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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hail to the Chief (of staff)

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 5:00 PM

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This past week, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced that city-county councilor Ryan Vaughn will be taking over as his new chief of staff.

Full disclosure: Ryan and I have known each other for years and he was in my wedding a few years ago. With that said, Ballard made a very smart pick and here's why:

This city is about to have some major challenges to deal with this year and Ballard needs someone who brings a variety of expertise to the table. First of all, not only was Vaughn on the City-Council Council, but he is also a former council president which means he understands the body and has relationships with many of the members. Some of them are pleasant and cordial, say with current Council President Maggie Lewis, and some not so pleasant, say with current Council Vice-President and Mayoral wannabe Brian Mahern.

Vaughn helped Ballard shepherd several of his major proposals including the water deal with Citizens Energy as well as the parking meter deal. Vaughn also brings an expertise to the table with respect to the budget (helping draft the last two, in which also found money for the library) as well as public safety (he is a former prosecutor), both of which will be crucial this year as the city deals with an impending budget shortfall and challenges with the police department.

There are a couple criticisms that have been levied at Vaughn. One of which was that during his tenure as president, the Council didn't publicly challenge the mayor enough and the body was accused of being a rubber stamp. What the uninformed observers don't understand is that the reason the Council seemed to rubber stamp the mayor's agenda was because they worked out their differences on legislation behind closed doors so by the time it got to the floor, there wasn't much to debate.

In addition, there is also the criticism that due to Vaughn's tenure at Barnes & Thornburg he will be an advocate for the lobbyists and business interests instead of the city. Knowing Vaughn, his loyalty will be to the city and his mayor, not necessarily to his former employer.

In addition, I did not hear these same complaints when staff of the previous administration went to work at places like Eli Lilly and Baker Daniels.

The real challenge for the new chief of staff is helping guide the administration through its second term, especially with divided government. Big initiatives like the water deal aren't going to happen, but there are opportunities for major reforms in the criminal justice system. We spend a lot of money in this county to basically put and keep less than 1 percent of the population behind bars. Reform is badly needed and Vaughn's expertise in budgets and public safety will come in handy.

In addition, the mayor strongly needs a player in his administration with the necessary political acumen needed to deal with divided government. Prior Chiefs of Staff Paul Oakeson and Chris Cotterill worked very well in the universe they had to play with, but in a new era of divided government, public safety and budgetary challenges, the mayor needed the right man for the job and he got him.

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