Gray discusses new role as council president

Paul F. P. Pogue

Monroe Gray Jr., City-County Council president, in the council chambers

Monroe Gray Jr., the third City-County Council president in as many years, recently took over the post formerly held by Steve Talley. He's stepping into a tricky political labyrinth after a tumultuous year for the council. Contentious votes concerning gay rights and police consolidation capped off 2005, and further consolidation issues and details about the city's controversial smoking ban continue to wait in the wings.

Gray, a 37-year veteran of the Indianapolis Fire Department who currently serves as division chief, is a five-term Democrat who represents the 8th District. He oversees his third council meeting as president Monday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the City-County Building.

NUVO: What are the major issues facing the council? How do you plan on dealing with them?

Gray: The [police] consolidation is going to be an ongoing process, something that we're going to have to monitor and make sure it stays its course and that it's eventually completed. I think the housing issue is going to be a good issue, and also the public transportation issue.

With IndyGo we're going to try to find a financial screen for it so it can be a standalone, so it can have enough revenue to sustain itself. Just with some of the special events it's not going to put it at enough revenue for where we'd like it to be.

The Early Intervention Planning Council is a project that we're doing that's going to be a joint venture with IUPUI. What we're trying to do is relieve the debt for the juvenile program so we can get to them before they get into the legal system.

We're going to try to increase the housing trust fund, create more affordable housing, especially for seniors. We'll be developing the high-rise apartments and condos downtown, but at the same time we cannot forget that we have to build affordable housing. We've already established a trust fund, but we have to make sure that the money is well-spent.

There's always going to be the Colts situation and the stadium and the finance, which is now in the hands of the state, but I'm sure the raising of the taxes and stuff is going to be an issue with the council.

Another major issue is the CSO [combined sewer overflow] problem, and the billion-dollar projects we've got going with that. That was one of the projects that we did that required a tax increase that the constituents weren't upset about, because it was something they all felt needed to be done.

NUVO: Last year ended on a bitterly divided note, with the gay rights ordinance and police consolidation passing with narrow margins and harsh words. How do you go into a new year after such a divisive period?

Gray: We just try to keep things on a normal course and follow the structure as to how things are to be done on a timely fashion, and that all things meet the timelines as set down by the council ... We're going to be as bipartisan as possible. Once people gain your respect, you're going to be a fair and kind of straight-shooter kind of person. You've got to establish a trust, and if people believe what you're trying to do is the right thing, then the two sides can come together.

NUVO: One phrase repeated many times during the gay rights ordinance was that "Indianapolis is becoming a progressive city." Do you see that trend continuing, and how so?

Gray: I think we're going to continue to fund the arts at the level which we've been funding them now. The arts is one of the few things that sustains itself; they don't disappoint us like the Colts and the Pacers! We get the full bang for our bucks with the arts dollars, and I'd like to see the arts continue to be funded at a level where they can continue to do great things for the city. Since I've been on the council we've almost doubled the amount of funding we had for the arts since I first came on.

NUVO: What will your role be in consolidation, particularly as one-third of the public safety consolidation authority? What about the possibility of upcoming fire and township consolidation?

Gray: My role will be to make sure that the recommendation that comes up from the steering and advisory committees are followed through and carried out, and make sure that it becomes a part of what it is the committees want it to be.

With my experience as a firefighter for 37 years, I have a rapport with the firefighters and administrators. I'll be trying to encourage the local boards and trustees of the advantages of consolidation.

The Fire Department is far along on the consolidation. They want fire consolidation, as opposed to the police, who were against it. We've already established local unions in the different townships. We're already doing mutual response, mutual purchases and some mutual hiring and mutual training, so it's already kind of leaning towards consolidation. We've been working toward it for several years now; it's just a matter of making it legal and going through the proper channels ... What you're going to find is that some of the township trustees will consolidate on a voluntary basis. I think you won't find as much opposition to it as having to be enforced by the state government.

NUVO: Any other thoughts?

Gray: We're looking forward to this year being a very good year for the council. You'll see a little bit more partnership between the two aisles. We're going to be looking forward to doing the people's work and making sure that they have a safe city.