Sunday, September 30, 2007

Spears' Statement of Economic Interest Missing Work For Colts

The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy reported last November that IMPD Chief Michael Spears works security part-time for the Indianapolis Colts' organization. Yet, his 2006 statement of economic interest signed by Spears on March 10, 2007 makes no disclosure of the part-time job. The form asks Spears to respond to this question: "Have you received any compensation from any business entity, which to the best of your knowlege, is doing or contemplates doing business with an agency of the city of Indianapolis or Marion County during your term of office or employment with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County?" Spears responded to the question by putting a checkmark in a box next to the word "No". Spears also lists IMPD as his only employer.

The Colts in fact have a lease with the Capital Improvement Board of Managers for the use of the RCA Dome and have a new lease agreement with the agency for Lucas Oil Stadium, which the Colts will move into next year. Mayor Peterson defended Spears' part-time work in O'Shaughnessy's article. O'Shaughnessy wrote on November 24, 2006:

Police experts said moonlighting is common for officers but rare for a police chief because it could put the person who most represents public safety in a city in a compromising position.

If, for example, a player were to get into trouble with the law, it could appear as if the team was paying the chief to win special treatment, experts said.

Spears said he doesn't think his outside employment, which is done on his own time, poses a conflict of interest, and he rejected any notion that it could lead to preferential treatment for a Colts player.He said he has worked at Colts games since 2000, though he does not expect to continue doing so after he becomes chief of the merged city and county department next year.

"My first responsibility is to the Indianapolis Police Department and always has been and always will be," said Spears, a 25-year veteran. "Should anybody conduct themselves in a way that is illegal, nothing will be swept under the carpet. I pride myself on my integrity.

"Mayor Bart Peterson and Public Safety Director Earl Morgan said they didn't see any problem with Spears or other top officers following guidelines for outside employment.

Peterson said he has confidence in Spears' judgment and integrity.

"It's the same opportunity available to every other officer," Peterson said. "The key point is that he does it on his own time."

It's simply inexcusable that Spears wouldn't disclose his relationship with the Colts. Perhaps he subsequently terminated his relationship with the Colts, but the statement of economic interest covered the 2006 calendar year. Or perhaps he doesn't think he needs to disclose it because the actual security contract is with a separate company that independently employs him for the security work. In either case, the spirit of the disclosure law dictates he disclose the relationship.

The IndyGov website is once again posting the economic interest statements of city and county officials after a several year hiatus and after a number of complaints, including one from this blog. There's an interesting disclosure by Councilor Lonnell Conley (D). "I am contemplating through my Production and Promotion Company Inc. to produce a "Blues and Family Fiesta" during summer celebrations co-sponsored by IBE and the City of Indianapolis." Councilor Jackie Nytes (D) discloses that her husband's printing business, Printing Partners, has printing contracts with the city and the county. She also discloses she was employed as a construction manager for her husband's business through December, 2006 on an addition and renovation project for the business. Councilor Ryan Vaughn (R) discloses a long list of clients of the law firm where he is employed, Tabbert Hahn, which also do business with the city or county. The firm also serves as counsel to the library board.

Carson Aid Recounts Her AIPAC Experience

A former campaign and congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Julia Carson recounts at the how Carson went out of her way to win support and contributions from the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in her first bid for Congress, only to later struggle with the group's expectations of her when she cast votes on matters like foreign aid. The former aide's story exemplifies how special interest groups extend their control over our elected representatives:

A little over 10 years ago, I got my "formal" start in politics. I worked as the field coordinator for Julia Carson during her first run for the House. It was heady stuff for a wide-eyed kid who loved politics. Fresh of my experience from working for Jim Hightower, I wanted to get out there and take the House back from two years of Newt Gingrich maddness.

wmtriallawyer's diary :: :: Our race was one of those "top 25" targets Charlie Cook and gang liked to talk about. And because of it, we got quite a few Washington consultants coming out the campaign to give their advice and support. It was then I began to notice an alarming trend. Over and over, we began to hear about how we needed to tap into the "Jewish vote." Odd, I thought, because in my naivete I never considered the "Jewish vote" to be some sort of voting bloc. Then, however, the talk of the "Jewish vote" began to morph into the chase for "Jewish money."

This was a real wake-up call to me, because it sounded so insidious and seemed to reinforce a sterotype. We talked about reaching out to other interest groups for votes: African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians. But we never talked about getting "African-American money " or "gay and lesbian money."

Anyway, we were quickly told that the way to tap into the Jewish vote and money was to demonstrate unfettered support for Israel. So, some of our folks wrote up a few quick talking points, put out a one-pager, and voila! -- we support Israel. That should do it.

I wish it had ended there.

Later, after Rep. Carson was elected, I went up to Hill to work for her. Let me just pause to say it was always a dream of mine to work on Capital Hill. Nothing is so heady to a young person who is a politico to be able to work in the halls of Congress to see how government operations. It was amazing stuff.

Unfortunately, dreams and reality are two different things entirely. I began to see how the "game" was played, that the concern for reelection and keeping power was more important than using power to effectuate change. And that became starkly clear when AIPAC contacted my boss.

My boss went on an all-expense paid trip to Israel on AIPAC's dime. It was one of those educational junkets that interest groups paid for. I was a little concerned about it, but I paid it little mind. She had a wonderful time and learned a lot.

But as the saying goes, nothing in life comes for free. A few months later, Congress was voting on that year's foreign aid bill. As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Carson opposed the bill, because it contained far few dollars for Africa than needed to be in the bill. However, there was a substantial amount of money going to Israel.

After her opposition became public, and she voted against it, the calls started coming in from all corners of the U.S. Members of AIPAC called to say that Rep. Carson was wrong for opposing the bill because it helped Israel. She tried to explain, but in all honesty, some of the callers were really angry. Mind you, hardly any of the folks that called were her constituents...they were donors. And they thought they had a solid vote because of the Israel trip. And some of them were plenty rude on the phone.

Rep. Carson became frustrated and one day said, "I just don't know what they want from me." I was silent when I heard this, but I knew what they wanted. They wanted her vote. And in the back of my head, I was thinking that she shouldn't have taken that trip to Israel.

The whole experience on the Hill, because of instances like this, left me frustrated. I left politics and didn't come back for awhile, because I didn't see that things were going to change at all. Too many people with too many of the wrong ideas about how politics and our government were running the show.

What A Good Prosecutor Can Do To Clean Up Government

The Northwest Indiana Times' Joe Carlson has a story today talking about the difference it makes when government prosecutors actually do their job and prosecute those who violate the public trust. Carlson writes about how much corruption has been prosecuted in Northwest Indiana these past five years:

What a difference five years makes.

In 2002, Will Smith Jr. was working as an influential member of the Lake County Council, Dozier Allen was preparing to leave the Calumet Township trustee's office after 32 years, and Robert Cantrell was running the East Chicago Republican Party in cooperation with Democratic Mayor Robert Pastrick.

Gary Urban Enterprise Association Director Jojuana Meeks was buying buildings hand-picked for her by county tax collector Roosevelt Powell. Gary busnessman Jewell Harris Sr. was enjoying his close relationship with Gary City Hall, and Peggy Holinga Katona was busy running the county treasurer's office that her family had controlled for decades.

Five years later, every one of those officials -- save former Mayor Pastrick -- has since been touched by the U.S. attorney's ongoing Operation Restore Public Integrity investigation.

Pastrick is the target of a racketeering lawsuit from Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter.The effort to fight Lake County corruption has extended into Porter County, where the U.S. attorney's office brought charges of bribery against Pastrick's youngest son, Kevin Pastrick.

In May 2004, Kevin Pastrick was convicted of bribing a carpenter's union official in a scandal over Coffee Creek, a residential and commercial development south of Chesterton.

Carlson lists 42 persons who have been convicted or are awaiting trial, and he says federal and state prosecutors say it's far from over. Here's the hall of shame list:

Jewell Harris Sr., accused of double-billing Gary for debris-hauling work at The Steel Yard stadium.
Bob Cantrell, charged with tax evasion and insurance fraud.
Dozier Allen, Wanda Joshua, Ann Marie Karras, Albert Young Jr., all charged with skimming money from a federal grant to Calumet Township.
Lawrence Meeks, contractor accused of not paying taxes on Gary Urban Enterprise Association income.

1. East Chicago City Councilman Frank Kollintzas, convicted for misappropriation of federal funds, lying to the FBI.
2. East Chicago City Councilman Joe De La Cruz, convicted for misappropriation of federal funds.
3. East Chicago City Controller Edwardo Maldonado, convicted for misappropriation of federal funds. Convicted a second time in July 2006 for using public money to pay his defense attorneys.
4. East Chicago City Councilman Adrian Santos, pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy in connection with the $24 million sidewalks-for-votes case.
5. East Chicago Parks Superintendent Jose Valdez Jr., fraud and conspiracy in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
6. East Chicago City Engineer Pedro Porras, fraud and conspiracy in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
7. Gerry Nannenga, former carpenter's union official, accepting bribes to approve the Coffee Creek land deal.
8. Kevin Pastrick, son of former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick, paying bribes to approve the Coffee Creek land deal.
9. Peter Manous, former Indiana Democratic chairman, paying bribes to approve the Coffee Creek land deal.
10. Carl Paul Ihle Jr., co-owner with Kevin Pastrick of Sand Creek Sales, forging documents and lying about the Coffee Creek land deal.
11. Peter Benjamin, former Lake County auditor and assessor, paying bribes to Lake County Councilman Troy Montgomery.
12. Troy Montgomery, former Lake County councilman, accepting Benjamin's bribes.
13. Joel Markovich, former Lake County councilman and contractor, fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
14. Katie Hall, Gary city clerk, extorting $19,000 in campaign contributions from office employees.
15. Junifer Hall, chief deputy Gary city clerk and daughter of Katie Hall, extorting $19,000 in campaign contributions from office employees.
16. Robert J. Velligan, contractor, tax fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
17. Marilyn and Gregory J. Gill, contractors, tax and bankruptcy fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
18. Dimitrios Sazalis, contractor, tax fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
19. Former East Chicago Police Chief Edward Samuels, ghost employment as a security guard in a city housing project.
20. East Chicago Building Commission Miguel "Mike" Arredondo, ghost employment as a security guard in a city housing project.
21. Gary City Parks Superintendent Kimberly Lyles, lying to federal agents about influence peddling.
22. Assistant County Building Administrator Jan Allison, extortion.
23. G. Gregory Cvitkovich, former North Township trustee, tax fraud.
24. James H. Fife III, a former special assistant to the East Chicago mayor, federal tax fraud.
25. Karen Krahn-Fife, federal tax fraud.
26. East Chicago City Councilman Randall Artis, fraud and conspiracy in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
27. Terrance Artis, brother of Randall Artis and contractor, fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
28. Robert White, Gary city councilman, fraud.
29. Lake County Recorder Morris Carter, extortion.
30. Former Schererville Town Judge Deborah Riga, fraud in using office to personally benefit her family business.
31. Paul Hernandez, union fraud and corruption.
32. Ken Castaldi, union fraud and corruption.
33. Jojuana Meeks, embezzling money from Gary Urban Enterprise Association.
34. Charmaine Pratchett, embezzling money from GUEA.
35. Derrick Earls, embezzling from GUEA board.
36. Johnnie Wright, embezzling from GUEA board.
37. Greg Hill, contractor who didn't report GUEA income.
38. Will Smith Jr., Lake County Council president, tax evasion for a questionable land deal with GUEA.
39. Roosevelt Powell, former delinquent tax collector for Lake County, tax evasion, theft conspiracies involving GUEA land deals.
40. Willie Harris, Gary attorney, tax evasion, theft conspiracies involving GUEA land deals.
41. Nancy Fromm, addiction counselor, lying to federal agents.
42. Otho Lyles III, tax evasion and lying to FBI in Gary City Hall investigation.

Another Example Of Lack Of Mayoral Leadership

The Star's "Behind Closed Doors" column draws attention to the fact that Mayor Peterson could have administratively ordered the end of take-home cars for non-public safety officers as part of the "budget cuts" he announced this past summer to deal with the city's budget mess; instead, he is awaiting council action on the matter. The column item reads:

The news that the Peterson administration is pushing an ordinance to eliminate take-home cars for hundreds of city and county employees prompted many to wonder why the Indianapolis mayor wasn't taking action administratively rather than relying on a City-County Council vote. So we asked Mayor Bart

His response: A council-backed ordinance will make it easier to get the job done.

That's because the city only assumed authority over county budgets two years ago and, according to Peterson and city Controller Bob Clifford, has occasionally run into resistance from separately elected county officials in administration efforts to increase accountability.

"To be honest, we're having trouble even tracking the number of county take-home vehicles," Clifford said.

So, Clifford said, the city took the ordinance route to ensure the new policy applies to county offices, which do not answer to the mayor except at budget time.

Tom John, the GOP county chairman, wasn't impressed.

"That's a perfect example of failed leadership," John said. "This is the mayor looking for someone to blame when his people complain that their perk was taken away."

The council expects to vote Oct. 8 on the proposal, which would eliminate the perk for about 400 city and county employees who drive less than 10,000 business-miles per year.

I guess what the Mayor is really trying to say is that he didn't want to be the person to blame for city and county employees losing their take-home car privileges. He'll let the council do the dirty work for him, but you can bet his campaign will take credit for the potential millions in savings the move will mean for the city's budget, sort of like the same way he took credit for Gov. Mitch Daniels' decision to order a reassessment in Marion County.

Is Monroe Gray Guilty Of Ghost Employment?

Although a front-page investigative story on CCC President Monroe Gray in today's Star provides ample evidence to suggest he may be guilty of ghost employment, a Class D felony, the words "ghost employment" never appear in the article. Brendan O'Shaughnessy writes about his inability to uncover any work Gray performs for his $83,000 a year community liaison job for the Fire Department:

. . . Gray earns two paychecks from the city of Indianapolis: $83,000 a year for being a fire official, a position from which he will retire this year, and another $16,000 for serving on the council, with an additional $2,000 for serving as president.

An Indianapolis Star probe found that the Fire Department could not produce a single document to illustrate the work Gray does.

No letters. No e-mail sent. Few office phone calls, according to records obtained by The Indianapolis Star. Not a single report his job description requires that he produce.

Gray says the lack of documents simply shows that he is "old school" and does most of his work in person and on his personal cell phone. He said the role has changed dramatically since the job description was written, but the job description was never updated.

Gray and his boss, Fire Department Chief James Greeson, acknowledge Gray's two jobs are hard to separate. Greeson said Gray's liaison job is shaped around his strengths.

"What you have to understand is that this job and the council job, a lot of it intermingles. . . . It intertwines," Gray said. "Some of the same things I do for the Fire Department, I also do for the council, so it makes a perfect match."

Greeson said Gray has evolved into more of a political liaison than a community representative. Gray provides "invaluable" assistance to the chief with his knowledge of purchasing, training, hiring and budgets, Greeson said.

"I think it's good to have someone who can be an advocate," Greeson said, "and an additional tool that the chief can use to make sure that the proper dollars are there to fund our budget, to talk to councilors about issues about our Fire Department that I may not have time for."

There's also a lot of talk in the article about the potential conflict between holding a government job and serving on the elected council. The story mentions that Indiana statutory law permits police and firefighters to run for and serve on the council, but it doesn't mention a provision of the Indiana Constitution which prohibits members of one branch of government from serving in another branch of government simultaneously. The issue has been discussed at length on this blog in the past. For some reason folks in this state have a proclivity not to read their state constitution, or when they do, to simply ignore the plain meaning of its words.

Acknowledgement should be given to IndyUndercover on this story. The blog has frequently commented about the fact that neither Gray nor Councilor Vernon Brown do anything for the fire department despite holding down two of the highest paid positions in the department. Oddly, O'Shaughnessy's article lets Brown skate. The only mention of Brown is a part of the story where Gray tries unsuccessfully to convince O'Shaughnessy he actually does any work for the fire department and there's a reference to the fact Gray used to report to Brown. O'Shaughnessy writes:

In 2000, then-Chief Louis Dezelan appointed Gray as community liaison. Gray said he used to run more community projects when he reported to Vernon Brown, a
Fire Department deputy chief and a City-County Council member.

For example, Gray said he arranged an agreement in 2001 to share parking spots belonging to a fire station with a nearby library branch.

Now, Gray supervises no one and reports directly to the chief, assisting with whatever needs arise, he said. He said he goes to Fire Department headquarters on New Jersey Street every day but spends a lot of time outside the office attending meetings.
To any objective person it is quite apparent Gray is being rewarded with a highly-paid, make- work job by the administration in exchange for his cooperation as CCC President. In other words, Mayor Peterson is buying his influence with your tax dollars. The newspaper's bias in covering up Mayor Peterson's own wrongdoing really shines through. No tough questions are put to the Mayor. The only reference to Peterson in the article is a mention of him praising Gray and other police and firefighters who serve the city. "Mayor Bart Peterson said he thinks firefighters and police officers bring their knowledge of city government and services to their council work," O'Shaughnessy writes. "There's no better evidence of that than the shining example sitting next to me," Peterson said of Monroe Gray in August, when the mayor was asked if Gray's and others' voting on the income tax proposal was a conflict of interest.
"Recently, some council members have abstained from voting, citing potential conflict. Peterson called their choices for when they abstained 'puzzling.'"

Make no mistake about it. Mayor Bart Peterson is entirely responsible for these sweetheart arrangements with Gray and Vernon Brown. If a story like this appeared in the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times, the U.S. Attorney's office would be springing into action immediately with a criminal investigation, but this is Indianapolis. Our U.S. Attorney's office will do nothing, and we know our county prosecutor's office won't do anything. Is it any wonder our elected officials go about flagrantly violating our laws and the public trust so often when they know nobody will touch them?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Peterson Vows To End Sexual Discrimination In Fire Department

After settling a costly lawsuit brought by a long-time, female firefighter, Mayor Peterson is vowing to end sexual discrimination at the Indianapolis Fire Department. "It's past time for a new attitude in the Fire Department," Peterson told the Star Friday in an interview. "Clearly there were limitations on promotions and discrimination (within the Fire Department)," said Peterson, who is running for re-election this year."We've worked for decades in this city to eradicate that (discrimination). To suggest it's been eradicated completely is belied by the facts of this case, which is disappointing because it is contrary to what this administration stands for."

The man Peterson put in charge of the fire department, Jim Greeson, will apparently remain at the helm, along with two of the department's highest ranking officers, CCC President Monroe Gray and Councilor Vernon Brown. "I made it clear to [Greeson] that this kind of thing was unacceptable, that it had to be eradicated," Peterson told the Star. "He is the right person to be the agent of change here because of the way this has impacted him, the way he personally feels about discrimination." Greeson said, "I apologize if women feel like they've been disenfranchised and don't feel like they can come forward." "Today's a new day. Let's go forward together and solve these problems." The only punishments handed out as a result of the Ruth Morrison lawsuit were very short suspensions of two supervisors who work under Greeson.

Other female officers blame Greeson for the mess. "Instead of fixing the problems when he had the chance, Greeson allowed the offending chiefs to sidestep serious punishment for months, Kathy Gillette, a 22-year veteran of the department said." "These men on the job who don't like women being firefighters, in my opinion, they've been given the go-ahead to harass the hell out of us," Gillette said. Recall also that Advance Indiana exclusively reported on a Beech Grove man's sworn complaint that he heard Greeson call tax activist Melyssa Donaghy a "bull dyke" at a CCC meeting at which Mayor Peterson was about to present his budget address. Nobody in the local news media reported on that incident. You would think the media would at least ask Greeson to publicly deny or admit the allegations contained in the man's affidavit.

Democrats Won't Budge On Carson

Every time one of these medical situations arises with U.S. Rep. Julia Carson (D), just as sure as the sun is going to come up in the morning, you can count on local Democrats trotting out former U.S. Rep. Andy Jacobs (D) to make a folksy quip about Julia to suspend disbelief. It happened again. “People will tell me that they’ll see Julia come in and she seems very feeble," Jacobs tells the Star. She’ll get help up to the podium . . . Then when she x gets to the podium ..... bam! The firecracker goes off and she has them rolling in the aisles.” That's not exactly the tales I've been hiring as of late, but Neville Chamberlain also stepped off a plane in 1938 and announced, "I believe it is peace in our time."

Let's put this in perspective. Carson is missing for an entire week before her staff fesses up to the fact that she' been hospitalized for the past week at Methodist Hospital with what must be a serious leg infection. Her staff tells us the infection is under control and she will be back to work very soon. They won't tell us when she will return to work. They won't agree to allow a reporter to interview her, although they claim to have spoken to her on the phone and claim she's quite lucid. They aren't forthcoming about any medications she may be on which might affect her decision-making ability. In the period prior to her hospitalization, news reports from Capitol Hill tell us she can no longer cast a vote in the House of Representatives without the assistance of another member. And this is nothing new. Past illnesses have given her the distinction of being the member of Indiana's congressional district with the worst attendance record. She has missed 13% of the recorded votes this year alone. In some years, she has missed as many as 21% of the recorded votes.

In spite of all this, local Democrats carry on as if nothing is happening. “If Julia Carson has a desire to run again, I will be, and I believe the party structure will be, supporting her,” Marion County Democratic Party Chairman Michael O’Connor told the Star. Well, it's time for the public to say enough. An online poll conducted by the Star showed that 90% of the respondents believe Carson should retire because of her health problems. These latest reports raise serious concerns about whether Carson even possesses a state of mind that allows her to carry out the people's business. An independent psychiatric evaluation is in order. If the Indianapolis Fire Department can order firefighter Tonya Coffman to undergo a psychiatric evaluation because it didn't think a small woman like her get drive a fire truck, then is it too much to expect a psychiatric professional to advise us if Carson is capable of making independent decisions given her life-threatening health issues?

Finally, let me make it clear that I wish Carson a full and speedy recovery. Her defenders have a way of trying to turn the tables to make anyone who dares to raise questions about her fitness appear mean-spirited, notwithstanding the overwhelming weight of evidence already in the public record. This is not about what is best for her. It is about what is best for the voters of the 7th District. We have a right to expect our member of Congress to be ready and able to be present when any vote is taken. Rep. Carson has demonstrated time and time again she is not capable of meeting that expectation. It's time for her to go.

And for the record, I wished Rep. Carson well while we still await a reaction from Blue Indiana or Taking Down Words. Both of these Democratic blogs have been noticeably silent since Rep. Carson's office announced her hospitalization yesterday afternoon. I'm not quite sure what, if anything, we should read into that. Maybe we'll hear from Jen shortly.

UPDATE: Blue Indiana blogger Joh Padgett is now calling on U.S. Rep. Julia Carson to retire because of her latest health problems. His post is particularly interesting because he relates his own battle with a similar type of illness Carson is suffering from. He predicts she will be unable to work for many months to come."The kind of pain and suffering that Ms. Carson is dealing with at this time is nothing short of physical torture and in my opinion will severely limit her ability to make proper decisions for several months to come due to the heavy pain medication that she will be forced to take during her recovery," Padgett writes.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Marion County GOP Lets Beth White Off Again

The Marion County GOP sat on the sidelines and allowed County Clerk Beth White to conclude a primary election which denied thousands of Marion County voters of their sacred right to vote because she couldn't figure out how to get all of the county's precincts open on election day. Apparently securing the constitutional right to vote wasn't a high enough priority for the party to bother going to court. Now, the GOP is going to sit and watch as Beth White illegally places the name of Andre Carson (D) on the November election ballot as a candidate for the 15th district council race. WISH-TV's Jim Shella describes the injustice taking place:

You probably already knew that the two major parties do everything they can to block the paths of third parties and third party candidates, but here's a fun example.

Stephanie Yarian wants to run as an independent candidate for the City County Council in District 15. She can't because she missed the July 3rd filing deadline.

Meantime, the Democratic candidate in District 15 is Andre Carson. He was chosen to fill a vacancy on August 28th and will be on the ballot because of election laws that permit the filling of a vacancy.

There is no Republican candidate in District 15 and Andre Carson is unopposed.

By their own admission, Beth White's office knew last January when Patrice Abduallah filed his statement of candidacy for the 15th District council seat that he had moved out of the district. Although her office communicated the problem to him, it took no other action. Instead, White's office illegally placed his name on the May Democratic primary ballot, allowing him to win nomination as the Democratic candidate. When Abduallah filed his statement of candidacy in January, his office became vacant pursuant to IC 36-3-4-2(c) (2), which provides that “a vacancy in the legislative body occurs whenever a member…ceases to be a resident of the …district from which the member was elected”. The deadline referenced by Jim Shella, which prevented the Republicans or an independent candidate from being placed on the ballot applies equally to the Democrats. In other words, Democrats also missed the deadline to put Carson's name on the ballot.

As a long-time political observer, it never ceases to amaze me how reluctant Republican partisans are to fight for their rights. You can bet if the shoe were on the other foot, the Democrats would have been in court within hours of a Republican clerk announcing she was going to put a Republican candidate's name on the ballot under these same circumstances. Former Marion Co. Democratic Chairman Ed Treacy contended Clerk Doris Ann Sadler's mistakes in the Clerk's office during her last election amounted to "criminal" acts. At least she opened the polls up so people could vote. By contrast, local Republicans acted as if nothing had even happened after Beth White's election debacle.

So what does this mean to Marion Co. voters? All bets are off as far as what will transpire on election day. Democrats are totally in control of the election machinery now, and local Republicans don't have the stomach or organization to put up any kind of resistance. This is an open invitation for wholesale fraud. Big city, Democratic machine organizations have utilized every conceivable fraud to hold on to power in this country for decades. There's no reason to believe things are going to be any different in Indianapolis. It's just how things are done you see, particularly when you know how weak your opponent is.

Carson Goes AWOL

The Star's Maureen Groppe is on top of Rep. Julia Carson's latest failure to show up for work. "U.S. Rep. Julia Carson has been absent without explanation from the House this week, missing votes on a health insurance program for low-income children, flood insurance, small-business investment and other issues," Groppe writes. "The 69-year-old Indianapolis Democrat included a 'leave of absence' request in the Congressional Record on Wednesday for Sept. 24 through Oct. 1 but did not give a reason for the absence," Groppe adds. "We do not have a statement on this absence at this time," said Leonard Sistek, Carson's chief of staff.

Carson seems well on her way to racking up the worst attendance record in Congress. "Carson has missed 71 percent of the 77 floor votes since the House returned from its August recess after Labor Day," Groppe observes. "She has missed 13 percent of the 923 votes held since January, her lowest participation rate since 2004 when health problems caused her to miss 31 percent of votes."

Carson is unable to cast votes without the assistance of her staff according to a Capitol Hill newspaper. "[Carson] has been using a wheelchair to get around the Capitol, has had aides and colleagues insert her voting card into the voting machines on her behalf when she has been present and voting," Groppe writes. Rep. Vic Defazio (D-CA) explained how he had assisted her with her voting recently. "It was clear she was going to have difficulty getting out of her chair and up the stairs to vote in time," DeFazio said in a statement. "He said he saw her vote card in her hand, offered to insert it for her, and asked how she wanted to vote." "She answered with a lucid `yes,'" DeFazio said. "I took the card and within her full view, I inserted and voted 'yes' on her behalf and took the card back to her and confirmed the `yes' vote."

It appears to me this story first surfaced in a Capitol Hill newspaper at the instigation of the House Democrats. Do you think it's possible the folks in Washington are trying to communicate a message to the voters back in the 7th District? asks viewers in an online poll if Carson should retire because of her health problems. Ninety percent (90%) say she should retire.

UPDATE: After Groppe's online story appeared, Carson's staff released a statement acknowledging that Carson has been hospitalized at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis since last Friday for an infection in her leg. The story now includes this:

The statement said the infection is under control and Carson is "very anxious to get back to work," but did not say when that would be. The statement said she may require physical rehabilitation "but she is expected to return to the job soon."Carson's office released the explanation after questioned about a leave of absence she requested Wednesday, after missing votes Monday and Tuesday.

Farrakhan: No Money To Pay Debt

"The 48-year-old son of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan claims he has never paid income tax, provides no support to the four mothers of his nine children, and lives off $350 he picks up each week from a secretary at his father's home on the South Side of Chicago," writes Andy Grimm of the Gary Post-Tribune. A Gary couple is still owed more than $50,000 in medical bills Nasir Farrakhan was ordered to pay after he was found guilty of reckless driving for ramming the couple's vehicle on the Indiana Toll Road in 2003 while driving his father's Hummer.

"Basically, (Nasir Farrakhan) is a man whom you can tell from today has never honored any of his obligations," said David Jensen, attorney for Charles and Gladys Peterson. According to Grimm's article, Farrakhan has "lived with a string of girlfriends and in a seedy Lakeview hotel, where Nation of Islam members sent by his father dropped off envelopes with cash." As well off financially as he reportedly is, you would think Louis would simply pay off his son's debt to the Peterson to avoid the bad publicity. It would make more sense than to reward his deadbeat son with weekly cash gifts. And after all, his son was working as head of his personal security detail at the time of the accident. It seems like the right thing to do.

Star Backs Foot Baths For Muslims At Airport

Star editorial writers take an unpopular position with their readers today: "Airport Authority should proceed with plans to accommodate taxi drivers' religious needs." They are referring to a plan to install foot baths at a couple of restrooms at the new airport terminal in order to accommodate nearly 100 Muslim taxi cab drivers. The editors think the constitutional argument against the foot baths is weak and the cost of installing the foot baths is small; however, the Star's editorial argument itself is pretty weak. This is how it reads:

In Indiana, state and many local government offices close in observance of Good Friday. Public hospitals commonly offer chapels for people of various faiths to pray and find solace. State government employs chaplains to provide spiritual guidance in various settings.

The public is asked to underwrite the expense of these accommodations, and others, for two basic reasons. One, such steps bow to common public practices, even those that are religious in nature. Two, ignoring the public's needs, solely because they touch upon religious issues, would create unnecessary burdens.

In that context, it's reasonable that the Indianapolis Airport Authority is considering the installation of foot baths in two restrooms to accommodate Muslim taxi drivers' religious needs. The sinks would be installed, one in a men's restroom, another in a women's restroom, at the airport's new midfield terminal, which is scheduled to open next year. The estimated cost of buying and installing the sinks is between $800 and $1,200, a blip in the terminal's $1.07 billion construction budget.

More than 100 Muslim cab drivers wash their feet three times a day at the airport as part of a ritual called ablution. Many of them now perform the ritual cleansing in restroom sinks intended for hand washing. Some fellow taxi drivers are unhappy, and understandably so, to share a sink with another person's feet.

Other drivers use water bottles in the parking lot to complete the washing, but that's not a viable solution in cold weather.

A few Christian leaders have objected to the proposal, citing a supposed violation of the First Amendment. But if state and city governments can make Good Friday a holiday for their employees, and that policy has so far withstood legal challenge, then why shouldn't the Airport Authority be able to accommodate certain religious practices?

The legal argument against the foot baths is weak. The cost is small.

The Airport Authority should proceed as planned.

Do two wrongs make it right? What do you think? Let me add that the chapel argument is misplaced, particularly when the chapels are open to people of all faith to worship in accordance with the dictates of their own religion.

Finally, Someone Is Talking About Real Savings

The City of Indianapolis is finally taking seriously the idea of saving money by ending take home car privileges for non-public safety workers. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy and Bill Ruthhart report on the millions in savings for the city:

Indianapolis hopes to soon save millions of dollars by eliminating a long-standing perk for about 400 city and county employees: vehicles they can take home after hours.

City Controller Bob Clifford estimated the new approach would save the city
at least $6 million in replacement vehicle costs every four or five years. The change could save an additional $250,000 annually in gas, maintenance and accident repairs.

The proposal, which goes before the City-County Council on Oct. 8, would not affect police officers -- only non-emergency vehicles used by employees who log fewer than 10,000 business miles a year.

The city and county own about 3,000 vehicles in all, including 231 take-home vehicles driven by city employees ranging from building inspectors and road engineers to a Public Works spokeswoman and the city's Latino affairs director. The county has an additional 420 or so cars and vehicles it lets non-emergency personnel take home.

The story notes that city employees aren't allowed to use these vehicles for personal use, but the city hasn't bothered to take steps to monitor vehicle use until this past July according to City Controller Bob Clifford. Although the article doesn't mention her by name, City-County Councilor Angela Mansfield is the council member who brought this initiative forward.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Marion County Coroner Lawsuit

As many of you are aware, I am one of the attorneys representing Drs. Stephen Radentz and Michelle Catellier, two former forensic pathologists with the Marion Co. Coroner's office, in a racial discrimination suit against the office. I am joined by Jeff McQuary, an employment discrimination attorney who formerly worked for the City of Indianapolis' corporation counsel's office. Jeff has also served as a Democratic precinct committeeman. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. As a legal participant in that proceeding, I am going to refrain from posting on the topic. Many of you have inquired about the case so I'm going to direct you to see what others have to say. Ruth Holladay has posted her summary of what she views as having transpired in the coroner's office, which you can read by clicking here. You can also read what the Indiana Lawyer's Rebecca Berfanger is reporting on the case in its current edition by clicking here. The Star's Jon Murray has a story here.

Bayh And Lugar Support Hate Crimes Amendment

The Matthew Shepard Act was successfully attached to a bill authorizing continued funding of the Iraqi War today in the Senate. Indiana's senators, Evan Bayh (D) and Richard Lugar (R), were among the 60 senators casting an aye vote. The final vote on the procedural motion allowing the hate crimes amendment was 60-39 with one member absent, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Nine Republicans joined all Democrats and two independents in supporting the amendment. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), still there and in denial, cast a "no" vote.

"We cannot fight terror abroad and accept terror at home, " said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR). The legislation has now passed both the House and Senate at least once this session. The Act extends the hate crimes category in federal law to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability and gives federal authorities greater leeway to participate in hate crime investigations. It also provides $10 million over the next two years to help local law enforcement officials cover the cost of hate crime prosecutions.

Both Bayh and Lugar were heavily lobbied by the American Family Association of Indiana and Advance America to vote against the Matthew Shepard Act. When an earlier vote was taken in the House, two Democrats from Indiana, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly and U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, caved into the pressure from the two religious right groups and voted against the Act. It's good to see Bayh and Lugar had the fortitude at least on today's vote to ignore the homo-bigoted pleas from the far right. As a proponent of the single subject rule, I deplore attaching completely unrelated substantive legislation to spending bills as was done today. Unfortunately, that's how business is conducted these days in Congress. President Bush has threatened to veto the Act standing alone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Will Peterson Pledge To Serve A Full Term?

GOP mayoral candidate Greg Ballard has challenged Mayor Bart Peterson (D) to take a pledge to serve a full, four-year term if he is re-elected just as Ballard promises to do. Ballard's press statement reads:

"The issues facing Indianapolis- seniors losing their homes to pay rising taxes, out of control crime, uncontrolled government spending- all require the attention of a full-time mayor," said Ballard. "I pledge that I will not neglect Indianapolis for political gain and will refrain from seeking another office as mayor and will definitely serve a full term. I ask Bart Peterson make the same commitment to Indianapolis and the citizens because they deserve nothing less."

"If Mayor Peterson won't commit to fulfilling four full years of his third term, voters need to know now because that would mean that the next mayor of Indianapolis would be hand picked by Democratic Party officials, not voters," said Ballard.

The pledge question is based on speculation Peterson really wants to move on to something bigger in D.C. or elsewhere, particularly if his former boss, Evan Bayh, manages to make it on to the national Democratic ticket next year and gets himself elected Vice President. Even if Peterson pledges to serve a full, four-year term, it will be an empty promise. Bill Clinton made a similar pledge to Arkansas voters the last time he was re-elected as governor and then conveniently disgarded it to run for president. Guys like Clinton and Peterson always put their personal, self-interest above the public interest. If Peterson were to get re-elected and then resign the mayor's office, you can expect Democrats to hand the office to Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell.

UPDATE: Peterson is now saying he will serve a full term if re-elected. "I'm enthusiastically and unequivocally pledging I will serve a full four-year term if I m elected Nov. 6," Peterson told the Star. Of course, he also told us he wouldn't raise taxes to solve the city's budget problems when he first ran for mayor but we now know he didn't keep that promise.

What Are Lawrence Republicans Thinking?

The Lawrence Township board last night on a party-line vote of 5-2 voted down a resolution to authorize Trustee Mike Hobbs to begin negotiating a merger of the township's fire department with the Indianapolis Fire Department. Oddly, the Republican-controlled board scheduled another vote on the resolution for October 23 close to the November election.

Like other Marion County township fire departments, the Lawrence Fire Department was forced to borrow $1.8 million to meet a budget shortfall for the upcoming budget. The township anticipates future borrowing if drastic steps aren't taken soon, and Gov. Daniels' administration has already signaled it won't be approving this type of borrowing in the future. Taxpayers will have to pay off this accumulated debt with higher property taxes.

Hobbs has unquestionably been the focus of attention these past several months after an arrest for driving under the influence and a petty theft charge involving $500. Republicans on the board might be hesitant to turn Hobbs loose at the negotiating table, but any plan of merger will require their approval. For the sake of the township's taxpayers, you would think the township board would be looking for a way out of this mess without further burdening taxpayers. A merger is certain to happen. The only question is how soon?

UAW Takes Care Of Itself In Deal With GM

It was a strike that was suppose to be about job security, but it looks more like a self-serving plan for the UAW. The AP is reporting on a tentative settlement to the 2-day-old strike against GM by union workers. "The two sides gave no other details, but a person briefed on the contract told The Associated Press that it also would give workers bonuses and lump-sum payments and would pay newly hired workers at lower rates." "GM and the UAW confirmed that the deal creates a GM-funded, UAW-run trust to administer retiree health care."

So the union is going to take charge of a retiree health care plan which GM funds. GM will reportedly shift about $51 billion of its unfunded liability for the retiree benefits to the UAW and contribute $36 billion to fund the trust. The union will be responsible for investing that money and managing the health care plan for 340,000 GM workers. Newly-hired workers will be paid less to deal with a $25-per-hour disparity between what GM labor costs compared to its Japanese-owned competitors, while wages for current workers will remain the same. Bonuses or lump sum payments will be offered to those workers in lieu of annual pay raises over the next four years. Looks like a long-term solution to me. Or not.

Tully: Dems Uneasy With Bayh Backing Clinton

Star political columnist Matt Tully writes today about Sen. Evan Bayh's decision to back Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) for president and finds Indiana Democrats uneasy about Bayh's choice. Describing state party chairman Dan Parker's reaction, Tully writes:

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker is highly skilled at the art of putting on a brave face.

He did so this week when I called to talk about the somewhat surprising decision by his mentor -- Sen. Evan Bayh -- to endorse Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid.

"The first thing I'll say is, I have faith in Evan Bayh's judgment," Parker said.

Bayh, he said, "has the best interests of Indiana and the country" in mind and did not "come to this decision quickly." He also predicted that Hoosiers who may not be Hillary Clinton fans "are going to give her a second look" if she claims the Democratic nomination.

"She is ready to do the job on Day One," Parker said, echoing words Bayh used in his endorsement statement.

I told Parker he was in fine spin mode, as it's clear the last thing many Indiana Democratic Party insiders want is Clinton at the top of the ticket next year. The reasoning is, Clinton will be an especially divisive figure in Republican-leaning Indiana, and a trickle-down effect could hurt Democratic chances of reclaiming the governor's office.

Tully offers two prevailing thoughts for Bayh's announcement: 1) "Bayh is hoping to jump on board the vice presidential train"; or 2) "As with many members of the U.S. Senate, Bayh is focused on his national profile." Tully includes in his discussion the take I gave on Bayh's endorsement. "Local blogger Gary Welsh called Clinton 'one of the least popular politicians in Indiana' and said Bayh was doing nothing more than putting 'his proverbial finger to the wind' in an attempt to get his name on a national ticket," Tully writes. And Tully doesn't necessarily disagree. He concludes: "Regardless, the announcement is classic Bayh. He joins the Clinton team at a time when she appears headed toward the nomination, but when it is still early enough to get a splash of national media attention. And perhaps a promise to get a close look as her running mate next year."

I should note that everyone has been thinking in terms of how Bayh could help the Democrats by being on the national ticket. There has been no attention paid to his potential drawbacks. I submit to you that if he does become a part of the national ticket, the national media will have a field day recounting how the Bayhs have used their insider political status to parlay millions for themselves during Evan's political career. How does a guy who entered public office in Indiana more than two decades ago owning little more than a $50,000 condo and a used BMW manage to build an estate worth at least $10 million, particularly when he only spent two years of that time working in the private sector as a "partner" at Baker & Daniels. And most of that two-year period was devoted to campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat and other Democratic candidates. Contrast that with Sen. Richard Lugar's financial standing. He entered the Senate as a millionaire in 1976. Today, he's worth no more than $2 million. Is Bayh a smarter investor than Lugar? Or is Bayh less discerning when it comes to public ethics? You'll be hearing plenty more on that if Bayh makes the national ticket.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Senate Tender On Tinder

The Senate Judiciary Committee treated Judge John Tinder with kid gloves today during his confirmation hearing for an appointment to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. "The Indianapolis native's confirmation hearing was uncontentious and short, a contrast to the lengthy battles the president and Senate Democrats have had over some of the president's judicial nominees," writes the Star's Maureen Groppe. "Tinder received bipartisan backing from Indiana's senators, Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh," she adds. Sen. Dick Durbin was the only panel member to ask tough questions of him. Groppe writes:

But Durbin did ask Tinder about a racial discrimination case Tinder dismissed that was later reversed on appeal. Tinder said he made a mistake in ruling that there was not enough evidence for the suit to go forward.

"I was incorrect," he said.

Pointing out that Tinder has been reversed on some of the cases in which he has ruled against an employee, prison inmate or criminal defendant but never when he ruled in favor of them, Durbin asked whether that record suggests any tendencies.

"I try to look at each case on its own merits and don't approach any case with a predisposition on how it should come out," Tinder said, adding that he's handled thousands of cases and been reversed on few.

Asked what about his background would give a poor person hope that he would be treated fairly in Tinder's courtroom, Tinder noted that when he served as a public defender, he worked with criminal defendants, many of them indigent.

"I've been in their jail cells talking to them, waiting for the juries," he said. "I've been in their homes, investigating their cases, talking with their families. ... I've been there so that should give them some comfort."

Supreme Court Grants Cert In Voter ID Case

The Indiana Democratic Party gets its wish. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal the party has taken from a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the constitutionality of Indiana's Voter ID suit. Quoting from the Indiana Law Blog, the writ of cert reads as follows:

07-25 ) IN DEMOCRATIC PARTY, ET AL. V. ROKITA, IN SEC. OF STATE, ET AL. The petitions for writs of certiorari are granted. The cases are consolidated and a total of one hour is allotted for oral argument. The brief of petitioners is to be filed with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Monday, November 5, 2007. The brief of respondents is to be filed with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Monday, December 3, 2007. A reply brief, if any, is to be filed with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Friday, December 28, 2007. Briefs of amici curiae are to be filed with the Clerk and served upon counsel for the parties on or before 2 p.m., 7 days after the brief for the party supported is filed, or if in support of neither party, within 7 days after the petitioners’ brief is filed.

Although the Indiana Attorney General argued against the granting of cert in these cases, I have to believe he is relatively confident of receiving a receptive ear from at least five of the Supreme Court Justices. Today's order includes an hour for oral argument. This should be interesting. Likely question from Scalia: So why can't this Crawford guy produce a photo ID?

Would Ken Falk of the ACLU of Indiana please explain to the people of Indiana why he and his organization didn't give a damn when Marion Co. Clerk Beth White disenfranchised thousands of voters during this year's May primary by failing to open up precincts until late in the afternoon, or in the case of some precincts, not at all? It just strikes me that the ACLU opens itself up to partisan attacks when it devotes so much of its resources to battling the alleged problem with Voter ID--a case where they can't identify one single voter to the court who had been disenfranchised because of the law--and then turns its back on the thousands of voters who couldn't cast a vote because of Beth White's utter incompetence in carrying out her statutory duty to put on elections in Marion County. Please, Ken Falk, say it ain't so. Do you only care about pursuing the Democrats' political agenda, not securing the rights of individuals?

Iran's Final Solution

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad taking the stage at Columbia University and declaring that there were no gays in Iran probably did more to advance gay rights in America than anything any single American has said on the subject in the last two decades. In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," Ahmadinejad said to howls and boos among the Columbia University audience. "In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don't know who has told you that we have it," he said.

As with Hitler's Final Solution for eradicating all Jews, so too does Ahmadinejad and his Islamic Republic of Iran have a final solution for gays. Under strict Islamic law adopted by Iran, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Advance Indiana included a summary of Islamic law enforced in Iran in a post two years ago reporting on two gay teenagers who were hung in a public square, which goes as follows:

Homosexuality is illegal, those charged with love-making are given a choice of four deathstyles: being hanged, stoned, halved by a sword, or dropped from the highest perch. According to Article 152, if two men not related by blood are discovered naked under one cover without good reason, both will be punished at a judge's discretion. Gay teens (Article 144) are also punished at a judge's discretion. Rubbing one's penis between the thighs without penetration (tafheed) shall be punished by 100 lashes for each offender. This act, known to the English-speaking world as "frottage" is punishable by death if the "offender" is a non-Moslem. If frottage is thrice repeated and penalty-lashes have failed to stop such repetitions, upon the fourth "offense" both men will be put to death. According to Article 156, a person who repents and confesses his gay behavior prior to his identification by four witnesses, may be pardoned. Even kissing "with lust" (Article 155) is forbidden. This bizarre law works to eliminate old Persian male-bonding customs, including common kissing and holding hands in public.

When asked about the capital punishment practices in Iran, Ahmadinejad defended it by saying, "Don't you have capital punishment in the United States? You do too. In Iran there is capital punishment," he said. It's just another reminder of the danger of allowing religious extremists to impose their view of morality on our civil laws.

The Battle Over Health Care Benefits

Thousands of striking Hoosier GM workers say they are striking for job security assurances from their employer. Others say their resistance to shouldering some health insurance expenses is the real crux of the strike. The reality faced by most American workers is fewer health insurance benefits from their employers. The days when you can retire from your job with full health insurance benefits until the day you die are pretty much over--at least for most.

Gary Mayor Rudolph Clay is raising a ruckus among that city's retired police and firefighters by proposing the elimination of health insurance benefits for retired employees who qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. The Gary Post Tribune writes:

A group of retired police and firefighters from Gary have started researching whether the city can legally eliminate their health care benefits.

Peter Blanco, a member of the Retired Police & Firefighters Association of Indiana Inc., said more research is needed, but legal action hasn't been ruled out yet.

"We're looking to see what rights we have," Blanco said.

Members of the group became upset after they read a guest column by Mayor Rudy Clay published in the Post-Tribune last week.

"In compliance with state law," Clay wrote, "we have eliminated insurance for retirees who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid."

Celita Green, Gary's financial controller, could not be reached for comment.

Blanco and Jay Massa, the treasurer for the local chapter of the Retired Police & Firefighters Association, said they were upset that this was the first they learned of what was happening. Gary's 2008 operating budget was adopted by the City Council last week.

Clay, meanwhile, stood by his column and attributed his information to East Chicago City Hall. "According to the mayor of East Chicago, and according to what I'm being told," Clay said, "if you retire and you are over 65 years old, the city must stop paying insurance for you." Del Stout, the president of the Gary Fraternal Order of Police, said the city is using the law to get around the fact it couldn't reach an agreement with the city's unions.

"We told them pretty clearly that we were opposed to any changes," Stout said.
However, Stout said, the FOP is also doing research to determine whether any legal action is necessary.

"We just kind of want to check," Stout said.

Indiana lawmakers created a firestorm when they established a health insurance for life benefit for retired lawmakers. That plan was eliminated, leading to the early retirement of many lawmakers seeking to take advantage of the plan before its total elimination. I understand that many school districts in Indiana provide a similar life time benefit for school administrators. Public employees are going to have to learn to deal with fewer benefits just like their counterparts in the private sector, who no longer can afford the taxes to support generous pension and health care plans for public employees.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Elected Assessors Can't Do Job, You Pay

Marion Co. taxpayers will have to fork over $1.8 million to Manatron, Inc. to assess all commercial and industrial property because our elected assessors don't know how to do it. WTHR reports on the contract the county signed with Manatron:

Marion County announced it signed a contract with Manatron, Inc., for the reassessment of all commercial and industrial properties in Marion County.

The county said in a news release that Manatron was selected after the county solicited bids from all professional appraisers certified by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF). Marion County agreed to pay Manatron $1.8 million to complete the reassessment by February 1, 2008.

Manatron partnered with the Schneider Corporation, an Indianapolis-based Women Business Enterprise with strong political ties to Peterson, to provide GIS Assessment Analysis services. According to the county's press release, Schneider will use its expertise with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to assist Manatron.

Is it not time to get rid of these elected assessors?

Bayh Gives It Up For Hillary In Bid For VP Slot

Laying aside the fact that Hillary Clinton is one of the least popular politicians in Indiana, Sen. Evan Bayh has put his proverbial finger to the wind and decided she will win the 2008 presidential nomination. Ergo, Bayh endorses Clinton in hopes she will look favorably upon him when making her choice of a running mate next year. The Star's Maureen Groppe has the scoop on Bayh's expected announcement:

Sen. Evan Bayh today will endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former rival campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president, The Washington Post and
The Associated Press reported Sunday.

Clinton's presidential campaign said late Sunday that it would receive a national endorsement at 1 p.m. today but didn't say from whom.

Bayh spokesman Jonathan Swain said he could not confirm that Bayh will be making an announcement today.

Joe Hogsett, head of Clinton's Indiana campaign and a former top aide to Bayh, said any endorsement should not be seen as a sign that Bayh is seeking the vice presidential nod. "I don't think you can equate an early endorsement with political motivations," he said.

The Post attributed the announcement to "several sources briefed on the decision."

Bayh prepared extensively for his own presidential bid before deciding in December not to run.

Bayh said the odds were too long given the candidacies of Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

But Bayh did not rule out being a vice presidential candidate.

Bayh and Clinton serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Both traveled together to Iraq in January.

The Clintons have known Bayh at least since Bayh and Bill Clinton were Democratic governors of conservative states.

Bayh and the Clintons are also both active in the Democratic Leadership
Council, a group of moderate Democrats that Bill Clinton led to steer the party away from its liberal wing.

Assuming Clinton wins the nomination, which would be music to the ears of Republicans, Bayh would bring absolutely nothing to a Clinton ticket. It could, however, severely tarnish Bayh's image among Hoosier voters. It would figure Clinton would choose Bayh only if she wanted a loyal suit who she would never have to fear overshadowing her. Frankly, I've never understood how any person with integrity would support either Bill or Hillary Clinton. There is nothing these two won't do or haven't done to get what they want politically. They could give a damn less about anything but furthering their own political careers. If Bayh wants to take on the Clinton baggage, let him have at it.

YouTube Ads A Player In Mayor's Race

While Democrats and those in the media who are supporting Mayor Peterson's re-election, such as WISH-TV's Jim Shella, have been highly dismissive of the value of independently-produced YouTube ads making their way around the community in this year's Indianapolis mayoral race, the Star's Mary Beth Schneider has a story today suggesting they may be having an impact. Schneider writes:

Instead of talking to their neighbors or posting yard signs, candidates' supporters and critics can take their messages to thousands -- even millions -- of people.

[Dan] Heiwig, a 26-year-old Indianapolis Republican, said he met Ballard and was impressed. But he knew that Ballard's matchup with Peterson was "a David-and- Goliath situation."

"They didn't know who he was," Heiwig said of voters. "Now they know who he is. Now they have a video."

Heiwig said he put up the first ad criticizing Peterson and supporting Ballard "just to see."

He let one person know about it, he said, and word spread quickly.

"The next thing I knew, everybody got it. I thought, 'This is great,' " he said.

He decided to put up two more and now plans to add a new one each week until the Nov. 6 election. To all but a seasoned political pro, the ads look just like the ones you might see on TV, complete with Ballard's slogan and references to his Web site.

As of Friday, the first two ads posted had been viewed more than 1,300 times each, and a third one about 950 times.

That's a minute amount by political-ad standards for a race in which about 150,000 votes likely will be cast.

But political experts say that YouTube's power can be explosive.

"It's a huge impact," said Democratic political consultant Robin Winston, a former state Democratic Party chairman.

In fact, he said, he encourages all of his clients to post ads on YouTube in addition to buying time for them on television.

Unlike TV ads, which are on-screen in 30-second increments for a week or two, YouTube ads are eternal; they can be viewed on the Web site whenever someone wants to click on them. Robert Schmuhl, professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame, said YouTube is changing politics.

"It gives citizens direct access to political messages that might not otherwise be seen. And the access is really a two-way street," he said.

Anyone with a video camera can now capture an embarrassing moment for a candidate, post it online and change the course of a campaign.

Not surprisingly, the Mayor's campaign manager, Mike O'Connor is skeptical about the ad's impact. "O'Connor said he's seen little evidence that it can have the same impact on local politics," Schneider writes. Curiously, the Star provides no link in its online Star to any of the YouTube ads referenced in the article. Schneider's article focus on Heiwig's ads. I think the ads being anonymously produced by The Hammer are more effective and are receiving more hits than Heiwig's. You can view them by clicking here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Justice Department Sues St. John Over Anti-Shack Up Ordinance

In the Town of St. John, Indiana city zoning regulations prohibit unrelated adults from living together in a single family home. The U.S. Justice Department is now suing the town because it would not grant a variance to allow another adult to reside with a person suffering from multiple sclerosis. The Justice Department suit is being brought under the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on a person's disability among other things.

I was surprised to learn that there are municipalities in this state which still enforce these so-called "anti-shack up" ordinances. It is so commonplace for unrelated adults to live together. Some are opposite-sex partners who don't want to get married. Some are same-sex couples who can't get married. And still others are just friends sharing a home together. In child custody disputes, judges sometimes impose a requirement that a parent exercising parenting time with their child not be shacking up with another adult to whom they aren't married. I recall reading a few years ago about one of suburban cities (I'm thinking it was Westfield) considering such an ordinance. Critics of that proposal claimed the city was using it to discourage undocumented Mexican-Americans from moving into the town.

If you know of other communities with similar ordinances, please share with us. I'm surprised these ordinances haven't caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. Someone should challenge the constitutionality of these ordinances. I think one can make an argument the government does not have a compelling governmental interest in prohibiting co-habitating living arrangements--at least under the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. Indiana equal protection jurisprudence instructs us that legislative body can pass almost any law it chooses and the state courts will still find a legitimate basis for the statute's enactment under its deferential rational basis test it applies in such cases.

Hat tip to Indiana Law Blog for pointing this case out.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

St. Joseph County Feuds With Daniels' Administration Over Property Taxes

St. Joseph County officials think Gov. Mitch Daniels' DLGF has been playing politics when it comes to the handling the county's property tax rates by the he DLGF, which only this week approved the budget submitted by St. Joseph County. That means property tax bills will be going out for the first time in St. Joseph County just weeks before the November municipal elections. Mayor Stephen Luecke (D-South Bend), in particular, is battling for re-election against a conservative GOP candidate, Juan Manigault, whose campaign is one of two major city mayoral races being targeted by the religious right. Republican Matt Kelty's campaign in Fort Wayne also has heavy backing from the religious right. The South Bend Tribune's Nancy Sulok writes:

Now that the numbers have come in, the gloves have come off in the dispute between county and state officials over the late release of budget numbers needed to set property tax rates for St. Joseph County.

The state's Department of Local Government Finance announced late Thursday that it has approved the St. Joseph County budget for 2007. The approval, several months late, was needed before the rates could be set for 2006 taxes, payable in 2007.

Each side is blaming the other for the delay.

DLGF Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave issued a release Thursday pointing the finger at county officials.

"DLGF has worked diligently with county officials to issue the budget for the county, and now we expect county officials to do the same in getting bills to taxpayers as soon as possible," Musgrave said. "Issuing the tax bills quickly will ensure local units of government can get necessary funds for services and will ease the burden on taxpayers, who deserve to have time to plan."

Three county officials -- Auditor Michael Eby, Treasurer Sean Coleman and Assessor David Wesolowski -- fired back Friday with a joint release of their own.

They accused the DLGF of "holding St. Joseph County tax rates hostage since July, resulting in hundreds of millions of tax dollars going uncollected, increasing taxpayer anxiety and frustration, and costing cash-starved local governmental units tens of thousands of dollars in borrowing costs.''

"I think those are very harsh words that are politically motivated," Musgrave said Friday afternoon in a telephone call.

The local officials point to some evidence of disparate treatment in how the DLGF treated counties in northern Indiana, particularly Elkhart County. The consequences of tax bills arriving this late could be significant for candidates like Mayor Luecke. Mayor Peterson, a close ally of Daniels, even though he is a Democrat, received a major boost to his re-election bid when Daniels ordered a reassessment of Marion County and instructed taxpayers to pay taxes based on last year's assessments instead of the huge increases they were faced with paying. The chickens will come home to roost big time for Marion County taxpayers next year when they are forced to pay this year's tax increases, along with next year's tax bills.

Airport Not Sure About Sinks For Muslims

Indianapolis Airport officials are singing a different tune after a front-page story in the Indianapolis Star last Sunday and the ensuing protest from Christian religious leaders about a plan to install foot baths in an airport restroom to accommodate Muslim taxi drivers with their daily cleansing ritual. The Star's Robert King reports those plans are no longer set in stone according to an airport spokesman. King writes:

Airport officials, facing complaints from the public and criticism from a local Baptist minister, say plans to accommodate the prayer needs of Muslim taxi drivers in a new terminal's design are a long way from being "set in stone."

Special floor-level sinks that would make it easier for Muslims to wash their feet before prayer are part of the current plans for restrooms that would serve taxi drivers in a new airport terminal due for completion next year.

But airport officials, who last week said the sinks were needed to solve a potential safety hazard from wet floors and to make the restrooms more sanitary, said Friday that plans for the foot sinks were "only preliminary."

"We're really a long way from having this set in stone," said Airport Authority spokesman David Dawson . . .

Complaints about the foot sinks, Dawson said, have been steady for about a week, since reports about them in The Indianapolis Star and other local media. One person objecting is the Rev. Jerry Hillenburg, a Baptist pastor who lost a son in Iraq two years ago.

Hillenburg believes placement of the foot baths in public restrooms is unconstitutional because they are being put their for a specific religion's ritual. Hillenburg accelerates tensions in the debate by questioning whether Muslims are loyal Americans."We also oppose the fraternization with our open enemies during a time of war." "I don't hate Muslims. I don't hate people who follow Islam," he said. "But I am at odds with anyone who threatens America and its citizenry, and I am at odds with anyone, period, who wants to destroy Christianity."

That brought a rebuke from Shariq A. Siddiqui, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. "The problem I have with him is that he associates Muslims with the enemy," Siddiqui said. "For him to demonize all of us is the problem." Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell told King that Mayor Peterson does not agree with Hillenburg's broad generalization of American Muslims.

While I don't condone Hillenburg's comments about Muslims in general, I think the Muslim faith invites this form of criticism when their leaders fail to criticize extremist members of their own faith who are advocating terrorism against Americans and Christians. As a Christian, I have personally been called "anti-Christian" by those who disagree with my criticism of the religious right for using the political and legal processes in our country to impose their narrow view of Christian law on all Americans. Until Muslim Americans speak out against the terrorism and havoc extremists within their own faith are wreaking on our world today, many Americans are going to question their loyalty.

On the origins of the foot bath controversy at the airport, I suspect former CCC member Patrice Abduallah lobbied airport officials for the foot baths. You may recall he was critical of Marriott Hotels treatment of Muslim employees and questioned a public subsidy for the new convention center hotel unless the hotel's owners assured him it would not discriminate against Muslim employees wearing religious garb to work. Although he was only one vote on the council, he carried heavy sway with Mayor Peterson because Democrats have only a one-seat margin on the council. His vote, for example, was the deciding vote on the Mayor's $90 million, 65% increase in the county option income tax.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Greeson Suspends Two Battalion Chiefs

The fallout from Ruth Morrison's sex discrimination lawsuit against the Indianapolis Fire Department, which the city recently settled for $350,000, continues. Chief Jim Greeson, according to a Star report, has suspended two of his top deputies. The Star reports:

Indianapolis Fire Department Chief James Greeson today suspended two of his top deputies who were named in a discrimination lawsuit that the city recently paid $350,000 to settle.

Greeson suspended Battalion Chief Richard Longerich for 80 hours and Battalion Chief John Walker for 32 hours in connection with their failures to obey direct orders and department rules, said Kobi Wright, a lawyer for the city.

Capt. Ruth Morrison claimed Longerich, Walker and others in the fire department allegedly taunted her, unfairly disciplined her and prevented her from being promoted on the basis of her gender. The city settled on Sept. 5 and agreed to pay Morrison $350,000.

Longerich, Wright said, was punished because he violated Greeson's order by failing to attend a gender sensitivity training course. In July 2005, records show, Greeson ordered Longerich to complete the training after Morrison filed a discrimination complaint with the federal government.

Walker, Wright said, was punished because he attended a party at the firefighters' union in July 2005 in which 100 to 200 firefighters raised funds to offset the money Walker and Battalion Chief Richard Van Sant lost when Greeson suspended them for threatening and intimidating Morrison. Van Sant is now retired.

Greeson, according to records, had ordered the chiefs not to attend the party.

No word on what the administration plans to do about allegations of a citizen witness that Greeson referred to tax protestor Melyssa Donaghy as a "bull dyke" at a CCC meeting at which Mayor Peterson was about to deliver his budget address.

Democrats Nudging Carson With Myers

Frugal Hoosiers is floating the rumor that former Indiana state health commissioner Dr. Woodrow A. Myers is considering a 2008 Democratic primary challenge to the ailing incumbent, U.S. Rep. Julia Carson. The blog writes:

After the 2006 election many speculated that Congresswoman Julia Carson would announce her retirement prompting a free for all in the 7th district, which is chock full of people who think they're headed for Congress. Instead of retiring, the Congresswoman announced she plans to run for another term. Rumor has it at least one person is tired of waiting for her to step aside.

Dr. Woodrow Myers is apparently gearing up for an announcement to run against Julia Carson in the democratic primary. Myers was state health commissioner under Governor Frank O'Bannon and is currently the Chief Medical Officer for Wellpoint. He received his medical degree from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford so his IQ is presumably in the triple digits, a significant step up for the 7th district. No word on whether or not he looks to the stars to guide his medical decision making.

Myers has had a very successful career in the private sector and has recently moved back to Indianapolis according to one Democratic source. It appears a potential Myers candidacy is quietly being pushed by some high level Democrats to give Carson a nudge to retire rather than seek another term in office. It is also meant to send a message to any potential candidates that the party intends to ensure that Indiana's 7th District will continue to be represented by an African-American in the event Carson retires.

Dr. Myers once caused an uproar in New York when he was appointed that city's health commissioner by former New York Mayor David Dinkins in 1990. His appointment drew criticism from Dinkins' gay supporters. The New York Times reported at the time, "The controversy centered on Dr. Myers's support, as the Indiana Health Commissioner, for the confidential recording of the names of people infected with the AIDS virus, to trace their sex partners, and his backing of a quarantine for AIDS carriers who knowingly spread the virus." Dinkin was later defeated by Republican Rudy Guiliani, who enjoyed strong support within New York's gay community throughout his tenure as mayor there.

Another Reason To Get Rid Of Townships

Long-time Calumet Township Trustee and major Democratic figure in Lake County politics has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly scheming to steal workforce development grants. The AP reports:

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a longtime Lake County political figure on two counts of mail fraud in what authorities said was a scheme to steal money from workforce development grants.

The indictment charges Dozier Allen Jr., who was the Calumet Township trustee for more than three decades, and three former deputy trustees with illegally paying themselves $143,000 out of more than $170,000 in grants intended to help train employees in the township during 2000-02.

"The alleged use of welfare-to-work grant funds for personal gain represents an egregious betrayal of the U.S. taxpayer, and of those hopeful individuals for whose benefit the money had been intended," said Gordon S. Heddell, inspector general for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Allen, 75, has denied wrongdoing.

He was the chief financial officer for the township, which includes the city of Gary, and he was defeated by current trustee Mary Elgin in the 2002 election.

Last year, when then-Gary Mayor Scott King resigned, Allen was appointed interim mayor. Allen lost in a Democratic Party caucus two weeks later to Rudy Clay, who is now the mayor. A telephone message seeking comment from Allen was left by The Associated Press at his Gary office.

Last year, Allen said he and the three deputy trustees were paid periodically by checks, most for $1,000, out of the grants. The checks were in addition to their salaries.

"It was done with the permission of the governing body," Allen said at the time. "It was not an exceptional procedure."

However, the indictment alleges almost $171,000 in grants from Ivy Tech State College were deposited into a checking account by one the deputy trustees in the name of Calumet Township in November 2000 and that the only checks ever written on the account were to Allen and the three deputy trustees.

Allen is charged with receiving eight checks totaling $28,000, with the three deputy trustees receiving between $26,000 and $51,000.

Interestingly, Allen doesn't dispute receiving the money in question. He says it was simply additional salary approved by the township's governing body. I've heard some make the argument that Lawrence Township Trustee Mike Hobbs could avoid a conviction for the $500 petty theft charge Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has brought against him by simply saying it was emergency relief money he was authorized by law to give out to township residents in need. In this case, it just happened to be the township trustee who needed the assistance with the payment of his rent. At least Hobbs supports the consolidation and elimination of township government.

Tully: Council Control Up For Grabs

Star political columnist Matt Tully provides an analysis of Indianapolis' CCC races this year and concludes the current 15-14 Democratic control is up for grabs. Immediately following the May primary, most folks thought the best the GOP could hope to do was limit the number of their losses. A three to four seat pick up for the Democrats seemed not only possible but likely. The cumulative effect of skyrocketing property taxes and crime, almost daily revelations of a corrupt and out of touch council leadership and dissatisfaction with Mayor Peterson's handling of the city are now working against the Democrats.

The CCC's at-large election of four members add a special twist. Under Uni-Gov, the four at-large seats have been won by the party who won the mayor's race in every election. Tully speculates that only one of the GOP at large candidates, Kent Smith, has a realistic chance of winning this year. He bases that on Ron Gibson's legal woes and his pending trial right before the election on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and shoving a police officer. Typically, there is not a large spread between the number of votes the at-large candidates of the same party receive in any given election, and often that spread can be attributed to their placement on the ballot as much as anything. Most voters have no idea who these at-large candidates are. Gibson's criminal charges have been in the news a lot and will be a lot more in coming weeks at the worst possible time for Democrats so it is quite possible he will face a big drop off in votes. Whether Kent Smith is the beneficiary of that drop off is debatable. It could just as easily be the at-large candidate whose name appears first on the list, which is Ed Coleman if I'm not mistaken.

Tully lists Sherron Franklin (D) and Scott Keller (R) as the most vulnerable incumbents, and I agree. Franklin's people skills are atrocious and her ramblings at CCC meetings don't help her any. Keller looked very strong going into this year's election, but he has shot himself in the foot repeatedly this year. He alienated the political players and some of his financial backers who played an important role in getting him elected four years ago. He refused to back the GOP candidate for mayor under a highly mistaken belief Mayor Peterson would support his re-election and that endorsement would help his re-election. Even worse, he completely ignored the cries of homeowners in his district who were hit particularly hard by this year's reassessments and supported the Mayor's 65% increase in the county option income tax. Not even neighboring Councilor Dane Mahern (D), a city employee, made the mistake of casting that bad vote. Taken together, Keller's own actions have gone a long way towards aiding the election of his lesser-qualified Democratic opponent, Brian Mahern, whose name won't hurt him in this district.

I would add to Tully's list the council district of Angela Mansfield. She has been a very able councilor in her northside district, but she faces a very formidable opponent in Bruce Schumaker (R) and Mayor Peterson is not particularly popular in her district. Her votes for the county option income tax increase and the mayor's budget won't help her. She isn't taking anything for granted, though, and is working her district hard. The seats of former councilor Jim Bradford and retiring Scott Schneider also provide prospects for the Democrats, although I think this year's property tax debacle has probably solidified Bradford's seat for Republican Ryan Vaughn.

This is one of those years where even good candidates will lose. The anti-incumbent sentiment in Marion Co. is as strong this year as it was in 1994 when Republicans swept the county, pulling a number of upsets. Some of that sentiment is not as decisively anti-Democratic as it was in 1994 though. To the extent people cast their votes towards the aim of "throwing the bums out", it's going to work against the Democrats because their man has been in charge for the past 8 years. I agree with Tully that Monroe Gray's ethics problems will serve as a drag on the ticket. I would not, however, rule out the possibility that Gray himself might not be upset in that district, Yes, it is a very Democratic district, but even many Democrats can only tolerate so much blatant corruption from one man. In WISH-TV's poll this week, only 35% of the voters in Marion Co. approved of Monroe Gray's handling of the CCC, and only 36% approved of the job the City-County Council is doing. Those numbers couldn't be much worse for Democrats.

Tully is right in that city elections often attract very low voter turnouts. I think that will change this year. People's pocketbooks have been hit very hard. They're extremely frustrated with the out-of-control crime problem. Cronyism and political graft have taken a front seat over good government. And they're sick and tired of the lack of accountability for all that's wrong from those in positions of power to do something about these problems. I think we'll see some big changes in November with some big surprises.