NUVO visited Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, a Republican running for re-election, at the Marion Co. Republican Party headquarters on Aug. 18. Excerpts of this interview were printed in our Aug. 24, 2011 issue. An edited, full-length interview transcript is posted below.
Editor's Note: Our profiles of Mayor Ballard and Melina Kennedy mark the first installment of our coverage leading up to this fall's municipal election. Over the next few weeks we'll analyze some of the complicated issues taking center stage in the mayor's race, offer many more detailed candidate profiles and provide some basic voter orientation information. Stay tuned for more stories leading up to the comprehensive NUVO Election Guide, currently slated to hit the street Oct. 19. If you'd like more details on any specific issues to help you make better-informed decisions at the polls, let us know!
NUVO: If you were to brag about Indianapolis at a national mayors' conference, what examples would you use about what makes this an exceptional city?
Ballard: You know, that's a great question... We don't have oceans, we don't have mountains and that sort of thing — We have people and I think that's how we've gotten along so well in the last 30 to 40 years, going back to Lugar. And I give Lugar a lot of credit, obviously, and all the mayors to include my predecessor. I give them a lot of credit for moving the city forward in a cohesive way and I think a lot has gotten done in that regard, but I also think there is another level to get to.
And I think we have been doing pretty good in that regard, certainly fixing the infrastructure, doing some police reforms, long needed. We're fixing a lot of the internal parts of the city to make them work better while still looking out into the future.
We have to understand the global economy because I'm not so sure as a city we understood that, certainly some of the businesses understood that. I think I have the first city administration that really got out there and said, "Listen, we must understand the global economy and embrace it." People in my office tend to not do that sort of thing because they tend to get slapped down sometimes. But I've been pretty much upfront about that.
The other piece is certainly becoming a much more sustainable city. There really was no green city office, no office of sustainability or anything like that until we came in to office, and we created that Office of Sustainability in 2008. I think we made a lot of progress in that. And the reason we're doing that obviously is to create the type of city where young men and women want to live (with) bike lanes, urban gardens, green gardens, pervious pavement, green-building incentives, hybrid vehicles... Those sorts of things were never done before and I'm sure a certain faction at NUVO were shocked to find out that we were going in that direction, but the fact is we needed to go in that direction because 1) It's the right thing to do. 2) It helps create the type of city where young men and women want to live in.
When I talk to a twenty-something, I say, "Is that the type of city you want to live in? And they say, "Yes." And whenever I bring up some of these things to like my generation or older and they say, "Well, I'm not so sure." I say, "Well, go ask your kid or go ask your grandkid." And then they get that answer. And then I think they understand it at that point in time, because its important for businesses to feel comfortable where they are and they can hire the type of people that they want to. So you have to create that type of city and I think that's the part we're looking forward to. I always talk about, I have ever since I've been the mayor, we need to look out 30 to 40 years and try to create the type of city where companies want to come in and do business and that they want to move to and raise their families.
NUVO: After Rebuild Indy money runs out, how will we keep up with infrastructure demands?
Ballard: Well, that's a great question, but I will tell you, I've got articles in my desk from 1991 saying that about the infrastructure, it's been neglected for decades. Would I like to have some sort of mechanism in the future to make sure infrastructure is always taken care of, absolutely, but what has happened over the periods of decades is that the short-term budgetary pressure has come into play and so this thing gets delayed or this thing gets delayed or this thing gets delayed, so all of this collectively has gotten delayed.
What we're doing, we're making up for a lot of time right now with what we're trying to do, so that has to be understood right upfront. I get asked that question a fair amount. I say, "So you mean you don't want us to do it now?" And no one ever says "no" to that question because it's been neglected for so long. And it really has, we're being fair about it, not being political about it. It's all over the city, it's in every part of the city. If you live and work downtown you might think it's just downtown, if you go to different parts of the city you'll see it all over the place, but if we can find a mechanism to do this, continue this in the future, I don't know... I will tell you before me there was never really anything quite like what's going on right now and I'm not sure that future politicians in 30 to 40 years will be able to figure that out because I understand short-term budgetary pressures and political pressures... But I'm suggesting to you that we're getting a large window for people to try to figure that out. We'll try to figure that out, but I suggest to you that it's going to be some successor after me.
NUVO: What aspects of the city make it a difficult place to brag about?
Ballard: Well, [LAUGH] you mean what are we not doing well? Well, actually I think we're doing pretty well. Honestly, I'm not in to city envy. Everybody talks to me about this and this and this. You know, we are who we are. But I think we've done a lot, I will give you a lot of different fronts I think we moved on I could probably name 8 to 10 right now that probably should have been done a long time ago. Police reforms, the ERP, Enterprise Resource Program which is the back office functions of the city, like the accounting functions, we had like literally hundreds of those systems... and things like that — we're gonna have one in the future, That should have been done a long time ago.
The infrastructure obviously, the dry infrastructure, the wet infrastructure underneath the sewer system which is still, in my opinion, the biggest story of 2010 that nobody ever, ever, ever covers. The $740 million dollars in savings [through compromise with the EPA on addressing Indy's combined sewer overflow problem] ...By the way, it's going to be more than $740 million dollars because of the bids coming in for the Deep Rock Tunnel are significantly less than we thought, so those sorts of things also will be done.
The Six Sigma to the city, the process of improvement methodology... we brought that to the city, we're growing our own green belts and black belts.
In the sustainability, like we talked about. I started IndyConnect, moved it to the private sector. So as we're not going to get it done in our lifetime, we've got to do something about that.
So when you look, I mean, we've moved ahead on all sorts of fronts, even the education piece. People are trying to beat us up, but the fact is we've been ahead on education, the community has been supportive and an advocate for a common goal which was the graduation coaches. I was part of the initiative for community coordinators in schools and we piloted one of those in our own charter schools. Challenge Foundation Academy (is) really an initiative that could have a dramatic effect... I was the sole mayor that was asked to go to the United Way Town Hall Meeting on Education representing at a national meeting hosted by Soledad O'Brien. I was the only mayor asked to go there because of the initiative that is happening in the City of Indianapolis. We expanded the charter schools, the excel center.
I hope you know what Indy Met is, the Metropolitan High School, (is) doing great work. Then the Excel Center takes these kids who were just out of high school, actually they have some older students, too, gives them a chance to get a high school diploma, not a GED... The DamarCenter which is going to open this fall for...those who have cognitive and behavioral disabilities.
So many, SO many things that we have moved a front on, I am really not feeling badly at all when I talk to other mayors.
All that said: We need to get mass transit fixed in this city, that's a big deal. Going back to what I said about creating the type of city young men and women want to live in, I have a daughter who told me, "Quite frankly, dad, I want to live in a city where I don't have to drive a car." Could have been the three accidents she had before the age of 17, might have been, I don't know, but I would say she's kind of a big city girl anyway, she moved to DC and she's now on her way to Tufts for grad school for the next two years, but she wants to live in that type of city, and I understand that because when I ask the twenty-somethings, that's the kind of city they're looking for.
...I am optimistic about the education reform for the statehouse and what we're doing here in the city, so I'm actually optimistic about education moving forward I think it will play out in three to four years. I'm liking what I'm seeing to be honest with you, that's why, you know, I assume you know, I put in that state legislation that we could take the schools back under local control. We've been working, that didn't just happen, we've been working with the state office for a long time now on that sort of thing, so we've been way ahead of the game on that and we anticipate in three or four years, we think it's gonna go. I've talked to some superintendents. I don't make a big deal out of this, but I go talk to these people and I've talked to four after the reform and said "How are these going to affect you and what are you gonna do?" So I get that sense of it, so I know what we can do to help, and I do that kind of low key, and everybody wants me to go pontificate. You will find out I'm not that kind of person, generally speaking. I'd rather get the job done and be low key...doesn't necessarily fit in with the mayor thing very well.
But the one thing that really creating that type of city where young men and women want to live in...we've got to really look at mass transit. I think we're moving forward on the sustainability piece and, of course, mass transit is a part of that sustainability piece. If we get education going the right way and we get mass transit in there, we are a super city. I mean, I think we are right now, when you compare who we are right now compared to everybody else, it's pretty dramatic.
There's a reason Forbes rated us as the no. 1 next boom town in the Midwest, there's a reason they did that. A lot of that data was based on the last few years, there's a lot of reason for that, so I think we have a lot of potential in this city. I think we're great now, people understand that. When visitors come into our city, the overarching comment..is, "I never knew, I never knew." With 65 percent of the people coming to the Super Bowl are decision makers in their organizations, that's good.
NUVO: How would you prioritize redevelopment projects throughout the neighborhoods?
Ballard: You talking about commercial or just housing? ...Well the infrastructure.. Rebuild Indy, Rebuild Indy... What we're doing on Rebuild Indy is based on a priority with the neighborhood liaisons with the city county counselors, the DPW engineers; it's kind of a compilation of that so we know what has to be done.
Now when we try to redevelop different areas, it's a combination, to be honest with you. For instance, when companies come in and they want to move in or they want to expand, we try to accommodate them. We do try to put them in certain types of neighborhoods, if they want that to be done, some come in who work for the site consultants, who will say, "No, I want to go here." Other ones, if we can massage them a little bit, we'll try to move them into certain directions, if you will, if they're amendable to that. I mean we're not going to lose the jobs, certainly economic development to us is job, jobs, jobs, jobs. But, for instance, we've had some good success stories...
For instance, in the eastside...a lot of retail went out of business when the recession hit, so they think that the retail (needs to come back)...and I keep trying to tell them...I'm very frank with them about these sorts of thing, I'm nice about it, "I don't want you to go back there until we get more primary businesses out there that will stick, so the income level will be strong out there for the future." For instance, Genesis Casket, which is a great story, I think.
They're a new subsidiary of a company that is based in Spain and, frankly, they could have gone anywhere in the world and they chose Indianapolis and now they're on the eastside of town, which is nice, it's going to be about 300 jobs eventually, in a few years. That's the sort of thing I think is nice about the strength on the eastside of Indianapolis, we're looking at different areas in the city as we do that too, so that's a big piece, the commercial development piece is big.
We try to redevelop areas like Martindale-Brightwood. It's really, bringing together a lot of partners, to include the neighborhood associations, maybe the CDCs, development corporations, a lot of non-profits want to help, a lot of private people want to help, a lot of private organizations want to help. And so it's kind of a combination. You can go into Martindale-Brightwood and see a lot of the help that is going on in there, a lot of things that are happening right there in that area, that area has been neglected for a long time. We're doing a lot of infrastructure work in there, there's a lot of different things going on there.
You may notice in Center Township that I put out this urban garden challenge for 50 urban gardens, by the end of the year. I think that's important. Those sorts of things will help drive certain areas, but other than the commercial part, which we try to put in different places, the rest of the redevelopment, there has to be some sort of consensus in that area, some sort of grassroots consensus in that area that this is the right thing to do. So we make sure that that is all together as we try to help them.
NUVO: What it the appropriate role for a city to take in terms of local economic development?
Ballard: I think people expect the mayor to drive economic development. Just like when I became the mayor, I wanted the police department because I think they expect me to be in charge of public safety, they're going to look to me for that. I'm not sure if you were here but the mayor did not have the police department when I became the mayor, they did two months later...the same thing applies here, economic development we have to drive.
For instance, I knew when I became the mayor, I don't think the city generally knew, but I knew that we were gonna go to certain places to drive the international focus of Indianapolis... Brazil India and China are countries that we had not associated with in the past, and we should have — clearly, large, large emerging economies. We also went to England... Now if that was left to some organization or somebody who was just Indianapolis focused, that wouldn't have happened.
We need a mayor who can kind of look out...and I think people elect the mayor to do that sort of thing. If he's not doing it well then, well, they move aside and move on then. But if you leave it to somebody else who might just be internally focused, which is what bureaucracies aim to do, then maybe we're not looking out vision wise as much as we need to. So I think the mayor needs to stay in charge of economic development.
NUVO: Indianapolis has some of the worst air quality in the nation. To what degree could or should a mayor respond?
Ballard: I think we should be able to respond, a lot of that goes through the type of state we are, as you are well aware. I think that mass transit will help if we can get that, you know about the change in bicycle culture in this city... so I think those combinations will come into play. It's going to be difficult...We are a coal-burning state, we're a coal state right now, until we can get to the point where that carbon sequestration gets to a certain point where we don't release that, it's going to be difficult I think.
NUVO: How do you view issues of climate change and how do you feel they relate to the future of the city?
Ballard: Well, I really talk about what we need to do as far as energy and water conservation, that's really what I tend to focus on. Honestly, I think that drives everything else. We do it the right way with I guess, making people realize that recycling is important in the city and that hybrids are important in the city and all of this, because it's all about conserving resources, I think the rest of that takes care of itself if we can put all these different things into place. It's kind of amazing when you talk to different people about that sort of thing because you know sometimes it's sort of off limits to some folks and so I want to make sure that everybody understands that we're trying to do the right thing for it all and if we can get these certain habits in place we're moving in the right direction.
NUVO: If you were to look closely and objectively at today's expenses at City Hall, what waste — if any — would you be able to find?
Ballard: We're not at waste right now (LAUGH). You know there may be... To be honest with you, I think the big pieces have probably been taken care of. For instance, in the first year we cut [billing from] the big law firms, taking them from $9 million to about $4.5 million... It's that sort of thing where you use medium-sized lawyers for a lot of things as opposed to always having to go to the big law firms...
We've already gotten a lot more efficient in a lot of different areas, I think the Six Sigma that I talked about already is a big piece of that. We have specific projects we literally have dozens of projects out there right now. They are gonna save $10 million to $20 million dollars. I think those things are done, I can see incrementally...put a culture in place, which is a continuous improvement, and cost savings... If we can do that, and make it part of who we are as a city I think that's gonna be rather dramatic.
But we've done a lot of things you know. $740 million, a national story, and it's gonna be even bigger than that apparently [the Deep Rock Tunnel EPA compromise on the city's combined sewer overflow issues]. That's a lot of savings for a lot of people, and it's a lot greener at the same time. That's the sort of thing we're looking for...the win, win, win scenario is what we're really trying to find across the board. If we can find more of those then we'll save a little bit more money.
I'm gonna be honest with you its very, very, very tight right now.
NUVO: Aside from the Bible, name the book that has made the biggest difference in your life and explain why.
Ballard: It's so many... I don't think in terms of best and worst and most, I just don't think of that. When I was in school, I was in school for two years '96-'98, and there was... in the second year of school we had what was called a Book-a-Day club, it was aptly named...but a favorite one that changed everything, no nothing like that.
I mean there are different things out there that make you think, I like things that make you think kind of out of the norm. You know a recent book that I think is right is Freakonomics. It makes you think differently than things you may believe [are] this way, and really [are] not this way. There was a sequel to it, was it Super Freakonomics? I read both of those sort of together, and they change your way of thinking, a little bit. I mean did it have a dramatic impact? I'm not so sure.
You know in my Marine Corps career I've seen so many different things, been to so many different countries, different cities, I think its more of a evolution of how you think and how you go about life, as opposed to one particularly impactful thing. I mean there are certain things that'll change you, but I can't say a particular book has changed me, I will tell you the Gulf War changed me. There's no question about that. But I've read I don't know literally hundreds of books, so I can't speak to any one that really changed everything.
[Anything dominating your authors section?]
It's funny you say that because I don't read as much as I used to. I will tell you I've read a lot of John Maxwell, leadership books. I like him a lot. I mean I read a series of books about the Brotherhood of War. Maxwell is a great author — his book the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, it was a magnificent book. I usually read leadership books.
NUVO: The health of Indianapolis residents matches up poorly to other cities. In what ways, if any, can the mayor inspire better performance?
Ballard: Hopefully they see me out biking a lot... I think some of these surveys, if you look what they're really based on, I'm not so sure about that, maybe, maybe not. We tend to be who we are and we try to improve who we are, as a city. Certainly we changed the bicycle culture in this city. My wife, with the walks with Winnie, and things she's been...I hope they've been impactful. So I think we encourage people to get out there and do that sort of thing. Putting bike lanes in, I think, is sending a signal that we want people to get out there and do more in that sort of way.
NUVO: How would you characterize the current state of your mind, body and spirit?
Ballard: Busy (LAUGH) busy. It's kind of funny, when I used to...teach leadership and consult on it I told people to keep as balanced a life as you possibly can. Don't work 14 to 15 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week cause that in a few years you're gonna find yourself alone, which tends to be very true. So that being said, everybody knows I'm kind of everywhere. I put in a long day, but my kids are grown, and my wife understands... We have this unofficial rule in the administration, which is: If it's after 5 or on the weekend, if you want me, you're gonna get her, that's just the way it is. And sometimes you get her during the day also, so and I think people understand that.
As long as I can get exercise, and certainly during the summer months there's a lot of bike riding, if I can get that and a proper amount of sleep, I think I can go for awhile.
I need some downtime. I'm introverted, I'm actually severely introverted; most people don't know that. I've taken the Myers-Briggs test four times. Trust me: I know what I am, and so I need that time to get away... Sometimes during the day I'll need that 20 minutes to try to get away, and frankly sometimes that's very hard. But so when I go home at night, sometimes I can go 'til 9 or 10 at night and then get up at 6 in the morning but I can only do that about 2 or 3 days, and then I'm gonna have to take a break and maybe not come in until 9 the next day because I'll need a little bit more downtime to recoup... It gets to a certain point, I know it, everybody else knows it, too. I'm human, I guess I'm an easy read, from what they tell me. So I have to struggle with that and, frankly, I could use a little bit more downtime but I know what has to be done to maintain that. Do I get on the edge sometimes with it? Absolutely.
-End of formal candidate profile interview-
BONUS QUESTION asked on behalf of NUVO columnist David Hoppe: Why did you support the opposition to placing the Fred Wilson sculpture on the city plaza?
Ballard: ...There's a couple things, I wanted that to play out. I wanted people to have that discussion on it, but at the same time we knew that it was not going to end up, eventually, on city property.
You have to understand the depth of emotion. People see things differently. Sometimes we don't understand that people see thing differently. I can't believe the number of times I've heard somebody say, "Well, everybody thinks that way." I'm thinking, "No, they don't." You have to understand that, no they don't think that way, they weren't brought up that way, they had a completely different set of experiences then you, and probably because of my Marine Corps background, I've lived in different countries, and I understand people do not see things the same way at all.
I can't believe anybody ever says that, but the discussion is good. So I didn't mind the discussion playing out... emotions were very, very high on that. Particularly for African Americans, senior African Americans, if you will, in our city. And, at some times, you have to respect those who have gone before us, and that was why.
-Special thanks to NUVO intern Scott Schmelzer of Butler University for transcription assistance.
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