INDIANAPOLIS — Evansville Courier & Press. May 28, 2013.
Pass shield law to stop intrusion
If members of the U.S. House and Senate are truly serious about cracking down brazen efforts by the U.S. Justice Department to intimidate news reporters by seeking their telecommunications with sources, they will follow the advice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and pass a federal shield law. Pence, when he was still a congressman, championed legislation to protect reporters from revealing their sources. Unfortunately, his bill passed the House, but failed in the Senate.
The proposed shield law found new life recently when it was disclosed that the U.S. Justice Department obtained phone records for 20 Associated Press and Fox News reporters. Also, they have labeled one journalist a co-conspirator for allegedly releasing security information.
In brief, this seems an effort by Attorney General Eric Holder's department to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs.
Most states have shield laws to protect reporters, but not the federal government.
Pence said the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.
A shield law by itself will not solve the issues of the Obama administration overstepping its bounds, but it is a start. But the most direct way right now to tell the Justice Department we will not tolerate its intrusion into the rights of a free press is to pass a federal shield law, now.
The Indianapolis Star. May 25, 2013.
Ballard team must act quickly to mend trust broken by abandoned homes scandal
Perhaps it really was just two rogue employees who apparently took illegal advantage of Indianapolis' system for disposing of thousands of abandoned properties. Perhaps, as a spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard insists, nothing could have been done internally to expose and stop the corruption inside the city's Department of Metropolitan Development before the FBI raided the City-County Building on Tuesday.
But it remains incumbent on Ballard and his team to thoroughly review accountability and management procedures as well as hiring practices in light of a scandal that has embarrassed the city and broken the trust of residents in many of Indy's most-depressed neighborhoods.
The mayor also needs to review, and then explain to the public, how the alleged corruption could have gone on for months without detection in one of the most high-profile and important departments in his administration.
Ballard on Friday took the appropriate step of firing the two city employees, Reginald Walton and John Hawkins, accused of taking kickbacks and bribes in return for selling abandoned properties to two nonprofits. The organizations, according to U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, then sold the properties to buyers who made handsome profits off the deals.
The city also has hired an attorney, Forrest Bowman Jr., to work with federal officials in the aftermath of the investigation and to review city policies. The mayor, the day after the FBI raid that resulted in five arrests, shut down operations of the Indy Land Bank, which Walton was responsible for managing, until an internal review is completed.
Those responses are welcome, but, of course, come after the damage has been done.
This scandal is particularly appalling because it centers on the thousands of abandoned properties that drag down home values and hurt the quality of life in many neighborhoods in this city. Residents have cried out for relief for years. Instead, they've now learned that two city workers — considered, until Tuesday, good employees, according to Ballard's spokesman Marc Lotter — apparently have been profiting for months from their suffering.
Beyond policy review, the mayor needs to press hard to finally provide relief for hard-hit neighborhoods. The old, now disgraced Indy Land Bank obviously wasn't working. Ballard and his camp need to find a new approach that will — and quickly.
State legislators can help with that effort. A legislative study committee is charged with reviewing proposed Land Bank reforms that not only would close loopholes that Walton and Hawkins are accused of exploiting but also could save taxpayers' money and speed the process of reclaiming vacant properties.
The ongoing deterioration of Indy neighborhoods has long provided ample reason for local and state leaders to confront these challenges. This scandal has added a painful and pressing new incentive.
Journal & Courier, Lafayette. May 23, 2013.
Purdue's wide net for savings
Did anyone believe that Purdue ever would see a tuition freeze? The university has always made such a case for more, not less, from student pockets that the possibility of zero percent seemed remote, at best.
But there it is. The Purdue trustees locked it in Wednesday, leaving other universities across the state to come close to matching it or face certain grilling by state budget makers. (If Purdue can do it, why can't you?)
That hold-the-line approach comes at a cost — $40 million in round figures. And Purdue is still scraping around to find those savings. Here's a bet: Purdue President Mitch Daniels will find a way that includes relatively little sweating on campus.
"Obviously, we have changed direction on student affordability by saying that 'Let's all agree to square Purdue's spending with students' payments, not the other way around,' (which is to) force payments up till they provide the money we'd like to spend," Daniels told J&C reporter Hayleigh Colombo last week. "And it'll take awhile to tell, but I think we will be successful, certainly in the short term, of doing without a tuition increase. I hope we go a lot further."
What's fairly novel in this approach, at least for Purdue, is the casting call for savings ideas from anyone and everyone on campus. While an open records request from the J&C didn't turn up the entire list of suggestions emailed to Daniels' administration — that request continues to be pressed — it did reveal some sincere efforts from all corners to suggest ways to cut waste on campus. (Shutter the place during the do-little holiday week between Christmas and New Year's? Not bad.)
During his first months as president at Purdue, Daniels hasn't skimped on bringing professors, staff and students into the mix for advice. And the breadth of the suggestions made — some seem a bit out there — likely will uncover a leaner operation at some point.
Although that's not going to make everyone happy, someone had to pull the plug on the compound interest of annual tuition increases at Purdue at some point.
The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. May 22, 2013.
Brakes on reform
If you thought efforts to consolidate local government had slowed down in the recent legislative session, you would be wrong. The legislators stopped their progress and made consolidation harder.
Senate Enrolled Act 343 requires a consolidation proposal to be separately approved by voters in each jurisdiction, rather than in a single election. Opponents of an unsuccessful 2012 effort to merge local government in Evansville and Vanderburgh County joined Gov. Mike Pence in the bill-signing ceremony this month, celebrating passage of a law that will likely ward off the next effort to deliver services more efficiently in southwest Indiana, in northeast Indiana or anywhere else.
The fact that the Vanderburgh opponents won their fight by a 2-to-1 margin last year is evidence the legislation was unnecessary. The next consolidation effort will face almost insurmountable odds, regardless of its merit.
Under a provision pushed by the Vanderburgh County Farm Bureau, a merger of city and county government would require county residents living outside of the city to constitute one voting group and county residents within the city another. City residents, who pay both city and county taxes, essentially would be denied a vote as county residents.
Mark Lawrance, senior vice president for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the process for consolidating township and county government, established in 2006, already was difficult to implement. Since the law went into effect, only three mergers have been approved. He said S.B. 343 was pushed in the last session as a tool for reorganization when, in fact, it will make it more difficult.
An effort to change the structure of county government in Allen County also was blocked in the last session. Senate Bill 475, made specific to Allen County after objections were raised by county officials statewide, would have allowed the county commissioners to adopt an ordinance to change the executive and legislative structure of county government, with approval of a majority of voters. It would have created a single county executive and a seven-member council with legislative duties.
The House voted to send the issue to a summer study committee.
"I think it's totally unnecessary to study this further," Lawrance said. "This issue has been studied time and again. We think what the legislature is almost saying is, we want county government the way we have it right now - we don't want counties to have the option to try another way of organizing."
The new law is a disappointing hurdle to local government reorganization. Since the Kernan-Shepherd local government reorganization recommendations were released in 2007, the state has made small but encouraging steps toward changing a government framework designed for the 19th century. Changing the rules to discourage an honest effort to eliminate duplication and improve efficiency is a step backward.