Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Mysterious Appointment of Stephen Clay to the Police Merit Board

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council oversees a lot of boards and agencies that they get to appoint members to. This usually results in a rush to fill these appointments after elections when there is a switch in the council's majority party. And even though the Democrats have had a council majority since January, many appointments are still being filled.

Many of these appointments are fairly uncontroversial, or they're overlooked because the two major political parties often practice the same methods. Losing political candidates, party insiders, and the well-connected often get a seat on these types of boards as a token of appreciation. Unofficially, the parties mutually agree to let these nominations sail through.

So it peeked my interest when Stephen Clay appeared before the Public Safety Committee on April 18th. Clay is nominated to be on the Police Merit Board, sponsored by Councilor Vernon Brown. After a bit of questioning from Democratic members of the committee, Clay's nomination was approved by the committee along a 7-2 party line vote.

I contacted the two Republicans that voted against Clay, Councilors Benjamin Hunter and Ryan Vaughn. Hunter told me that he voted against Clay for the same reason he'd vote against political pundit Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, writing that Clay "has chosen to be politically vocal." Hunter adds that he has the right to voice his political opinions, but says that these opinions would make it hard for Clay to be objective. Vaughn also mentioned that Clay has called for Frank Straub, the director of the Department of Public Safety, to be fired.

Both of these claims have some validity. Clay is a leader in the Baptist Ministers Alliance of Indianapolis, a group of ministers that not-so-subtly supported Democrats in the 2011 municipal elections. Clay has called for the resignation of Straub over the Bisard incident and the alleged beating of teenager Brandon Johnson.

I contacted Councilor Brown via e-mail and asked him to respond to Vaughn's and Hunter's statements. Brown compared Clay to past appointments from both the then-Republican council and Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican. Mark Massa, who had run for Marion County Prosecutor as a Republican in 2010 and has ties to Governor Mitch Daniels, was an appointee from the previous council term. And James Jackson, a local pastor, supported Ballard in the 2011 municipal election and even cut two radio ads. Brown also mentions Clay will be the "only non Republican vote" on the seven member police merit board.

While I understand where Brown is coming from, I just can't help but think that there could be a better representative than Stephen Clay for the Democratic council's first appointment to the police merit board. Someone who very well might have the same thought process as Clay but without the baggage Clay brings to the table.

What do you think?


  1. I love how Brown didn't defend his appointment, but instead threw out the "well they did it, too!" reply.

    It sounds like Brown clearly said that he is aware that his choice of Clay is a poor one, but has no choice but to put playing politics above the good of our city.

    1. I don't even think it is strictly "they did it too!". At least in the case of Mark Massa, there is a difference between a former deputy prosecutor (and someone running for county prosecutor) on public safety issues, versus someone like Clay calling for the resignation of Straub over allegations of abuse in the Brandon Johnson case. The appointment with Jackson is a bit different, but I'd never heard of him before Brown mentioned him to me. So I can only assume he is relatively soft spoken besides endorsing Ballard.

      Not that I don't believe Straub shouldn't be out. But because I have such a passionate and known opinion on that, I think that would disqualify me from serving on the merit board or any board where I'd possibly have a conflict with DPS.

  2. Or someone who might have been THE SUBJECT of a DCS investigation! The community or any council member who fails to question the background of this man will share responsibility for what comes to light.

    1. I gotta side with Art on this one. DCS doesn't exactly have a stellar track record in...well, a lot of areas.

      Simply being under some type of investigation for something under some administrative body, which never resulted in a criminal investigation let alone CHARGES, is...well, mountain out of a molehill.

      From what I remember of Abdul's postings on the subject, the DCS report was referred to Marion County Prosecutor's office. At the time, Carl Brizzi. So you'll have to ask him why nothing was done.

  3. I am not particularly fond of Rev. Clay but....being accused and investigated by DCS is not a reason to prevent anyone from serving. We do not know the results of the investigation but we do know that a large percentage of complaints are found not to have merit. Someone tonight could make a complaint against Anonymous and there would be an investigation. It could be 100% without merit and by someone who has never met Anonymous. Let's be fair about this.

  4. As a journalism student, you might want to change "peeked" to "piqued."


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