Sunday, May 30, 2010
Tomas Scheckter, one of the participants in the Indy 500 on Sunday, was ticketed on Saturday for going 100mph on I-65. Law enforcement officers told him that normally, an arrest would be proper, but they went easy on him with a ticket.
This is a prime example of how the city goes out of it's way to elevate visitors while giving those of us who live here a different standard. Anybody who reads this blog is probably not in a privliged enough position to get lenience from police or any government official.
I'd like to be clear that this is not something I hold against Scheckter, who seemed to take this encounter with the law seriously. And it isn't his fault that the police let him off easy. But it isn't the first time something like this happened.
About a month ago, I was walking around downtown and I decided to go to the Panera Bread at Circle Center. There was also a marathon that was going through the intersection a few people, including myself, were trying to cross. The cops were directing traffic so nothing would interfere with the marathon, and we didn't try to disrupt it either. So when a gap in runners was noticed, we decided to cross during that gap. We had already waited for at least 10 minutes, and we weren't preventing anyone from crossing, and all traffic seemed to have stopped. And about halfway out, an officer started shouting at us to get back onto the corner. I kept walking and ignored the officer, but one other told the officer he'd been waiting long enough,and also kept walking.
I chatted with this man inside Panera and learned that he, with his son, was visiting Indianapolis for the first time, and didn't feel like he was treated well. He mentioned to me that the officer should've been directing traffic and pedestrians, as well as the marathoners, rather than expecting everyone to stop for them.
I'm also constantly hearing stories of locals trying to find parking on the weekends and evenings to go to a downtown business or visit a friend and being greeted by a "NO PARKING" sign due to an "Emergency Order." I'd sure like to know what the "Emergency Order" was keeping all those signs up on the meters throughout Sunday, well after the parade ended on Saturday. Or maybe the Department of Code Enforcement should hire people who are willing to work nights and weekends instead of the ones currently doing the job. I hear a lot of people are looking for work.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Kennedy is listed as "Counsel" for the law firm Baker and Daniels. Baker and Daniels has charged an unspecified amount of hours at the rate of $540 an hour to represent the city in the utility sale. Because her employer is involved, Kennedy can not say ANYTHING good or bad about the utility deal.
Here is his message in full:
Nearly two months ago my campaign submitted a public records request for all contracts, invoices and documents related to the proposed sale of the Indianapolis water and sewer utility. While the City still has not honored the entirety of the request, recently released documents offer a more complete picture of Mayor Ballard's proposal. The released documents included a study by Citigroup which showed the projected revenue and expenditures for the water utility under Citizens' ownership. According to the study, proposed savings under Citizens' ownership are completely dependent on the following assumptions:
- An immediate and sustained 15% decrease in operating costs
- An immediate and sustained 5% decrease in capital costs
- A household growth rate from 2010 to 2020 double that of 2000 to 2010
- Residential water use as a proportion of total use 20% higher than the City's estimates
Citizens CEO Carey Lykins has suggested that any loss in workforce would come through attrition, but an immediate 15% drop in operating costs cannot be achieved in such a manner. Lykins has suggested by combining the gas and water utilities capital costs can be lowered by increased bargaining power. However, because gas utilities require far fewer capital expenditures it is unclear how this modest increase in capital projects will create the substantial discount assumed. No rationale is given for the assumption that Indianapolis will suddenly increase its rate of household growth. Nor is any rationale given for the assumption that residential water usage as a percentage of total usage will rise. This is an important figure as residential water rates are substantially higher than commercial and industrial rates. If residential usage rises relative to commercial and industrial, the income per unit for the water provided increases thus lowering the need for increased rates.
The released documents also explain how the proposed transaction is to be funded. According to Mayor Ballard, the City will receive approximately $425 million from this transaction. This amount includes a payment from Citizens to the City in the amount of $263 million, $140 million from PILOT bonds and the remainder from the liquidation of the water and sewer system's capital fund. According to the documents recently released by the City, Citizens' payment to the city is being funded with thirty-year bonds. The PILOT bonds also have a thirty year lifespan. While ratepayers in 2040 will still be paying for infrastructure improvements in 2011, they will not be able to enjoy them. The lifespan for the majority of the improvements funded by these bonds is only 8-10 years. In short, the recently released documents show a long-term increase in water rates being used to pay for infrastructure improvements with a medium-term life span.
Our infrastructure needs are real and manifold. Mayor Ballard is wise to address these needs; however, he needs to do so in a sustainable manner. Divesting ourselves of the water and sewer systems forever eliminates a funding source for infrastructure improvement. Instead of proceeding on this unsustainable path, Mayor Ballard should be honest with Indianapolis citizens about the need for infrastructure spending and act accordingly. Real leadership requires honesty and acting in the best interest of Indianapolis citizens. Mayor Ballard's proposal meets neither of those criteria.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
I'm going to be re-doing this blog over the next few weeks. Take down some links, add some new ones, and so on. If you know of a blog I should be checking out, especially on issues involving central Indiana, let me know via e-mail at mamstone AT firehawktechnologies DOT com.
That's really all. Stay tuned though. Later in the evening, I'll run through the major city events for the week, and what you should attend.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Those representing Citizens Energy Group were, as follows:
- John Whitaker- Chief Compliance Officer
- Aaron Johnson- Associate Counsel
- Dan Considine- Public Information Officer
Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana
Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy?
Paul Ogden of Ogden on Politics
Chris Spangle, Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Indiana
Timothy Maguire, Chairman of the Marion County Libertarian Party
Chris Worden of Indy's Painfully Objective Political Analysis
Welsh provides an excellent history of the water and sewage utilities in Indianapolis, and explains why Citizens Energy Group didn't wind up owning it eight years ago. Pat Andrews explains what exactly is a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), and Ogden makes the simple point that we are selling the utilities to ourselves.
My problems with the deal are similar to Welsh's and Ogden's. Citizens Energy Group is an excellent steward of public utilities and has proven that over their 100+years of business. But Citizens is a public trust, and operates like a not-for-profit. They don't have $262 million in the bank, so bonds will be issued (some of the lawyers mentioned specifically Build America Bonds, and that program ends at the end of 2010). They will either have to gut the utilities (and there is a legal contract between United Water and Veolia with Citizens that they're contracts with the City of Indianapolis will carry over to Citizens), or increase rates. I remain unconvinced that the savings Citizens will find, while significant, will result in $262 million of savings. That means the cash payment Citizens gives to the city is a backdoor tax increase, because ratepayers will pay for new sidewalks with rate increases.
Many might see it as semantics, but I believe taxes work best when targeted. Property taxes allow the community to support it's necessities such as fire fighters, schools, and so on. Federal gasoline taxes allow the federal government to fund highway maintenance. Utility rate increases go back to fund those utilities (And hopefully make them more efficient).
So if we, as a city, think sidewalk construction should be given a chance to be funded, let's have that discussion. While some politicians are fearing an anti-tax crowd, multiple school referendums passed, as well as Wishard last year, that show that tax payers are willing to pay for services if a case is made to them. This is not an endorsement of these referendums, but the voters did approve many of them.
I have many other questions about this deal, and I learned via Pat Andrews that the city has finally put up a bunch of documents at an FTP site.
The username and password are both "public".
Many of the documents are ones that have been available for months, but I haven't had a chance to review the new ones yet. Check back for an update.
Friday, May 14, 2010
I know it's long, but read the whole thing:
I took out a half page ad in our local paper regarding public funding of private sports teams. A recent IBJ Editorial titled “Shed More Light on Pacers’ Plight” regarding the possible increase of public funding for the Indiana Pacers, the Editor states factually that “the franchise has been an economic engine for downtown” as if that was an indisputable fact.
I had a business in downtown Indy and was President of the Downtown Restaurant Association, and had plenty of problems with the teams, the taxation on my business to support them and finally left town for greener pastures after 15 otherwise successful years at that location. I thought you might appreciate the following information.
If that is true, then the Pacers are the only sports team that has ever been an economic engine for any city……as every independent academic study every done comes to just the opposite conclusion. So let me shed the real light……
By way of example, Jim Irsay thought the Colts were an obvious economic engine and hired the Kelly School of Business at IUPUI to document it. So anxious was he to demonstrate this fact that he scheduled a press conference to tout the study to the tax-paying world. Problem is, he hadn’t read the report and when he did, the results so clearly demonstrated there was no significant economic impact that he cancelled the press conference and the study never saw the light of day. The chief author of that study later released a book titled “Major League Losers” using the Colts as one of the primary examples where he documented that any team’s effect is “minuscule on the economy of a city or even a region” and that “they produce few jobs, little tax revenue, and a negligible positive impact even on their own immediate neighborhood”. That was also a book produced by the Brookings Institute called “Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums” which I purchased and sent to Peterson and every sitting City Council Member. Quoting from the Brookings summary; “15 collaborators from universities across the nation, examined the local economic development argument from all angles: case studies of the effect of specific facilities, as well as comparisons among cities and even neighborhoods that have and have not sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into sports development. In every case, the conclusions are the same. A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment. No recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment. No recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues. Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus.” (For more info check out www.brookings.edu/articles)
Later, the Capital Improvement Board purchased a study at a cost of over $100,000 from Coopers Lybrand whose task was not to produce an independent analysis but rather was told by the Peterson administration to prove there was a big positive impact. That firm dutifully saluted and at an average taxpayer cost of $13,000 per page most people would take dictation. It is just a shame the press did not actually read it. The primary basis for their assertion was an exit poll of over 800 Colts ticket holders at a winning game asking the probing question, “Do you think there is a positive economic impact by the team on Indianapolis?” and the resounding answer was “Yes”! I don’t know how anyone can call a public opinion survey of the attendees an econometric study, but it sure shows you can fool all of the people at least some of the time. Unless the economic benefit the ticket holders were referring to was having the cost of a ticket subsidized through the public coffers. Never once did the study group ask any hotel, restaurant or retail establishment who was paying taxes to Irsay what their opinion was and I hope everyone remembers that Irsay also refused to open his team’s books at the same time he was holding his hand out.
Even though receipts were truly smaller than other NFL franchises, it was widely reported (except here in town) that since his team was not carrying any major long term debt load, that the Colts were actually one of the most profitable teams, if not the most profitable team, in the league.
Now after the Conseco Fieldhouse was built, Indianapolis Downtown Inc reported in their annual reports about downtown that sales at the Top Ten downtown restaurants declined for the next three years by an average of 10% each year (they checked sales tax records) which amounted to millions of dollars in lost tax revenue to the Tax Increment Financing District.
IDI then blamed the downturn on the economy after 9/11, but when I pointed out that in the same period the industry enjoyed an average 4% annual growth in sales nationally, in our state, and even in Marion County (according to the increases in the food & beverage tax collections), IDI had run out of excuses and got right on solving the problem – they stopped checking and reporting on the sales decreases in their annual report. Their answer was the traditional see no evil, hear no evil, so don’t report about the evil. This, despite the fact that over 3 dozen downtown restaurants, the ISO and the IRT signed a petition to the Mayor listing all the problems, many related to parking and traffic, the Fieldhouse had created for downtown which was causing a net loss of business. IDI was well aware that the neighborhood knew what the problem was and their own expert on parking agreed with us, so they fired him and got a new guy who would respect where his paycheck came from. IDI was a major roadblock and, along with the Pacers themselves, had a fully funded, independent study on the problems created by the Fieldhouse killed by Peterson’s Economic Director, (that would be Melina Kennedy). As an aside, will somebody please tell me why a neighborhood group like IDI continues to get $1,000,000 annually in taxpayer subsidy, especially in these times, instead of relying on the membership like for instance the Chamber of Commerce?
The Pacers smiled politely at neighborhood meetings and said they would do anything the Mayor wanted them to do to solve any problems, while all the time insisting there was no problem and having the clout behind the scenes to make sure nothing was done, especially about some nasty parking situations they had created. To add insult to injury, this was at a time they were not paying the contracted for $3.45 million per year for the Fieldhouse parking garage so they had a free parking garage and lots of unwarranted parking profits which they somehow did not disclose and for which they are now in arrears for almost $40 million dollars. And to further add insult to injury, Melina Kennedy made sure the Simons got their own parking garage at their new headquarters so they would have free parking at a tax payer cost of another $14 million dollars. The Simons were also claiming at that time they would leave Indianapolis if they did not get a free parking garage for their employees. Will Indianapolis never learn?
And what do you want to bet that if the team’s books were examined as the IBJ suggests a big part of the losses the Pacers say they are experiencing is a line item for a $3.45 million annual cost they should be repaying to the taxpayer for that parking garage but never will? Some pretty good sums of public money have already been paid out for bouncing that big rubber ball.
And when I pulled out of Indianapolis 4 years ago I was generating over $250,000 annually in taxes, some of which went to the Tax Increment Financing District. Many others left the district for greener pastures too, revenue the CIB could now surely use and would have had if they had listened to the neighborhood.
I and over 20 others closed their downtown businesses citing Fieldhouse related problems as a primary reason. As a matter of fact, the IRS code provides tax relief to businesses if there is a catastrophic occurrence, such as a flood, earthquake, or Katrina like hurricane. In my filling for that relief, I extensively detailed those problems and the lack of any net positive economic benefit, and conclusively proved the many negatives in a report so thorough and complete the attorneys said it was the best documented case they had ever seen and later the hearing officer did not even question if the relief should be granted. It was just a matter of “how much”. In the proverbial “Miracle on 34th Street” tradition, an official agency of the US Government pronounced that the Capitol Improvement Board and its facilities had the same catastrophic economic affect on downtown Indy as a hurricane did to New Orleans. It took three years, but I got the refund checks just last month.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do understand there is a big bonus to a city through any team’s publicity value (at least when the team members are not pulling guns or throwing punches) but the public cost of that publicity is very, very, high. It is great to have the team’s name on TV and T-shirts. A population, or at least its sports fans, can all come together and cheer, feel warm and cozy and sing kumbaya. All a public subsidy really does is free up cash for a team’s owner and whichever franchise has the most free cash can afford the highest priced players. That’s it. It has been proven time and time again by every single truly independent study ever done.
So if the publicity is really worth the price tag, pay it. If it’s not worth it, don’t. But to say that the public cost is really an ‘investment’ that pays for itself due to some big economic benefit is a big lie.
You can fool some of the press all the time, and you can fool all the public some of the time, but you can’t fool all the Hoosier’s all the time, can you? I hope not, because if ever there was a big lie, this is it. Don’t get fooled again.
Former owner, Hollywood Bar & Filmworks
Former President, Downtown Restaurant Association
UPDATE: I'm attempting to investigate these claims.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
The Indianapolis Business Journal reported that a recent effort to sell the site has failed. The city of Indianapolis will try again and make the deal more attractive by writing off the tax bill attached to it.
Winona is just one of many eye sores in this city, but this has an easily reachable owner. The city. I asked Mayor Greg Ballard earlier in the week who to contact to advocate for some of the utility sale money to be used to spruce the place up, but he said that the building is a part of some long term plan. Since the city has owned it, it has practically ignored it. I hope his plan for the former hospital site has something instore for it, and soon. We can't have these blights with the Superbowl or other big-ticket items in town.
UPDATE: I drove by the site on my way to a meeting and it appears the door has been shut and locked this time around. Let's hope it stays that way. Kudos to whoever got out there to secure the building. If you don't want it to happen again, squatters and the homeless know law enforcement generally don't waste time patrolling neglected and abandoned properties until neighbors start complaining. Get more of a presence in the neighborhood, and Winona will stay safe.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Councilor Joanne Sanders (D-At Large) led the minority opposition in the two seperate proposals. She shared several exchanges with Chris Cotterill, who is Chief of Staff to Mayor Greg Ballard. Sanders feels that the request she sent to the administration haven't been adequately fulfilled. Councilor Brian Mahern (D-District 16), who isn't part of the Rules and Public Policy committee, also echoed similar statements throughout the meeting. Cotterill said that there will be an FTP site set up with those documents that the council members requested.
Sanders also bought up Council President Ryan Vaughn's (R-District 3) potential conflict of interest. Ryan Vaughn is an associate with Barnes and Thornburg, which, according to Vaughn, represents Veolia. Veolia is the company that currently manages the city's drinking water. Vaughn claims there is no conflict of interest because it doesn't violate any ethical laws. He says he e-mailed these ethics rules to "some Democratic bloggers" and would show them to Sanders, but did not identify these laws during the meeting. He also added that he doesn't work on any cases related to Veolia. Conflict of interest accusations still hold some bite to them even if the individual doesn't personally benefit. It can be just as damaging if friends and family benefit even if the individual doesn't.
Vaughn also pointed out that Baker and Daniels has been representing the city in this ongoing negotiation (as well as the Republican caucus on the City-County Council), and ICE Miller has been representing Citizens Energy Group.
I've been told by my family that my grandfather, Gordon Gilmer, held off on voting for a contract that 3M Company had with the city of Indianapolis. 3M Company was my grandfather's former employer and he had a pension with them. I don't think any council ethics laws existed at the time (and the current ones are extremely lax, with the fox guarding the hen house). But he did it anyway. This current group of Republicans seem to think that as long as they follow the loose ethics laws, they're infallible. But they're wrong. And make no mistake, Marion County Democrats will use all of this as an issue in 2011.
Mahern also at one point asked those in the audience to raise their hands if they're involved in the negotiations on any side. Committee Chairman Robert Lutz (R-District 13) seemed to snap to attention at this suggestion, and quickly explained that the City-County Council and/or caucuses often ask legal representation to be in the audience in case their opinion is needed. He then proceeded to ask for hands up if one is working on the sale in some way, and of 20 or so people in the audience, about sixteen went up.
I always had a suspicion that the dozens of people in suits I often see at council meetings but never speak during public comments or don't seem to be paying attention were there for some other reason. And now, I have my answer.
For such an important vote, I found it odd that they relied on voice votes. Unofficially, it seemed like a party-line vote.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Nevertheless, Cotterill, Evans, Ballard, and Richcreek ran a tight ship. They got in all questions anyone in the audience had, did so respectfully, and the Power Point presentation wasn't relied on as a script.
Minton-McNeill was grandstanding when Ballard was there and kept going afterward, and I thought it was absolutely shameful. She said that she is still trying to gather information on the utility sale. But these public forums and various hearings have been going on for months. Her comments and questions at the forum made it seem like she hasn't done any research at all. And as I commented during the meeting, it isn't part of my job description to be there, but I did my best to get to these meetings, research, and read. She and any other council representative should do the same, so that the most frequently asked questions don't get asked repeatedly. For example, one of her questions was what if Citizens decides to sell the utilities. According to state law (I'm still researching on a citation for this, so I'm taking others at their word), public trusts can't sell their utilities, and the only way a city can repossess the utilities is if the services aren't being provided.
Fortunately, that wasn't how most council representatives acted. Most were respectful, or at least silent.
I asked Cotterill and the council representatives how exactly the utility sale and the influx of money will be handled in City-County proposals. The answer I got was much different than the definitive answer I got from At-Large Councilor Angela Rivera. Cotterill seemed to be saying that the Council can modify the proposal, but that the vote on the MOU that Prposal 131-2010 is right now will be the only vote. He also said that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission does not have the ability to modify line-by-line the utility sale, but can just approve it or not approve it.
This was an informative meeting, but I still have a few more questions to ask. I can't quite support this just yet, especially since the process seems to be so uncertain.
Monday, May 10, 2010
According to Mayor Greg Ballard's Indy Gov web page, a number of meetings are being held tonight and next week on the Water Utility sale. There will be a general forum at Indianapolis Public School 42 starting at 7:00p.m. Monday, May 10th. Another general forum will be held Tuesday, May 11th at 7:00pm at Southport Presbyterian Church.
In the coming weeks, three Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council representatives will be holding public forums in their district on the Water Utility sale. Maggie Lewis will be holding hers in the 7th district tonight at 6p.m. at the Pike Township Government Center. I'll be in attendance and hope to here what Pike Township has to say.
Two City-County Council committee meetings will be held this week as well. For your "convenience", they will be held at the exact same time. These two committees are the Committee on Municipal Corporations and the Rules and Public Policy Committee. Those who dare speak for longer than two minutes at Robert Lutz's (R) committee that aren't paid lobbyists will be interrupted by a loud buzzer. The focus of the former committee will be on IMCPL and Indy Go, whereas the later will be continuing their debate on two proposals related to the Water Utilities sale.
School is out and it's slowly starting to feel warm again. That makes it a good time to renew an interest in politics, and keep up with what's happening with your tax money in your own back yard. The most important political actions aren't what's going on in Washington D.C., but is what happens right here in Indianapolis. Do your homework. Read the blogs located on the right hand side of this site. They all come highly recommended, and will tell you much more than most of the mainstream media in this town will.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
To add insult to injury, the Power Point slides were printed off for each committee member. Instead of having the slides read to them, they could've flipped through them before the meeting started. I know at least one committee member, Monroe Gray, attended the same public forum that I was at.
As Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana points out, the City-County Council, Lykins, and city employees are paid to be there. We citizens are not. Committee meetings shouldn't be turned into a verbatim presentation of public forums. The Council, like the rest of us, could've easily researched this information by reading a newspaper or watching the local TV news, or even logging onto indygov.org. The presence of no less than three associated lawyers made a ridiculous back-and-forth that added nothing to the discussion.
Unfortunately, since I sometimes work nights, I couldn't stay any later than 8pm. I'm sure that, like the CIB mess, the committee long stopped listening to the citizens by the time Bob Lutz (R)"graciously" lets the public have it's two cents. I won't be surprised if he makes a snarky remark at how long committee meetings take. Maybe he can take some initiative and tell committee members to do research BEFORE the meeting. This is, after all, how it played out when Lutz fumbled the CIB bailout, same committee as well.
I did, however, have a chat with At-Large representative Angel Rivera (R). He told me that, even though Prop 130 is voting on the MOU of the Utility Sale, the Council will be voting on the final deal when it is complete. He also told me that Prop 131, which will give the city the authority to issue bonds for $130 million will have a second proposal that'll allocate the money specifically in about two weeks time.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Here are the relevant documents from the Indy Gov web site:
The agenda for the RPPC.
The proposal for the utility sale.
I'd love to tell ya'll how I feel, but I'll let my colleagues Chris Worden and Jon Easter tell you instead, since I pretty much agree with them.