Thursday, May 12, 2005

Running Scared

Did you ever watch one of the classic '80s horror pics? Inevitably, one or more characters will show either hubris or ignorance and step from safety to imminent danger.

Vocalized or not, your mind screams "don't go there!" in a futile attempt to "save" the character from a gruesome death.

When the character is likable, the impulse is even stronger. What presents itself as obvious danger to you, the audience, is to the character the appropriate next step.

But that's fiction. Fiction demands that you suspend your disbelief, if only for a moment.

The situation New Albany finds itself in is not fiction. I refuse to suspend my disbelief.

Yet, the horror show proceeds apace. Faced with an ingenious solution provided by city controller Kay Garry, a majority of the council is preparing to thrust the city into peril.

The city is in this mess not because of contemporary mismanagement, not because of a recession and an attendant shortfall in tax collections. It is in this mess because previous mayors and councils blithely acted without lawful authority.

Now the council is within days of doing it again. Ignore for the moment the actual damage this city will suffer when building permits aren't issued, when stop-work orders on all construction are issued, when inspections grind to a halt. Ignore for a moment the safety and health hazards we'll face when garbage collections cease. When it happened due to the massive December snowfall, it was pretty bad. But it wasn't 80 degrees Fahrenheit then. Ignore the forced execution of the animals held in the shelter. Ignore the economic impact of a Planning office shutdown. Ignore the economic impact to the families of city employees.

This council is prepared to thumb its nose at the state-approved solution, prepared to avoid making the tough decisions needed to address the state-ordered budget restrictions. They want to saddle the city with an illegal loan - a loan that will trigger yet another state sanction against the city and hobble operations out into the future.

None of this is necessary. Council President Jeff Gahan is quoted in today's Courier-Journal as saying he will join with CM Seabrook to reject the Garry Plan. He is quoted as saying he will not approve giving a promissory note from the city in exchange for a cash transfer from the city-owned sewer utility.

The Garry Plan doesn't endanger the sewer utility. Their obligation is to maintain a reserve. A promissory note from the city is an asset, not a liability. That asset is sound, if without interest payments.

If Gahan is indeed casting his lot with this foolishness, I have misjudged him. But I make this proposition to Messrs. Gahan, Seabrook, and Kochert, as well as CM's Donnie Blevins and Beverly Crump and any other members of the council who are prepared to torpedo the Garry Plan: You are misjudging your constituents. You are listening to foolishness. You do a great disservice to the folks who voted for you to exercise good judgment in your appropriations duties.

There is a constituency in this city that supports the Garry Plan as presented. It is not partisan. It is not factional. It is not driven by support for any individual.

It is driven by sound policy. It recognizes the city's real problems and will rise up to support leaders who offer solutions and reject "leaders" who run scared. Boasting about ignorance is running scared. Deferring important decisions is running scared. Bowing to the perception that New Albanians are frightened fools without any vision for the future is the definition of running scared. Abdicating the duty to make the tough decisions and waiting for a court order to do what is required is, apparently, a tradition around here.

My wager is that once awakened to the foolishness emanating from a majority of the council, which now seems to include Mr. Gahan in that majority, this council will recognize that running scared not only disserves their constituents, it will put an end to any ambitions they might have had to serve the city in elected office in the future.

If you hold office only to "run scared," just step down now and save yourself the humiliation of rejection by this city's constituency for progress.

I have been cautioned that elected officials in this city close their ears when they are "insulted." That alone is reason to turn them out of office. If calling an action "foolishness" motivates more foolishness, doesn't that just prove the point?

I'm not asking council members out on a date. I'm not asking them to be my friend. I'm not asking them to share a beer or a plate of tamales with me. I'm asking them to do their jobs.

Are YOU prepared to ask the same?


Homework for readers of Volunteer Hoosier

Assignment: What position did your council member take on Scribner Place during the 2003 elections? What position is he or she taking now? Are they prepared to renege on the city's commitment to spend $400,000 from CEDIT funds to keep this development on track? Will the private YMCA development and capital campaign be threatened by the city's vacillation? Will any private investor ever again have confidence that the city will keep its word if they pull these funds? Will Caesar's feel free to walk away from their multi-million dollar commitment to Scribner Place?

Extra Credit: How long will it take before Dan Coffey steps in to answer a question posed to Steve Price at Tuesday's S. Ellen Jones Neighborhood Association meeting?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Frontal Assault on Common Sense

Like water torture, the antics of a faction on the City Council are an incessant drip that calls for immediate repairs. There's nothing at all subtle about these diversionary tactics. It is a frontal assault on common sense.

I'm not at all sure to whom these council members are playing. Do they really believe that the citizenry at large appreciates their bluster, their delaying tactics, their transparent contempt for the administration?

It has become clear that they do believe they have the support of their constituents. They are wrong, but unless a vocal constituency for progress emerges, their antics will continue.

Whatever your opinion of the Garner administration, these folks will be operating the machinery of city services until at least January of 2008. Can it be possible that a majority on this council want to hobble the mayor and his team for that long? Can it be that personal spite will win out over the good of the city? Is a majority of council prepared to stand in the way of progress and then stand for election again?

The assault on the Garry Plan is but one evidence of their bad faith.

I've stated before that no elected official is irredeemable, but the upcoming vote to fix the budget for 2005 will serve as a litmus test. It will demonstrate once and for all which council members belong on the honor roll, and which belong in the hall of infamy. It will define exactly who is who.

The candidates for dishonor have, so far, assaulted education, in fact and in principle, dismissing its value in their public utterances. They have refused to educate themselves or take the advice of experts. They regularly substitute their corrupted shade-tree wisdom for the expertise of financial professionals, engineers, geologists, recreation professionals, fire and safety officials, zoning and planning experts, and law enforcement workers. They go out of their way, then, to insult and question the motives of these same professionals. And finally, they publicly broadcast innuendo to question the integrity of these same officials.

No legislative official is to be expected to accept such advice blindly. But when a member of council brags about his ignorance and then proceeds to substitute his own prejudices for the opinions of experts, he should be called on it.

A cursory reading of the daily newspapers won't reveal the pettiness and theatrics involved. You truly have to see it to believe it.

Unless things change dramatically in the waning days of May, unless the council adopts the Garry Plan, don't expect much from your city. Only the council can appropriate the money to fund city services. If they fail to do so, remember the names of those mounting this frontal assault on common sense.

Monday, May 09, 2005


One time-tested method for preventing a mugging is to flood an area with light. Volunteer Hoosier was created to shine as much light into the dark corners as time permits.

There is no doubt that the residents of this city would be appalled if they knew their city was being mugged by a faction on the City Council. So let's shine a little light.

First off, kudos to Amany Ali, The Tribune's City Editor, who first impressed with an outstanding recap of last Monday's council meeting. Throughout the week, Ali has continued to keep the city's crisis on the front page, giving many of the players a chance to articulate their concerns. While some of those are demonstrably irrelevant, Ali's function in this matter is to report, and she has done yeoman-like work this past week.

The Tribune can alert you to which issues to watch, but their less-than-muscular editorial board seldom draws conclusions or offers opinions. Far too often, their editorials on local government are, in fact, news stories watered down so as to not offend any of the powers that be.

So be it. Not every town can have a crusading editor in charge.

Volunteer Hoosier, on the other hand, is a self-described instrument of opinion and commentary. So here goes.

Pleading ignorance, and often boasting about it, members of the City Council have repeatedly defeated or tabled critical appropriations during the first four months of 2005. There is no sign that any of these will be pulled from the table during May, so more than 40% of the year will have passed without council doing its job.

But ignorance is no longer an excuse. A certain degree of caution may have been justified while awaiting the bad news from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, but that bad news has arrived. In anticipation of this, the administration had been doing what-if analyses on a weekly basis, trying to find a solution to a problem left over from the last administration.

Once the budget restrictions were laid out, the administration brought forward the Garry Plan. Briefly, the Garry Plan consists of four parts: 1) Departmental spending restrictions, including a hiring freeze and rigorous controls over discretionary expenditures, 2) The allocation of a one-time disbursement from the state of excess CEDIT collections, 3) A deep dip into the so-called "Riverboat" fund, which contractually generates between $600K and $1 million each year from Harrison County's casino tax collections, and 4) A reallocation of city money from the city-owned sewer utility.

Each of these measures is strictly legal and approved, in principle, by the state. Nothing about them is imprudent, in light of the severity of the crisis. In fact, the mayor would have told you this is, in fact, not a crisis. Would have. Now, in the face of the intransigence of certain council members, it has become a crisis that threatens the entire structure of city government and city services as we know it.

This intransigence is already costing the city money and failure to pass the Garry Plan will cost the city even more. The prospect of reducing city services to emergencies only is a horrifying one that will, in the end, cost the city more than any single line item in the budget. The failure to replace city vehicles at the end of their life-cycles is costing us in excessive maintenance. That's an operating expense that, in large measure, draws down the city's general fund. That fund is the one that is in crisis. The capital expenditure fund, while it would be depleted significantly under the emergency Garry Plan, would allow the city to make disbursements from its more robust capital funds.

The city's liabilities to its employees is one I can't even estimate, but if the city begins shutting down departments, as it must do without council's approval of the Garry Plan, they will be gargantuan. The unintended consequences of shutting down departments will be staggering.

Amazingly, for some in this city, that is a desired objective. Crippling the city is their solution. Holding back the city from moving into the future is a heartfelt goal.

The development of Scribner Place has been dragged into this discussion, too. It is not relevant to this issue, but to further their political goals, some council members have muddied the waters with an attack on that worthy project.

If the business leaders of this community don't raise a hue and cry about this threatened atrocity, I'll be stunned. Voters need to review the campaign literature from 2003 to see which council members then said they supported this vital redevelopment project, and which are using it now to deflect council from the real issues.

Item number 4 in the list above is a critical element, particularly in light of the council's inability to move any appropriations this year. Kay Garry, the judicious city controller, doesn't want to run the city's Riverboat fund down to zero. Since the city has the cash in hand (in the city-owned utility's accounts), she insists that the only prudent solution is to keep a reserve for capital expenditures in hand.

Having watched this council closely, Volunteer Hoosier shudders to think what shenanigans will be pulled if this measure is "deferred." Face it. Everyone involved knows this whole thing is a farce. Certain council members, several of whom must share responsibility for the crisis, are using this as an excuse to paint the incumbent mayor in a bad light. Rather than address the issues responsibly, they resort to diversions and demagoguery, all but calling the Mayor and Mrs. Garry liars.

The hypocrisy is astounding. Fellow blogger NA Confidential provides additional commentary on some of the motivating elements of this in his Monday morning posting.

Contact your council member and each of the at-large council members to let them know you're tired of this. Urge them to approve the Garry Plan in its entirety.

At-Large - Donnie Blevins, 1548 Corydon Pike (812) 944-4856
At-Large - Jack Messer, 1906 Carriage Court (812) 949-9638
At-Large - Mark Seabrook, 1130 Eastridge Drive (812) 944-9644
1st District - Dan Coffey, 425 West Seventh Street (812) 949-1262
2nd District - Bill Schmidt, 202 Ellen Court (812) 945-7386 e-mail:
3rd District - Stephen Price. 112 Butler Street (812) 941-9032
4th District - Larry Kochert, 2236 Shelby Street (812) 945-7652
5th District - Beverly Crump, 1510 Star Haven Dr. (812) 948-2603 e-mail:
6th District - Jeff Gahan 1122 Eastridge Drive (812) 949-9314 e-mail:

Randy Smith,

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Good People

What you are thunders so loudly that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary. Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and lecturer (1803-1882)

Suppose your neighbor's house is on fire.

What you would do, what you would aspire to do, and what you would admire if others were to do it are measures of your character.

Is it fair to criticize one neighbor if she acts first to protect her own home from also catching fire?

If another neighbor rushes to attach a garden hose in an attempt to halt the fire's advance, would you urge caution, saying "maybe the fire will go out on its own?"

Would you abrandon the house to burn, but propose a neighborhood meeting to discuss building more fireproof houses?

Better yet, if another neighbor dials 911 to summon professional firefighting capabilities, would you stand on the sidewalk, watching the house burn, and point out that, after all, there's a water shortage, so maybe "we should just let the house burn?"

Imagine for a moment that professional firefighters are on the scene and have with them an expert able to tell them precisely where to direct their hoses to control the conflagration. Would you walk over and shout out your advice while covering the expert's mouth with your hand?

And if the expert's advice is about to be implemented despite your efforts, would you then pull out your Fireman Rick junior firefighter's hat, appropriate an ax from the fire truck, and proceed to hack away at the fire hoses, just to get your way?

The sad part of this discourse is that there ARE people out there like that. Their actions are highly visible, yet no one steps up to call it lunacy. These are the sociopathic personalities who would park their car in front of the hydrant and then, when their car is removed and cited, would sue the fire department for damages, claiming that their freedom to park had been violated. Meanwhile, they would exert every influence at their disposal TO GET THE TICKET FIXED!

Such will always be with us. But...where were you while the fire was burning?

If it’s painful for you to criticize your friends, you’re safe in doing it; if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that’s the time to hold your tongue.Alice Duer Miller, American author (1874-1942)

Randy Smith,