Candidate Profile Q&A: Mayor Greg Ballard 

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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-


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Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend served as NUVO news editor from May 2011 to August 2014. During a 20-plus year career, her bylines have appeared in publications ranging from Indiana AgriNews to the Wall Street Journal. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, and her master's is in journalism... more

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