This past Saturday I finally met Mayor Greg Ballard. I had just finished a segment on 1310 AM - The Light, during which I criticized the Mayor’s parking deal. He was waiting outside the studio, so I introduced myself and shook his hand. He glared at me like I’d walked on his lunch.
Never would I have imagined how badly he’d walk all over himself politically during the sixty minutes that followed, or that it would be a Democrat who would be coming to his rescue tonight.
The Mayor's radio appearance was calamitous. He used condescending phrases like, “Let me tell you something” while alternating between lecturing and being dismissive. When one man, obviously picking up on what the rest of the world was sensing, actually said that the Mayor sounded arrogant, the Mayor’s response was, “I have no idea what that is about.”
Oh, we know, Mr. Mayor.
But that’s no excuse for the racial demagoguery he is employing to sell the ACS fifty-year parking meter lease.
Being painfully objective, I am duty-bound to say that race in Marion County is ever-present in politics, especially in my party. Race gets harnessed frequently, and on occasion, abused. (See Al Sharpton, appearance on November 17).
But usually when people stoke a racial fire, they are trying to mold others’ perceptions or interpretations of events, and you can’t objectively say they’re right or wrong. Is Mayor Ballard indifferent to the bruises of Brandon Johnson or does he care deeply while being saddled with a tough Merit Board decision? A race-based appeal (pointing out that a white dude might not care all that much) might move people to the former view.
But what the Mayor is doing now isn't race-based persuasion; it's deceit in the form of omitting an unshakeable fact.
The Mayor asserted that his parking lease would make minority-business enterprise (MBE) Global Parking System, Inc., a national player and help it grow it’s 60% plus minority workforce. Repeating what he had said previously on Amos in the Afternoons, the Mayor quizzed with incredulity, “I don’t know how somebody could be against that!”
You get it, black folks? The Mayor is really looking out for you by specifically looking out for one company. If you are against this deal, you must be against Hal Darring, Global's CEO, which means you must be against black people.
But here’s the Mayor's obvious deceit through an even more obvious omission. If the City of Indianapolis was as psyched about Hal as the Mayor claims, it could pay for new meters itself (using bonds if necessary, as suggested by Bill Hudnut), make additional millions by cutting out ACS as the middle man, and still make Global its primary contractor.
Nobody could think the only way Hal gets more city work is by ACS fleecing the taxpayers on this deal, right?
Democratic (and African-American) City-County Councillor Paul Bateman, whose district cuts through most of Lawrence Township, is going to vote for the Mayor's deal for one reason: to help Global Parking and Hal Darring. Given that an awful lot of this administration's marquee deals were designed to reward particular businesses and/or individual's, who can criticize Bateman's motive?
But in supporting this deal, Bateman has bought into the disingenuous, racial crockery the Mayor is selling.
But wait! Say you're ACS and you want this deal badly. Maybe you sell it to Paul Bateman by letting him know that if ACS scores, it'll let Global come along when it rolls its pro-privatizatized monopoly, parking meter cabal into the next city. Maybe the real value for Global isn't gaining the experience or increased scale, but rather, the distinction of being ACS' go-to MBE subcontractor.
Fair enough. But if ACS is really interested in Global as a subcontractor, that interest shouldn't fall off just because ACS doesn't get an Indy deal, should it, Councillor Bateman? So who is really getting played?
In addition to tossing out the race card, the Mayor also implicitly admitted his administration's incompetence and political cowardice during his radio interview.
Ask the Mayor why the City can’t handle its own parking, and he’ll tell you parking “isn’t a core competency,” and he’ll tell you how meters stayed bagged too long, and the city loses revenue. First of all, as the Mayor admitted on air, we already have a private company doing the collections and ticket writing. That means there are two possible parties who are screwing up the bagging of meters: (1) the city; or (2) the contractor. If it’s “the city” that means YOU are admitting, Mr. Mayor, that you don’t know how to manage people. Make me manager for a day, and I'll tell every employee that any meter I find bagged for more than two hours more than necessary will result in the firing of the employee who was responsible for the meter. Problem solved.
Now, if the bagging problem is the the contractor’s fault, you are admitting, Mr. Mayor, that you don’t know how to manage a contract, so the idea we’d hand you a long-term one is pretty bananas, wouldn’t you say?
Friends, this is real simple. Over the next fifty years, meter users in Indianapolis will pay an estimated $1.0-$1.5 billion. If we take the Mayor's proposal, ACS will get between $400-$800 million of that money. If we don't take the Mayor's proposal, we'll get an additional $400-$800 million minus the costs of the equipment, upgrades, and management expenses.
Now, you'll all say, "Yeah, but it's ACS' management savvy that's getting that $1.5 billion. Not at all. This isn't ACS capturing greater market share with innovative product lines. The new money will come from increases from adding new meters, raising the rates, and technology that reduces "spillover," those situations where patron B uses the remaining time left on a meter from Patron A's change. Under this new contract, you won't be able to do that.
And therein lies the Mayor's political cowardice. One thing he also said on 1310 AM was that parking rates haven't gone up in twenty years. Notice the inactive verb? He doesn’t say “we” haven’t raised the meter rates while speaking about all the former mayors and himself. In Mayor Ballard's world, the meters are all Johnny Five's that can spring to life and adjust their own rates.
(Pssst! Mr. Mayor, raising the meter rate is your job).
At the end of the day, this is the REAL reason the Mayor wants to hand operations over to ACS. So that when rates go up, the Mayor can act like he had nothing to do with it, which is exactly what he'll be saying when our water and wastewater rates explode two years from now.