I only spent about 40 minutes with the new Public Safety Director designee, but based on our brief interaction, I already like the guy.
Now don't get me wrong, I like former Director Frank Straub and had a really good relationship with him. I think he was spot on when he said the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department was due for some badly needed reforms. And I disagree with the accusation that he was trying to micromanage the department. I would argue if people weren't allegedly driving drunk and killing people, he would not have had to step in so frequently. With that said, I think the city will like the new guy, Troy Riggs.
Riggs is not only a former officer; he was in command during the police merger in Louisville, Ky., between that city's police department and Jefferson County law enforcement.
In addition, his work as police chief and assistant city manager in Corpus Christi, Texas, gives a ton of managerial, budgetary and law enforcement experience. An editorial this past week in the Corpus Christi Caller said he leaves a police department and city in better shape than when he found it and better shape than when he arrived.
The editorial attributed a number of successes to Riggs during his tenure: a lower crime rate, more transparency when it came to reporting crime data and how he, as assistant city manager, led an effort to revitalize and restore Corpus Christi's most neglected neighborhoods.
During his news conference I asked him how he would approach the budget shortfall that public safety faces. He mentioned two ideas from past jobs that I thought were innovative. First, he talked about the creation of a public safety foundation, which helped raise money for department equipment.
He also told me that in past jobs they looked at how they were spending money from drug forfeitures and how that could be better used to cover law enforcement expenses. But perhaps what impressed me the most is that he noted how back in 2008, when the national economy was starting to take a nose dive, he immediately started looking at how the department he worked in could prepare to deal with the downfall once it hit them at the local level. That, to me, showed a lot of forethought which is what Indianapolis needs. Too often we have spent time addressing crisis after crisis and offering Band-Aid solutions without ever really looking long-term as to how these problems were going to be addressed. Luckily both Straub and now Riggs possess the ability to look long-term; Straub when it came to training and reform, Riggs, if I am reading him correctly, when it comes to finances.
The other good thing about Riggs is that he is from the Midwest, so his demeanor will fit in better than Straub's. As a Chicago boy, I was not at all bothered by Straub's rough exterior. In fact, I found it somewhat refreshing. Indianapolis, however, will probably work a little better with someone who is from 90 miles away, rather than 700 miles.
Regardless, reforms must continue and the city needs a visionary for public safety. I think in Riggs we have found both.
In another life, in addition to being an attorney, college professor and political writer/commentator I am also a professional comedian. However, in 10 years of playing comedy clubs in Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago, I have never seen anything as funny as Marion County Sheriff John Layton try to explain his budget with a straight face. If anyone deserves an hour special on Comedy Central it is the sheriff.
It started earlier this year when Mayor Greg Ballard unveiled the budget and Council Democrats accused him of shortchanging the sheriff by nearly $11 million. They that noted during their news conference the sheriff's budget was $109 million and Layton had requested $120 million. It turns out the sheriff had requested $108 million and actually ended up getting $109 million. So someone was lying to somebody and it wasn't the Mayor.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Layton has been complaining about the costs of inmate health care and how it is hitting his budget to the tune of $11 million. Now you would think that if health care costs were eating ten percent of your budget you would try to make sure you were prudent with the taxpayer dollars and do whatever you could to alleviate that burden. This is where we come to the Jail Commissary Fund (JCF).
The JCF is money collected from inmates and their families which is supposed to go help cover the costs of running the jail, or so it says in state law. In 2011, the JCF took in about $2 million. I'm not saying all of it has to go cover the costs of inmate health care, even though the inmates would be helping cover the costs of their incarceration, but surely some it could go there.
Look at some of the items the Sheriff has spent money on in 2012 ...
In January: $515 on badge cases.
In February: $107 on gloves for the Department's honor guard.
In March: $804 on coins Honor Guard coins. That same month the office spent more than $1,300 on badges for the jail chaplains.
Don't get me started on things like Satellite TV for the jail. As well as new cars, and other "professional services" like the agreements with former sheriffs, which are supposed to help keep the costs of the jail down. It seems like money from the JCF is being spent on everything but inmate health care, which the Sheriff says is the biggest expenditure eating a hole in his budget.
Oh well, I'm sure he has an explanation for it which will come out during the budget hearings. I personally am looking forward to the one where they explain why they have to keep renting forklifts and why the sheriff spent $1,000 on plaques and awards.
Believe it or not, I have an appreciation for classical music. For two rather odd reasons: First, my penchant for Looney Tunes cartoons. Second, my love of video games. There is nothing more fun than sending your troops into enemy territory while firing missiles to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," Franz von Suppe's "Light Calvary Overture," or my personal favorite, Tchaikovsky's "War of 1812 Overture." Okay, at this point you are wondering, "Okay, Abdul, what are you getting at?" My point is that as someone who appreciates classical music, and has performed the occasional Gilbert and Sullivan operetta on stage, I can sympathize with the plight of what's going on over at the Indianapolis Symphony.
In case you've been out of the loop, the ISO and the musicians' union have been at odds over trying to reach a contract. The ISO's endowment, to put mildly, has been underperforming like a bad viola player to the tune of a $10 million budget gap. And to keep the lights on and the music playing the ISO has proposed the players take a 41 percent pay cut. The two sides are at an impasse. The first two weekends of the new season have been cancelled and the players are protesting on Monument Circle. Not a pretty allegro.
There has been some talk by opinion writers in this town that the city should step in and offer the symphony a loan and do what it can to mitigate the problem. The logic is that if the city can step in and bailout sports teams then it should be willing to do something to help the Symphony. I'm not sure if that's something the city wants to step in and do. Already Indianapolis gives the arts about $1 million annually for programs. And it even managed to do that in tight budget times. Also, while the Symphony is a welcome addition to downtown, is this really the precedent city leaders want to establish?
A lot of not-for-profits organizations in town are facing money problems and shortfalls. Should the city step in and help them? I wasn't crazy about the original Pacers loan a few years back, but when I saw a lot of downtown restaurants and establishments practically empty during the NBA players' dispute and friends being sent home because there was no business, I begrudgingly accepted what had to be done. I am not sure the Symphony has that kind of impact.
Also, there are sometimes when you have to let the two parties work out their own differences.
If the city were to step in bailout the ISO, what happens the next time there is a financial problem? The only way this issue will get resolved is when the two sides decide they want to get the matter resolved. Right now we are in the early stages of negotiations and sometimes the two parties have to walk right up to the edge of the cliff before they realize they need to get serious about solving their problems. We are nowhere near that point yet.
The final score has yet to be written for this piece and hopefully it won't turn into a requiem.
Okay, brace yourself for this one. I am about to saying something positive about several Democratic members of the Indianapolis City-County Council.No, I am not ill, nor am I still suffering from a major hangover from this weekend. I am simply giving several individuals credit where credit is due.
If you're wondering what I'm talking about, I'm talking about last Monday's 5-1 vote by the Council's Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee to move forward with two stalled Tax Increment Finance projects.Just to get you up to speed, a TIF District funds redevelopment by capturing increases in property tax dollars (accomplished, in part, by the increased assessment values the development investments ostensibly bring) to pay for redevelopment. The city has argued the TIFs are needed to create jobs and bring economic development to the city. Opponents say TIFs take badly needed property tax revenue from schools and local governments.This proposal expands the downtown TIF district to include the Mass Ave area as well as 16 Tech.
City-County Council Vice-President Brian Mahern, on a quest to become mayor someday (much to the dismay of members of his own party and anyone else capable of rational thought), held up the TIF expansion for the longest time. Mahern wanted the council to move forward with a number of TIF recommendations, which he says will promote a better use of TIFs. (Some of us argue it will only promote him.) The council deadlocked over the issue, leading to consequences such as the delay of construction projects and the hint that it may be getting tough to do business in Indianapolis.
The current proposal had been sitting on the agenda since February.The committee voted to amend it so that proceeds from the TIF could be used for small business loans, worker retraining and citywide redevelopment.
I have to give credit to Vop Osili, Zach Adamson, Mary Moriarty Adams and even Joe Simpson, who was not on the committee, but expressed his support for it and worked to reach a compromise, even though he said in the past he would never vote for a TIF District. By using funds from the TIF for small business loans as well as workforce training and redevelopment it shows not only creative thinking, but also getting even more bang for the buck.
As I have written before, Indianapolis needs more taxpayers, not taxes, per se, as the answer to its long-term financial needs. Going down this road to help small businesses and get people back on their feet and in workforce is the smart thing to do. They deserve a major "thumbs up" for this one. Hopefully, they can keep this momentum moving when the council votes on the full proposal Sept. 17.