Mayor-elect Gregory A. Ballard is embarking on his third major transition in the last decade. The first, in 2001, was from military to civilian life; the second, in 2003, from the corporate world to going it alone as a management consultant; and the third is on the way, as he makes his foray into the political world after winning his first elected office.
Ballard, 52, grew up in Indianapolis, attending Cathedral High School. In 1978, after receiving a BA in economics from Indiana University in Bloomington, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. For more than 20 years, he served in settings as disparate as Barstow, Calif., Warren, Mich., Panama, Japan and Germany, and eventually picked up an MA in military science from the Marine Corps University. Following his retirement as lieutenant colonel in 2001, he returned to Indianapolis to plant down roots with his wife, Winnie, and grown children, Erica and Greg Jr.
Ballard’s first civilian job was operations manager for Bayer Pharmaceuticals. After leaving the company, he became a self-employed business and leadership consultant and taught college-level courses in economics, marketing and managing at the Indiana Business School. In 2005, Ballard self-published a guidebook for mid-level managers, The Ballard Rules: Small Unit Leadership, in which he claims that “proficiency, organization discipline and morale” are the three key elements for the success of small units.
Ballard served in the first Gulf War, during which he picked up the nickname “Mayor of Jubail” for his supervision of an equipment depot in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. He was involved with the war from beginning to end: He coordinated the deployment of 800 Marines under his command at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; during the war, from a post in Al Mishab, Saudi Arabia, he managed the shipment, under enemy fire, of tanks, trucks and ammunition into Iraq; following the U.S. victory, he oversaw the Jubail depot that gave him his nickname, shipping out thousands of tons of supplies; and he left on the second-to-last troop plane. His last position in the military was in the European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, where he conducted multinational exercises and was a consultant on operational plans and budgets.
Ballard currently resides in Pike Township with his wife, and his two children are attending Indiana University.
NUVO sat down with Mayor-elect Greg Ballard this week in an effort to learn more about him as a person, as well as his plans for the city of Indianapolis.
NUVO: Who are your political role models?
Ballard: That’s a tough thing; I don’t really have political role models necessarily, as opposed to public servant role models. I like Colin Powell. I think what he did for the country was terrific, and what he’s still trying to do for the country is great. I think George H.W. Bush, Bush 41 if you will, served his country in numerous areas. People like that are people that I admire, who just keep doing the public service thing.
NUVO: You’ve criticized the timing of Mayor Peterson’s tax increase, although you acknowledge that the city needs extra officers and will need to address police and fire pensions at some point. Will you rescind any portion of the income tax increase?
Ballard: It depends. We have to get in and open up the books, because the books are very closed right now. So if the state comes through with the public pension funds, which they’ve been talking about for three or four years, then we’ll certainly take a look at that. But there’s other stuff in there: consulting fees, PR fees, lobbying fees. There’s some fat in that budget. So we’re going to find out where it is once we open it up, and let everybody know where that money is being spent, and I think that will create some efficiencies also.
NUVO: Do you have any further specifics on where you plan to cut the fat?
Ballard: Well, that was a lot of them right there. I go back to Line Item 390. We found out a lot of things that were in Line Item 390, like the 911 Operations Center — why is that not its own separate budget line item? That doesn’t make any sense. Why isn’t the crime lab its own separate budget line item? Don’t you want to know how much that costs?
NUVO: Mayor Peterson had been unsuccessful in pushing consolidation — in particular, the elimination of township governments in the General Assembly. Do you see anywhere you can succeed where he’s failed?
Ballard: I think Sen. Merritt had a good plan and that we’ve come a long way. … The reason I want to consolidate the Fire Departments is not necessarily for money, even though there probably is money in the Fire Departments, I’m not so sure in the Police Departments. I really think we need to have consistency of training and standards, because a fire by nature — and this goes back to my Marine Corps background — but a fire by nature is an emergency, and they know what the person on the right and the person on the left is going to be doing. They should have the same level of equipment, the same level of training. Once the Fire Departments are consolidated, that takes away a lot of the necessity for township government, actually.
NUVO: In light of the property tax burden that Indianapolis Public Schools places on Indianapolis, do you see any way that you can have an impact on the IPS budget?
Ballard: That’s a tough one, frankly. I think in the future we’ll have that ability, because if we get the referendum through for capital projects, I think that will be a big deal. IPS is a tough nut to crack. What I’m most concerned about is the education of children. But a good thing is that, certainly in this [IPS construction] Phase III, there’s no fat in there: There’s stuff for construction, labs and air conditioning that I think is necessary … I like the fact that they’re changing the model, because obviously that’s a 150-year-old model that doesn’t really work anymore.
Eugene White is being good about changing the model as best as he can. The expense of this is overwhelming though — it’s a billion dollars for all three of these phases. When people see the graduation rates, right now, they don’t see that it’s worth it … A lot of people in the military say O.B.E.: Overcome By Events. I can’t do much about it right now as the mayor-elect; it’s already kind of a done deal. We’ll have to live with it and try to lessen spending in another way.
NUVO: What specifically are the upsides and downsides of placing the police under your direct control?
Ballard: Public safety has to be underneath one person … If we were to have a Sept. 11 situation happen here in Indianapolis, or anything close to it, we’d have two different chains of command. It makes no sense. We need to have a unity of command so that everybody knows where the orders are coming from. The only reason the sheriff is in charge of it is because of consolidation; it was a political compromise, essentially, that I don’t think should have been done, and I’ve said so often. Crime and Police Department belong underneath the mayor; that’s why people elect a mayor, in large part.
NUVO: How could the merger have been better executed, and do you see any changes that you can make?
Ballard: Absolutely. It was just kind of thrown together. Sheriff was kind of a top-heavy organization, and the Indianapolis Police Department was kind of a lean organization and very non-political. And I’m not saying that’s good or bad for either one, that’s just the way it is. They didn’t really look at the beats. Analysis of the beats has been done before, but when they merged, they just kind of put it together, and anybody can look at it, and if you talk to a cop on the street they’ll tell you the same thing: Response times are slower. It’s not just public safety that’s in peril right now, but it’s also police officer safety — the amount of time it takes to have the backup officer get there is much, much greater than it used to be. There’s uncovered beats, and there’s clearly not enough cops out there.
NUVO: How will you draw on the expertise of previous Republican administrations?
Ballard: There are two models I like: One is Hudnut, who really stayed close to the neighborhoods; he was very good about that, and he kept going to the neighborhood association meetings. Goldsmith, actually, was an efficiency expert, and still is. Some things are better being privatized and some things are not. You have to make the call there: Are we as private as we should be? If not, probably pretty close, actually. So the answer is we’ll probably have to look at that. Like I said, I’m only doing this for the taxpayers of Indianapolis, that’s it …
NUVO: What challenges did you face in moving from military to civilian life?
Ballard: You’re the first reporter who’s asked that. Most of all, the camaraderie … You just know what to expect from each other; you wear the same uniform and the families have been through the same things. It’s not necessarily so when you retire from the Marine Corps and come back into civilian life. You’ve got to find a way to make your own friends as you go along, which is OK, that’s not a problem, but it’s just a little different. But I think most people still want to do the right thing, both in the military and out of the military; that’s the good thing, and I think that’s the similarity.
NUVO: For those that haven’t made that transition as successfully as you have — for reasons of psychological success or lack of job training — how can the city help them build skills and integrate them?
Ballard: There is actually a lot of stuff out there for them right now. The VA is a pretty good organization. I go to the VA Hospital for a few things myself, because I have a 20 percent disability. The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs has a lot of help out there. What we need to do is make sure that veterans know that the help is there, because it’s actually more robust than it’s ever been.
NUVO: Do you plan to pursue the 3 percent allocation in city contracting to veteran-owned businesses?
Ballard: You’re the first one who’s actually read that! Thank you! Thank the Lord! When people ask me to be specific, I say, “It’s been on the Web page for months!” The federal government has it; the main contractors to the federal government have it; the universities here in the state have it; most of the big contractors — Eli Lilly, Raytheon — have it; and I don’t think it’s a particularly tough goal to reach. It’s kind of a thank you to veterans to have a 3 percent goal, so that they have their fair shot at the city contracting dollars. As long as we get it by the City-County Council, I’m sure that’s all it would take, and then we would track it like we would minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
NUVO: Do you have any religious beliefs and does that play a role in your decision-making?
Ballard: I grew up Catholic. I went to St. Monica’s yesterday, but I usually go to St. John’s downtown. I don’t necessarily belong to a parish; I live in the St. Monica area, but I like the cathedral look of St. John’s downtown. But, honestly, that doesn’t play into what I’m doing here at all.
NUVO: Where does mass transit fit on your agenda?
Ballard: Mass transit costs somewhere between $10 to $20 million a mile to build, and we’re just not ready for that right now. I’d love to do it, but I’m more concerned about getting people to work than I am with anything else. I’d love to do it, but even Mayor Peterson would concede that’s too much right now given the tax crisis.
NUVO: And on a similar theme, will you retain any part of Peterson’s recent Indy Greenprint initiative?
Ballard: I’ll probably just go right with it. We’ll look at it, but certain communities are saying, “Oh no, we’ve got a Republican!” and I don’t know why they keep saying that. We’ll have to look at everything, but most of that stuff to me is really good. It’s a large part of why people like Indianapolis. We’ll see, but I don’t have any sort of ideological bent to go slash and burn those sorts of things.
NUVO: Bart Peterson is the only mayor in the country who directly approves charter schools. Will you keep this authority to grant approval and will charter schools remain a priority for the city?
Ballard: I have no intention of doing away with charter schools. I like charter schools, not only because I think they do a good job by themselves, but I think they provide good competition for IPS. I think IPS is stepping up to that competition level, actually, by improving themselves. So I don’t anticipate charter schools going away.