Monday, April 12, 2010

Brian Williams' Lonely Voice On Water Deal

Let me start off by saying that I obviously can't read or hear every TV news segment, radio interview, newspaper story, blog post, or even press release, so this might be a case of selective reception on my part. But when I try to list elected or want-to-be-elected Democrats opposed for any reason to Mayor Ballard's effort to sell our city's water assets, the inkwell dries up quickly.

As of yet, no opposing voice has emerged from the City-County Council, which is strange given that the Mayor will wrap up his four "town-hall meetings" with one this Tuesday (6:30-8:00 p.m., Nu Corinthian Church's Family Life Center, 5935 West 56th Strett) and the last the Tuesday thereafter (6:30-8:00 p.m., Lynhurst 7th & 8th Grad Center, 2805 South Lynhurst Drive). Actually, City-County Councillor Jose Evans was the first to get "into the water" by twice questioning the management of the city's water, and he questioned the deal generally on the Amos Brown show.

But when it comes to what I'd call a thoroughly substantive critique, there's one name in the game - mayoral contender Brian Williams.

Williams tells specifically why the deal is perilous, and he continues to raise the right unasked questions. If you want to see Williams' most recent tug on the curtain of Ballard's faux financial wizardry, read below.

April 8, 2010 Statement[1]

By virtue of his opposition, Williams is garnering media attention.

My fellow Democrats might ask how Melina Kennedy, our party apparatus's perceived frontrunner, can cede this much mic time to her most formidable rival?

She has no choice.

This is one of the tragic drawbacks to being an attorney at Baker & Daniels, one of, if not, Indy's largest law firm. By virtue of being an attorney there, and by virtue of B&D representing one of the principals, she is bound by the rules of professional conduct, and she cannot speak ill of the deal, even if she were so inclined.

Williams clearly knows this, which is why he has repeatedly referred to this deal as the most significant enterprise Mayor Ballard has undertaken. Call it self-serving if you will, but Williams is right, whether you view this as being the result of the enormity of the water company deal or the paucity of other sizeable mayoral accomplishments. What we can say is that every time Williams publicly talks about the deal, somebody unaware of the Baker & Daniels/Melina conflict might think, even if just subconsciously, "Where is Melina?"

And what makes the forced silence more intriguing is that one of the board members for Citizens Gas is Anne Nobles, a senior VP at Eli Lilly who also serves as Melina's campaign chair. (In the interest of full disclosure, Anne was also my mother's boss when she worked for then Governor Evan Bayh, and Anne is one of the most brilliant people you'd ever meet). Because of Melina's current employer, we don't know whether Melina would have shown her moxy and gone womano-a-womano with a powerful friend. I think Melina could have held her own in such a debate, but we'll never know.

This is maddening, mostly because I always get wanked when I see Republicans do something to us that we've done to them.

You see, back when Bart Peterson was Mayor, the expression "getting Keelered" was ushered in. The Marion County GOP Chair, John Keeler, was working as an attorney at Baker & Daniels, and because the city had the firm on retainer, Keeler couldn't chastize Peterson. It was like having a political criticism immunity card card for two years.

We see the same thing here. Whether it was driven by shrewd politicking or simply the natural outgrowth of having so many big players in the Cit Gas deal, every big firm in Indiapolis with anyone inclined to say "Wait a minute," including my party's perceived frontrunner, has been gobbled up.

Let's just hope Melina can get out of the stomach of the beast before the Mayor cooks up his next big idea for public consumption.

UPDATE: I did not wish to imply that the Democrats on the City-County Council have done nothing, as Minority Leader, Joanne Sanders, submitted a resolution on behalf of the caucus requesting an open and transparent discussion of the sale. But this resolution can be fairly described as a "process" resolution, not a substantive critique akin to what Williams has provided. It is curious that the hearing of the resolution before the Rules & Public Policy Committee is set for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday (Room 260 of the City-County Building). This is one hour before the townhall on the far Northwest side. Great way to guarantee maximum participation by Democratic councillors at the Mayor's little forum - creating a potential scheduling conflict for the caucus members.



Anonymous said...

Maybe its time for Melina to leave Baked Daniels. Seems the baggage is outweighing the ability to campaign.

Chris Worden said...

I can say with near certainty that Melina is contemplating the same.

Anonymous said...

Um, I'm pretty sure Barnes & Thornburg is the city's largest law firm.

Chris Worden said...


I don't know why, but whenever someone says "Um" as a preface to a statement, I assume they're implying I'm a dumbass because I read their tone as sarcastic (call it the downside of non-spoken communication - you can't hear whether they're being truly helpful).

For example, if someone said to me that the GOP wanted to really eliminate pre-existing condition restrictions with health insurance, I might say, "Um, I'm pretty sure you can't find a single Republican who has introduced such a bill absent a Democratic-led call for reform in the past century."

If I am reading you wrong, I apologize. But otherwise, I want to point out that, though you are right, I wasn't talking about total firm value, but rather "Indianapolis presence." On that score, it's hardly a landslide. By my count, B&T has 226 partners, associates, staff attorneys and "of counsels." B&D has 220, and Ice Miller has 217.

Um, thanks for your comment. : )

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that we are over 19 months away from the 2011 Mayoral General Election and about 12 months away from the 2011 Primary. John Q. Public will not pay attention to any of this (from Mayoral Candidates anyway) until about March of 2011. Right now it's all party people and the small number of people who pay attention to politics 24/7.

When it comes to the 2011 Primary or General elections, not being able to comment on the water deal in 2010 will not harm Kennedy or any other candidate for that matter. From what I've seen from the outside, I am very impressed with Kennedy's discipline so far and I expect her comments on the water deal and other major policy issues to be well thought out and disciplined as well.

Had Enough Indy? said...

This is a hugely important deal - the City stands to lose control of perhaps its most precious natural resource - and only Brian Williams appears to be trying to dissect the deal.

I am at a loss as to why there is not more conversation about this in public by those who have been elected to lead and by those who wish to be elected to lead. In the end it is not a politics wonk issue - it is a pocketbook issue for the rate payers.

Well I guess thanks should at least go out to Williams.

Chris Worden said...

Anon 3:02: You are dead-on about time. The general public isn't attuned in the same way people like us are, but I do think you can create "media currents" through a free media strategy, and if you consistenly hear a candidate speak on TV and you like them, it helps form a narrative of engagement. Mayor Ballard right now has a largely uninterrupted narrative he's crafting as as reformer, and this deal will be part of that story if it passes.

Everything you say about Melina is true, which is why I'm praying she is able to free herself soon. You have to remember that Melina is looking at a primary fight, even if she doesn't have a slating competition (which she still might as well). Anytime a candidate can generate a lot of positive name ID without putting dollars into it, (s)he should. I'm not talking about her unveiling her plans for the office now - that can wait. But on the major events of the day, politics abhors a vacuum, and even if Indianapolis residents won't remember all the specifics, they get the subconscious message, which is, "I like her. She's on top of things, and she's right to be suspicious of this deal."

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:20 You either don't read carefully or you are trying to score points for your candidate, Mr. Williams. IPOPA explained ethically why Melina is not able to comment. I was unaware of that ethics rule until he mentioned it. [I am not a lawyer] Would you prefer that she violate ethics and discuss it or would you prefer that she display appropriately ethically behavior and remain silent. Her campaign has not started. We have several office holders, candidates who are not lawyers with B&D and party spokepersons. Please don't play the gutter politics card and make it appear that Melina is neglient on something that Mr. Williams and his supporters know not to be true. We should admire the honor that she shows when she ignores the petty sniping being put out there.

At least, she has not been involved in business with Tim Durham. When is Mr. Williams going to comment on that?

Chris Worden said...

Anon 3:20:

Brian Williams was my principle source for the following post, even though he knew it was going to delve deep into his personal business, and he also explained his relationship with Durham on Amos Brown.

If you have evidence that anything I've written is inaccurate, let me know. I want everybody to have the facts, come what may, and Brian has not shown any hesitancy to answer the very pointed questions I post.

My point is just that if you vote against him, it has to be on something else than him not speaking on Durham because he clearly did.

Had Enough Indy? said...

iPOPA -- you have got me to pondering your point about the ethics tangle an attorney has regarding clients of their law firm and how that hampers the attorney from saying what they think about an issue involving that client.

How does that code of ethics affect the role somebody like Ryan Vaughn can play in the Council? Can he take a leadership role against the interests of a client of another attorney at Barnes & Thornburg? Or, is he hampered in giving his all to the public he was elected to serve? Or, am I missing something else here?

Anonymous said...

Anon, are you calling examining the water deal petty sniping? There's a void of leadership in the Democratic party here in Marion Co. and it appears Williams is trying to fill it. Good for him and good for us.
I think Melina's failure to engage this issue, or any other issue so far, speaks to a larger problem. Too much of our political discourse is controlled by folks at a handful of big law firms. Deals like this, the Lucas Oil Stadium, etc, can be rammed through simply by neutralizing the opposition with a contract. That isn't Democracy, it is oligarchy.

Anonymous said...

How about the fact that he even got involved with Durham in the first place? Educated people with good intentions do not get involved in Ponzi schemes that are ripping off investors[mostly senior citizens] for millions of dollars. Is this a man we can trust with the taxpayers money?

Anonymous said...

IPOOPA, are you high?

Mr. Goldsmith, Robert Grand and Joseph Loftus work with Mayor Ballard in shaping the administration's agenda. Ask a Republican Councillor and they'll tell you the same thing. Seriously, give one of them a call when you're finished hitting the bong.

Melina's firm is making money off of the water deal, and she, as a partner, gets a cut. She's contemplating how to spend her portion of the kill. She's not about to leave the firm (the gutsy thing to do) because being a well paid lawyer trumps serving her community, and that is why she'll lose - a lack of principles. Plus, she is supported by O'Connor and Tracy... I mean, what could go wrong with that all-star team of losers?

And Williams is "one more" voice on the water deal. Sanders, Evans and even the Indy Star editorial board is voicing concern about the deal.

You're right about one thing, you're political analysis does bring me some pain...

Chris Worden said...

Anon 12:08:

Anytime someone's comment references not only me being "high," but also drug paraphernalia, I assume he or she HAS inhaled, and/or is a Libertarian. Kudos to you for being unconventional. You wrote this:

"Mr. Goldsmith, Robert Grand and Joseph Loftus work with Mayor Ballard in shaping the administration's agenda. Ask a Republican Councillor and they'll tell you the same thing. Seriously, give one of them a call when you're finished hitting the bong."

I'm sure that's a zesty retort to something someone has said somewhere in America at some time. I just can't connect it to anything I've written in my lifetime, so I'll focus on the rest of your post instead.

"Melina's firm is making money off of the water deal, and she, as a partner, gets a cut. She's contemplating how to spend her portion of the kill."

If B&D gets $300,000 in legal fees on the deal, that would be less than $2,000 per partner, and of course, that doesn't include a pro rata share of expenses which would make it less than that. (I hope she doesn't spend it all in one place).

>And Williams is "one more" voice on the water deal. Sanders, Evans and even the Indy Star editorial board is voicing concern about the deal.

You got me for being inprecise. Let me rephrase: Brian Williams is the only Democrat offering specific, substative (as opposed to procedural) opposition.

>You're right about one thing, you're political analysis does bring me some pain...

Sorry. Welp, thanks for playing. Gotta get back to my bong!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your parry, but you didn't comment on one thing...

I wrote:
"Plus, she is supported by O'Connor and Tracy... I mean, what could go wrong with that all-star team of losers?"

You called me out on the "bong" line and even took the time to label me a Libertarian (those be fight'n words!), but you didn't comment on this statement. Hmm...

Also, If you think that B&D is going to make less than a million on this deal, you should take a business class and review your business model - sounds like you're undercharging!

Oh, and Anon 7:59. Drop the Tim D. thing. This time next year, no one will know who the hell Tim Durham is... No one is biting.

Anonymous said...

Anon are wrong...people will be talking about Tim Durham and the political powers that he takes down for years....your attempt to minimize the sleaze is unforgiveable.