Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was famous for asking his fellow New Yorkers, "How am I doin'?" He usually got some interesting answers. I bring up the former Mayor of NYC because Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard recently gave his State of the City address, an annual assessment of where things are in the city.
The Mayor spent much of his speech focusing on things happening in the city that don't get a lot of attention, like Developer Town, a warehouse-turned-technology incubator just south of Broad Ripple near 52nd and College where he chose to deliver his speech.Earlier that day the Mayor, Public Safety Director Dr. Frank Straub and Acting Chief Rick Hite had to go before the media and a spend time explaining the latest screw up in the case of David Bisard. And I believe those two incidents really illustrate where Indianapolis is right now. It is a city that is making progress and moving forward, but still has some longtime, deep-seated issues that need to be addressed.
Take the city budget, for example. A lot of talk is circulating as of late about budget shortfalls in public safety. At the same time the city is looking to fill a shortfall next year of $30 million. That number was about $70 million until the State of Indiana made an accounting/IT error and returned more than $200 million to local governments in tax revenue. I have no doubt that Mayor Ballard and his team will make local agencies live within their means. Please note that when they came into office in 2007, the city was projected to have a $200 million deficit and that was after the 65 percent County Option Income Tax increase and prior to the economic meltdown of 2008/2009. However, the long-term restructuring that needs to be done will be the challenge. Needed change involves the streamlining of individual city and county agencies as well as exploring new revenue streams through job growth and economic development.
In areas such as the environment, Indianapolis isn't doing too badly either. Sustainability efforts with retrofitting buildings, bike lanes, looking at the expanded use of our waterways and tributaries along with the reworking of the sewer consent decree, which saved taxpayers over a billion dollars, are accomplishments in which we can be proud.
The city is still somewhat schizophrenic, however, about mass transit and how to do it efficiently.
Public safety is the big albatross around the mayor's neck. During his first campaign, the mayor said public safety was job number one. And the city has had major successes in that area.Not too long ago, the city annual murder count topped 150. For the last few years, that number rests at less than 100. The appearance that Indianapolis was turning into the Wild Wild West was disappearing. But as the incident involving David Bisard goes, this town still has a long way to go to fully professionalize its police department. And for the record, blaming Public Safety Director Frank Straub for IMPD's problems is like blaming an exterminator for finding the rats.
So overall, how's Indy doing? I think for the most part it's not doing too badly, especially when you hold it up to the light of other cities. However that still doesn't mean the Circle City doesn't have serious, long-term, problems that need to be addressed. But, ironically, that's the nice thing about a long-term problem, there's plenty of time to fix it. Life would just be easier if we began the work now.
There is an old saying in politics that if you stick around long enough, you will eventually see just about everything.I have been writing about the Indianapolis City-County Council for nearly eight years now and I think this year I have finally seen things come full circle, particularly in the area of public safety and the city's finances.
For example, currently Public Safety Director Frank Straub is up for reappointment by the City Council.No doubt that Straub is considered controversial in some circles and the Democrats have questioned whether he can serve in the position if a majority of the Council doesn't sign offon the reappointment.The law on this is pretty clear, Straub can stay until either he leaves or the Mayor picks a new head of DPS.Democrats are questioning that now, but they had a different attitude back in December 2010.At that Council meeting Council member Vern Brown acknowledged during a Q and A with then President Ryan Vaughn that the Council did not have the authority to get rid of Straub, he would still have a job the next day no matter how they voted and if the voters didn't like it they would take it out on the Mayor in the next election.
Don't believe me? That's fine you can see and hear the conversation for yourself. Here's the link to that Council meeting on the city's website. Councilor Brown's comments come in at about 44:00 into the meeting.
Now let's move on to the latest news, what to do to plug an anticipated $34 million budget public safety shortfall?Some Democrats have suggested using money from the Rebuild Indy fund as a way to fill that gap in public safety.What's surprising about that isn't that it would be using one-time revenue to plug an ongoing expense, which is considered to be really bad fiscal management, but my Democratic friends threw a fit a couple years back during the debate over the transfer of the water company to Citizens Energy Group. The city received $425 million from Citizens which was used primarily for street and sidewalk repair and to tear down abandoned homes.The Ballard administration also used part of the proceeds for the Fiscal Stability Fund so the city could keep its high credit rating which makes it easier to float bonds at a lower interest rate. They also used part of it to start an education incubator to turn Indianapolis into the Silicon Valley of education reform. But even then Democrats cried foul that money from the water company would be diverted to other purposes.
Don't believe me? Guess what, I have another clip for you. This is from the July 27 City-County Council meeting. Democratic Councilor Monroe Gray goes on about using $100,000 annually from the $425,000,000 for the Council to monitor complaints about the water transfer and sending any surplus appropriation to the general fund. They come about an hour and 13 minutes into the meeting.And that was just over spending $100,000. I don't mind my Democratic friends expressing their opinions on issues of the day, I just wish they would be more consistent. Or at the very least make sure there aren't any recordings lying around.
It is Jan. 30, 2013. An SUV pulls up to the Statehouse and out steps U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. He walks up the steps to the governor's office where he sits down to have a conversation with Gov. John Gregg and House Speaker Pat Bauer.
They are discussing newly re-elected President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to Indianapolis. They lament how the trip would have been even better had Melina Kennedy been elected Mayor of Indianapolis back in 2011.
Depending on your political persuasion, the above scenario either made you happy with glee or sent a cold chill down your spine. My hope is that the latter has occurred.
This is not to say by any stretch of the imagination that Congressman Donnelly, former Speaker John Gregg or Democratic Minority Leader Pat Bauer are bad guys who only want to wreak political havoc on Indiana. Far from it. I think they are all good, descent men, who only have the voters and the Hoosier state's best interest at heart.
But if the election were held today, none of those gentlemen would end up holding the offices they aspire to.
One thing, though, could make it possible: Their Republican counterparts.
For example, the U.S. Senate primary is about to go down a road that I really don't think anyone wants it to.
Richard Mourdock and FreedomWorks ' attacks on Sen. Richard Lugar's residency and record coupled with the senator's counterattack on Mourdock's attendance at state boards meetings are just making it more likely that Donnelly could skate into office.
I say this because I see no signs that the two Republicans are going to let up on each other. And if some of the political intelligence that I have been privy too is true, this race is only going to get worse before it gets better.
It's already reached the point where several Republican county chairmen have told me they are actually concerned about how badly Lugar and Mourdock are beating each other up. They fear the resulting winner will be so weak that national Democrats will smell blood and dump resources and energy into a state that they had all but written off.
And it's not just the current Senate seat that has some Republicans concerned. Think about this. When you hear the word "jobs" do you think Indiana Republicans? Now what political party comes to mind when you hear the words "Girl Scouts," "pro-abortion," or "gay license plates?"
I don't think the Democratic Party comes to mind.
No, it's the far right crazies who get all worked up over these issues – while not doing one thing to create a job. And the sad part it is that the issues continue to stay in the forefront of the voters' minds, mainly because some people keep doing stupid things like writing columns in the Washington Times about them. That means the issues could continue to resonate with the voters.
As much as I support right to work, the taxpayer refund, the phase out of the inheritance tax, education reform – and lot of other really good things the legislature did this past session – it all has the distinct possibility of being put at risk in the general election because somebody thought making an issue of a license plate was a much bigger deal than putting someone back to work.
Really guys? You know I have your back, but give a brother something to work with by keeping these silly social issues in the closet. Yes, I meant to say it that way.
Someone needs to step up soon and call every Republican candidate in 2012 into a room and have a political come to Jesus meeting.
It may seem farfetched that the GOP could take an election that is being handed to them on a silver platter and hand it right back to the Democrats. But it's not as crazy as you might think.
Don't believe me? Just look at the presidential race.