Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hogsett Speaks Out at Knights of Columbus

I had the privilege of attending a Knights of Columbus event where Joe Hogsett, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Indiana, was the featured speaker. Hogsett spoke for about 15 minutes about his background, the role of a US attorney, and then took a few questions from the audience. 

Hogsett mentioned that he had a past life in electoral politics, but seemed to downplay it during the speech. He jokingly said that the school all U.S. district attorneys attend encourages anyone who wants to make policy to resign and run for office. He then reflected he had done that and it didn't work out (he lost a U.S. Senate race to Dan Coats)so he's encouraged to stick with the job he had. 

Hogsett mentioned that when he first got the job, friends and family would mistakenly congratulate him on becoming the Attorney General or a federal judge. So he set out to define what a U.S. district attorney actually does.

Hogsett had a long and impressive list of successful prosecutions at his disposal, ranging from prosecuting foreign nationals living and working within the United States to those involved in human trafficking and public corruption. Most reading this blog are probably aware of most of these cases. But he also mentioned knowing when not to take a case to trial is a decision that he struggles with, but is something all prosecuting attorneys face at one time or another.

What I found most interesting was the first prosecution he mentioned. He said there was a successful drug bust of marijuana early on in his time in charge of the southern district. The drug bust was nicknamed "Operation Five Dollar Foot Long" because the drugs were concealed in Subway packaging. He said 8,000 pounds of marijuana was ceased valued at $5,000,000. I found it interesting that Hogsett highlighted this case first even as the War on Drugs wanes in popularity.

Hogsett emphasized that while much of the major crime noted by mainstream media outlets occurs in the central Indiana area, the district covers 60 counties and some of the deadliest cases happen outside of the Indianapolis area. He said that in the town of Laurel, a shooting ended in five deaths because of a prescription drug deal that went south. He emphasized that a random act of violence can happen anywhere and that it isn't simply an urban or a rural issue.

Hogsett took several questions from the audience, many concerning the topic of violence and how situations too often escalate to physical violence or gun violence too quickly. But the best question was saved for last, where an attendee questioned Hogsett on the effectiveness of the War on Drugs and where he sees how the War might evolve over the next 10 years. Hogsett said that, as a US district attorney, his role isn't to make policy but to enforce the law. Hogsett spoke in generalities, saying that he doesn't believe the legalization argument that taxation and regulation will solve the problems that drug use has on society. He pointed specifically to prescription drugs, which are taxed and regulated, as a growing concern for prosecutors across the country. He did say he'd like to see more rehabilitation so that those who have served their time and can be placed back into society and become productive citizens have the ability to do so.

Hogsett stuck around for a few minutes after the speech and I got a chance to ask him about gun violence, specifically about the involvement of underage youth. I mentioned a story of a 17 year old kid who was picked up with a loaded pistol that had an altered serial number. He said that, unfortunately, the Department of Justice's country-wide policy is that the prosecution of juveniles are left to local authorities but that his office can deal with these situations in more general terms, such as how they obtained a firearm. I also asked him that, with the recent counterfeit currency bust, what should people do if they encounter any on the street. He said to either call the IMPD or the local Secret Service office (317-635-6420).

While I was talking with Hogsett, another attendee came up to him and said he'd support him if he ran for Mayor and Hogsett just grinned. The attendee mentioned Ed DeLaney is also considering and Hogsett said "Ed is a good guy."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Indy Council Should Proceed Cautiously on Panhandling

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council is poised to consider a revision to the city's panhandling ordinance. If passed, it would expand the definition of a panhandler and eliminate or severely restrict where panhandling can take within downtown Indianapolis. In recent days, a group of musicians have raised concerns that street performers would be classified as panhandlers and essentially banished from performing within downtown Indianapolis. Angela Mansfield, the chairwoman of the committee where the panhandling proposal originated, voted against it and specifically cited her concerns about how street performers would be classified within the new ordinance.

I've spent a lot of time downtown throughout the years. And I think panhandling is a legitimate issue to be concerned about and that needs to be addressed. What I haven't been convinced of, however, is that this proposal is the answer.

Back in 2009, we were told that a revised panhandling ordinance would solve all the world's problems, that this is something Mayor Ballard wanted to cross off his agenda in his first term. This blog covered it at the time. This blog raised questions, a year later, that panhandling seems to have gotten worse, even in places that the new ordinance specifically regulates (stop signs and traffic lights).

Throughout the entire conversation on panhandling, the ACLU affiliate in Indiana has consistently said they'd likely file a lawsuit over how broad the panhandling ordinance can be if it is revised. No comments have been given publicly that the position of the ACLU has changed, and it seems like both the council backers of this ordinance as well as the Mayor's office could care less what the ACLU has to say.

If you can make it, please join me on December 9th at the full council meeting to publicly oppose this proposal. It starts at 7pm at the City-County Building in downtown Indianapolis.

Friday, November 29, 2013

My Struggles with Black Friday

I'll admit it: I went out at about 5:30 on Thanksgiving Day to grab one specific item from one specific store.

I was also "shopping" throughout Thanksgiving Day and in the days prior on Amazon, which has basically turned the traditional "Cyber Monday" online deals into a "Black Friday week".

And in years past, stores weren't usually open on Thanksgiving. Some may have opened at 10pm or 11pm, but most either did midnight openings and did morning sales on Friday as well.

And in years past, I often went out at 11pm, grabbed a Steak N Shake, and went to a nearby Meijer for midnight sales. I was very careful never to go for the cheap TVs or Blu-Ray players or whatever. I knew what I wanted, and I never spent more than half an hour in the store.

There was no Steak-N-Shake this year, because I didn't go to Meijer, but I went to another store.

A store that is more notorious for having some of the worst Black Friday experiences out there.

A store that, in at least one instance, had a worker trampled by a mob of people. That worker died at a hospital earlier this morning. Several other workers were also treated that day for non-life threatening injuries.

But I didn't have that experience.

In fact, in the several midnight sales I've attended, I've never had that experience.

Everyone was very calm and orderly.

In years past, the Meijer stores are so big, they just put the big deals at stations throughout the store.

Wal-Mart is a bit more cramped, but they did a similar thing.

Kids were playing on their video game consoles or phones. Parents were chatting. I had a book with me, and there were some taking in the sights.

I have to give credit where credit is due: There was a lot more hired security, and at least a handful of Marion County Sheriff's Deputies and IMPD officers throughout the Wal-Mart as well.

Some people might've gotten a bit claustrophobic but that might be the worst experience.

Hats off to the public safety officials locally, and the retail workers, for what has been a safe shopping experience. I'm very glad that our state is showing that it can be done safely, with no one getting hurt.

I know some out there really believe that Thanksgiving should be a day off. But I think it really hasn't been a day off for a lot of people for a long time. There were two or three NFL games on yesterday, and that required a lot of people to be working. Hotels, gas stations, airports, and many other essential services practically have to stay open.

I, as a former hotel worker, understand that some workers like working holidays due to the overtime pay. But I also know that in some cases, especially wit temp agencies, the "choice" to work isn't so much of a choice.

But if a store is being run by ethical people, that there is additional preparations made in terms of staffing and security, and maybe giving the opportunity for some staff to have the day off, I have no qualms about stores opening on Thursday night.

Stay safe out there, and remember, there's always Amazon.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Clerk White to Run for Secretary of State

To nobody's surprise, Marion County Clerk Beth White has set up a website and held a rally announcing that she'll be running for Secretary of State.

Like several of the other state-wide non-Gubernatorial offices, political parties choose their nominees via conventions rather than primaries. There typically aren't too many contested conventions, and White has been making the rounds around the state for some time.

After a rocky first year in office, Clerk White has been running the Clerk's office with great efficiency. The county clerk's duties are very administrative, and honestly, there's a whole lot of them.

As a candidate who ran for office in 2011, I found the election division staffed by professionals. I was never treated any differently just because I was from a minor party. Whenever I've had to talk to a employee from the Clerk's office for any reason, they've been incredibly attentive and helpful. I really can't complain about the job Beth White has done within the office.

There are a few of her votes on the bi-partisan Election Board that I can quibble with. But I'm okay with that if it meant running and modernizing the Secretary of State's office as she has with the Marion County Clerk's office.

The question now is if Beth White can take out incumbent Republican Connie Lawson. Lawson was appointed by then-Governor Mitch Daniels after then-SOS Charlie White was forced out of office due to several felony convictions.

Lawson is a former state Senator, but running a state-wide campaign is a whole different ballgame.

On the other hand, these non-Gubernatorial offices tend to be much closer to baseline votes. People tend to vote their political party affiliation since these campaigns tend to be fairly low profile and candidates usually don't get the big bucks and the media coverage.

It could be an interesting race to watch.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Today, A Very Special Civil Discourse Now

Civil Discourse Now will be broadcasting live from 11am-1pm today at Rehab Bar and Grill at 5135 S Emerson Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46237.

The show's topic will be focused on breast cancer. Among the guests, of sorts, will be my very own mother and sister. My mother, Nancy Stone, is a breast cancer survivor. While I couldn't get the entire family in for the live show, I did pre-record an interview with them earlier in the week.

It was a very different kind of interview because I don't usually interview people I know on a personal level. Most of the interviews I've conducted are people I know in a professional sense in the world of politics, government, or media. It was a difficult interview for me to do, and I kind of took the night off after I did it, but I felt it went well.

On a related matter, I'll be joining Civil Discourse Now on a more regular basis over the next few months. In addition to being a panelist, I'll be doing pre-recorded segments that will air during the live show.

You can tune into Civil Discourse Now via its own Live365 channel and from Indiana Talks. To tune in via your mobile device, just download the Live365 app from your phone/tablet store and point it to 7bitsofinfo.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Opponents Face Harsh Media Optics

It seems like hardly a month goes by without yet another major company or organization announcing their opposition to HJR-6, the proposed amendment to Indiana's constitution that would define marriage between one man and one man and would super-ban same-sex marriage, all civil unions, and who knows what else.

This month, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce has announced their opposition to it. While they won't be joining directly with Freedom Indiana, the organization formally opposing HJR-6, they will be including HJR-6 opposition in their legislative lobbying. Chamber President Michael Huber, a former deputy mayor of Indianapolis under Greg Ballard, says that a politician or candidate's position on HJR-6 will also be reflected in their endorsements and campaign contributions.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has declined to take a position for or against the amendment.

What I found most interesting is the response from Micah Clark, a supporter of HJR-6 and executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana:

“It is unfortunate that the Indy Chamber has taken this position given that, according to Kiplinger Financial Magazine, the top five states for best business growth in 2012 and 2013 all have marriage protection amendments,” Clark said. “The myth that public policy support for traditional marriage is somehow bad for business is a red herring and a scare tactic.”

He added: “The future of marriage belongs in the hands of Hoosier voters, not the board room of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.”
This is the sixth or so variant that Micah Clark and/or Curtis Smith have had to submit in response to the latest business or organization announcing their opposition to HJR-6. They're doing it alone, by themselves, and it seems kind of lonely. In contrast, when Megan Robertson of Freedom Indiana speaks on issues related to HJR-6, she is speaking for and as part of an organization that is actively engaged in opposing HJR-6. And Robertson has no shortage of surrogates to toss to in case the Freedom Indiana folks want someone else to speak on the issue.

Ultimately, the proponents of HJR-6 won't just need to influence their allies in the state house but they'll need to influence the media battle as well. What surrogates do Curt Smith and Micah Clark have to offer? Will they make a compelling case to state legislators and to voters? And, most importantly, would I get significantly drunk if I took a shot every time they bring up religious opposition to same-sex marriage?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How I Could Support a Tax Increase

Political circles have been abuzz about tax increases for Indianapolis and Marion County. Some of these are specific proposals, while one is just a vague notions that have yet to really be supported by elected officials.

The Indianapolis Star has an excellent rundown on the two specific property tax increases Mayor Greg Ballard is pitching in his proposed budget, set to be unveiled at Monday's City-County Council meeting. Several days ago, Acting Mayor Ryan Vaughn told the Indianapolis Business Journal that an income tax increase is on the table as well in terms of balancing the budget.

I am actually not ideologically opposed to tax increases. I do believe that we can't run a world-class city on the cheap. But the question isn't how we get money to fund everything the city and county needs, but rather, what should we spend the money on.

For me to support a tax increase, I need to see that those who represent us in our government have done everything in their power to solve the budget shortfalls on their own. I want to see the pain that everyone is feeling, and not just see a bunch of hourly and low salaried workers from the City-County Building getting their hours cut. Because, in the past, that's exactly how budget cuts have been handled in this city. Defenders of the status quo and the powers-that-be may claim that these actions are insignificant, or that individually, they only represent a small part of a million here or a few thousand there. But if you add up all of these few millions and few thousands, it turns into a big pile of money that isn't being used in the best of ways.

Pet Projects Need To Stop

What is a pet project? A cricket stadium is a pet project. Increased arts funding from the general city budget is a pet project. This isn't to say that these projects are necessarily inherently bad or that a city has no place in doing them. But if we're going to be raising taxes to fund basic city services, to keep them at their (in some cases, barely) functioning levels, then we shouldn't be pissing money away on pet projects. If we are in an actual fiscal crisis, we need to prioritize, stop the pet projects that are being proposed, and draw back on the ones in progress. These can wait until we're on more stable fiscal ground.

Come Down Hard On Raises

This is one of the more symbolic gestures, but it needs to be done because there is a serious disconnect between the politically connected appointments made by the 25th floor and the rank-and-file workers within city departments and county agencies. In 2012, Mayor Ballard's office doled out raises to much of the staff there well outside of a cost of living increase. At the same time, county agencies and city departments are being told to hold the line on spending and cut when you can. And while legally, the fiscal body of the city-county government doesn't have to be notified, the City-County Council can still make it an issue.

Public Safety Needs To Feel Some Pain

There needs to be a thorough review of the Department of Public Safety and everything that falls within its purview. The actual office of DPS seems to have expanded greatly in the last few years, but why? And is that expansion necessary?

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department needs to start collecting that fuel surcharge for off-duty use, and tack a little bit more onto it for those that live outside of Marion County. In fact, all take-home car users need to live under this same rule.

The Marion County Sheriff's Department has some very expensive jobs in terms of managing the county's jails. That is not a cheap or easy task. And while some political opponents of the current Sheriff want to gut the department, I'd like to see a more conservative approach that recognizes the important functions of the department but still sees that there is money that can be saved. Deputies who are more likely to be needed at a moment's notice should get their take-home cars and be treated just like any other take-home car within the city or county. But deputies who are working in more stable environments, such as securing the City County Building, can probably leave their cars at the office when their shift is over. Some of the consulting fees from the former Sheriffs that the department employs also needs to be examined, but that review should be a part of a comprehensive review of consulting in all city departments and county agencies.

Open and Competitive Bidding

Our city is in dire need of some reality checks on how much stuff actually costs. A parking garage similar in size that other government divisions and cities had spent $7 million on, we spent $15 million on. That example is repeated time and time again with the current set of power brokers in this city, from contracts for developers, privatization efforts, and public-private partnerships, where our officials agree to almost anything and seemingly get no outside advice on if the city is getting a raw deal or not.

So this is how I could support a broad base tax increase for the city's general fund. And hey, I won't even charge a consulting fee for this advice.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Farewell to Dan

Dan Carpenter, the long time liberal columnist for The Indianapolis Star, is set to retire soon. With the recent semi-retirement of Mary Beth Schneider, The Star and the Indianapolis community as a whole has lost a lot of institutional knowledge and their contributions will be missed.

When I ran for council in 2011, Dan was one of the three who sat in on the panel when I came in for an interview. Before it started, I ran into Dan in the hallway. We had a very healthy conversation about our concerns with the state of our city. And while I was running as a Libertarian and Dan is a liberal (I don't know if I've ever actually heard Dan refer to himself as a Democrat), I felt that we had a lot of common ground. I also commented that I had been reading his columns since high school, and he responded with a smile and a self-depreciating joke about his age.

There aren't too many strong, liberal voices in Indiana, and Dan leaves some big shoes to fill.

Best of luck to him and his family in his retirement.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Was Brian Mahern Thinking?

To be clear, this is complete speculation on my part and I have not talked to anyone about Councilor Brian Mahern's poor attempt at ousting Council President Maggie Lewis outside of conversing on social media. However, this speculation is based on knowing both the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council as a body, and a number of the council members, fairly well.

For those not in the know, Mahern (D-District 16) tried to bring a motion to the floor of Monday's full council meeting. That motion was to make an agenda item on next month's meeting to oust Lewis (D-District 7) as President of the Council and, presumably, vote for a new President. The motion failed, with the Democratic caucus (minus Mahern) being joined by four Republicans to keep Lewis as President.

In the first year of the Democrats taking the majority on the Council, Mahern served as Vice President. With that role, he also became the chief critic of Mayor Greg Ballard (R). Meanwhile, the President slot went to Lewis. There was a very real divide between Democrats who felt they had been shut out of city government for the past four years and wanted their voice heard*, and Democrats who wanted to go along to get along while making changes here and there. Lewis was that compromise pick, in that she was seen as being able to work with the 25th floor and be able to bridge the divide with the more independent minded Democrats.

*There's also just blind partisans within this part that just wouldn't like any Republican at all, period. And to be fair, there's more than a few Republicans who fit this description as well who'd stand against any D on the 25th floor regardless of their policies. As they say, the Village Idiot needs his representation too.

As with many legislative bodies, a lot of the bickering and the power brokering and whatnot is done behind closed doors within caucus meetings. My guess is that, at some point in the recent past, Mahern and the more rogue Democrats on the council had a beef with Lewis and the more establishment Democrats. I wouldn't even be surprised if there was a conversation on getting a new Council President. But Mahern seemed to think that these behind-closed-doors chats with other caucus members would translate to some support in his public motion.

And that fell flat.

While many seem to think this has hurt Mahern's brand (and it probably has, it'll be a tough slating or primary for him should he choose to run for anything), I think it is important to recognize that there is a very real division within the Democratic caucus. This was a poorly thought out plan that seemed to be a rash act from Mahern. But what should trouble some is what if there was a more organized plot? Could that hurt Lewis and her brand and any higher political ambitions she may have?

With budget season officially under way, this could get interesting.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Scary Electoral Math for 2016 GOP Candidates

Over at the Red State blog, a series of diary entries from Myra Adams has been raising the questions that Republicans interested in winning back the White House really need to be asking. Adams writes about the several (16 that she finds) institutional advantages a Hillary Clinton run for the White House over any other candidate, as well as the steep electoral college challenge any Republican candidate will face against any Democratic candidate.

I think the one aspect Adams didn't hit on is the concept of the "Obama coalition". President Obama's electoral success isn't something unique in what types of voters voted for him (the only notable demographic that voted for him that traditionally went Republican are Asian Americans), but the real success of the Obama coalition was driving the turnout as much as possible. So the question isn't so much if these voters are Obama voters, but if these Obama voters can be relied on to vote for other Democratic candidates for President.

During the 2012 election, Karl Rove summarized what the Romney campaign needed to do to win the election: He needed to win all three major swing states (Ohio, Virginia, Florida), win back the two red states that Obama won in 2008 (Indiana, North Carolina), and pick up one of about a dozen smaller swing states. If any of the first two didn't happen, the Romney campaign would have to pick up several of the smaller swing states to catch up on the electoral map.

As we know, that didn't work out. Not only did the Romney campaign not win, but they didn't win a single one of the big three swing states. And even if they swept all three swing states, they still would've been four electoral votes short.

And while some may be quick to point out that many blue states have Republicans in elected offices from a state wide election, many of those were won in midterm 2010 elections, which not only had a different voting electorate but was very much a GOP wave election. The GOP can't rely on that happening during a Presidential campaign.

A lot can happen between now and November, 2016. But if I was at the RNC right now, I'd be hoping that the Obama coalition leaves with Obama, and crossing my fingers that Generic Boring White Guy gets the Democratic nod rather than Hillary Clinton or Vice President Joe Biden.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Indiana's Ridiculous Blue Laws

Earlier this week, I did some grocery shopping at a nearby Kroger. Among my items was a six pack of one of my favorite local beers. I finish my shopping, get in a check out line, and things seem to be going fine so far. Finally, it is my turn, and the cashier spots my beer. She seems to be frozen with fear (!!) as if something horrible has happened. She signals to her manager and explains to me that, since she is under age, she can't scan the beer herself. And then we sit and wait.

I ask if she can at least scan everything else until then, and she starts to until her manager steps over.

And her manager, with her magical manager powers of being some state-ordained age to sell me a package of room temperature beer, scans the item.

Didn't even have to be on a separate transaction.

So the under age cashier can scan everything except the beer, collect payment for everything including the beer, she can even touch the beer by putting it into a bag or loading it into my cart, she just can't scan it across the bar code reader.

Y'know, even when I disagree with one of the ridiculous blue laws within the Indiana Code, I can at least find the logical justification. Cold beer is an exclusive to liquor stores due to lobbyists. Keeping liquor stores so many feet away from places such as school is to keep criminal activity away.

But what's the possible justification of this one, where a cashier can't scan but can collect payment for beer, liquor, and wine?

Monday, August 5, 2013

State Fair Vendor Selling Confederate Flags

I spotted Leon Leather Co, a long time vendor at the Indiana State Fair, selling Confederate flags and other merchandise that had the Stars and Bars featured on products, such as door mats. 

While I'm a long time fan of the Indiana State Fair, I've never really ventured into the retail vendors that are selling clothing and hot tubs. Why would I go to the fair for that when I can get that stuff year around? 

So maybe this vendor has been at the fair for years, probably selling these types of products (and to be fair, a ton of other stuff) for years. And I suppose nobody has complained about it either. That's what Andy Klotz, PR Director for the Fair, tells me.

I don't know if this is because nobody has noticed it. Or it is because people don't recognize Confederate flags as a symbol of racism. Even if you genuinely believe that the Confederacy revolted against the North for truly non-racist, non-slavery reasons**, you can't deny that the Confederate Flag has been paraded around by racists as a symbol of racism. On the same day that the South Carolina legislature hoisted the Confederate Flag up, it was in the middle of the Civil War centennial and the Civil Rights movement was well underway. While the Confederate Flag flying over South Carolina's state legislature didn't cause any controvery itself, it is a symbol of all that was wrong with our country at the time. A simple Google search shows widespread use of Confederate symbols among white supremacy organizations and white power media.

This doesn't sit right with me, and I certainly don't believe it belongs at our state fair.

**I say believe because there's no way someone could make that into a factual argument. Slavery was most certainly THE biggest contributing factor to the American Civil War. There is no arguing otherwise.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

#IndyCouncil Shows Restraint

For those who don't closely follow the legislative process of Indianapolis-Marion County's legislative body, what typically happens is that each party meets in caucus prior to the meeting. They go down the agenda for that night and count the votes on the proposals and other measures that are expected to be close so that the outcome is almost always known before the meeting even starts. The leadership of each caucus knows how their caucus will vote, and if there are any defections. It gives them additional time to whip them into shape or confer with the opposing caucus to see if the other sides' defections counter their own.

If that happened last night before the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council met, it didn't show. Last night had several close votes on proposals and motions that showed democracy in action rather than pre-planned vote counting. 

One of the major votes last night was phasing out the county homestead tax credit. The county credit uses a portion of the County Optional Income Tax to lessen the burden of property taxes. Without this credit, property taxes would go up for some home owners, though the amount varies depending on a variety of factors. 

All 16 Democrats as well as Republican Councillors Aaron Freeman, Robert Lutz, and Christine Scales voted to keep the homestead tax credit in place. 

Mayor Greg Ballard put out this statement on the homestead tax credit being kept in place:

City-County Council leaders tonight failed to back up their rhetoric about providing more funding to our police and fire departments. I introduced this proposal a year ago. An independent, bi-partisan study commission recommended this step which would have cost only a percentage of homeowners less than a dollar per month and generated more than eight million dollars to support public safety in our city.
On that note, I would caution Councillor Lutz. He has quickly become one of the most likely Republicans to defect and side with the Democrats on some of the most controversial measures faced by the council, and has been at odds with the Ballard administration several times over the last two years. He might be shut out by the administration and his fellow Republican Councillors for daring to side against the powers-that-be. That said, I applaud his integrity and his willingness to stand up for his constituents.

The full council also considered an Economic Improvement District for the Fountain Square area. If passed, it would be Marion County's first EID. It would put an additional tax on business owners and non-profits on top of any property taxes paid, which would then be funneled into a fund for neighborhood improvements. An EID requires 50% support of property owners within the district. And, over the last few days, several initial backers of the EID have withdrawn their support. Original co-sponsor of the EID, Councillor Brian Mahern (D), also withdrew his support.

Councillor Jeff Miller (R) tried to move to send the proposal back to committee, but without success. Councillors Mahern and Angela Mansfield (D) pushed for a vote on the proposal that night, and the council voted 22-7 to "strike" it. According to the Indianapolis Star's Jon Murray, a strike essentially kills the proposal. 

Finally, a graffiti ordinance was sent back to committee. Some property and business owners have expressed concerns with some council members that the proposal, in its current form, could end up punishing property and business owners who operate in areas where graffiti is rampant. Proponents of the ordinance say that attentive business owners aren't the targets and that they'll be able to take advantage of an abatement established by the proposal. Proponents say the target will be negligent property owners who let their properties become a hot spot for graffiti.

In recent days, Councillor Zach Adamson (D) has said he'll be introducing amendments to the proposal based on feedback he's received from business owners, including the east side Cajun eatery, Papa Roux. Media reports don't indicate that any amendments were introduced last night (and they typically aren't during full council meetings), and presumably those amendments will be introduced and vetted in committee. 

I'd like to thank Council President Maggie Lewis and the other council leaders for allowing the democratic process to take its course. It isn't always pretty, or incredibly organized, and it doesn't often result in quick, easily wrapped up council meetings. But the council showed wisdom in exercising restraint last night. Hopefully, that wisdom will result in better public policy.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Very Special Monday Agenda Segment Tonight on the JohnnyStir Show

Tonight, I'll be making my regular appearance on the JohnnyStir Show on, but we're going to shake things up a bit. Over the weekend, I sat down with Councillor John Barth (D-At Large). Barth was elected in 2011 where Democratic candidates swept the At-Large seats and regained a majority on the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council. He currently serves as Vice-President of the council.

Barth was involved in creating what is known as the Midtown TIF, which roughly runs from 30th and Central and 38th and Illinois and also encompasses the more northern areas of Broad Ripple and Butler-Tarkington as well as a good chunk of land between all the areas. One of the first major developments requesting use of tax increment financing is a proposed development to replace the abandoned Shell site in Broad Ripple with a mixed-use retail and residential complex. It is speculated that the retail will be fairly large and will be a single renter, likely a Whole Foods.

Barth has come out in opposition to the development mainly due to the use of TIF funding to finance it, saying that there are areas within the TIF that need development more than Broad Ripple does. Proponents of the development say there won't be funding for future TIF developments if this project doesn't get going first. The developer of the mixed-use complex has submitted some changes to the design and zoning variances they've been seeking, so we'll see if that has changed Barth's view.

We also touched on panhandling and how long that ordinance will take to go through the process, budget hearings in the era of Senate Enrolled Act 621, and we briefly talked about the violence that broke out downtown after the fireworks show.

The show starts tonight at 9:00pm. You can listen live by clicking on the Indiana Talks button on the upper right hand corner of this blog. If you have an Apple or Android device, go to the Apple Store or Google Play Store and look for the "Live 365" app. Download it and look for Indiana Talks.

My segment should begin approximately at 9:40pm.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Microsoft Bungles XBox One Promotion, In Need of PR Advice

Over at Ogden On Politics, Paul Ogden often analyzes politicians and campaigns and offers them advice from a standpoint of how to communicate with voters. I thought of Paul after reading one of many articles that is now flooding the tech/geek websites panning the new console from Microsoft, XBox One.

In the tech/geek world, an event known as E3 recently happened where the gaming industry shows off all the new, cool stuff they'll be doing. Microsoft and their primary competitor, Sony, showed off their new consoles which are slated to be released later this year. However, Microsoft was already responding to criticism of various features that have proven to be unpopular among the gaming community. Those features are summed up in this nifty little picture:

Microsoft then canceled their post-E3 discussions with the media.

In a twist of irony, Sony's presentation at E3 almost consisted exclusively of how the Playstation 4 was the exact opposite of the XBox One.

One particular point of contention that has caught on is that the XBox One will require a check-in with the Microsoft Mothership once every 24 hours via an Internet connection, even if you are using the system to play a single player, offline game or do other offline activities. If it doesn't make the connection, your console will no longer be able to play any games (it isn't clear if it'll function for other activities or not).

This led a member of the United States Navy, Jay Johnson, to pen a blog post expressing his reluctance to buy an XBox One. He notes that even active service military members can have their personal game consoles with them, but they rarely have reliable Internet connections. He writes that "Microsoft has single handedly alienated the entire military, and not just the U.S. military, the militaries of the entire world." He also pleads with game developers not to implement online authentication for PS4 games.

Microsoft responded to this by condescendingly saying that customers who can't get an Internet connection should buy an Xbox 360, Microsoft's current console.

Realizing how condescending that sounds, Microsoft hired a PR flack to point out that Playstation 4 won't be allowed to connect to the Department of Defense's network, and that's true! But they'll still be able to play offline games, unlike with the new Xbox.

Ultimately, Microsoft solved the problem themselves. Even if you are able to connect to the Internet, anyone stationed abroad or traveling on business will only be able to play an Xbox One in 21 countries.

Finally, PR flack Major Nelson is alleged to say that Microsoft will be "educating" gamers about these various types of piracy protections and how they are a good thing.

Typically, when you have to educate your audience about something, it usually doesn't go over well.

Oh, I almost forgot. There is also the "We Are Watching You" Act being introduced in Congress, which specifically targets the XBox's Kinect device.

The reason I bring all this up on a blog that sticks to politics is this. As political observers, we often view politicians and campaigns that do something dumb or commit an act that makes absolutely no sense, or maybe something that seemingly could be good but is going to be hard to explain to voters and constituents. They need someone by their side to advice them and say "This is dumb, it won't go over well."

The same could be said about private industry as well.

I'm sure the tech guys and legal guys were thinking of all the ways to screw over gamers and showing power point presentations about how it'll increase revenues and make it harder to pirate games. But someone from outside tech and legal should've also had a spot at the table within Microsoft and say "Yes, but how will this affect people who buy and play games on consoles legally, and is it worth the trade off?"

If the XBox One's reception at E3 is anything to judge by, the answer is no.

Monday, June 17, 2013

JohnnyStir Show And Me, every Monday Night

I've put this up on Facebook and Twitter, but here it is for the blog reading audience.

I'll be making appearances on the JohnnyStir Show every Monday night at 9pm EST while political analyst Chris Jackson takes a break from the show. I'll be filling in for him for the summer. We'll typically be covering politics on a more national level, but I plan on introducing some local flavor in the coming weeks as well.

Tonight's show, I'll be on around 9:40.

If you're new to the whole online radio thing, you have a few options on listening:

  • In the upper right hand corner of each page of this blog, there is an "Indiana Talks" section with a button to press. It'll connect you to the station when you click.
  • If you have a smartphone or a tablet, look up "Live365" on the Google Play or Apple store and download the app. Then look for Indiana Talks on that app.
  • Finally, the folks at Indiana Talks typically have the podcast up in mp3 format within 24-48 hours on their web page.

I hope you listen in. You can tweet during the show by tweeing me @IndyStudent or Jon @JohnnyStir. 

City Again Thwarted By High Weeds and Grass in Parks

It seems like every year, just as the weather starts being consistently warm, one of the news organizations is able to find a bunch of city parks with tall grass and weeds. I bet they take turns deciding who gets to cover it each year, because it always seems to be an issue and the city always seems to be caught off guard. If this were private property, the Department of Code Enforcement would issue a violation ordering you to mow it yourself or face paying a city contractor to do it for you.

But the problem isn't exclusive to Eagle Creek Park. I recently biked the White River Trail, which connects the northwest side of Indianapolis to downtown. Tall grass of at least two feet can be seen around several parts of the trail. Along Riverside Park, you can tell the areas that have had cut grass because they stay there in piles.

But the worst violation of the grass and weeds ordinance was the Indy Cycloplex. Indy Cycloplex, home of the Major Taylor velodrome, is being managed by Marian University as part of a 30 year lease. There's a large area of grass that falls within the Lake Sullivan Complex that easily is 3-5 feet high.

To be clear, I don't blame the folks at Indy Parks & Recreation. They're doing the absolute best they can with the limited resources they're allocated. I do, however, blame the powers-that-be that continue to piss away our resources on cricket stadiums and ugly parking garages while essential city services and amenities such as public safety, parks, and libraries face budget cuts and staff shortages.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Whole Lot of Thoughts on Whole Foods

Indianapolis' powers-that-be have been hard at work starting up tax increment financing (TIF) districts and ensuring that some of the best parts of the city get property taxes diverted to a slush fund that they can use as they wish. The newest TIF stretches from 38th and Illinois and encompasses much of the Broad Ripple and Butler Tarkington area. The TIF was pushed by City-County Councillor John Barth (D-At Large). In documents while the TIF was being considered, its supporters said that the TIF was primarily for the neighborhoods and areas that haven't been doing well rather than the ones that currently are.

In reality, it should come as no surprise that the first proposed TIF project is renovating the old Shell gas station in Broad Ripple to slap a five story mix-use structure there instead. My friends Mark Small and Len Farber give excellent run downs of both the public meeting that was held earlier this week, as well as including details on the project.

Similar to the Broad Ripple parking garage, this new development is going to require millions of dollars to subsidize the development as well as a whole load of variances and re-zoning. According to Small, who was at the meeting held by the Broad Ripple Village Association, this project likely will not continue if Whole Foods is not signed on. They're aiming to have one tenant on the retail side, and they want it to be long term.

I have some sympathy for the developers when it comes to wanting to have one tenant. Some of the complaints about Massachusetts Avenue is that there are dozens of businesses that aren't something people window-shopping can utilize. Chiropractors, lawyers, and other non-retail and restaurants dot the area. I imagine part of the reason is that those types of businesses are more recession-proof than retail and food service. So having one tenant from a major chain, rather than 3-4 tenants that are locally based, makes some sense.

But that's about where my sympathy ends.

I'm sure the backers of this project will swear up and down that this will flush the TIF with cash and will allow them to get projects going in the more run-down areas, such as 38th and Illinois and 30th and Central.

I'll believe it when I see it. As far as I'm concerned, this is another slush fund project for Acting Mayor Ryan Vaughn and the more needy parts of the TIF can be damned.

I'll be on Civil Discourse Now tomorrow morning to discuss this issue with Mark Small and Paul Ogden. We'll be broadcasting from Good Earth, a locally owned natural foods store, at 11AM today. You can tune in by clicking the Play button on the Indiana Talks radio station, located in the upper right hand corner of this blog. You can also view the streaming video at Civil Discourse Now's online site.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

SB621 Is Now Law: Let them eat cricket stadiums and parking fees!

You've heard by now that SB621, the bill that strips the legislative body of Marion County of all meaningful power and gives it to the Mayor of Indianapolis, has been signed into law by Governor Mike Pence. You can read his statement on the law via Fox 59.

Among the talking points dished out by the powers-that-be was the whining that the poor Mayor just didn't have enough power. He was being bullied by those mean Democrats on the council. 

And those talking points largely went unchallenged by those in the media and, honestly, by most Democrats as well.

But I have to wonder if these people actually live in the same city as me. I guess they don't.

So if this is what Ballard's vision of Indianapolis is before he gets unprecedented power, I'm not too eager to find out what the next few years of his reign will bring.

Monday, April 29, 2013

At-Large Councillors Could Jump to Other Races

The passage of SB621, the Unigov reform bill, means many things. The parts that impact Marion County and Indianapolis government the most is the massive amount of power that the Mayor of Indianapolis gets over the City-County budget, including those of independently elected, constitutionally mandated county officeholders. But the part of the bill that received the most attention was the portion that dealt with the membership of the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council. As of January 1, 2016, the council will go from a 29 member body to a 25 member body. It would do so by eliminated the At-Large seats that represent the entire county.

This means that none of the current At-Large councillors, all Democrats, will be able to run for re-election for that seat.

So what would they do? While I have not heard any rumors of what they may do, I do have a working knowledge of approximately what political districts they reside in. So this is simply a list of what they could do, not what they may do.

Leroy Robinson lives in Pike Township within Council District 7, represented by Council President Maggie Lewis. He is likely represented by Democrats in both houses of the state legislature as well. A primary challenge to any of those incumbents is highly unlikely, though he has challenged

Zach Adamson lives in Council District 16. District 16 is represented by Brian Mahern, a fellow Democrat. Mahern has ruffled some feathers for being the most open and vocal critic of Republican Mayor Greg Ballard. And within the Democratic caucus of the City-County Council (and, in general, the Democratic Party of Marion County), there is the "go-along-to-get-along" crowd and there's the opposition. Adamson is firmly in the opposition camp, and if there is an attempt to get Mahern off the council, I doubt Adamson will be the person to do so. His policies line up more closely with Mahern than anyone else on the Democratic caucus

John Barth lives in the Butler-Tarkington area. The general Broad Ripple-ish area of town is one of the few Republican leaning parts of town that isn't in the southern part of Marion County, so running in that district might not be the wisest decision. That part of town was in a fairly close Indiana Senate election, where Scott Schneider narrowly defeated Democrat Tim DeLaney. While things look pretty grim for Democrats running for state legislative seats outside of Marion and Lake County, there's a lot of room for improvement in Marion County's state legislative districts.

Pamela Hickman, who was appointed to the At-Large nomination in 2011 after Joanne Sanders announced she wouldn't run for re-election, has taken a few shots at elected office before. In 2007, she lost in the Democratic primary for council district 4, which is currently represented by Republican Christine Scales. Scales won what may be one of the narrowest victories of a council district election in November 2011 by less than a hundred votes from a well-funded Democratic challenger. Hickman also ran in the 2008 election for Indiana House District 87, currently held by Republican Cindy Noe Democrat Christina Hale.

Based off of this analysis, I think Barth and Hickman probably have the most options open to them. Hickman probably stands the best chance of staying on the council if she chooses to run in her district. The options appear far fewer for Robinson and Adamson, but a lot could happen in two years.

And I'd like to apologize for the errors surrounding District 87. Thanks to Wilson and Zach for the corrections.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Did the Department of Education Get Taken for a Tech Ride?

The Indiana Department of Education, headed by Superintendent Glenda Ritz, seems to be having difficulty with an expensive piece of technology that was purchased before Ritz and her team came into office. Ritz's predecessor, Tony Bennett, inked the deal with a telecommunications company last summer. The telecommunications company also employed one of Bennett's former staffers. Now, as the technology is being delivered over time, there appears to have been little communication during the transition period on what purpose this technology serves and how it's a wise investment.

While I'm sure the politics and the tensions between Ritz and Bennett are what some will focus on, I'd rather take a look at the purchase of all this technology. Specifically, how Bennett defends the purchase:

Reached in Florida, where he is now that state’s education commissioner, Bennett told me that the new technology would connect educators in a 21st-Century way. He called the TelePresence technology “very interactive and incredibly high resolution” and called it a “very powerful tool” that can save money by reducing travel expenses.
“If we expect schools and districts to use technology and innovation, then I believe the Department of Education should be a leader in that,” he said. Pointing to Ritz’s longtime career as a media specialist in Washington Township Schools, he added: “I’m a little shocked that a person whose background was as a media specialist doesn’t have an understanding of how this very powerful technological tool can improve communication between the department and schools.”

The parts' I emphasized lead me to believe that Dr. Bennett was probably swindled by the telecommunications company. It sounds like he heard these buzzwords from his staff and the salesmen who brokered the deal. And, convinced these people using these fancy-sounding words to describe their products knew what they were talking about, purchased the whole package without much outside counsel.

I spent two years doing IT work for a few clients, building computers, running cables through walls, expanding networks, setting up phones and voice mail systems, and getting people off of Outlook and into Gmail for their e-mail needs. I don't type this to tout that I'm some technological demigod. But, as someone who is pretty familiar with technology, I recognize that my knowledge has limits and that there are times I need someone else's opinion to make sure I'm getting a good deal. I think Bennett or the staff that was in charge thought they knew technology, and due to their knowledge, this deal sounded a-okay.

In addition to the total cost of the technology, there is also $152,000 annual charge for software licensing for whatever this telecommunications technology uses to function.

Now, I'm not an expert in telecommunications. But in my experience, there is often software that people have been using in the workplace for a very long time that has an established presence, and keeps being used  regardless of the cost. There is also newer software that is available at a fraction of the cost, but people might not be familiar with the specifics of it. Because people are so tied to tradition, it is very hard to convince businesses and non-profits to switch, even if it is an obvious cost-saving move.

This whole thing is something that could be defended if Bennett's team sought outside counsel to ensure them that they were getting a good deal, or prevented if the advice went the other way. Unfortunately, taxpayers are now stuck with a bill for technology we might not even use.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Most Arguments Against Mass Transit Are Bunk

I was listening to The Great Real America Radio Hour featuring Greg Garrison the other day. And I guess a lot of people chickened out and didn't call in to talk about mass transit the other day when they had one of the Indy Connect people on. So they took to the radio waves today to vent their frustrations on this big government overreach that is probably going to end up in a study committee.

What I heard on the radio were arguments that I've heard a lot that I don't believe make a lot of sense. There was a lot of "how much of a subsidy will it need per ride?" and "Why doesn't private business pay for it?". The irony being is that a lot of these people were probably driving in their cars and on roads that aren't "paid for". Yes, there is a federal and state gasoline sales tax. But the money collected there isn't enough to pay for all the road and highway maintenance performed. Governments take out bonds or sell off assets or do privatization deals to make money to maintain brides and roads and pave sidewalks. This is not new.

There's all types of stuff the government does that doesn't turn a profit. But the theory behind government, on behalf of society, doing these things such as paving roads and providing police and fire protection and so on isn't just because we want government to burn our money for us. But because we believe that these services are worth paying for because it is part of making our society a place we want to live in and a place we want others to visit.

Now that isn't to say that the financial figures shouldn't be a concern. But critics should move away from the general "it costs money, a lot, so it is bad" argument and move on to specifics.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Erika Smith Isn't the Problem, The Indianapolis Star Is

My friend Jon Easter has come to Erika Smith's defense in reference to her numerous columns in support of mass transit. Smith, a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, has published nearly a dozen columns in this calendar year in support of mass transit. Most of her anti-transit critics have attacked her for having an opinion that supports mass transit, but Jon defends it, saying that her job as a columnist is to have an opinion and she's hardly the only columnist to have a pet issue.

I agree with Jon. Erika Smith should write about what she wants. I don't particularly enjoy Smith's style of writing, but it is by no means bad. I just don't enjoy it. Not my cup of tea.

But the problem isn't with Smith. She's staked out an issue and essentially made it her own. The problem rests with the Star as a whole, particularly the overall organization of their editorial pages and columnists.

I am by no means saying the Star needs to go out and find people to argue against mass transit. I don't personally believe that newspapers need to be "balanced" in their editorial pages, that for every pro [whatever issue] column there must be an anti [whatever issue] to balance it out. That cheapens discourse and presents the image that two views are equally valid, and that isn't always the case.

But I do believe in diversity of topics. So when you have one writer focusing on one topic over multiple columns in a short period of time, maybe you don't need several columns from the editorial board echoing pretty much the same sentiments. Encourage other columnists to do other topics, or at least take a different look on the topic.

Journalists of all stripes need to ask themselves who, what, where, when, and why. But a journalism professor I once had liked to expand on the "why" part and add in "Why should I care?". Even the most passionate transit-advocates may eventually get tired of the umpteenth pro-mass transit column that says roughly the same thing as the last pro-mass transit column. It certainly is a major issue. But there are other issues going on that deserve some attention as well. With mass transit seemingly dead for now, hopefully Star readers can expect some new topics soon on the editorial pages.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Democrats, Neighborhood Advocates Winning Image Game in SB621 Debate

I attended the Committee on Local Government hearing yesterday at the Indiana Statehouse. It was held in the basement and probably in one of the smallest rooms they could've used. The seats were filled up well before the meeting started, and many stood in the hallway.

It was no secret that most there were Democrats. There were also representatives of several advocacy and neighborhood groups, including Common Cause and the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Association. These two groups, together, had 27 people signed up to testify against SB621.

So who did the Democrats send to testify against SB621? Actual Democrats. The elected officials that hold political positions in Marion County. Sheriff John Layton represented the Marion County Sheriff's Department. Terry Curry represented the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. Council President Maggie Lewis made it clear she was representing Marion County Democrats on the council.

They didn't send lobbyists or representatives. They sent themselves.

Who did Mayor Greg Ballard send to speak on his behalf? His lobbyist, Joe Loftus. Also in the crowd, but not participating, were current GOP county chairman Kyle Walker and former chairman Thomas John.

As for the details of the meeting, Senator Michael Young (R-Speedway) was present and led the committee through a history of UniGov and what he thought the most important provisions of the bill were. Young made it very clear that he was comfortable with most of the bill going to a summer study committee, but he thought the most important part was the elimination of the four At-Large seats on the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council. He said that election year politics might prevent that from getting done next year and if they aren't eliminated now, they might never be eliminated.

Before the meeting, committee chairman Kevin Mahan (R- Hartford City) said he'd be offering an amendment to eliminate the axing of the At-Large Council seats to the bill.

After testimony from both sides were heard, Mahan said he had 13 amendments that were filed for this bill before he left the previous day. He said, due to the length of the testimony, the committee would only be hearing one amendment, his own. He said other members can propose their own amendments on second reading.

It passed, creating a difference between the Senate and House version. If it passes out of the House, it'll have to be settled in a conference committee.

If the bit about the At-Large between Young and Mahan was theatrics or genuine is beyond my knowledge, but it certainly was interesting.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Open Letter to Governor Mike Pence

An open letter to Governor Pence,
                My name is Matt Stone. I’m a lifelong Indianapolis resident, a former candidate for local office, and I dab a bit in political punditry as well. I feel as if I need to disclose that I didn’t vote for you, but I’m not writing this letter to tell you where I disagree with you. Just the opposite, I’m writing to tell you that you are a breath of fresh air to Indiana government and that now, more than ever, we need someone like you who hasn’t been wined and dined by the special interests that invade the State House the first few months of every year.
                Your recent comments on the mass transit and the Speedway bailout are what inspired me to write you this letter. As an Indianapolis resident, I believe that the city of Indianapolis and Marion County have had more revenue these past few years than they ever have had before.  And I believe Indy Go, our public bus system, is underfunded. But it is underfunded because of priorities, not because of a lack of revenue. We have chosen, through our local government, to fund business developments, parking garages, and sports stadiums over libraries, bus service, and public safety. I’d much rather have an extended bus service that goes beyond mostly downtown and the east side of Indianapolis, as well as a new police recruit class, over a bailout of the Indiana Pacers and a $15 million parking garage. But unfortunately, our elected and appointed officials have not decided that. So instead of asking for more revenue for stuff I favor, I believe we should advocate for better governance rather than more revenue. And maybe there is a role for state government to provide a hand in advocating better governance in that.
                Additionally, I think there are fine details in the mass transit proposal that are absolutely horrifying. Marion County property tax payers will continue to pay for the municipal corporation that is Indy Go, but that property tax money will be funneled into the new regional mass transit board. In addition, all working Marion County residents will pay an increased County Optional Income Tax to support the mass transit regional board. Hamilton County, which has no public transit at this time, will only be paying the County Optional Income Tax. I have concerns that Marion County property tax payers will be used to subsidize the more extravagant portions of mass transit, such as the lite rail line from Noblesville to Indianapolis. It is my belief that any lines that run from Hamilton County to Indianapolis will largely favor Hamilton County residents. There is a lot of incentive for those in Hamilton County to come to Indianapolis. But there isn’t nearly as much incentive for those in Indianapolis to go to Noblesville, Fishers, or Carmel.
                I also was absolutely supportive of you on what you said of the Speedway bailout. There is nothing in there that requires IMS to provide a single penny towards the improvements on the race track. And it is my understanding that a clause that’ll prevent IMS from selling the Speedway isn’t likely to be in the final bill.
                In both of these proposals, these respective special interests have been wining and dining state legislative representatives and the powers-that-be for a very long time. As someone who hasn’t been on their radar until recently, I believe that you have some independence that other leaders of state government do not. I urge you to use your influence to encourage responsible changes in these bills. And if they aren’t changed, then I urge you to use your veto pen.
                The other proposal I want you to keep an eye on is Senate Bill 621, which passed the Senate and is now being considered in the House. SB621, written by Senator Mike Young at the request of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, would greatly consolidate power that currently exists in the Indianapolis legislative body, the City-County Council, and put it under the Mayor’s office. He or she would have the authority not only to line-item veto budgets, but re-write budgets to his liking, essentially making the Council’s participation in the budget process an exercise in futility. SB621 would also eliminate the four At-Large positions on the City-County Council, leaving only councilors who have a limited interest in governance and doesn’t provide a single councilor who thinks about the entire county as a whole. Finally, one of the oddest bits of SB621 changes the residency requirements to run for Mayor of Indianapolis from five years to two years.  I don’t think someone who has only lived here for two years should be allowed that amount of power.
                As someone who generally leans to the right, I do believe that there is some smart consolidation and reform that can be done with Uni-Gov. But it needs to be done carefully and without regard to partisan power grabs. This bill is a blatant attempt to consolidate power under Mayor Greg Ballard and whoever Mike Young has in mind that currently resides in Fishers or Carmel who wants to run in 2015. I urge you to veto this bill, and issue a statement for a Marion County government reform study committee so that serious reforms can be drawn up in public, instead of behind closed doors.
                I also wanted to write to you on a more general topic: the condition of the Hoosier family. During your campaign, you said you wanted a family analysis on actions of state government. You’ve also spoken out against expanded gambling in Indiana. I believe that is key to protecting Hoosier families. And I hope you expand that same skepticism to the more wide-spread version of gambling that is the Hoosier Lottery.
                With the pseudo-privatization that has taken place, the Hoosier Lottery is poised to increase their presence further in mostly poor, working class neighborhoods and those who are retired but living on a fixed budget. While ultimately the decision to play the Lottery is an individual choice, putting them in convenience stores close to neighborhoods makes it more likely those residents in that area will play. Moving them just a few blocks out of the neighborhood, out of walking distance, or in large general stores where people have to wait in long lines regardless of how many items they’re purchasing, would dis-incentivize people from playing the Lottery who are only visiting to play it.
                In an ideal world, we would’ve ended the state-sanctioned Hoosier Lottery long ago. But politics is about the realm of the possible. So instead of wishing for something that isn’t going to happen, I hope you’ll keep a watchful eye on the Lottery. I know it brings a lot of revenue for state government, but I think it does more harm than good and I hope your administration can work on changing it so that it does more good than harm.
                                                    Matthew Stone

Friday, March 22, 2013

So Long, Steve Hammer, and Thanks For All The Fish

Longtime NUVO columnist Steve Hammer recently accepted a job offer in the Lone Star state of Texas. This means he'll be ending his weekly column in the weekly alternate paper. On that end, I wish him the best for him and his family.

But as a columnist often representing the liberal viewpoint, and as the former editor of the music section of Nuvo, I can't say he'll be missed.

My criticism of Hammer isn't that he's liberal. But that there isn't much thought put into what he writes about. When Governor Mitch Daniels was still in office, he'd often criticize Daniels for privatization efforts and praise Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard within the same column, even though their policies on privatization often were similar (and sometimes using the same contractors).

I don't think anyone would hold Hammer up as the best representative of the liberal viewpoint in Indianapolis print media. That honor should go to Star columnist Dan Carpenter or former Star/current Indianapolis Business Journal columnist Sheila Suess Kennedy.

As the former editor of the music pages of Nuvo, Hammer left much to be desired. A Facebook discussion mentioned an all-girl rock group he often promoted that never amounted to much. The general consensus was they weren't bad, but they weren't the goddesses of music that Hammer made them out to be and probably didn't warrant the several front-page stories they got.

In my time as a contributor to Indianapolis Music Net, some of the writers, editors, and photographers had a much more contentious relationship with Hammer. I went to a concert at The Emerson Theater and had a photographer with me. My review, and the photographer's photographs, were up the next day on the web site. The next time Nuvo came out, the photographer's photographs appeared in Nuvo with no attribution to him. Hammer also wrote a very critical review of the concert. The photographer I was with claimed that he was all over the venue and stage that night and never saw Hammer at the show.

This incident happened several years ago, and I don't remember if an apology was issued or if a correction was made in the online version of the story. But even if there was, there were still thousands of printed Nuvo copies that made it out that the photographer did not give permission for and received no proper attribution.

Hammer's consistency in turning in thousands of articles on time should be admired. But much else as a columnist and an editor leaves much to be desired. So long, Steve, and thanks for all the fish.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Marion County Property Taxpayers Will Be Paying For Mass Transit

In the much talked about effort to allow a mass transit referendum within Marion and Hamilton Counties, one of the more interesting aspects of the proposed legislation is what will happen to the current Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, which runs Indy Go.

Like many parts of city and county government, Indy Go relies heavily on property taxes to fund their operations. Currently, Hamilton County does not have any public transpiration so they won't be paying property taxes to establish any public transit within Hamilton County or the central Indiana region. Their contribution will exclusively come from an increase in the County Optional Income Tax.

However, Marion County property tax payers do pay for Indy Go. And they'll continue to pay that property tax even though it'll no longer go to the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation. Instead, it'll go to the brand new, regional board.

(2) The Indianapolis public transportation corporation is abolished upon the transfer of powers and duties to the metropolitan transit district as provided in subdivision (1). However, the taxing district established for the public transportation corporation continues in existence for purposes of any property taxes imposed by the county fiscal body for transfer to the metropolitan transit district to pay the district's costs of carrying out the powers and duties of a public transportation corporation.
As a Marion County resident, I have to ask why we have a tax burden that Hamilton County won't also share? We at least have a bus system to base any extended transit options on. Hamilton County doesn't. Surely their upstart costs for a bus system, or the fabled rail line from Noblesville and/or Fishers (this seems to change a lot) to Indianapolis will cost a lot more than adding buses and adding new routes to an already established system.

Now, I am not dead-set against expanded transit options, especially when it comes to bus service. Bus service is very poor and spotty, even in the parts of town with the most routes. For better or for worse, we're in a service-based economy with a lot of jobs that don't pay a lot. The least we can do, as a society, is try to help the people who work these jobs get around.

So what can we do with this property tax money? Ideally, we should eliminate it. If Hamilton County can fund their contributions to regional transit with less of a tax burden, we probably can as well. But at the very least, Marion County property tax money should be earmarked to be used only in Marion County for projects that'll help those most in need. And no, a fantasy rail line is not going to help those most in need.

Unfortunately, I doubt anyone in the State House will be reading this. It is my understanding that a lot of local blogs are now blocked. So my apologies to my frequent readers from the State of Indiana's IT Department. You will be missed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Destroy the Lottery

Here's an idea our esteemed legislators and elected officials should consider, as we ponder ways to cut costs in government and make government more accountable to the citizens that it represents.

Let's get rid of the Hoosier Lottery.

No, I do not mean sell it off to a private company.

No, I don't mean give a vendor a long-term lease on running the operations while retaining some control over the overall operations.

I mean, let's just get rid of it altogether.

The Hoosier Lottery has the typical corruption that Hoosiers have come to expect from our state government. WTHR reporter Bob Segall broke the news of the Hoosier Lottery offices being moved into a new, expensive space that could cost more than $2 million in rent a year compared to the old space. Subsequent investigations from Segall revealed that the Lottery Commission didn't even bother reviewing the extravagant purchases being made for the new space. Eventually, the director of the Hoosier Lottery resigned.

An analysis from The Indianapolis Star, backed by academic studies and information requests from state government as well as their own research, revealed that Hoosier Lottery players 67% of those playing have household incomes less than $50,000 a year. Comparing that data with census data, they found that the lower an area's per capita income, the more lottery retailers it has. The analysis also discovered that Lottery revenue is disproportional received by higher income counties based on the value of vehicle registration. So counties with a lot of expensive cars and RVs will get a lot of money, whereas counties with used cars won't get as much. In other words, neighborhoods with a lot of poor (And let's just say it, also a lot of minorities) are subsidizing the rich (mostly white) neighborhoods.

On top of all that, the Hoosier Lottery has launched a new, deceptive ad campaign that sinks even lower than where it has previously gone. A private vendor has been charged with operations in hopes that revenue will increase, so the new ad campaign talks about life goals that can be achieved with lottery winnings, such as paying for a child's college. Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully further critiques the ad campaign, saying it is "preying on emotions in a downright despicable way."

So why not just end the lottery altogether?

People might say that'll create a revenue gap in state budgeting. I don't buy it.

In economics, one's income becomes discretionary income after taxes paid and after all necessary bills are paid. What is left over is discretionary. And, for better or for worse, most people are going to spend their discretionary income rather than save it. Just because they won't be playing the Hoosier Lottery doesn't mean that won't go into the economy somehow. They're going to go out and spend it, and local and state governments will collect the sales tax. And if they choose to invest it again, good for them. I'd be fine with a slight drop in revenue if that means more people are stashing away money in their savings account or 401(k).

Governor Pence has taken a valiant stand against expanding gambling in the state. He should take it one step further and use the bully pulpit to put us on a path so that the state of Indiana will be out of the state-sponsored gambling institution known as the Hoosier Lottery.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Evans' Party Switch Still Raises Eyebrows

Councilor José Evans switched from being a Democrat to a Republican. Evans, who represents District 1 on the northwest side of Indianapolis, has narrowed the Democratic majority from 16-13 to 15-14. Evans held a press conference with state GOP Chairman Eric Hoclomb and Marion County GOP Chairman Kyle Walker announcing the party switch. At the press conference, it was also said that Evans was going to be able to meet with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus later in the day.

In an exclusive interview with radio personality Amos Brown, Evans doesn't shed a lot of light on why he switched or what pushed him to the Republican side of the isle.

Evans' repeatedly says he'll "have a seat at the table", but on what? Evans recently voted against several charter school expansions on the council, all of which passed with wide support from councilors. Is he going to have a seat at the table with education reform both at the city and state level which he has very different views on then most elected GOP officials?

Will he "have a seat at the table" in labor issues? Council Democrats were heavily supported by organized labor in 2007, and it is one of the few larger issues that does come into municipal governance with so many facilities in the downtown area that use low wage labor to support the sports and convention industries. Several proposals to support hotel workers in the downtown area have been shot down, either by past GOP council majorities or by the veto pen of Mayor Greg Ballard. In the larger landscape of Indiana, a group of pro-labor Republicans called the Lunchpail Republicans were largely unsuccessful in primarying legislatures who were proponents of the 2011 Right-to-Work law.

Will he "have a seat at the table" when it comes to government reform in Marion County? Evans was very non-descript on how he felt of the Indiana legislature's proposed consolidation, which would give Acting Mayor Ryan Vaughn unprecedented control over the budget of the county without any meaningful legislative oversight. And a provision in the Senate version of the bill would take away the At-Large council seats in time for the 2019 municipal elections.

An issue he cited at both the GOP press conference and in the Brown interview was the Meadows TIF. The Meadows, which is the neighborhood roughly around 38th and Keystone, was proposed to be put into a TIF so that development, specifically a grocery store, could be put in the area. The initial measure was sponsored by Councilor Steve Talley and Councilor Christine Scales. The TIF did not have support from either the Democrats or Republicans and never made it to a vote on the full council or committees. But Evans still could've co-sponsored the proposal, but he didn't. The substitute proposal for the Meadows, which would've taken $3 million in RebuildIndy funds to support a grocery store and other projects, also didn't have Evans as a co-sponsor.

During Brown's interview, he said that if Broad Ripple gets a TIF, then so should the Meadows. He voted for the so-called Midtown TIF.

I understand that Evans doesn't want to air "dirty laundry" from Democratic caucuses. And because of that, perhaps we'll never really know why Evans' has these issues he's super passionate about, but seemingly never got his voice heard on, or why he never made any public declaration of them.

I would like to revise one stance I took on Twitter the other day. I don't think this is a purely political decision made by Evans. I have my doubts that he'll actually run for re-election. It just leaves me scratching my head and I wonder who does this benefit, and I really don't see any individual or group benefiting from this party-switch in either the short or long term.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How Does Drug Testing TANF Recipients Create Jobs?

The Indiana General Assembly is in session. Whenever state legislative assemblies are in session, there seems to be a contest over who can be the absolute worst at legislating, and our Assembly certainly gives the others a run for the money.

The Indiana House passed something that died off last year. They overwhelmingly passed a bill that would randomly test recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) for illegal drugs. If they fail the drug test, they can continue receiving benefits while getting treatment. According to the IBJ, cost of treatment would be left to the TANF recipient.

As I wrote two years ago, similar efforts in Florida showed that TANF recipients had a lower-than-average rate of illegal drug usage than the general population. Florida also cost a lot more than any money that was saved. And the legality of the Florida law has been put in question, with a US Court of Appeals saying that no "special need" has been shown to justify suspending 4th Amendment rights for TANF recipients.

For an assembly that is supposed to be all about jobs, education, and the economy, I fail to see how legislation that specifically is designed to punish poor people for being poor advances any of those goals. I also don't see why this is allowed to proceed when many other groups of people who get money from the State of Indiana one way or another are not given similar treatment.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why is University of Phoenix recruiting at Ivy Tech?

The words "University of Phoenix" usually aren't followed by anything worthy of praise in the academic world. It might be that their accreditation is in jeopardy, or that their recruiters used strong-arm sales tactics to get students, or that they're closing 115 locations. The state of California has even cut off state-based financial aid to the University of Phoenix, and many other for-profit educational organizations, because of their low graduation rate and high default rates.

So why is Ivy Tech, an institution set up for Hoosiers to get into (or in my case, back into) higher learning, allowing a paper mill like University of Phoenix to set up shop and recruit students on campus? I saw it at the Lawrence campus this morning.

It is not uncommon for any number of trade schools, universities, and even employers to set up booths at any number of colleges or universities, or to attend academic fairs. Especially at a college that has a lot of people that will need to transfer to a university at some point to finish their degree.

But by letting them onto the campus, Ivy Tech is lending some amount of credibility to them. Credibility that they neither have earned or deserve. They exist only to leech off of government loans and grants to give their shareholders a profit.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Council Complications

Much has been written about the newest member of the Indianapolis City-County Council, Jefferson Shreve. Shreve has had his residency question, won a GOP caucus vote to fill in for the remainder of Jeff Cardwell's term. Cardwell has stepped down from the council to serve in Governor Mike Pence's administration.

Much has been written about Shreve, and the political establishment in this town has lined up defending Shreve. Their defense is that Jeff Cardwell is an honorable man, and by proxy, Shreve is honorable as well and how dare you even question what happened.

I call bullpucky.

I don't know Cardwell personally, but I have no doubt to believe that he isn't a decent, honorable man. I'm sure he'll be a great asset in Governor Pence's administration.

But that doesn't mean that one can't criticize the wheeling and dealing politics that go on in these precinct committee caucus meetings. Just because Cardwell is an honorable, decent man doesn't mean everyone surrounding him is.

And finally, I'd like to write about the man Shreve beat in the GOP caucus, Michael Kalscheur.

Kalscheur is a long-time south side GOP activist. He ran as one of four At-Large council candidates in the 2011 municipal election.

During that election, I sat down with him and had lunch. Though we were candidates running under different parties and had disagreed on some issues, we had a frank discussion about the state of politics in this city. He expressed deep reservation about some of the taxes that had been passed under Mayor Ballard's first term, and said told me he'd be against any tax increases that came before the council.

Throughout the campaign, we kept in touch via e-mail and social media. I found him to be a decent and honorable man and thought he'd be an asset to the Republican caucus.

My final thoughts on this matter are I can only hope that Councilor Shreve will be as effective, independent, and hard-working as a councilor that I believe Michael would've been.