?  I don't think so.

Billboard Lobby Donations Create an Appearance of a Conflict of Interest

Just posted on Indiana Forefront...

The powerful Metropolitan & Economic Development committee of the City-County Council has postponed a decision on the billboard industry-written Prop 250.  If enacted, Prop 250 would allow digital billboards now, and any future technology that fits in the same frame would also be allowed – without timely public or Council review.

IndyStar reporter, Brian Eason, reports that billboard lobbyists were extremely generous with campaign contributions last year – with more than $12,000 being donated.

He also reports that a lobbyist firm held a fundraiser for committee Chair, Leroy Robinson.  Robinson, by the way, was beneficiary of nearly a third of all billboard lobby donations last year.
Another committee member, Zach Adamson got $1100.

Eason notes that Council leadership in combination, pulled down more than $5000 from billboard lobby sources.

Those who chose to talk with Eason about the contributions didn’t seem to grasp that by accepting the money, the Councillors, at a minimum, solidified an appearance of a conflict of interest. 

Suspicious minds are already correlating the donations with the fast track that Prop 250 was on and the postponement of a vote after hours of testimony against Prop 250, rather than a vote to kill it.  I have been privately assured that, had it not been delayed, the vote would have been “NO”; that the delay means little.

The public trust is a valuable commodity and important, especially in an election year.

The Councillors who took billboard lobby money can and should return it.  That would help clear up the appearance of a conflict of interest that they helped establish by accepting the money in the first place.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Even If You Like Digital Billboards...

... you should hate Indy's proposed digital billboard ordinance.

I wanted to show an example of a City that put its community ahead of the billboard industry.  St. Petersburg, FL, and the 2012 deal they struck on digital billboards is the one example I'd like to point to today.  Gary Welsh, over at Advance Indiana, went through it's deal briefly a few weeks back, but I want to compare in some detail, their billboard deal with what is being proposed for Indianapolis.

Prop 250, written by the billboard industry and its lobbyists, will be back on the table at the January 26, Metropolitan and Economic Development committee of the City-County Council.

That proposal, unlike the St. Pete deal, has not only been written by the very industry the ordinance would regulate, it has not included any investigation of best practices nor any analysis from our professional planners in the Department of Metropolitan Development.  It's one thing to have a seat at the table, it is quite another to have them all. 

The only world view the Councillors have heard for three years is that of the billboard industry - their paid for 'science', their input on what is important for regulation, and their closed door rebuttals of points made late in the debate by the Community.

So, lets take a few minutes to compare what a vigorous public process produced, with what has happened here in Indianapolis.


Swapout Ratio and Total Number of Digital Billboards

St. Pete saw 83 static billboards come down, and a conversion of 6 others to digital faces, for a ratio of 89 to 6 or over 14:1.

Prop 250 would have an equal square footage of static face come down and a conversion of one static face for a digital face, for a ratio of 2:1.  The total number of digital billboards that can go up are 'limited' to 75 in the first three years, with no more than 4 per year until all static billboards are converted or taken down - for 500-750 digital billboards total.


Digital Billboard Spacing

St. Pete -- All digital billboards must be spaced so that a driver cannot read more than one face at a time, or a minimum distance of 2500 feet in any case.

Prop 250 -- Digital billboards may be separated by no less than 500 feet.


Ad Display

St. Pete -- Each ad must be shown for a minimum of 10 seconds, there can be no sequential ads (ala the old Burma Shave ads), and there must be an instantaneous change between ads.

Prop 250 -- Each ad must be shown for at least 8 seconds, there is no ban on sequential ads (which are known to distract drivers more than other ad types), and there may be up to a 2 second delay between ads (also known to cause driver distraction).


Regulation of Light Levels

St. Pete -- They adopted the best practice of measuring and regulating the amount of emitted light, rather than reflected light.  The equipment is pricier, but it allows the light emitted to be regulated so that it appears to be as lit as a static billboard, but no more.  Using equipment and standards for reflected light, does not allow such tuning of the appearance of digital billboards.  The billboard companies must pay for the equipment and pay for the training of code enforcement officers in the proper use of the equipment.

Prop 250 -- Relies on reflected light and the lighting standards generated by the billboard industry.  There is no requirement that the billboard companies pay for the equipment and training.


Order of Removal and Conversion

St. Pete -- All static billboards used as swapped boards, must be removed before any permit is issued for any digital conversion.

Prop 250 -- The static billboard to be removed as part of the swap must be removed within 30 days of the issuance of the conversion permit.  A letter stating it has been removed must be filed.  There is no requirement that the removal be verified by Code Enforcement.


Removal of Structures and Re-permitting of Swapped Locations

St. Pete -- All structures must be removed along with the faces of static billboards counted as a swap.  There is a prohibition on reconstructing any sign removed, unless the ordinance is invalidated in Court, and then reconstruction must abide by the time formula noted below in "Legal Challenges to Law" section.

Prop 250 - There is no requirement that the pole be removed when a static face is removed as part of a swap.  There is no prohibition on the reissuance of a sign permit for any location where a static sign was removed as part of a swap.


Twenty Year Limitation on Digital Billboards

St. Pete -- After 20 years, all digital faces must be removed and converted back to static faces.

Prop 250 -- Any digital face may remain forever, and is allowed morph into any new technology that comes forward to replace the current LED standard without further public input, debate, or permits.


City-sponsored Ads

St. Pete -- The City is entitled to 1 ad slot per rotation during 12 separate 10-day periods per year to provide ads for non-profits and civic associations.

Prop 250 - There is no provision for free ad space to the City.


Future Changes to the Law

St. Pete -- If the laws change in the future, driven by new safety standards, the digital billboards will NOT be grandfathered into the old standards and will be required to meet the terms of the new law.

Prop 250 -- There is no provision for changes to local, state or federal laws and standards generated in the future due to a better understanding of safety issues.


Legal Challenges to the Law

St. Pete -- Should legal challenges to the 2012 St. Pete law be successful in Court, there will be a limit on how many static billboard may, by right, be reconstructed.  If the Court overturns the law within 5 years, only half the original static billboards may be re-commissioned.  If it takes action between years 5 and 10, only one quarter of the original billboards can come back.  And if the Court acts after 10 years, then no static billboards can come back.

Prop 250 -- There is no provision for what happens if Court action overturns the proposed Ordinance.



St. Pete -- Fines for violating the ordinance - $1000 per day for the first violation, $2500 per day for the second, and $5000 per day for the 3rd and any subsequent violation.

Prop 250 -- Does not change the current law, which appears to be $50 for the first violation in a 12-month period and $100 for the second and any subsequent violation.

There was not a single item contained in Indy's Prop 250 that was superior to the ordinance passed by St. Petersburg in 2012.  That probably is because the process used was behind closed doors and beyond the reach of any opinions other than those of the billboard industry.

Our community deserves a transparent and vigorous public process for any of our laws, especially one so important to the aesthetics of our City and the safety of our driving public.

Prop 250 should be killed off as it is not repairable and does not have any resemblance to good public policy for Indianapolis.

references: St. Pete zoning professionals' presentation to the City Council, Scenic St. Pete report on specifics passed into law, and City Council notes on the lease agreement.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Neighborhood Opposition to Digital Billboards Grows

This was posted on the Indiana Forefront blog.


I am always impressed with the folks who engage in their neighborhoods.  The amount of talent and passion is a huge resource that forever improves and invigorates Indianapolis, even if not appreciated as such from some quarters.

A perfect case in point is the coming together this past Wednesday, held at the absolutely beautiful Indiana Landmarks facility.

Representatives of 28 Neighborhood Organizations throughout Marion County braved the frigid weather to assemble and discuss Council Proposal 250.  This Council Resolution, which its  lobbyist/billboard company authors hope will lead to the legalization of digital billboards in Marion County, is still pending at the Council.  It was recently returned to the Metropolitan & Economic Development committee for further consideration, after an initial outburst of opposition erupted from Indy's Neighborhoods.

The 2 hour meeting at Indiana Landmarks included an exchange of information and discussion among the attendees.

The statement representing the overall opinions was,

"The consensus position within our coalition is that both the proposed ordinance, and the path it's traveled thus far, are unacceptable."

Official positions of individual Organizations are being taken as these representatives return to their groups and as other Organizations become aware that Prop 250 exists.

Once again, my faith in Neighborhoods is renewed, and my respect for Neighborhood leaders deepens.