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Select a mayor now, Indianapolis


Editor's note: The print edition of this story included an incorrect number of active duty police officers, which has been corrected below.

As Indygov's chief executive, the mayor sits at the helm of the nation's 12th largest city, accountable to Indy's estimated 830,000 residents for oversight of about $1 billion per year in taxpayer money spread across about 40 departments—from Animal Care and Control to Voter Registration.

Make that almost $1 billion. The mayor's proposed 2012 budget totaled $941.6 million, dipping below $1 billion for the first time in recent years. It is, Indy's Republican Mayor Greg Ballard told the City-County Council "our toughest budget for years."

Projected 2012 income tax revenues for Indy's consolidated city-county government, which covers most of Marion County — it doesn't include remaining standalone towns such as Lawrence and Beech Grove — are down about $85 million, or more than 30 percent, from their 2010 peak, Ballard noted in his proposed 2012 budget released on Aug. 11.

To deal with a projected $64 million deficit, the mayor proposed 9.2 percent cuts in overall spending for the year. Every department will take about a 6 percent cut while overall spending for public safety and criminal justice programs will remain nearly flat, between 99 and 100 percent of 2011 spending levels. His budgeted 2012 spending shrank by $20 million year-over-year.

The council added some spending for fire, police, animal control, the sheriff and elections on Oct. 17 when it finalized the 2012 budget.

The city now employs 4,500 people. The county employs 2,871 people. Over the next year, officials expect it to shed about 200 employees through attrition.

Though Indygov is "consolidated," many of the functions are still kept separate. Certain county offices such as clerk and auditor are government-mandated.

Which candidate is best capable of sizing up our fiscal reality and putting available resources to their best use?

Ballard lobbied for property tax caps and he'd once talked of repealing the 65 percent local income tax increase implemented by his predecessor, Bart Peterson. "But then property tax caps changed that dynamic," said Marc Lotter, the mayor's communications chief. "But he did take the 1.65 percent tax down to 1.62 percent."

The mayor's techniques to raise the money necessary to accomplish his goals included signing a 50-year lease of the city's 3,600 parking meters with Xerox Co.'s Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services. The city will receive technical upgrades to the meters and $620 million over the life of the lease with $20 million paid up front.

Critics complain it was "a sweetheart deal," that the city could have installed these upgrades itself and then kept a larger revenue stream flowing to its coffers.

Detractors include his opponent Melina Kennedy, who told a Clowes Hall debate audience that she had "grave concerns about the parking meter deal," which allowed "hundred of millions" in revenue to escape the city's grasp.

The deal includes a several-million-dollar, opt-out-early provision and "provided infrastructure money for the long term," Ballard said.

Another significant fundraiser was the sale of the city's water and waste water systems.

Kennedy, in a speech earlier this summer, reiterated reservations about the transfer. But, given that it is a done deal, she proposed reconsidering the direction of the cash the city received.

Directing all the utility transfer funding to infrastructure projects is shortsighted; use $150 million of the estimated $450 million to endow a 2021 Vision fund to support early education, crime prevention and job training efforts within the city, Kennedy said.

The city's initial investment could inspire sustaining gifts from local philanthropic organizations, which she said, would provide greater funding capacity to support the city's three main areas of interest.

She said her plan for revenue generation centered on a strong economic development plan.

In a recent interview with NUVO, Chris Bowen, the Libertarian candidate for mayor, emphasized his concern that — even with the utility transfer — property tax caps will lock the city budget at spending levels that will not keep up with maintaining the city's infrastructure as it moves forward, in addition to shortages for other essential city services.

Though tax increases are not popular with Libertarians, and Bowen does not support them, he said the city must explore new funding sources, including revised fee schedules, to keep up with its responsibilities.

The Citizens Water deal, which also transferred more than $1.5 billion in debt off the city's books, is "not creative at all," Ballard said in response to suggestions that it amounted to creative accounting. "It's just being responsible."

Melina Kennedy, Chris Bowen and Greg Ballard
  • Melina Kennedy, Chris Bowen and Greg Ballard

Which candidate's approach will best promote public safety?

The reality of the city's tight budgets can be seen by looking at the stagnant number of sworn officers on the police force. In mid-October 2011, IMPD had 1,615 officers, near the 1,605 on duty in January 2007. In addition, the city has 18 park rangers that have the same enforcement authority as police officers. The 2012 budget includes funding for a new recruitment class.

Public Safety Director Frank Straub sees some irony in the fact that he, as a Democrat working for a Republican, bears more criticism from Ballard's Democratic challenger than any other department head.

The once-independent Indianapolis Police Department became the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department when it merged with the sheriff's department in January of 2007. In one of his first orders of business, Ballard placed the police under direct control of the Department of Public Safety, peeling it away from the sheriff's office once again. It is under the same umbrella as the Fire Department, Animal Care and Control, Homeland Security, Emergency Medical Services and Public Safety Communications, which oversees MECA, the Metro Emergency Communications Agency.

Ballard is unapologetic about the move to bring the police department under the control of the public safety department and, in 2010, to turn over the reins to Straub, a former public safety chief in White Plains, N.Y. with nearly 30 years in law enforcement. Until just a few years ago, Straub worked mostly for the federal government protecting dignitaries around the world and focusing his doctoral attention on the evolution of corruption in the New York State prison system. He also served as a Navy Seal investigator, New York State inspector general, New York City Police Department deputy commissioner of training and a professor of ethics and investigating corruption.

In a recent interview with NUVO in his second-story office in the City-County Building (which critics say received costly upgrades and bloated administrative support) he said it's not typical to leave a long-time federal gig for municipal government. But in his case, he said, he sees his current position as a natural extension of his training, where he can see the results of a focused effort over time instead of running worldwide counter-terrorism campaigns.

Kennedy is blunt in her assessment that Straub should be fired for failing to ensure that Indianapolis contributed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Unified Criminal Reporting program. It's the only large city not to appear in the FBI's annual report on crime, which contains info from every other major city from Atlanta to Las Vegas.

All this, her campaign staffers emphasize, after Straub has taken over direct control of the IMPD's information systems and reportedly shaken up departments by removing long-term insiders from prominent posts in retaliation for questioning the directives of his management team or the overall approach to information management.

The DPS was 262 days late in reporting 2010 crime stats to the FBI, Kennedy said on the July morning she introduced her eight-point crime prevention strategy to the media.

Straub scoffed and said he questioned the quality of the data submitted in the past. He says by the end of year the department will have updated its antiquated equipment and, for the first time, be able to monitor live data from crime hotspots in real time.

The competition is not impressed.

"It's hard to imagine being 262 days late and not receiving a pink slip," Kennedy said as Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and Sheriff John Layton, both Democrats, stood by her side.

"The Marion County Sheriff's Office has "a lot of officers … who could do more to help," Layton said. Aside from handling jails, serving warrants by the thousand and tracking sex offenders, his 750 deputies are "fully empowered" with policing authority for situations such as first emergency response, reckless drivers and providing IMPD backup.

These changes aren't sitting well with the local Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Kennedy this round after supporting Ballard in 2007.

Kennedy insists the delays reporting to the FBI signify political maneuvering and obfuscation by the Ballard administration. Such lack of participation has cost the city grant opportunities, she said.

"We have to be more dedicated to fundamentally changing the sense of safety in the city than to employing bureaucrats to fudge crime and manpower statistics in order to hope against hope that we are safer," she told a Kiwanis Club gathering.

Ballard retorted with a biting jab during the recent Butler University debate.

"If she looked at the FBI crime numbers she'd realize which way crime is going," he said.

Kennedy cited Congressional Quarterly's 2010-2011 ranking of Indy "as the sixth most dangerous among the ten cities with a population over 500,000 with the highest crime rates."

She also highlights a recent uptick in aggravated assaults, the category of violence closest to murder without actually being murder. Ballard points to declining murder numbers. The FBI estimates that Indy's annual murder count dropped to 96 in 2010 from 100 in 2009, 114 in both '08 and '07 and 140 in '06.

"That's going in the right direction," Ballard said.

Kennedy points to increases in aggravated assaults as proof all is not safe in the Circle City.

"I did not get the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, but if reforms cost me that endorsement, so be it," Ballard told the audience at the University of Indianapolis debate.


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