Saturday, June 12, 2010

iPOPA Says: "Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish?"

Some of you may have recognized that, as of late, my posting has been infrequent.

This is simply a function of that classic American conflict: doing what we love to do versus doing what we need to do.

As all bloggers know, we do it for the love of writing and the love of politics, not for the money. (As most bloggers also know, what we earn from Google Ads as a function of dollars per hour would be illegal even in a Singapore sweatshop).

For me, though, doing this blog well has always been very time-intensive. I put a lot into research and crafting the right phrases and analogies (though when I re-read my posts, I ALWAYS find some typo...sorry for that).

Being painfully objective, I literally can't afford to do it any more.

I'm going on a hiatus for the foreseeable future. Whether this is truly permanent (meaning I won't be back in a year or two) remains to be seen, but unless somebody out there wants to put me on payroll, this is likely me signing off as a blogging political commentator. If you don't hear from me again in this forum, I want to thank you all for your loyal readership. I hope you've enjoyed iPOPA and at least once thought, "I never thought of it like that. That's a good way to put it."

They say the best measure of a man's character is his deeds, not his words. But sometimes contributing to public discourse by putting the words down is the deed. I hope you agree.



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

iPOPA on Pacers's Bailout

I was invited to appear on Fox 59's first "Faceoff" segment, during which two members of the community debate "issues of the day." The topic for myself and NUVO contributor (and talented writer) Andrew Roberts was whether the City should absorb the $15-$18 million cost of operating Conseco, thereby "bailing out" the Pacers. Here's my statement, which is a bit more detailed than what any 2-minute video can allow:

I don't want the Pacers to leave. But the City should not give an extra dime to millionaire ballplayers and billionaire owners when it's on pace to set a homicide record, can't pay for basic services like libraries and transportation, and has to use deficit spending, back-door tax hikes for sidewalks and roads.

The Pacers have not even shown us their books, so we have no idea how leanly they operate. All we know is they pay more in player salaries than one-third of the teams, and the NBA will almost certainly adopt NFL-style revenue sharing when it creates a new collective bargaining agreement at the end of 2011. How foolish will we look opening up the public coffers when bad management put the Pacers in the hole via low attendance and costs, and we can see the smoke from the money train pulling into the Pacers' station?

Most observers do not believe the Pacers could find a better deal in any other small-market city, they would have to pay between $50 and $150 million to move, and every objective study shows that when a team relocates, the psychological loss is real, but the economic one isn't. You can't even call this proposal a "bailout" because that connotes an opportunity to recover the dollars government provided. So far, all the Pacers have said publicly is that the taxpayers should eat a cost the Pacers agreed to cover. Sorry, but we're stuffed right now.

Here's the video segment:


Friday, June 4, 2010

iPOPA Schools You on "Expectations Game" and Greg Ballard's Thin Line Between Hero and Con Artist

People who follow politics know the most consistent foe for an elected official or candidate is the “expectations game.”

If expectations get set high, the best case scenario is an “as good as expected,” which means you can never actually “win.” If they get set low, you might hold your own with a seasoned opponent just by asking him, “Can I call ya, Joe?” winking, and uttering a complete sentence.

In other words, as paradoxical as this sounds, having people expect nothing from you is great. But here’s an iPOPA corollary. If done right, playing up a catastrophe that isn’t is just as valuable.

Think about it.

You go to a restaurant, and they say you can’t be seated for an hour. But the next thing you know, your little chimichanga-shaped beeper is lighting up 30 minutes later. Or your auto mechanic says, “This will cost $600,” but when the works gets done, it’s only $425. Awesome, right?

Now imagine the scenario where a 3rd party, the manager, steps in at the restaurant and says, “Your wait is an hour? That’s won’t do at all. (To hostess) I want these folks to be seated within 30 minutes!” Or the body shop chief says, “We’re going to cut this bill to $425!” You’d love those people, right? But what if you found out later that the restaurant knew the wait was really probably going to be around 15-20 minutes and the mechanic really had the cost pegged at $350? Wouldn’t you feel suckered?


So I’m with my little man at the Marion County main library about two months ago, and as we're walking out, I see somebody I know on the library board photo. Two days later, I see this person, and I mention I was just at the Glendale branch, and that I hoped they could avoid closing it because it was jam-packed. The person responds that (s)he looked at the books and so has another "well-informed individual" and there are cuts to be had to keep the libraries open. I ask for confirmation, and I got what I felt was a pretty resounding expression of confidence.

That was a staggering revelation to me because I’d read the horror stories just like you all about the impending doom. I started wondering about who has a vested interest in claiming impending tragedy that really isn’t? My first thought was that this was an effort to sway referendum voters on whether they really want permanent property tax caps (more on that coming to you later). But then the Mayor swoops in with a solution that isn’t really, and as Democratic mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy pointed out, the financial pinch won't hit until 2014, so it's not like we're going to turn Keystone Avenue in front of the Glendale branch into to a Half-Price Books.


So next I hear Indygo is about to be reduced to apparently one bus that just drives in circles from 10th and College to West and Washington. [Okay, it wasn't really that, but it sounded equally cataclysmic.] The next thing I know, the Mayor swoops in with "solutions" that aren't really. I kid you not, his ideas are: (1) tap a $5 million Indygo line of credit without knowing how it will be paid back; (2) shift $1.6 million that has been set aside for insurance to cover lawsuits; and (3) take $3 million from capital improvements (i.e., making the buses less rickety) and use it for operating costs. And for this, the Star gives Ballard the headline: "Ballard Says City Will Help Indygo Pay Expenses." Wow.

My first thought was that Indygo must really know its drivers to put aside that kind of cash for liability. But here's the Mayor, deciding they’ll use this cash to keep the company operational instead of waiting for lawsuits that might never happen. Brilliant! Thank God Ballard is on the 25th Floor because certainly nobody associated with Indygo could have ever come up with "borrow, raid the reserves, and spend our legal funds and pray we hit fewer pedestrians this year."

My point is this … even though I know the economy is bad and dollars are probably tight in most places, after the Mayor's CIB inflated its deficit figures, because of most likely inflated Pacer operating losses, and because of the episodes above, I now find myself suspicious of the books of any entity that the Mayor controls directly or by appointment power or for whom he shills. They keep, curiously, putting him in a position to "save the day" only for us to later learn the day didn't really need saving to the degree claimed or that the saving was just for a day, not a long-term solution.

Conspiratorial? Alright, I admit it. But explain this. Mayor Ballard said he would go into the city and cut 10% of its budget. He hasn't come close. He smashed Bart Peterson for passing an increase in the County Option Income Tax (COIT). But notice he kept the money. Insiders will tell that if Peterson wouldn't have done the COIT, the Indiana General Assembly (cough - Luke Kenley) wouldn't have authorized a state takeover of police and fire pensions, which unloaded a huge burden on the city's finances. In addition, you have a massive federal influx of dollars, which I would wager means that if you add all revenue streams, Greg Ballard has more dollars at his disposal than any Mayor in Indianapolis history. (I'm going to get these numbers!)

So why is the Mayor raising taxes on almost every service provider in the county, and why do we need an imprudent, back-door tax increase in the form of a $170 million bond issue just to fund sidewalk repair? (I still don't know anybody who can say specifically how the separate $262 million from the back-door-tax-hike Cit Gas purchase of the water and wastewater operations will be spent).

Sorry, but, yet again, something doesn't add up here.

In the Ballard Superman story, maybe truth is the kryptonite, which is exactly why the administration, quite frequently, seems to have it tucked away in a lead box.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Judge Bill Young Earns "Triple Crown of Dubiousness"

The judiciary today became the third branch of state government to tell Republican Marion County Traffic Court Judge Bill Young: "Not a fan!"

You may recall how Judge Young's practice of doubling or tripling the fines for people who went to trial and lost resulted in not only a class action lawsuit, but also the Indiana General Assembly's passage of a bill barring the practice that was signed into law by Governor Daniels.

Well, today the Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion that unanimously chided Judge Young for failing to be impartial, courteous, and open-minded.

The short version? His Honor took a recess so a Defendant could discuss a plea agreement. She opted to go to trial, then when the State called its first witness, she changed her mind.

Young stated in response that if she was found guilty, she was going to jail for a year and added, "I don’t know if I want to take your plea. I’d rather just go to trial, I think. I don’t like being jerked around at all, all right?”

In addition, while reviewing the Defendant's criminal history at sentencing, Judge Young noted new charges for theft and battery. When the Defendant's counsel asid, "Those are only alleged charges," Young responded, "Sure, they are."

Here's the Supreme Court's rhetorical body slam:

Indiana Judicial Conduct Canon 2 requires a judge to “perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.” Judges must be “objective and open-minded.” Rule 2.2, comment 1. “A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office . . . without bias or prejudice.” Rule 2.3(A). “A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants.” Rule 2.8(B). A judge shall disqualify himself or herself “in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned” including in circumstances when “the judge has a personal bias or prejudicial concerning a party.” Rule 2.11(A).

The trial court’s behavior in this case did not meet these standards.

I've heard from judicial officers on both sides of the party fence that Judge Young is looking to move back into the City-County Building when the shuffling occurs by virtue of Judge Tonya Walton-Pratt going to the federal bench.

This is the conduct we should promote?