Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On The Other Hand, Fishers

Lest anyone conclude I've made up my mind on the Fishers city vote, I'll now look at the other side of the argument.

City Yes PAC has been advancing the cause of making Fishers a City from the beginning of this latest push to do so. They list five issues on their website:

1. Elect Your Mayor. Every other community in Indiana gets to elect the City executive. As one of the largest communities in Indiana, Fishers should have this basic democratic right.

I completely agree, but this was one of the specific questions of law the lawsuit inexplicably lost on. I thought it was our strongest point. Alas. If the vote for a city wins, the popular vote of the mayor will NOT happen. The Council will then select the mayor. I can't get excited about that.

2. Council Districts. As a City, Fishers would have real district representation, with 6 districts representing their neighborhoods, plus 3 at-large seats.

Again, as Fishers won the lawsuit, I don't see this happening. If they vote for city wins, the voter gets to choose between the Fishers 'hybrid city' and nothing, as I understand it.

I've understood this from the beginning to be the heart and soul of the reason Fishers Democrats want the City form. Currently, all seats on council are elected at-large, which is a sham, for it favors the dominant party. It makes challengers not only win their district, but the entire municipality, which makes campaigning vastly more expensive, and virtually impossible for Democrats or Libertarians to win. It has resulted in very few General Election challenges for Council seats, and very unaccountable Council members.

I could get excited for this change, but again, as I understand it, when Fishers won the suit, they won the ability to present their form of city on the ballot at the exclusion of all others, including that described on this point. Please- someone correct me if I am wrong.

3. Accountability. With an elected Mayor and real district representation, the government of Fishers would be more accountable to the voters.

As shown in my previous post, this has not been the experience in the other similarly Republican dominated cities that were towns not too long ago, Westfield and Carmel. The mayors there are exceptionally unaccountable. The councils have effectively been rubber stamps for the mayors. There are occasionally oppositional members of council, but nothing even approaching effective opposition to provide genuine checks and balances.

Now, I can take the long view, and try to convince myself that over time, as areas urbanize they tend to move to the left, and Dems could win some seats in time. However, if the 'hybrid city' wins at the ballot box, the checks and balances hoped for by real districts aren't any more possible than they are now, reducing this to a nice talking point, and not really viable. Again- correct me if I'm wrong on the form of city that will appear on the ballot in November.

4. Checks and Balance. As a City, the Mayor would have veto power over unwise council actions. With enough votes, the Council can override the veto. This separation of powers is completely absent in Town government.

Completely agree, and this is the one point that keeps me from advocating for defeat of the Yes/No question. The Town Council currently acts as both legislative and executive, utterly lacking checks and balances. This may be the only positive thing that would come out of any vote in favor of the city form. See my concerns above in Points 2 & 3, though, for the real life play out for the next 30 years. The best we can hope for there is one-party factionalism to provide real checks and balances, which isn't really all that exciting.

5. Economic Development. An elected Mayor is the leader of the City and can negotiate with businesses who wish to locate here. The Mayor is the leader for economic development, something we currently lack.

Again, referring back to my previous post, this is exactly what I fear most. I don't want a Mayor Brainard for Fishers. I don't want pet projects that we will subsidize forever. I don't want politically businesses getting tax abatements while the unconnected pay full freight. We're better off for lacking a Mayor on these points.

So, clearly, I'm not sold on the other side, either.

When I joined the lawsuit, I was the odd man, as both Joe Weingarten and Glenn Brown were very much in favor of the city form of government, while my interests were different. I signed the City Yes petition not because I was sold on the city form, but because I believed the people of Fishers had the right to settle the question at the ballot box, and that the Town Council wasn't going to advance the question unless a valid petition went forward. It's all about representative government to me.

Unfortunately, we lost in court and are now left with two very weak choices, in my opinion. I'm open to suggestion from anyone who wishes to make the case for either side, provided you don't lead with "You're wrong". You'll push me to the other side with that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

After The Lawsuit, Now What?

When I joined the lawsuit against the Town of Fishers regarding petitions to become a city, my interest was not entirely towards becoming a city. It was about giving the people of the municipality the ability to vote on the question.

This year's ballot is going to have two questions on the ballot, the way the Town Council wishes to word them. They essentially go like this:

1. We're a Town now, should be become a City: yes or no?
2. If yes, should we become a City with a Mayor picked by the Council?

The first question is the big one for me, because a City form of government includes a mayor, no matter how you look at it.

My long-standing concern about Fishers becoming a City has to do exactly with adding a mayor, because the track record in Carmel and Westfield- two other Hamilton County former towns that are now cities- is less than impressive to me.

How can this be? All shiny and new? Here's how: Mayors have meant expensive, pet projects. Things that should better have been done by the private sector, and are now a huge drain on these cities. From Indianapolis Business Journal:

Carmel Mayor James Brainard wants to give the Center for the Performing Arts another $840,000 to cover its bills through December—on top of a $5.5 million subsidy he orchestrated last fall.

The latest grant is part of a resolution, which will go before the Carmel City Council Monday, to put $1.62 million into the city’s Support for the Arts Fund.

“We had a huge deficit,” Brainard said of the performing arts center, which is run by a separate not-for-profit organization. “Progress is being made.”

These huge shortfalls and subsidies were entirely predictable. It isn't the proper role of government to fund pet projects, but Republicans have proven clueless about this. 7 years ago, I and other Libertarians pointed this out. We were scoffed at.

But this is my point of resistance about supporting a City form of government that necessarily means a Mayor. For my gripes about Fishers, the fact is that the Town Council hasn't launched pet projects on the scale of the region's mayors.

h/t to Advance Indiana and this article about even the tenants getting subsidized!