Mayor Ballard returns from Asia 

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard returned from a 10-day trip to Asia yesterday to a city and City Council with a lot of questions about his spending choices.

After the mayor left on the trip to Japan and China, news surfaced that the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, a coalition of city leaders (including Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams and other Marion County elected officials) paid the $30,000 expense for the trip (which included Mayor Ballard, his wife Winnie and several members of the mayor's staff) using funds from an economic grant given to the group by the Ballard Administration earlier this year.

The trip has generated debate in the media and among members of the Indianapolis City-County Council regarding the cost of the trip in these economic times, as well as the taxpayer expense of the mayor's wife going on the business trip. Ballard hoped to counter much of that criticism with the announcement of new economic development here in Indianapolis.

On Monday, the Mayor's Office announced Goodtime Science & Technology Co., LTD in Ningbo, China, will establish a distribution center in Indianapolis in early 2009.

??"There's no doubt that Indianapolis is an ideal distribution site. Our central location and access to rail, highways and waterways make the city an excellent choice for companies who need to reach their customers quickly and cost-effectively," Ballard said. ??

The company will initially hire five employees.

??"Our economic development team is fully committed to helping create and retain jobs in Indianapolis. Every single job is important, especially now given present economic conditions. It was a privilege to work with Goodtime throughout their site selection process, and we are happy to welcome them to Indianapolis," said Scott Miller, chief executive officer of Indianapolis Economic Development, Inc.?

Spending money on a husband and wife trip abroad isn't the only criticism Ballard will have to answer to now that he's returned to Indianapolis.

On Friday, Democratic City-County Council leader Joanne Sanders called for a bipartisan investigation into a decision by Mayor Greg Ballard's office to spend more than $2 million on a fleet of Toyota Camry hybrids even though similar vehicles could have been purchased for less money, according to Sanders.

"With the country in a recession and the city struggling to pay its bills, the taxpayers of Indianapolis deserve to know why the Mayor's Office isn't keeping a closer eye on our tax dollars," Sanders said. "Instead of trying to get the best deal possible for taxpayers in buying these 85 cars, the city ignored the low bidder and spent nearly $150,000 more in taxpayer money than was necessary."

According to Democrats, Penske Chevrolet, a local car dealer, proposed selling the city 85 Chevrolet Malibu hybrids at a lower price than the Toyota Camry hybrids the Mayor's Office ultimately purchased from Andy Mohr Toyota.

Subsequent reports have pointed out that Camrys are assembled in Georgetown, Ky., while General Motors stamping plant in Indianapolis and a powertrain plant in Bedford make Malibu parts.

Sanders said the proposed council investigation not only would probe the city's bidding practices, but also would determine whether any outside factors, such as political donations, played a role in the $2 million purchase.

Democrats point out that according to records at the Indiana Election Commission, Andy Mohr and his car dealerships have given at least $27,000 in campaign contributions to Republican candidates since 2001, including at least $15,000 in the last two years alone.

Editors note: In an effort to represent both sides, we did receive a press release from the Indiana Republican Party regarding the car purchases. Here's their position:

Marion County Republican Party Chairman Tom John issued the following statement, responding to the partisan attacks by Council Minority Leader Joanne Sanders on Indianapolis' purchase of 85 hybrid vehicles:

"Councillor Sanders cares about shilling for the auto unions, not getting the best deal for the taxpayers. Her leadership, and that of her Democrat allies, left this city broke and our public safety fleet in shambles. Where was she all those years when the needs of our city's vehicles were being ignored? Probably out begging the UAW for more campaign donations, and now she plays messenger for their every wish."

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