Tag Archives: City-County Council

Whatever Happened to Integrity?

I concluded yesterday’s post by saying “We have spoiled toddlers running state and federal offices, but at least adults run the cities.” Evidently, some of those adults are less  praiseworthy than I suggested.

Indianapolis recently held a referendum on transportation. It wasn’t easy convincing the General Assembly that residents of the city should be allowed to decide for ourselves whether to impose a modest tax increase dedicated to the expansion of the city’s painfully inadequate bus service. It took a couple of years, but we finally did.

The vote was advisory, meaning that it will inform members of the City-County Council, whose votes will be dispositive. I think it is fair to say that voters expect the Councilors’ votes to reflect the clear results of the popular will.

The referendum won handily. But some Councilors– in districts where constituents voted decisively for the transit expansion– are vacillating. According to several people who have talked to them, the reluctant Council members are ambitious politicians who plan to run for higher office; they have been telling transit proponents that they don’t want a future opponent to be able to accuse them of raising taxes.

Think about that for a minute. This isn’t about legitimate disagreement about the merits of the proposal; this is about personal political calculation– a conflict of interest between the public good and personal advantage.

These City-County Counselors were elected to serve the constituents in their districts. Those constituents have signaled their belief that improved transit is sufficiently important to them to justify the (relatively minor) tax increase required. Rather than considering the wishes of those constituents, rather than considering the needs of the disabled and elderly people who depend upon transit, or the needs of workers to get to their places of employment without changing buses and enduring lengthy commutes (when they can get there at all–see yesterday’s post), these Councilors are viewing their votes only from the perspective of their personal self-interest.

Why, they might have to defend voting for the public good in a future political campaign!

I can understand why someone representing a district that voted against the referendum would decide to ignore the interests and expressed preferences of the overall community, but when elected officials disregard the wishes and needs of both the overall community and their own constituents in order to protect themselves from potential criticism in a potential future campaign, I find that contemptible.

I think it was Maya Angelou who said “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

And remember them.

Because if those who are threatening to vote no simply to protect themselves from criticism in a future campaign actually follow through with that threat, and if and when they do run for higher office, those of us with a different understanding of “representation” and “integrity” need to make a very public issue of their self-serving behavior.

 

Is It November Yet?

Every so often, our Accidental Mayor does something to remind us why it’s not a good idea to elect people who don’t understand how government is supposed to work.

As reported on the IndyDemocrat blog, Council President Maggie Lewis recently issued the following statement:

“Very recently I was informed that Mayor Ballard unilaterally authorized a withdraw of $6.8 million dollars out of the IMPD general fund without consultation or approval from the Council. This is not how good municipal government works. The Council recently overrode the Mayor’s veto to add appropriations to fund critically needed pursuit rated vehicles and necessary upgrades to IMPD facilities. His decision means many IMPD officers will continue to operate substandard vehicles and train at outdated facilities. We have too few officers on the street to begin with and this action by the administration may put at risk the city’s ability to fund this Fall’s final recruit class of 2015. I call on the Mayor to immediately reverse course and follow both the letter and spirit of Indiana law by returning the money to IMPD now.”

The most important sentence in that statement is “This is not how good municipal government works.”

Perhaps the Mayor had a perfectly good reason for withdrawing those funds. Or perhaps he didn’t. The purpose is irrelevant; the “rules of the game” require the Mayor and Council to communicate, to work together, and to jointly authorize fiscal decisions. The fact that the Council is controlled by a different political party than the Administration does not eliminate that requirement. (I should note that, back in the days of the Hudnut Administration, factional disputes among the Republicans on the Council made relations every bit as testy as the partisan divisions today–but despite a lot of grousing,  the Administration didn’t try to “sneak” things past the Council.)

Process matters.

Government in a democratic system is not run like the military, or like business, where the person at the top of the pyramid makes decisions that others must follow. That’s one reason why calls to run government “like a business” are so misplaced–government isn’t a business. It should be run in a “business-like” fashion (meaning efficiently and cost-effectively), but we should never lose sight of the fact that government’s mission is not focused on the bottom line, and the rules by which it operates must meet democratic accountability standards.

Mayor Ballard isn’t in the Marines anymore. He doesn’t get to unilaterally call the shots.

Aside from the inappropriateness of the Mayor’s action, I can’t help wondering: what was the money used for? In a city with an unacceptably high crime rate, what was more important than (our already grossly  underfunded) public safety?

 

Unlimited and Unrestrained, or Politics as Usual

It’s bad enough when partisan warfare leads to gridlock and a refusal to operate in the public interest. It may be worse when one party has super-majorities that allow it to pursue political advantage despite the wishes of the opposition and effect on the general public. We have such super-majorities in the Indiana General Assembly, and among the many kinds of mischief being proposed, the one that may be most nakedly self-serving would eliminate the four at-large Indianapolis City County Counselors, and dramatically increase the power of the Indianapolis Mayor to act without Council approval–indeed, in defiance of the Council–in a variety of situations.

Senate Bill 0621 allows the Mayor to unilaterally reduce appropriations approved by the Council (now he must either sign or veto them as passed), essentially allowing him to ignore legislative actions. It eliminates the requirement that the Council approve the Mayor’s appointments of Departmental Directors. It “eliminates provisions that allow the city-county council to require the capital improvement board of managers to make payments in lieu of taxes.” It gives the Mayor effective control of the Development Commission. And it eliminates the At-Large City County Councilors.

Quite the power grab.

This is terrible public policy–whether you approve of the decisions made by the Council or not, in a government of checks and balances, it is inappropriate to strip the legislative branch of its authority and to create an “imperial” Mayoral office. We can debate the necessity of at-large positions, but the purpose of those positions was to elect at least four councilors whose allegiance would be to the voters of the entire county, to balance those whose votes would be geared to the interests of their own constituents.

The irony, of course, is that this naked attempt to reduce the influence of Marion County Democrats is likely to come bite these short-sighted Republicans in the you-know-where. Indianapolis is increasingly a “blue” city. Upcoming Mayors are more likely than not to be Democrats, and the ways in which those Mayors deploy the new powers being provided to that office are unlikely to be palatable to the folks who are promoting this power grab.

That’s the problem with trying to game the system: you can’t always foresee who will be playing the game.