So he had some catching up to do before he took office: some calls to make to local political leaders (to his future transition team manager Joe Loftus on the day after the election), learning to do about how to govern a city (by attending the three-day Seminar on Transition and Leadership for Newly-Elected Mayors at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in late November) and campaign donations to accept ($150,000 on hand by Dec. 31 of last year, after campaign funds were exhausted prior to the election, and more collected at his $500-per-ticket Inaugural Ball Jan. 30).
He’s also had to hire a group of leaders that could follow through on his vision for the city. We’ll take a look at three of those leaders in depth — Director of Public Safety Scott Newman, Director for Latino Affairs Carolin Requiz Smith and Deputy Mayor for Neighborhoods Olgen Williams — and then detail the other key members of the Ballard Administration.
By Michael Dabney
Scott Newman says it’s his sense of humor that keeps him balanced. Given some of his struggles to date, his ability to laugh things off is a remarkable gift. Considering his new position in city government, he is going to need that gift just about daily.
“I’m pleased to be working with Mayor Ballard,” said Newman, a former two-term Marion County prosecutor who is now the city’s director of public safety. “He’s a dream to work for. We share the same goals.”
A native of Chicago, Newman, 46, moved to Indianapolis in 1986, and took his first job locally in the office of then Marion County Prosecutor Steve Goldsmith. Over much of the next two decades, he chased the bad guys, leading up to his stint as Marion County prosecutor from 1995 to 2003. In that time, he saw up close and personal a number of cases involving what he calls “the depravity of the human spirit.”
Newman, who likes to tell bad jokes in funny accents, said his sense of humor has kept him balanced between being “insufferably cynical and being too somber.” But perhaps his new job will truly test that balance.
“I couldn’t resist getting back in. I missed the people I associated with in that former life,” he said warm-heartedly of law enforcement officers and others.
Newman supported Greg Ballard in last November’s election, but like most people in the city, he was surprised at the Republican mayor’s victory. Their paths happened to cross in a downtown restaurant some weeks after the election and they talked. That meeting laid the groundwork for Newman’s eventual appointment as head of the Department of Public Safety.
As director of public safety, Newman becomes civilian head of the Fire Department, emergency planning, Animal Control and Weights and Measures. Newman will also take control of the Indianapolis Marion County Police Department, expanding the responsibilities of the office. Ballard’s campaign goal was to put all aspects of public safety under the mayor’s effective control: A proposal was introduced in the City-County Council in early January to alter the municipal code to put the director of public safety in charge of the IMPD instead of the Marion County sheriff.
The responsibilities of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in the rewritten code are significantly curtailed, at least relative to the sheriff’s previous control of the IMPD. The department will be in charge of jail operations, emergency communications, security for city buildings, tax collection and sex offender registration.
Newman has become head of an office that could soon have greatly expanded power and importance, at a juncture in the city’s history when it is not altogether certain that the IMPD will welcome the new oversight. Most contentious has been the reportedly strained relationship between the administration and Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson.
Newman denies there is a strain.
“Rumors of [Ballard and Anderson] butting heads are exaggerated,” he said.
The Hovey Street murders were a perfect example, Newman added. “We began to see a kinship there,” he said regarding the relationship of the Mayor’s Office with the sheriff. “The case brought us back to our roots and to what we are all about, back to fighting criminals.”
Newman said he will serve as a sort of strategic commander, giving the public safety departments advice and seeing that all three mesh together toward a common goal. But he also made it clear the administration will have its way.
Newman had been working until recently for a DNA testing company, Strand Analytical Laboratories, which he co-founded with forensic scientist Mohammad A. Tenir in July 2005. The company has expanded quickly in the past three years, partly with the help of city funds: The Metropolitan Development Corporation of Indianapolis approved a nearly $2 million tax abatement for Strand in 2006, with the funds contingent on the creation of 52 local jobs by 2010.
Strand held a contract with the city last year, but when Newman was appointed to the public safety job, he took some steps to avoid potential conflicts of interests. He has placed his shares in the company in a blind trust and says he will not share in 1 percent of profit from any contract the firm may have with the city while he is in office.
Newman was at the height of his legal career when his personal life dramatically changed. While giving the closing argument in a trial, Newman first suspected and then later discovered that he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that, while not fatal, tends to worsen over time. It often zaps the person’s energy and leaves them with distinctive tremors, like those of actor Michael J. Fox, who also has Parkinson’s. More than 40,000 new cases were reported last year.
Newman has a pretty matter-of-fact attitude when discussing Parkinson’s.
“It’s hard to be melodramatic about your life,” Newman said. “[Parkinson’s] is like a friend, an irritating friend, but a friend nevertheless.”
By Scott Shoger
Our next two interviews are with members of the Ballard Administration who would largely prefer to work behind the scenes, in order that neighborhood leaders might empower themselves and effectively address their own concerns. But on one bright Friday morning, a little more than two weeks after they occupied their offices on the 25th floor of the City-County Building, they were gracious enough to take center stage and talk about their goals for the city.
NUVO: Is there a need for a city department of Latino affairs?
Carolin Requiz Smith: It’s very important to have an office that will try to build a bridge between the city and a community that is fairly new. I think the community is growing so fast that sometimes we lose track, and we have to create that system to help newcomers. So there’s an effort to create immigrant centers, saying, “This is a welcome center for you to come and get information; just come and look at how to navigate the system.” The police are creating a nice academy for the Latino community, so that they understand how they need to perform in certain situations: simple things like, you need to look in the face of the police, and stay in the car and not get out. We need to support efforts like that. Instead of creating new work for the office, my point is to go and support that group that is already doing it.
[In four years] I would like to see an overall improvement in quality of life for Latinos. Instead of segregation with Latinos only doing certain things, I would like to see them as a part of the community, making the place better for their kids when they leave.
I’m originally from Venezuela. We really are very diverse there: For instance, we have an African community that came a long time ago, and now they are Venezuelan. So, for me, it’s been a challenge to see how segmented we are in Indianapolis, with one community segregated from the other. In Venezuela, we had social strata, of course: the wealthy, middle-class [“middle” in air-quotes], the poor class. It’s just really hard to see how [in Indianapolis] color or where you come from causes that differential. I work for everybody and I offer my services to everybody, because I come from a place where there wasn’t segmentation of communities.
NUVO: A 2000 United Way/Community Service Council study concluded that the Indianapolis Hispanic community is, on the whole, “highly employed, poorly educated and poorly paid yet has found ways to adjust to a new environment.” How does that compare to the Hispanic community in 2008?
Requiz Smith: Probably, the research hasn’t changed much. I cannot tell you that for sure because we have no recent research. So, it will depend on what community you’re evaluating. We still have those people that work really hard, every day, to give their family the best quality of life. That leads to a situation where they have no time to help with education, no time to help with their neighborhood, because they are just working all day.
We are also seeing a trend where there are more skilled and prepared Latinos that can take better positions and perform better jobs. You see a lot of Hispanic names when you watch baseball; they come the same way any other professional worker will come, to fill a position. It’s things like that that say to us, “Sometimes we need someone from the outside to help us to be the best.” I don’t see that as a bad thing; I see that in a positive way.
Smith was director of the Office of Minority Health for the Indiana Department of Health from 2006-2007. She earned her M.S. in education from Indiana University.
NUVO: How has it felt to make the leap from activist to public official?
Olgen Williams: When Mayor Ballard asked me to be deputy mayor of neighborhoods, it was overwhelming to me. I was moved that he would honor me so to be a part of his team. Who am I? I’m just an old Tennessee boy who picked cotton and had lots of issues in life. I’m not a genius. I’m not rich. But I have a commitment to try to serve people, and I find out that when you serve a community, they have great ideas. My job is to try to help facilitate them; I’m the backup, the logistics. Everybody’s not going to like me, but you don’t have to like me; let’s just solve the problem. I’m going to like everyone though. I’m too old to have that kind of negative energy in my life. I’ve got to keep all my energy in the positive, and the positive is to love folks.
I think the deputy mayor for neighborhoods should be out there in the neighborhoods. I’m going to listen to neighborhood concerns and issues, and then see how we can deal with those concerns raised with the resources we have available already.
When I first started working with my community [in Haughville], the deputy mayor that worked with neighborhoods was Nancy Silver, now Rogers. We were having meetings around Weed and Seed and Building Better Neighborhoods and we had this auditorium full of people. We had city staff there — a table full of people from the city — and we were in the audience listening to them. She said, “Our goal is to have you sitting at this table, with us sitting in the audience listening to you.” And she made that happen. Our goal is to keep those people sitting at the table, with us listening to them, and with us going out to help them solve those problems.
I’ve found out in working with people that we basically all want the same thing. You take a list of basic things: food, clothes, shelter, protection; the other things that we want are clean streets and alleys; we want potholes filled. I’ve found out that if you respect people, treat them with respect and civility, give them an opportunity to express themselves, and show them that they are of value and that we’re all in this together, that you can come together. We may have our differences in areas, but differences can strengthen us; we may not even all agree in a room, but the goal is to have a solution when we leave the room.
The Front Porch Alliance [a partnership between the city, faith institutions and community organizations launched by Mayor Goldsmith’s administration in 1997] is going to be reformed, but if a person doesn’t have any faith, that doesn’t mean they can’t be part of the Front Porch Alliance. The Front Porch Alliance won’t be a pulpit to preach religious dogma. The Front Porch Alliance is going to be a vehicle to address quality of life, using the faith community as a resource … My thing is, don’t worry about the people of faith, you go and do something. It’s going to be a good thing. We’re not trying to create a city church.
Williams was executive director of Christamore House, a United Way agency based in Haughville, from 1996-2007. He holds an M.A. in urban ministry from Martin University, a doctorate of divinity from the Muskegon Bible Institute and is the author of Healing the Heart, Healing the Hood: Olgen Williams’s Story of Rebuilding His Life & Neighborhood (Martin University Press).
Williams will be fielding a few more questions on the WINC WIRED podcast (http://ustream.tv/channel/winc-streamcast) on Monday, Feb. 11 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. The show is hosted by members of the West Indianapolis Neighborhood Congress (WINC) and broadcasts from the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center.
By Scott Shoger
Paul Okeson was most recently manager of the Indianapolis