Keep a Scorecard or the More Things Change….

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Some of you have heard the President of Delaware County, Commissioner Todd Donati, hired his son for a created position in February.  The job is an education coordinator for the Storm Water Management Department.  The starting salary is $30,000 plus benefits.   Sometime during the first week of February, 2009, the Storm Water Board (consists of the county commissioners) and the surveyor met and approved the position.   At the end of the week, Jason Donati was hired.

The position was never advertised, thus, no other applicants. 

At the Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 meeting, Commissioner Larry Bledsoe denounced the hiring.  The Star Press quoted Mr. Bledose “”I’ve heard nothing but good things about his son,” Bledsoe said.”But I wouldn’t do that myself.”  Mr. Donati did not address Bledsoe’s comment.

In an interview afterward, Donati, who hired his son with support from Dunnuck, said his son was simply the best man for the job, noting that he had internship experience in watershed projects and was passionate about the environment.  Star Press February 18, 2009

Donati & Dunnuck said Bledsoe was in agreement on the new position and hiring of Jason Donati to fill it.  Bledsoe said he was not in favor.

The Star Press article goes on to say the commissioners adjourned and immediately went into a closed door session to discuss Bledose’s comment.

According to several eyewitnesses, it was more than a discussion.  Their voices could be heard behind the door and down the hall.  A friendly conversation among three pals, that’s all.

Don Dunnuck was quoted in the March 26, 2009 Star Press Article “Tempers flared and words were exchanged,” Commissioner Don Dunnuck wrote.”At some point, the door was closed, but I do not know who did it or a time period it was shut.”

Was there a violation of the Open Door Laws in the 2nd meeting?  Many said yes.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Heather Willis Neal issued an opinion Monday that the commissioners were allowed to meet afterward to carry out administrative functions, but violated the open door law by excluding members of the public.  Unfortunately, her opinion is considered advisory and does not carry any penalties for violation.  Star Press March 26, 2009

In my opinion, Indiana has a lot of laws and an abundance of departments with intimidating titles, and no bite.  What dummy said Indiana needs accountability?

For those who yearn for transparency in government, Delaware County leaves a lot to be desired.  I can bet this won’t be the last time.

Keep a scorecard, because another election is just around the corner.

Remember Larry Bledsoe was against the changes in the highway department.  Nothing has been reported in the local newspaper.  So, I will tell you what has been told to me.  Brooke, Bledsoe and Bennington combined the highway and engineering department for an annual savings of $450,000.00 per year.  Not just the savings, but a more efficient way to operate government.  Before the election, it was said the first thing Donati would do, if elected, return the departments to the bloated old government way.

By the commissioner’s giving the city money for the community centers, it lessened the blow of hiring Jason Donati, raises for a cousin and the hiring of Brad Bookout.

Oh, yea, having their meetings in the evening so more citizens could attend.  Don’t believe it, not for a minute.  Had it been any other night than the regularly scheduled City Council, it would have been a benefit to us.

 The political nonsense is obvious.

A short history lesson:

New council President Joe Russell proposed the code of ethics, which included pledges to represent the interests of taxpayers and ‘not use my service on county council for my own personal advantage or for the advantage of my friends or supporters.’

 

Veteran council Democrat Todd Donati was more critical in his assessment.
‘I think it was uncalled for,’ Donati said. ‘All of us know what our job is; we don’t need it restated by some Republican thinking.’  Star Press 1-4-01
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Revolt at the Statehouse update

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There is just something exciting about visiting the Indiana Statehouse. Don’t know if it is the history, the ambiance or the hustle-bustle of the people. Maybe all three and more.

Met a variety of interesting people today from all across the state.  Be encouraged.  Many, many dedicated “patriots” are working diligently and non-stop.  Some quietly, some not so quiet.  Some are housewives,  some are grandmas,  some professionals, some are legislature, some “the guy next door” all have made great contributions.

Eight or nine speakers presented some pretty awesome speeches.  Below is a  short recap and bios on a few of the speakers.   I was quite impressed with their message, activism and knowledge.  Take a gander.

Diana Vice-Lafayette, IN. Housewife and political activist. She is the publisher of “Welcome to My Tea Party” blog. She has been active with Taxpayers United for Fairness for over a decade. She most recently helped to expose a multi-million dollar illegal bidding scheme involving school roofing projects throughout the state. This led to a State Board of Accounts investigation and a legal opinion from the Attorney General declaring bidding laws to be illegal. Just an average person working to make Indiana a better place. Title of her speech: “Transparency and Accountability in Government.”

Julia Vaugh-Policy Director of Common Cause/Indiana. The group was founded in the ’70’s and is made up of non-partisan members. She began her career with Citizens Action Coalition (CAC), where she and others kept constant pressure on policy makers and regulators. By their due diligence they forced a refund of $150 million from the state’s largest electric company which had illegally charged ratepayers for the Marble Hill nuclear plant debacle. Title: “Lobbying and Ethics Reform”.  P.S. Ratepayers are us!

Jim Premeske, Team Hammond Taxpayers. (Lake County) Among unfair taxation, Jim talked about the proposed sewer system. His title was: “”Unfair Taxation”. By the way, they are facing a sewer installation sounding suspiciously like the Royerton Sewer Project. Yikes!

Frankie Niedhammer, President of Vanderburgh County Taxpayers Association. The remarkable 71 year old, soon to be great-grandma, formed the group in 2003. She and her association is credited in the fight of a 7 year, $10 million per year school tax referendum. “Fun and Games in Evansville” was the title of her speech.

Melyssa Donaghy,Editor of the “Hoosiers for Fair Taxation” blog. She is the recipient of the 2007 Sam Adams Alliance National Tea Party Prize for effective community activism, and for the conception and implementation of the Indiana Tea Parties of 2007. She rode her bike for 10 hours, getting out the news to her neighbors.

For those who know Jim Arnold, he spoke. I will get his speech and post it. Update:  See his speech in the “Pages” section.

There were several great speakers with excellent messages. I specifically singled these out, because of their humble beginnings and how far they have advanced in their work. (Kind of dear to my heart, so to speak.) There is just so much to say, and running out of steam.

So many people at the rally.  Indiana is shaking and moving!  It is hard work and these activists are dedicated  Hoosiers working at building a better Indiana for us and future generations.  Indiana must change!  Indiana must become progressive!  We must make out state vibrant and healthy.

Big thanks!

YWCA in Muncie, Indiana

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Taking a break from the usual political nonsense, I would like to draw your attention for just a moment to a worthy and hard working organization in Muncie, Indiana.

The organization is our very own YWCA. We have all tightened our belts and made life altering changes. And the YWCA has felt the pinch, too. With the Federal law enacted for pool safety, the YWCA and many other small organizations had to come up with some cash to bring their pools up to code. They made it.

Now we read the YWCA has lost nearly 20% of their total funding from the United Way, another devastating blow. Folks, this is where it gets exciting. Did they wring their hands? Close their doors? NO!

Marsha Clark, program director for the Muncie YWCA was quoted in the Star Press today: “It gave us the strength to go on.” That’s a fighter.

Ms. Clark continued “There’s such awareness in the community as well as with our residents and the staff. It’s made us more determined to keep on keeping on.”

Three words: Strength, community and determination.

The Star Press article goes on to describe its rich history of community involvement. Founded in 1911, to house women and children, facing difficult times and continuing that same commitment today, two years short of a century of service.

The YWCA is much more than warm pool or basketball courts or a place to find shelter. It’s that and so much more. The Charles Street building houses the Gateway Health Clinic for uninsured residents and the Well Baby Clinic for new mothers.

Last year the YWCA served 297 women and 76 children through the residential program. Between the gymnasium and the pool, the facility is likely to have 200-250 visitors per week. To keep the doors open, the board of directors will be cutting some programs like summer camp and Christmas programs. But the best is yet to come.

Refocusing on what they call the right direction, and still remaining vital to the community, we will see new programs. Educational opportunities like GED, computer classes and parenting classes are all part of the right direction.

Let’s give the YWCA and their board of directors a big hand. If you feel impressed to help in anyway, I am sure they would be most appreciative.

You can read the full article in the March 24 edition of the Star Press.

Freedom of Speech

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This Sunday morning as I was preparing to attend a worship service, it hit me. So far, in the United States of America we still have freedoms as outlined in our Constitution.

One of those highly valued rights is Freedom of Speech. The right to be free from governmental tyranny to say and/or publish what we will, without fear of intimidation.

Grabbing my cup of coffee, I got ready to read yet another column from one of our local journalists, Larry Riley. The article mentioned a time when he pursued a complaint against a local attorney and he touched on Mark McKinney and the formal complaint filed by Mayor Sharon McShurley. How formal complaints against lawyers have changed several times over the years. Woven within in his words was the message Freedom of Speech.

Here is a quote from the article. “Citizens have every right to publicly air complaints. With a few exceptions (e.g., yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, telling national defense secrets), people can say anything.
Of course, if you’re spreading malicious lies, you can be successfully sued, so nobody has carte blanche. You can be held — and you should be — accountable for what you say.

But you do have freedom of speech. Don’t fear using that freedom.” Star Press March 22, 2009

With the advent of on-line forums, comment sections, letters to the editor, blogs and a vast array of other communication avenues, we are now able to freely express our thoughts and yes, even complaints with little or no restrictions. Does it give a person “carte blanche” to write slander, lies and what some deem as fictional works by vivid imaginations? Guess that depends on your perspective and if you are the originator of said works or on the receiving end.

At a recent election board meeting, Mr. Phil Nichols, was heard to verbally berate a citizen all because he expressed his right to free speech. The young man had written a fairly accurate account of an election board hearing. One that showed no favor towards two of the sitting members on the board.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the Muncie Star Press and was mentioned in an editorial. “election board member Phil Nichols publicly berated Jim Arnold, one of the group’s members, for exercising his right to free speech by writing a guest column in The Star Press describing what happened during that first hearing.” Our View: Election board has no credibility February 6, 2009

For further proof, the video in its entirety is available on the Citizens of Delaware County For Property Tax Repeal’s website. Follow the link in this blog, or click the link under “Interesting Places”.

Should a person or persons choose to exercise their freedom of speech rights there will be some who do not like the message. I find that more than acceptable and it should generate healthy dialog.

It is those who feel that you should be silenced at all costs and will do everything possible to destroy your reputation or even worse. Then it becomes a viable threat to one of the greatest rights and privileges afforded to an American citizen.

Take care in guarding this right. Someday it may just be a blip in a history book and even those who work so hard to silence voices may find even they have lost their right to speak.

Rep. Dennis Tyler

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Received an update from Rep. Dennis Tyler.  It is not nearly as detailed as Rep. Lutz’s column.  There are a few bills he did not address. (See Rep. Lutz’s entry.) You can decide for yourself which representative actually REPRESENTS the people.

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March 20, 2009
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STATEHOUSE REPORT FROM REP. DENNIS TYLER

INDIANAPOLIS- For those who have asked, here are the facts about property tax caps in Indiana.

Also known as circuit breakers, the caps are designed to limit property tax bills for homes, farms and businesses to a fixed percentage of a property’s assessed valuation.

Initially enacted on a limited basis to address concerns about unchecked property tax growth in certain areas of the state, the caps became a critical part of the bipartisan property tax reform program passed by the Legislature in 2008.

Lawmakers chose a two-part approach in enacting these caps: putting them into state law, then locking them into place in the Indiana Constitution.

Many people don’t realize that property tax caps are already in state law (Indiana Code 6-1.1-20.6-7 and 7.5).

In 2009, they limit a homeowner’s bill to 1.5 percent of assessed valuation, rental and farm property to 2.5 percent and businesses to 3.5 percent.

In 2010, the caps will lower to 1 percent for homes, 2 percent for farms and rental units and 3 percent for businesses.

To put the caps into the state Constitution first requires passage of a joint resolution by two separately elected Indiana General Assemblies. Once passed by the Legislature, the people of Indiana get their chance to consider the question through a statewide referendum. If approved in that vote, the provision would go into the Constitution.

In 2008, lawmakers took the first step, passing a joint resolution that would set the constitutional caps at the 1-2-3 levels. In order to complete our end of the process, we must pass a similar joint resolution either this year or in the 2010 session. Citizens then would vote on the question in the November 2010 general election.

Here is where things get interesting.

Some legislators and the governor would have you believe we need to pass the resolution this year. Other legislators believe it makes more sense to wait until the 2010 session before acting. By waiting until next year, there should be more information to determine the impact of the property tax caps already in state law on homeowners, schools and local units of government. Since the caps are still being phased into place, we still do not have a clear, complete picture of the overall impact.

Many homeowners are now contacting their legislators because they believe there is a disparity between the tax relief they receive and the relief being received by landlords, who appear to be getting much more.

Another year means more data and a better-informed decision.

Remember this. If we pass the resolution this year, the people of Indiana won’t vote on it until November 2010. If we wait until the 2010 session to act, the referendum vote still won’t take place until November 2010.

In 2009, I believe we have higher priorities: passing a plan to put Hoosiers back to work as soon as possible and enacting a state budget…which is the one thing that our Constitution requires us to do this year.

In the House, we continue to work on legislation sent to us from the Indiana Senate. At the same time, we are keeping an eye on bills that passed the House and are working their way through the other chamber.

While we await news about the Senate’s proposals to create jobs, as well as their budget priorities, a Senate committee has passed a proposal to address the state’s unemployment insurance crisis.

While the plan does provide a way to replenish the bankrupt Unemployment Trust Fund, the Senate proposal reduces benefits and tightens eligibility standards. At a time when more than 300,000 Hoosiers are out of work, I believe that it is bad public policy to cut unemployment benefits and make it more difficult to receive them.

That is not the right way to protect out-of-work Hoosiers as they struggle to care for their families while looking for new jobs in a depressed economy.

If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you can call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or submit your comments to my web site at http://www.in.gov/H34. While visiting my web site, you also can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.

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Thank you for your interest in state legislative matters. Please visit my website at:www.in.gov/h34

By placing this update on the blog, it is not meant as an endorsement by Rep. Dennis Tyler. It is for informational purposes only.

House Action Disappointing

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House action disappointing
BY STATE REP. JACK LUTZ • MARCH 20, 2009

With half of the 2009 legislative session under our belt, I’d like to take the time to give you a report on what important bills have been passed through the House. These are also some of the bills that should be carefully watched, as they could have a potentially negative effect on you and your family.

House Bill 1730 is the greatest threat to Hoosier taxpayers this session. The bulk of House Bill 1730 proposes to retract the taxpayer protection laws promised in 2008, leaving you without input on major construction projects in your area. All that would have to happen is that the projects require “green technology” in the plans.

Requiring that technology, which is usually more expensive, excludes voters from having a right to vote on projects in excess of $2 million that would increase property taxes in the surrounding area.

Democrats passed this bill on a party-line vote, 52-48. In doing so, they appear to have lost trust in Hoosiers and their ability to separate and approve projects for the good of their community, opposed to looking out for their own self-interest.

I am optimistic the Republican-controlled Senate will turn this bill around and make sure Hoosiers have a voice in property tax reform the second half of this session.

One piece of legislation that was high on the Republican agenda for this session was House Joint Resolution 11, which contained the property tax caps. The property tax caps in HJR 11 would limit property tax bills to one percent of the property’s assessed value for homesteads, two percent for residential rental property and farmland and three percent for all other property. To become part of the Indiana Constitution, an amendment must be passed by two consecutive, separately elected sessions of the General Assembly and by Hoosier voters in the next general election. Both the House and the Senate passed the property-tax cap resolution last session, each chamber giving the caps bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle denied HJR 11 a hearing.

Trying to give taxpayers what we promised just last year, we proposed an amendment to House Joint Resolution 6 that would include the property tax caps. Frustration arose as, once again, Republican efforts were denied.

Probably the most difficult bill on our schedule this session was the budget bill, House Bill 1001. It’s important this bill be fiscally sound and responsible, given the current economic struggle that faces us.
In its current form, House Bill 1001 spends down the state’s reserves, with no direct plan on how to replace that money. In addition, the bill offers a one-year budget plan, which leaves too much unpredictability. Along with these troubles, the bill creates the potential for a full-time legislature, meeting each year to create a budget.

Republicans understand small businesses and their current struggles. To do our part to help Hoosiers, we wanted to prevent any further burdens on small-business owners. However, being in the minority has its downfalls, and we were unable to keep certain bills from passing. Further burdening small business is House Bill 1014, which parallels an already established federal age-discrimination law except that it greatly increases the number of small businesses exposed to lawsuits and hassles. Federal law affects businesses with a minimum of 100 employees, but HB 1014 sets the limit at 50 employees.

Democrat legislators have even decided to burden large businesses with House Bill 1207. This bill would require any restaurant chain in Indiana with at least 20 locations to display the calorie and carbohydrate content of every item on the menu. While this may be a great idea to keep Indiana residents health-conscious, the cost of adding this information has potential to hurt current job holders at these establishments.

To keep the promises we made at the beginning of the session, we must now rely on our Republican colleagues in the Senate. As the session progresses, I look forward to hearing from you and encourage your questions, comments and concerns, as we wrap up the second half of the session. I have high hopes that this 2009 legislative session will end on a positive note.

Rep. Jack Lutz, R-Anderson, represents House District 35. Contact him at h35@in.gov, by calling (800) 382-9841 or by writing him at the Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind. 46204.

Note: By posting the column on this blog, it should not be considered as an endorsement of any kind by Rep.  Jack Lutz.  It is strictly for informational purposes. Reformatted the body for better visuals.

(Published in Muncie Star Press, Opinion page, March 20, 2009)

We got to stop governing like this…

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In 2007, an extraordinary thing happened.  A group of non-partisan, people from every walk of life and every profession sat down and formed a Blue Ribbon Panel.  The goal was to bring Indiana into the 21st century, to modernize the 150 year old model of government, and to save the citizens money. 

Many of our elected officials have torn apart the Kernan-Shepard report to the point it is unrecognizable to those who so diligently and thoughtfully put it together, to those who saw a new and vibrant Indiana, one that is inviting to industries and families.  Hoosiers watched the downward spiral of ineffective government escalate to the point of no return.  At least it appears to be so.

Of course, I do not like every idea presented, but definitely, there is enough meat on the bone to feed a hungry State.

Michael Hicks and Dagney Faulk from Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research released a study in January on the effect Kernan-Shepard Report would have on Indiana’s financial future.   It was estimated at least three quarters of Indiana residents live in communities with budget shortfalls.

Hicks and Faulk write, “Our estimates suggest realizable savings that could range from $400 million to $622 million per year.” That includes $74 million in consolidation of fire protection services and $52 million in administration. Hicks told the Senate Local Government Committee earlier this month.“We think the savings could be two or three times larger. That translates to about $150 per family per year just by consolidating practices.” 1

Something so simple as to move elections to an even year, could realize Indiana a 22 million dollar savings in 4 years.

Many of us have read the recent articles in the opinion page of the Muncie newspaper.  Those same sentiments are echoing throughout all of Indiana.  It certainly appears the elected officials are not listening.  To bad it is not an election year!  They have open ears when they need our vote.

Let’s take a brief look at what other Hoosiers are saying:

But my pet issue is government efficiency.

My hope is that the legislature seriously looks at and enacts some or all of the recommendations of the Kernan-Shepard Commission, which was convened to make local governments more efficient, consistent and accountable. 1

While legislators wrestle with how to save money in state government, the commission’s report gives them a blueprint on how to accomplish that goal at the local level. Efficient government benefits everyone. Whether state or local, the money that governments spend come out of the same pockets: ours. 2

The commission’s report highlighted the obvious deficiencies in Indiana’s governing apparatus-the abundance of local units of government with taxing authority and the citizenry’s inability to identify whom to hold accountable among the 10,746 local elected officials in charge. As the commission’s report notes, from 1984 to 2005, the average tax-rate increase by the 2,730 local government taxing authorities totaled more than 6 percent-twice the rate of inflation and twice the rate of growth in the tax base. 3

“We have very, very few options,” said a disappointed Sen. Connie Lawson, the Danville Republican who had shepherded most of the reforms through passage in the Senate. “Honestly, I don’t know if there’s any.”


“I don’t know what was happening here, and I don’t like it, all right? It’s that simple. I don’t like it,” Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, snarled bluntly after watching the committee vote 7-1 against the measures.

Marilyn Schultz, a former Democratic state representative who now is executive director of Mysmartgov.org, the group lobbying for the reforms, said the Democrat-controlled committee had intended to kill the reforms and did so under the guise of giving them a hearing.

“There were members of both caucuses who were getting a lot of heat from their constituents because they really want to see reform. So this was a kind of storefront hearing so they can say they gave it consideration and nobody was in favor,” she said. 4

 

I believe that what Hoosiers expect our government to do is the very same thing businesses and families are currently doing: reduce costs while maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. To ignore the cost savings available through Kernan-Shepard is to ignore constituent expectations.  5

 

The legislation could be revived late in the session, but House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, has said all along that he did not consider major restructuring of local government to be a high priority this session. 6

 

So it’s no surprise that the Republican governor and the Democratic speaker are once again sparring over some weighty issues before the General Assembly issues on which they have vastly different views.

Take two of Daniels’ top legislative priorities streamlining local government and taking the next step toward amending caps on property tax bills into the state constitution.

Daniels says both should be considered musts this session. He says local government is antiquated, overlapping and too confusing and costly, and the caps should be in the constitution so judges can’t overrule them and lawmakers couldn’t easily repeal them.

Bauer has been cool to the local government changes, saying they’re not pressing matters this session. And he says lawmakers should wait until next year to consider a resolution that would put the question of constitutional property tax caps before voters so they can better gauge how the caps impact taxpayers and local governments.

Daniels recently touched on Bauer’s stands on those issues in sharp words.

“We all know nothing happens in the House of Representatives that Speaker Bauer doesn’t permit,” Daniels said. “He’s never challenged. His authority is total.

“So with regard to questions like this (on local government) or property tax caps, it is a matter of him deciding either because it’s good government, or if that doesn’t matter, because it’s good politics for him to let some of these things move forward, and I hope for both reasons that he’ll decide to do that.” 7

 

1 Howey, Brian Howey: Are Indiana townships ‘functioning extremely well’?  February 27, 2009 www.howeypolitics.com

2 Commentary – Rise to the challenge in 2009 Focus of legislative session should be government efficiency

Indianapolis Business Journal (IN) – Monday, January 5, 2009 Author/Byline: CHRIS KATTERJOHN

3  Commentary – State offices could use some fixing, too

Indianapolis Business Journal (IN) – Monday, March 9, 2009 Author/Byline: BRIAN WILLIAMS

4 Legislation to reform government hits a wall Indianapolis Star, The (IN) – Wednesday, March 11, 2009 Author/Byline: Mary Beth Schneider

5 South Bend Tribune 2-12-09 (Letter to editor)

6 Associated Press  3-10-09

7 Associated Press 3-09-09