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Insiders, Corruption, and Jails

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader



The Indiana Department of Economic Development had a rotten reputation in the Daniels Administration for keeping secret much of the business it did in the people’s name. So bad was its reputation that an Indy TV station won a prestigious journalism award for reporting on the stonewalling, cronyism, lying, violation of open door laws, baseless self-promotion, and the like.

So, now, years later, the Pence Administration has installed former local candidate for Fort Wayne Mayor Eric Doden as head of the organization and Doden seems to be prospering in the post. The heavily tax-subsidized Cityscape Flats is his project.

A couple years back he asked a state ethics panel for wise council, fearing the obvious conflict of interest from running a development business that would profit from public monies. Apparently, he figured corruption announced was corruption excused. One member of the ethics committee agreed, saying the committee “didn’t want to put Domo (the development company) out of business.”! Hey, what’s a little graft in the name of economic development, hmmm?

So, Doden knew he faced a conflict of interest, but wanted a higher power to bless his corruption. To wit, tried to further insulate himself from obvious charges by taking a leave of absence from Domo. Now, to be clear, that is not selling the company or giving up any profits. Simply, he is deferring profits until he moves out of government. Think 401k/Doden.

Here’s the deal: his company will be given a $7 million dollar incentive package, including free land and a parking garage. Given. In exchange, Doden promises to build 150 apartment units from which he will profit handsomely, thanks to you. Doden will also apply for a local tax abatement. That will enrich him by another million dollars. We can bet that public official Doden, who is the ultimate insider in state government, will find a way to belly up to other troughs, too. Sweet deal for the well-connected. His buddies on council have their rubber stamps at the ready.

According to one local real estate analyst, the subsidies could amount to a $50,000 subsidy (your money) per unit or nearly $10. In most other countries we would call that corruption, but here it is known as economic development.

As for the Henry Administration partnering up with Mr. Doden, the old adage applies that if you sleep with dogs you wake up with fleas.

Jails vs. Schools

If you need more proof that something is off the rails in Indiana one need only look at our incarceration rates.

What brought this to mind was a recent proposal in the legislature to build more prisons to house an even larger number of men and women. Perhaps the prisons might be run by the private sector, too, just guessing. That usually means pressure to fill cells…in exchange for campaign contributions.

There is a fundamental equation in play: fund education and we create a citizen who contribute. It is skin in the game.

Obviously, our system in Indiana creates a lot of people with nothin’ to lose and most of the skin in the game belongs to those who run the prisons, or the candidates they support.

Compare Indiana to the rest of the US. First, we have a 5% higher crime rate than the nation, but we incarcerate at a 15% above the national average. Hmmm.

Who benefits? Private prison companies, for one, and politicians who are “tough on crime,” as well as the justice system, and the non-profits who “treat” criminals.

Did you know we guarantee private prisons an occupancy rate? Did you know they contributed handsomely to the governor’s campaign and to the speaker of the house, and others? They, too, have skin in the game.

The real losers are we citizens who pay the price of incarceration at around $15k per prisoner per year, and lose the benefits or a working, taxpaying citizen.

Education is the key. Better to fund schools than prisons. It is old math, debits versus assets. But, school funding here ranks 29th of 50 states, just ahead of Kentucky, Arkansas and Georgia. That is worse than mediocre. So, we get what we pay for, including a higher incarceration rate among other things. Your legislature has chosen jails over schools.

Currently, you and I spend around $10,000 per student. We spend $15,000 per prisoner. Apparently, the legislators are the only ones who don’t get the equation, or perhaps the prison company math is more compelling. Skin in the game.

Speaking of Education and Corruption…

The Indiana Republican leadership is in the process of stripping most of the powers from the Superintendent of Public Instruction. There is a simple reason, she is a Democrat, the old boys are Republicans. Not only that, she was the leading vote getter statewide in the 2012 election, well ahead of the governor and the other Republican office holders. Perhaps it is just jealousy. So, why would the Republicans want her muzzled? David Long, the Fort Wayner who is president pro-tem of the Senate, says she is a slow learner and his style of progress in Indiana can’t wait for her to catch on! He also said “she is (just) a librarian.”

Rather condescending. You might remember the last superintendent, Tony Bennett, the man Ritz beat, a Republican, later resigned as Florida superintendent as corruption charges here continued to dog him there. In short, he bent the rules in Indiana so that his buddies running charter schools could get undeserved high marks for their schools. The head educator was caught cheating on test scores. The co-beneficiaries of the cheating were wealthy contributors to Republican campaigns. So, we might wonder if Senator Long is more interested in the education of our children or protecting the stream of campaign contributions that keep him and his buddies in office. Or maybe it’s just plain jealousy at the thumping she gave the Republican ticket in 2012. As likely, the Republican leadership likes the coziness and opportunities single party rule brings for contributors and office holders, alike. (See Doden above.)

Folks, you don’t have a legislature, you have a collection of lobbyists and special interests with the power to tax you.

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