Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Send TIF Proposals Back to Committee

The Metropolitan Development Committee of the City-County Council met last night to deal with a handful of, frankly, mundane proposals. What wasn't on the agenda was the stalled TIF district proposals, which would extend the downtown TIF to encompass much of Massachusetts Avenue as well as creating a new TIF district as well.

You can read the details of what happened concerning the TIF district proposal via Jon Murray's latest Indy Star contribution.

So the council finally worked through some type of compromise on TIF districts that have long been pushed by the 25th floor. Good, right? Compromise! Government at work!

Eh, not so fast.

The TIF proposal was not on last night's planned agenda, and the chairman of the committee moved for adjournment and even left the room.

While it is within the council's purview to consider proposals that aren't on the agenda, the committee is typically where the public gets to have their say. Committees are also typically the place where councilors who do not sit on committees can voice their concerns and propose amendments to proposals.

This is a violation of the council's due diligence.

At the next full council meeting, council President Maggie Lewis or Majority Leader Brian Mahern should move to send this proposal back to committee so that this proposal can go through a proper vetting and hearing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What the Hell is Grow Mass Ave?

My friend Abdul Hakim-Shabazz did an interview with a representative of an organization of Grow Mass Ave over at his Indy Politics site. Full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to Indy Politics.

Despite the name of the group, don't be fooled into thinking it is some sort of neighborhood advocacy group with strong ties to the community. Grow Mass Ave is something that started to advocate for the downtown TIF district to be expanded to include the Massachusetts Avenue district. And as someone who has often followed issues of local interest, it is pretty rare for online advocacy to be done, let alone be done professionally.

"But Matt, how do you know that this organization started recently?"

Call it a hunch.

First up is that I've never heard of Grow Mass Ave.

Their domain, Growmassave.com, was registered earlier this month by Jennifer Wagner. Wagner is a longtime Democratic activist and her husband is rumored to benefit from the proposed Mass Ave development. The address and phone number that show up on the WHOIS search of the GrowMassAve.com domain name appear to be associated with Darvel Communications, a firm formerly run by Wagner which seems to have transitioned over to Mass Ave PR.

Typically, when advocates want to make their issue known, they have little choice but try to do earned media. They don't have the resources to hire someone to quickly build a website, set up social media, and competently communicate the message. They might have time to slap together a Facebook page or a bare bones website or blog, but that's about it. In rare cases, a large organization that already has an established presence and competent media and IT people at their disposal can quickly establish an online and media presence, but that's about it.

I don't say this as any slight against Wagner. She's a well connected person who has a wealth of experience. But my guess is, her services do not come cheap. So the question is, who is paying her for this cause and why? If she is successful in helping pass the downtown TIF district expansion, what does her client stand to benefit from it?

UPDATE: In a series of tweets, Wagner says she is doing the work for free. She also says that the neighborhood has supported this redevelopment for over a year. While this might answer her role in Grow Mass Ave, Grow Mass Ave itself still has plenty of questions to answer for of their own.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How Powerful Will Susan Brooks Be in the 113th Congress?

Most of my readers are political junkies of one sort or another, so consider this me providing some insight into how the US Congress works to those who don't eat and breath politics.

It is a common misconception that Congressional chairmanships, leadership positions such as majority/minority leaders and whips, and some valued committee assignments, were largely based on seniority and who had enough time to commit to the tasks and yada-yada-yada. 

In fact, the rules of the US Congress and how to obtain that sort of power has changed over the past 10 years. The Naked Capitalism blog has a nice summary of this paper. The amount of money the Democratic leadership had to raise in the 111th Congress is absolutely astounding, and it isn't too far of a reach to think that the current Republican leadership of the 112th Congress have done the same.

What does this all have to do with Susan Brooks?

I attended a forum in Kokomo during the GOP primary in the 5th Congressional District. When asked what committees she'd like to sit on, Susan Brooks mentioned that she'd like it if there was a way for freshman and less-senior members of Congress to be in leadership positions and on chairmanships of committees. 

And looking over Brooks' fundraising numbers, she might be able to score a nice leadership position or a prized committee seat.

Remember, she's raised over $800,000 with most of that being during a contested GOP primary where the other big fundraiser was a former member of Congress. The only Congressional candidate in Indiana that has raised more than her is Todd Rokita, who has far more name recognition and is an incumbent Congressman.  She could easily keep those kind of numbers up as an incumbent, and being a federal officeholder will open up even more pocketbooks to her political campaign.

The only problem is retaining that job in Congress. Congressman Dan Burton has faced two tough primary challenges, partially due to how much time he spent fundraising outside of Indiana.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Constructive Criticism

RebuildIndy was one of Mayor Greg Ballard's signature initiatives during his first term in office. Using money "realized" from the sale of public assets to private entities, Ballard ambitiously embarked on doing more of the same on a much larger scale. Much of the money has gone to re-paving and expanding streets, with a much smaller amount of money going to sidewalks, greenways, and bike lanes.

Much of the money was spent to spruce up the city before the 2012 Superbowl, but there's still construction going on across the city. And when parts of streets get closed, detour routes are planned out and signs direct motorists the appropriate direction so they can still get to their destination.

Yesterday, I encountered a detour heading north on the 6400 block of Michigan Road. The detour sign directed me to Grandview Road, which I previously knew had been under construction and closed off for some time. Maybe it had finished and I wasn't aware, so I took a chance and drove up the neighborhood street to Grandview Road. And yep, it was still closed.

At that point, the detour directions just ended. There was no sign to further direct motorists on how to get back on Michigan Road.

Someone like me, who has driven up and down and around Michigan Road a lot, would be able to find an alternate route with ease. And I did. It was a bit annoying, but not all that bad.

But someone who is from out of town, or even from another side of town, might've had a much harder time finding an alternate route.

Later in the day, a family member related to me that the detour while heading southbound on Michigan Road ALSO leads to another road closed for construction, Cooper Road.

And on a final note, I did check the Street Closing listing found on Rebuild Indy's site, but can't quite determine what, if any, of the listings is the one I encountered.