Judicial center not a rush job


You propose a new judicial center? Fine. I oppose it.

Democracy is messy, but the rule of development is established. The rule is: You are in power. You spend intellectual effort and millions of dollars to create a solid proposal. I am out of power. I will criticize whatever you do, until, of course, I am in power.

The current example in Indianapolis is a plan to construct a new judicial center for $405 million (or, if measured over 35 years, $1.1 billion.) Details were released and an owner/manager/contractor retained in the last few months. Since then, critics came out of the closet.

Mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett said, “Let’s postpone. It is going too fast.” Sheila Suess Kennedy, a professor in the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, stated that the selection and planning process was flawed, not transparent, the cost too high. Then came a letter to The Indianapolis Star by Donna Sink purporting to represent the views of the American Institute of Architects, Indianapolis. She raised concerns about transportation and traffic patterns, “the vibrancy of the urban core,” and the relationship to “The Indy ReZone process,” whatever that is. Sink wants to start over, from scratch, though millions already have been spent.

Missing from critics commentaries is a proposal. If the planned location is wrong, what is better? If the financing is too expensive, what is the economical alternative? If sale of tax-exempt bonds works best, do we need voter approval? Do we need a new agency? Do we somehow extend the full faith and credit of our city? What tax revenue is lost by generating tax-free interest income compared to interest income on taxable financing? Do we hire new city-paid personnel to build and manage the project instead of personnel of the named contractor/owner? Do we decide under a future mayor who will have new deputies and department heads? Do we again open the project to the inevitable chaos of countless business people seeking involvement? Do we do all this for a project that has been openly discussed at least since 2005? Can we legitimately ask critics “where have you been for 10 years?”

Under the headline “Justice Served? Building New Courts Center May Help,” a story cited deficiencies in facilities. This was in The Indianapolis Star, Nov. 27, 2005. Here is that commentary:

John Maley calls 200 E. Washington St. [site of most current judicial facilties] the most dangerous block in the city. “The reality is someone is going to die in the building,” says Maley. The former president of the Indianapolis Bar Association and partner in the Barnes & Thornburg law firm is talking about Indianapolis’ City-County Building, home to not only criminal courts but also government offices that handle everything from handing out marriage licenses to collecting tax payments.

About 700 emergencies are reported each year in the building. More than 500 people are arrested. Chain gangs of jail inmates shuffle past jurors, witnesses and the general public in the building’s hallways. Inmates even pass by a child-care center on their way to court.

Maley and current Bar President John Kautzman argue that the building’s inadequacies pose an even broader risk to public safety, contributing to the early release of thousands of jail inmates because the court system lacks enough space and judicial officers to efficiently handle the caseload.

On Monday, a Bar Association task force will ask the Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council, a group that includes most of the key players in public safety, to support a resolution that would begin movement toward a new criminal courts building. What’s the cost? Between $100 million and $200 million.. Debt service on the high end would be about $12 million a year; the money could come from an already approved increase in the county option income tax. At least three studies in the past 15 years have made the case for a larger, more up-to-date courts building.

What? Studies began in 1990? Critics today say the project is moving too fast? Critics offer no solid aleternatives? Forget it. Let’s get on with it.

John Guy is a wealth manager and author of “Middle Man, A Broker’s Tale.” He has no business connections involving the judicial center.


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