Thursday, April 22, 2010

What does Joe Q Public think about Prosecutor Brizzi?

This photo was taken by an alert reader of the Indianapolis Times blog and sent to Terry Burns. Think we might be seeing more of these?

I know I'd like them.

Hat tip to Indianapolis Times.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz and "Anonymous Facts"

Talk radio host and conservative blogger Abdul Hakim-Shabazz won an award from the Society of Professional Journalists recently. As fellow blogger Jon Easter of Indy Democrat points out, he has spent his time since winning the award personally attacking and spreading rumor of local lawyer Paul Ogden and reporting polls without citing a source. Specifically, he cites a poll taken that puts Mayor Greg Ballard's approval ratings countywide at a similar level of Governor Mitch Daniels statewide approval ratings. The source of the poll is, and I'm not kidding, "word has it."

He does not cite a source for approval ratings of either the Mayor of Indianapolis or the Governor of Indiana.

Easter goes on to talk about his reaction to a previously reported rumor that Shabazz has reported on concerning City-County Councilor Angela Mansfield (D) that relates to the proposed smoking ban. Shabazz reported that Mansfield was banned from the Living Room, a local establishment that allows smoking, due to Mansfield's support of the smoking ban proposal. Easter went on to make a blog post saying he wouldn't be frequenting the Living Room due to the ban. Mansfield later wrote to Easter saying Living Room staff told her that the rumor was false and they'd never stoop to a petty level to score political points. Apparently, Shabazz never checked with the Living Room management or councilor Mansfield to confirm or deny the rumor.

To be fair to Shabazz, he reported it as a rumor. However, when reporting something that can easily be verified, it should. It is very easy to establish if someone has been banned from an establishment. At least two groups of people would know. The staff of the establishment and the person that was banned.

But what Shabazz did this time around was more than just reporting a rumor. He cites a poll that that pushes his pro-Ballard view point, but doesn't source it. He's done this before too. He also reported on a poll that had Ballard polling at 50% approval among African-Americans, again without citing the poll.

Finally, after Daniels finally admitted his FSSA privatization failed, Shabazz cites a rumor that FSSA's privatization saved $145 million. If he had left it at that, then so be it. But he goes on to use it to score political points, saying that if it saved $145 million as a failure, then how great would success be? He made a similar statement on his radio show.

This is just not how someone reporting on facts uses anonymous sources. When you are reporting on ongoing criminal investigations, the sources one would use likely won't want their names printed. Shabazz did just that when reporting on the FBI's investigation into Lincoln Plowman, the (now) former City-County Councilor and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department cop. His reporting of it lined up with later reportings of the same event with a few minor details left out. Stories involving so-called whistle blowing or other types of corruption are also appropriate to use anonymous sources. But citing factual data or polls is not a case to use anonymous sources.

In a related note, a commentor on Indiana Barrister found something called the National Council of Public Polling (NCPP). The Principals of Disclosure list the basic requirements to be in compliance with NCPP:

Level 1 Disclosure: All reports of survey findings issued for public release by a member organization will include the following information:

  • Sponsorship of the survey
  • Fieldwork provider (if applicable)
  • Dates of interviewing
  • Sampling method employed (for example, random-digit dialed telephone sample, list-based telephone sample, area probability sample, probability mail sample, other probability sample, opt-in internet panel, non-probability convenience sample, use of any oversampling)
  • Population that was sampled (for example, general population; registered voters; likely voters; or any specific population group defined by gender, race, age, occupation or any other characteristic)
  • Size of the sample that serves as the primary basis of the survey report
  • Size and description of the subsample, if the survey report relies primarily on less than the total sample
  • Margin of sampling error (if a probability sample)
  • Survey mode (for example, telephone/interviewer, telephone/automated, mail, internet, fax, e-mail)
  • Complete wording and ordering of questions mentioned in or upon which the release is based
  • Percentage results of all questions reported

Member organizations reporting results will endeavor to have print and broadcast media include the above items in their news stories.

Member organizations conducting privately commissioned surveys should make clear to their clients that the client has the right to maintain the confidentiality of survey findings. However, in the event the results of a privately commissioned poll are made public by the survey organization the above items should be disclosed.

In the event the results of a privately commissioned poll are made public by the client, the survey organization (a) shall make the information outlined above available to the public upon request and (b) shall have the responsibility to release the information above and other pertinent information necessary to put the client's release into the proper context if such a release has misrepresented the survey's findings.

And in a strongly worded press release from 2009 (click here for the full press release):

In the wake of a recent controversy over the work of one polling firm, the National Council on Public Polls today issued a new call for full disclosure by all pollsters whose work is part of the public debate.

“When polling firms release the results of a survey, the pollster is asking the public to believe the poll is accurate, credible and worthy of consideration,” said Evans Witt, NCPP President. “Releasing the key information about a poll allows the public to make that judgment based on the facts. Failure to release the information deprives the public of the essential facts it needs and opens the door to questions about the poll’s validity.”

Shabazz can present facts and polls, unsourced, all he wants. And it's his blog, he has the right to do so. But statical facts are cold, hard, and simple, and shouldn't need to be confidential in their sources. Especially in the case of polling, they should be sourced and the methodology should be revealed. Otherwise, the numbers might as well be made up. Their credibility, when unsourced, is about the same.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Constitutional Amendment: Balanced Budget

Attending the GOP Senate Primary debates hosted by WXNT and Hoosier Access had five candidates that basically agreed on everything. Fellow bloggers over at iPOPA, Indy Democrat, Blue Indiana, and Hoosier Access, have covered these extensively and I have no real desire to echo most of their concerns.

But one idea from the candidates that they all agreed on was this talk of an amendment to the federal constitution that would require the federal budget to be balanced. And this bothers me for a few reasons, both in it's application as a constitutional amendment and how effective such a requirement would be.

Here in Indiana, we actually have a requirement within the state constitution that says the state, cities, and so on can not go into debt. However, the city of Indianapolis has skirted around this issue for years by playing with the numbers until they're balanced. It might be by factoring in a grant that hasn't been awarded to the city yet, or maybe allocating money that hasn't been collected yet to fill a budget shortfall. But it's done, and done often.

The other way cities skirt around balanced budgets is hiding debt into municipal corporations. According to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Indiana, municipal corporations do not have to present balanced budgets. The Capital Improvement Board did this for several years and is doing it still now.

So even though we have it built into our constitution, those in power have found ways to circumvent it while still technically meeting the requirements. That, in my eyes, is enough evidence to not spend effort on this amendment that all the Senate primary candidates are pushing.

Finally, it's a waste of time. Constitutional amendments are hard to pass even with widespread support. And they shouldn't be done because spending has become a contemporary issue by the TEA Party.

Want a balanced budget? Work to pass one. You shouldn't need the Constitution to help you to do so. And even if it became a requirement, those that want to get around would find a way.

We've got real issues to deal with. Don't waste time messing with our Constitution.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Homicide Rate Predictions and Talk

The website Bart Lies! is still around years after Mayor Bart Peterson became, well, former Mayor Bart Peterson. It mainly focuses on keeping track of the homicide rate. Under his alias, Bart, he writes in the "About" section:

The main project for Bart Lies! these days is monitoring the homicides occurring within the boundaries of Marion County. You see, that was one of the lies, that the homicides had been reduced by the Peterson administration. As it turns out, the tally reported by local media seemed to forget about a homicide here and there, at times giveing the number 4-5 fewer than it actually was. We don’t know where they got the number but by recording and posting each one here as they occur, it’s impossible to forget about them anymore.

I've only been following local blogs for about a year. So it came as a surprise to me to here Bart's numbers actually being the same numbers used by city-county authorities. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, as I pointed out in the comments section of this post, used the homicide rate himself on his WIBC program Crime Beat. Public Safety Director Frank Staub did so as well, more recently.

What's been disturbing is a recent trend of many of the homicides being committed by convicted felons with quite a record, but were somehow released early. Victor A. Williams, who has been charged with homicide #7 in Marion County this year, had this in his prior record:
Another repeat felon committed a homicide more recently with a record that includes forgery and robbery.

And to end on a happy note, Bart posted a graph on where he believes the homicide rate will end for this year with comparisons to past years.

We, as citizens, need to have a serious conversation with our law enforcement, legislators, and judiciary, about the early release of felons with multiple convictions. That is something we can do to reduce the bloodshed in this town.

Relevant links: Indiana Offender Database

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pike Township Meeting on Water/Sewage Utility Sale

I attended the public forum tonight about the sale of the city's water and sewage utilities earlier in the evening. Mayor Greg Ballard and CEO of Citizens Energy Group Carey Lykins, were both present. A number of City-County Council representatives, including Monroe Gray and Maggie Lewis (my representative).

Talking to attendees at the meeting and overhearing other conversations, as well as the tone of written questions in the Q&A segment, pained a picture that Pike Township residents are skeptical at best. At worst (and probably more realistic), they're flat-out opposed.

Unlike some of the Democrat bloggers I read, I am not flat out opposed to privatization efforts. However, I have not been convinced that this actually will be a better option for tax payers. And because this is a sale, not a lease, there will be no recourse for the city to reverse the deal short of Citizens Energy Group pretty much shutting down the water and sewer utilities.

Additionally, I read the Memorandum of Intent (MOI) that the city and Citizens wrote up about the sale. And I'm concerned about where all this money Citizens is paying is actually going to go, and that there is little, if any, restrictions on it. I asked Maggie Lewis to look into if the money from the sale is allocated to specific use, or has any prohibitions on use. And, if needed, could she make sure that an amendment is proposed to prohibit money from going to the CIB and the Pacers bailout.

Finally, I'd like to remind everyone that the $400 million figure often tossed around is an exaggeration. And less mentioned is the $2 billion figure as well. Chris Worden over at iPOPA explains:

The terms are these. The City of Indianapolis will receive $170 million at closing, then $90 million on October 1, 2011. In addition, Citizens Gas will assume $1.5 billion dollars worth of the city’s debt. This is why people keep talking about a $2 billion dollar deal.

Folks, the "$2 billion sale" figure is false, no matter how many times Abdul and the Mayor say it. If you read the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Citizens and the City, you will see that Citizens Gas will only move forward with this deal if the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) permits the assumption of this debt to be figured into its rate structure. In other words, you won’t save dollars because this debt is assumed. You’ll just pay it in higher water and sewer rates instead of in higher taxes.

Mayor Ballard has a long way to go to convince citizens that this is not only a good deal for the city, but a necessity.

And finally, before I close and get back to work, I hope that people such as Abdul-Hakim Shabazz stop dismissing the use of the utility sale for the CIB as a conspiracy that stems from Internet bloggers. It was a concern of those at the public forum tonight, and Ballard could've elevated their concerns easily if he flat out said that there are no plans to bail out a team that is worth $300 million. But considering Mayor Ballard spent a few months at the state legislature lobbying for various taxes to be raised for the Pacers, then we're always going to have that doubt in our minds until Ballard resolves the issue by denying the funds.

Jon Easter also has an excellent write-up of the forum he attended over at Indy Democrat.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Breaking My Silence: IMCPL Funding

Long time no talk, right? Well, that's about to change. As I've mentioned in the past, I have several stories I have yet to right but are in the line-up, so they will be published. But right now, I need to talk about the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library.

I was listening to Greg Browning on WIBC this past Saturday, and this topic came up. I unfortunately only heard the last half hour or so of the topic before his show ended. But in that short time, many callers expressed concern about out of control government spending.

Let's be clear. The Library has plenty of room for criticism, especially the fiasco that occured during the expansion of Central Library downtown. But of all the municipal corporation budgets passed by the City-County Council, only the Library Board budget was passed unanimously.

After that happened, a backdoor deal was made to sell the city's water and sewage utilities (not lease, sell). This will, if approved by the proper government bodies, result in over $400 million dollars for the city to use for almost anything it wants. The concern some have raised is that the money will be used for economic development. Of particular concern is the $15 million bailout for the Indianapolis Pacers by the Capital Improvement Board, which is still massively in debt, borrowed $7 million from the state (with $14 million still possible) while in debt, and has not yet come to the conclusion that those in debt can't spare $15 million.

We, as citizens, are paying 2% additional in sales tax on food and beverage to finance the debt on the RCA Dome (now demolished) and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Maybe the concern that professional sports will get a huge chunk of change is completely unfounded. I hope it is. But those on the 25th floor, regardless of party, have demonstrated how sports-crazy they are. We need to build a city here. We should take care of the citizens first, and professional sports last.

The library system we have here is one in the best in the nation. When I talk to family and friends about their library system, even those in major cities, they don't have the services we get. Library usage has risen, so these aren't services that just aren't being used.

Besides the money from the water deal, we have a $15 million "rainy day fund" built into the city budget. And from attending those budget meetings, I didn't hear about any restrictions on what the city can or can't spend that money on.

The library should look into reducing hours, pay for employees, and a variety of other options. But closing branches isn't something easy to reverse once the library's funding becomes more stable and predictable. Let's do all we can to work out a sensible future for the library financially, and in the mean time, shore up some of the surplus money the city has to keep the library stable until a solution is in place.