Tuesday, June 23, 2015

IMPD, We Need To Have a Talk

Last month, the latest officer from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department was arrested with an allegation of drunk driving. At least seven other IMPD officers have been arrested for similar charges since 2013. Other recent headlines show that an IMPD officer is on administrative leave due to accusations of spousal abuse. And there's the strange case of an IMPD officer found dead in a home, the same home that another man died in after an ingestion of chloroform.

IMPD, we need to have a talk.

When I was writing this blog on a more regular basis, I had several people within IMPD, officers and others, who would come to me as sources. When I ran for council in 2011, I was the only non-major party candidate endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 86. I've also had Rick Snyder from the FOP on the former podcast Civil Discourse Now. I'm not listing these things to brag, but to show that this is coming from someone who respects law enforcement and is sympathetic to how difficult the job can be, especially with the current occupants of the 25th floor.

But I'm finding it more and more difficult to defend IMPD in cases like these.

In her weekly column in the Indianapolis Recorder, Shannon Williams recounted an experience she had  when she reported an officer's behavior to the Citizen Police Complaint Board. Williams, the President of the Recorder Media Group, had called dispatch to file a report because her dog was struck in a hit and run. She was able to file a report, and she had no problems filing the complaint with the board, but the official report on the officer uncovered the officer's side of the incident.

Williams claims that:

"...aspects of the report were not only inaccurate, but some “findings” were actual lies. My words were misconstrued completely and a false stage was set in an attempt to dispute my complaint or substantiate the inappropriate behavior of the officer."

Among the specific claims that Williams found most ludicrous was that she was a victim of domestic violence, the officer claiming she never wanted a report filed, and that she lacked credibility. She also referred to the driver who hit her dog as "a gentleman", which the officer found inconsistent.

Williams' overall point was that even though this was a minor transgression, she was shocked at the length IMPD went to discredit her for an officer that she alleged to be rude and incompetent. If this is what they do when an officer is rude to a citizen, to what extent are they going to protect someone who does something beyond rude?

The last several years, rank and file officers and top brass have tried to promote a message that this is a new IMPD. Unfortunately, I can't say much has changed. A lot needs to be addressed from the top on down. I don't think the 25th floor or the top brass is going to step up to the challenge, so I hope the rank and file will help themselves out. It is going to be difficult, but it has to be done.

And it wouldn't hurt if the mayoral candidates weighed in on this as well.

Monday, May 4, 2015

I Support Councilor Mansfield and Councilor Scales

EDITOR'S NOTE: I have contributed financially to both of these candidates and will be working as a volunteer for a few hours Tuesday morning for Angela Mansfield.

I do not live in any of the districts that have contested primaries for this year's municipal election. But if I did, I would be supporting Councilor Angela Mansfield in District 01 and Councilor Christine Scales in District 3.

While both come from different political parties, both have a history on the council of independent voting, sometimes voting against their own party.

I came to know these two women in completely different ways.

When I first started following the council, Councilor Mansfield was one of the minority members on a committee dealing with some budget item from the Capitol Improvement Board. She was the only no vote on that committee. I thought that took courage, when even members of her own party would support it but she couldn't.

Legislative representatives have almost perfected a craft in talking about how hard votes are and how they really want to vote one way but just have to vote the other and on and on. Councilor Mansfield isn't like that. She's just going to come to a conclusion and stick to it. She'll listen to you if you disagree,  but I haven't seen her fold under public pressure.

She has also been one of the most articulate critics of Mayor Greg Ballard's administration within the second term. Some Democrats, on the council and off, think it is enough to say that Mayor Ballard is a Republican and thus his policies are bad. But Mansfield doesn't settle for that. She will tell you precisely what policies they are and why they're bad. She'll even have suggestions on how to fix it.

I do not want this to be construed as being against Councilor Leroy Robinson, who is running against Mansfield in the Democratic primary. Councilor Robinson and I have not always seen eye to eye. But I think he has grown into the council and it suits him well. But his perplexing strategy of avoiding candidate forums and declining to appear on Amos Brown's radio program (probably the easiest booking opportunity ever for any candidate on a ballot within Marion County), as well as the massive amount of money he is raising for this race, are causes for concern. 

The district is also roughly what my grandfather, Gordon Gilmer, represented during his time on the council. 

District 3 is also on the northside of Indianapolis (northeast rather than northwest), and it should come as no surprise that I fully support and endorse Councilor Christine Scales.

I don't know if I can recall exactly the first time I interacted with Councilor Scales directly. But several years ago, I received an invitation from someone inviting me to a meeting. I get a lot of legit looking spam via e-mail due to this blog, but I thought this sounded legit. The proposed sale of the water utility company had been proposed, and Councilor Scales was organizing a blogger round table. We were given the opportunity to directly question representatives of Citizens Energy Group on the proposed sale of the water utility. It was a very productive and informative conversation. 

Since then, Councilor Scales and I kept in touch. About a year or so ago, she was voted out of the caucus of the Council Republicans. I remember writing her shortly after about the possible switch of her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. There were some Democrats (both on the council and off) who were absolutely targeting her as a party switch, while others were working behind the scenes. I wrote to her saying that if she didn't believe in her heart of hearts that she was a Democrat, then she should sit outside during caucus meetings with pride. She is one of the hardest working council members out there and will always hear you out, even if you don't live in her district.

If you live in one of these council districts, I hope you consider supporting one of these courageous councilors. In an election where we're very likely to get more of the same from the powers-that-be, it'd be nice to send two councilors back to the City-County building who aren't bought and paid for.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Little Update on Progress

Warning: May contain strong language.

I have something to admit.

I had an evolution, personally, in regards to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender culture and LGBT people.

Not so much that I ever really questioned the need for equality in areas such as marriage or civil rights, but in terms of how I used language related to LGBT people.

As a teenager in high school, and probably well into my late teens and early 20s, I casually used the word "gay" as an adjective. I remember using the word "homosexual" rather than "gay" to describe a gay man or gay people. Which in itself isn't specifically slander, it is a much more clinical term and in the context of how it is used today, it is often followed by words like "the homosexual agenda" or "the homosexual takeover of America".

It also isn't too hard to find old social media accounts (before Twitter or Facebook were a thing) where I even casually used the word "fag" or called my friends "faggot".

I don't know if I ever used those words in front of someone who was gay or lesbian. But statistically speaking, if they are anywhere between 2-5% of the population within the United States, my high school probably had a few. And as someone who has been hurt by words, I should realize how hurtful hearing those words can be. Even if they weren't directed at them.

This is something I really regret. I'm not proud of it. But it is something I've done in the past. I've recognized it. And I'd like to think I take a more careful consideration of my words. Not just when talking about LGBT, but for all groups of people. I know words can hurt.

Having been listening to a lot of conservative radio going ga-ga over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration (Enrolled) Act, I've started to notice something. That even among conservative pundits on radio and television, the language has completely changed from what it was from 10 or even 5 years ago.

Some are saying "gay" or "lesbian". Very few are using "homosexual". But most seem to just be saying "LGBT" or "GLBT" or they say the full four words. Most aren't even adding a joke about "alphabet soup" after saying it. I'm sure someone has used "faggot" on the radio, but not any show I've heard.

I think that when you win a fight like that, it might be something you haven't even noticed. But I think winning that kind of fight is huge. When people who, weren't that long ago, were decrying the "homosexual agenda" are now just saying "gay" or "Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender". I think that is huge.

Maybe my selective radio listening is why I'm noticing this. Maybe in the radio host's life, someone has come out of the closet to them. Maybe the parent company that owns the station had a corporate suit give them a mandate. I don't know the cause.

But I think a win like that. I think that's big. I think that shows the culture is changing. And that even if some political battles might result in a stalemate or even a loss, the overall war and culture are being won over.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

RFRA Fallout Stronger Than Expected

The passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has continued ever since Governor Mike Pence signed it into law. Proponents continue to push that is is modeled after the federal and previous states RFRAs but that goes up against reality, where an analyses shows there are three areas where Indiana's RFRA is significantly different.

The review from the business and political community has been mixed. A State Senator referred to Eric Miller, Republican activist and founder of the socially conservative group Advance America, as some misinformed activist with an opinion "from the right". But that misinformed activist somehow got a spot standing behind Governor Pence as the law was being signed. Miller took to his group's website to brag that the law will in part prohibit "a man [from using] the women's restroom".

Despite the overwhelming majorities that this law passed by, only a handful of state legislatures have taken to social media to defend this law. And none of the well paid lobbyists and activists are really doing themselves any favors.

In an column from The Indianapolis Star's Tim Swarens, Swarens says that based on his conversation with Pence, Pence's team didn't see any of the backlash coming. Some companies, such as GenCon, have walked back their economic threats in recent days. Others, such as Angie's List, have stepped up their game and called off a headquarters expansion that was receiving assistance from the State of Indiana. Pence also conversed with the Salesforce CEO who recently suspended all employee travel to Indiana but admitted that it did not change the policy.

Just like the JustIN boondoggle, Pence seems to have surrounded himself by a bunch of Yes-Men that have created a sort of tunnel vision where Planet Pence can do no wrong and that it is really only a problem with messaging.

How can a former radio host, who was well liked by Beltway media for how well they were treated by him and his staff, have so many scandals and fumbles that almost all seem completely self inflicted?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Religion and Freedom: What's the Fuss?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been in the news lately. The legislation, which proponents say is modeled on the federal RFRA and the 20+ states that have passed similar laws, has sailed through the Indiana General Assembly and will soon be on Governor Mike Pence's desk for him to sign, veto, or do nothing (where it automatically becomes law).

Proponents say that RFRA in Indiana is necessary so that religious organizations and organizations and businesses owned and operated by people of faith won't be forced to do something against their truly held tenants. Pundits have criticized the opponents of RFRA saying that the stories of hardship are exaggerated.

Just like the marriage amendment that was debated last year, there is a whole host of businesses and organizations that have come out against RFRA. The latest is Gen Con, who produced an open letter to Governor Pence saying that signing this into law may cause them to reconsider holding the annual convention in Indianapolis. Several faith based organizations have protested against it as well.

I think the debate surrounding RFRA (which I'm against because I think it does nothing in terms of legislation or restoring rights) is missing one thing from the proponents.

To their credit, proponents of RFRA have been very careful to not use examples of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They've been using religious universities that can still obtain state and federal grants and other situations.

The question that I haven't heard proponents answer is that RFRA has been a known quantity on the federal and state level for around two decades. Why is this law necessary now when it hasn't been in the previously several years? Why now in the first legislative session after same-sex marriage is legal in Indiana?

To me, that is a concern that this specific proposal has something more sinister inside.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hoosier Lottery Promotes Financial Literacy, I Spit Out My Coffee

The Hoosier Lottery announced today that they're kicking off a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College with a free online financial literacy course. In a media availability event that happened exclusively in my head, Hoosier Lottery Executive Director Sarah Taylor actually passed out the press release touting this partnership. That probably explains why nearly every single article looks nearly identical despite each one being authored by the individual media outlet or a specific reporter.

In an exclusive sit down interview that never actually happened, I asked Taylor to explain how this partnership with Ivy Tech came about and why financial literacy was chosen. After she droned on for several minutes, I asked her if this was her idea of a joke. "Actually, I prefer the knock knock jokes" Taylor said. When asked what part of the financial literacy course covers how to responsibly gamble the meager Social Security check Grandma lives off of away at a local gas station, Taylor reminded me that there's a 1-800 number on every Hoosier Lottery ticket for people who have an addiction to gaming. "Gambling only takes place on riverboat casinos", Taylor said, correcting me.

I also couldn't let this chance pass without asking why the Hoosier Lottery has targeted an aggressive expansion of Lottery retailers and self-serve kiosks almost exclusively in poor and minority communities. And why the media campaign behind the Hoosier Lottery is almost always in the parts of town that could use a lift up. I asked her why the State Fairgrounds electronic billboard screams Lottery promotion day in and day out near a part of town where many African Americans live and what passes for a grocery store around there are usually pimping Hoosier Lottery tickets day in and day out, while the few retail outlets in Hamilton County that sell the Lottery have a lot less flare beside it.

At that time, I was kindly escorted out of the completely made up media availability event.

The Onion might as well just pack on up and move to Indianapolis. Half of our actual news events look like an Onion article already.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Louisville and Indianapolis: Closer Than We Think

I recently went to Louisville to see Ben Folds perform with their symphonic orchestra. Folds has twice paid a similar visit to Indiana, once to play with Fort Wayne's philharmonic and another to Indianapolis to perform with our own symphony.

While there, I only drove by car to grab breakfast on Sunday morning and that's only because I was leaving the hotel. While my view of Louisville was limited, I felt that I found a lot of similarities to my home city of Indianapolis. In some ways they were good, and others not so much.

Similar to Indianapolis, Louisville has a consolidated city-county government that took place in 2003, with the Sheriff and Clerk still retaining their separate roles due to the Kentucky state constitution. Louisville is also the only first class city in the state of Kentucky, allowing the state legislature to craft specific legislation that will only impact Louisville. While our Indianapolis-Marion County Council has 29 (soon to be 25), they have 26 councilors as well as a Mayor. Unlike our system, their council is election so that half of the members are up for election every two years.

Politically, Kentucky has a viable Democratic party at the state level even though the state hasn't gone "blue" for a Presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1996. It has a Democratic Governor who won election in 2011 with 55% of the vote while the last two US Senate elections have been won by Republicans with 55% and 58% of the vote. In Louisville, a Republican hasn't been elected Mayor since the 1960s and Republicans only hold nine seats on the council.

While walking around the city, I noticed several parking meters were bagged under the authority of the "Parking Authority of River City". The authority is a board appointed by the Mayor that oversees the parking regulation division of the city government. The board manages the meters, municipal garages, and neighborhood parking permit programs, among other things. Talking to some of the locals, most of them couldn't tell me when electric meters (which also still take coins, from what I could tell) were installed, but had been there for several years. One resident did note some areas are still using the old coin only meters.

While Indianapolis privatized the entire arm of parking services and management, the city of Louisville owns the meters and other assets but contracts out the day-to-day operations to a private company.

There's a story from the Courier Journal about how Saturday parking meter fees have been allowed for a long time, but only local police could write tickets on Saturday rather than Parking Authority workers. That has recently changed. However, the meters all read 7am-6pm Monday through Saturday. It does not seem like any section of the city gets special meter times, like some of the cultural districts do in Indianapolis.

I also found it interesting how similar their "NuLu" district is with our Fountain Square or Mass Ave district. NuLu is just outside of the heart of downtown Louisville and the area is dotted with areas to grab a meal, a drink, candy, and other kinds of retail, as well as residential and lodging. A street corner that previously housed a maintenance shop is now what appears to be a very hip, very cool looking bar. Many of the buildings seem to have remodeled interiors while trying to preserve the exteriors.

I also came across what appeared to be an abandoned building. Instead of leaving it to rot in the middle of their downtown, they gutted the interior and turned it into what appears to be a playground or gathering place. It wasn't open to the public at the time, but that seems to be a great idea.

They also have a recently remodeled convention center. I didn't go inside, but they did appear to have a cafe that serves beer, pastries, and coffee that seemed to be generally open to the public. But unfortunately, if it was open on Sundays, it wasn't at the time I drove by.

One thing I didn't notice a lot of is green space. Downtown Indianapolis is very fortunate to have several blocks of green space between Central Library and the federal court house between Meridian and Pennsylvania.

I don't want to seem like I'm trying to make a sell on Louisville, because I'm not. There were two things that I felt were negatives for the city.

One was the lack of affordable restaurants outside of business hours. It seems that many of the decently priced restaurants, where you can grab some soup, a sandwich, or your basic fare without ordering a several course meal, closed up shop on Friday at 5 when the workers left for the weekend. Even among the fine dining I saw, many of them didn't open until 4-6 in the evening. The district surrounding the sports stadium had several bars and restaurants open until the wee hours of the morning, but that was about it.

The other thing I noticed is a lot of "For Sale" or "Leasing opportunities available" in commercial buildings. Even in a very commercial corridor with several hotels, a sports stadium, and a Performing Arts Center (along with other landmarks I surely missed or overlooked), there sure seemed to be a lot of empty and underutilized office space. I don't know if that is part of a building boom whose bubble popped, or if Louisville is still struggling with the lagging economy. But it wasn't a very encouraging sign. Surely if a very well-off part of Louisville had signs of hardship, I can only imagine that areas that aren't as tourist and business friendly might be hit even harder.