Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Council Approves Waterworks Utility Sale - Mostly Lawyers in Attendance

Last night's committee meeting of the Rules and Public Policy committee had a few notable moments. You can read the "exciting" play-by-play action on my Twitter. Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana covers most of the bases, so I'll just add my two cents or perspective.

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.

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