Monday, December 28, 2015


I have spent the last few weeks since the Fishers City Council election reflecting on the results of that election, and lessons to be learned from it.  In no particular order, here are some of them.

  • I got votes from about 40% of those who voted, a very respectable showing for a Democrat. But despite my fiscal conservatism on local financial issues, some people only vote for Republicans, period, and paid too little attention to the very real financial issues related to our overuse of TIF financing and rapidly rising debt.  
  • It is exhausting to be a candidate, physically and mentally.  That is doubly true when you are the only candidate of your party on the ballot. 
  • Voter turnout in non-Presidential elections, especially for city offices, is nothing short of horrible, and it has been getting worse.  I have heard all sorts of ideas about why this is so, including blaming the one-party nature of local politics to voters simply not understanding why local government is important. I will do my small part about the problem, but even my Republican friends don't understand this. Is it apathy, futility, ignorance of local government, or something else? 
  • Democratic Party involvement is probably part of the solution, but the problem there is two-fold, both at the bottom where too few people want to do the hard grassroots work to make it happen, and at the top, where there is a lack of resources, training, communication, and involvement. If Democrats could somehow get their act together, it would drive more citizen involvement in the process. 
  • As an alternative to the comment above, I could support non-partisan local elections for mayors and city councils. If there is a Republican or a Democratic position on most local issues, I have yet to see it. It's hard to put a party label on a road construction project. And the stereotype about Democrats being big spenders is just false.  In Hamilton County, the big spenders are all Republicans. But not all of them support that. 
  • Both Democrats and Republicans need to learn to talk to each other in a civil manner and be able to work together for common cause. CityYes was a great example of how citizens could put aside party label for a shared vision. 
  • Fishers still needs to pass a human rights ordinance. I have no faith in the State doing this right any time soon.
  • Fishers also needs to pass a version of an ethics ordinance and campaign finance reform to limit special interests who do business with the City from essentially buying access to city government via large campaign donations. 
I will continue to speak out and write about matters that concern me.  Although I do not expect to write any more posts for this blog, please follow my Hamilton County Politics blog, which also posts to Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to follow it, and me.  Thanks to everyone who supported and worked for me, words cannot express how much I appreciate it. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Rising Debt in Fishers

Recently at the City Council's budget hearing, I was one of only two citizens who actually got up and spoke or asked questions about the Mayor's $69 million dollar budget plan for 2016. Even the Council seemed disinclined to ask any questions, even though they are the fiscal body for the City.

But I asked tough questions, as I have been doing for several years now, primarily aimed at Fishers' rising debt.  Here are some highlights, or lowlights, depending on your viewpoint.

  • Fishers total debt is $274 million, up from about $70 million in 2008. 
  • Of that total debt, over $150 million is in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) debt, the form of corporate welfare that keeps our tax base from actually growing and requires non-TIF homeowners and businesses to subsidize core services like police and fire for the TIF areas.
  • Of the $69 million in spending for 2016, over $12 million is for debt payments, roughly 17% of the total. 
As I was making my remarks, the Council President actually tried to cut me off because he does not want the word to get out about these facts. After my remarks, he, the Mayor, and other Council members tried to defend this as being "fiscally conservative".  I am sorry, but if that kind of debt is "fiscally conservative", then that term is meaningless. 

Do you want pretend fiscal conservatives to continue to run everything without someone who will stand up, ask the hard questions, and say "Wait one minute!"?  If you are troubled by that, then please support me on November 3rd.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Equal Rights in Fishers

Over the last several days, a lot of controversy has erupted over the Indiana General Assembly's adoption of what it called the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act".  Governor Pence has taken a lot of criticism for his support of this law, including from some Republican mayors like Mayor Ballard of Indianapolis, who feel that this law is bad for our image and bad for business.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness has today announced his own disapproval of this law, as reported here by Larry Lannan: I have told Mayor Fadness that while I disagree with him on some things, that I agree with him on others. This is one of the times we agree.  I have in the last few minutes emailed that message to the Mayor.

But perhaps we need to go beyond statements and proclamations and take a hard look at drafting an equal rights ordinance for Fishers.  To my surprise, apparently we do not have such a local law. Fishers is generally an open and accepting community, with residents of many faiths, and origins from all over the world. I believe that the time has come to enact that open, accepting attitude into local law.

I believe strongly in equality of the law for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or sexual identity or orientation. We continue to strive to achieve that standard that Thomas Jefferson wrote more than 200 years ago, that "... we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...". A local ordinance recognizing that principle should be something to consider.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fishers Debt Keeps Rising

I had said in an earlier post that pursuant to a Public Records Request I obtained last year, that Fishers' total debt was $252 million. Well, that seems to have changed.

Try to find this information on the Fishers website.  I don't think you can, it simply is not there. But there IS a public resource, called the Indiana Gateway, run by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, which has all sorts of interesting information.  The Indiana Gateway can be located here.

So, being curious, I looked up Fishers' total debt. As of today, March 11, 2015, it is an eye-popping $263,610,910.  This is up $11 million from when I asked just last fall.

And the amount of debt being paid by Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenue is an equally-disturbing $101,540,060.

Keep in mind, the total of Fishers' annual budget this year is only $73 million.

Are you concerned about these numbers?  I am.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Step in the Right Direction, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on this blog, which I called A Step in the Right Direction, which commented on a new development on Maple Street where a real estate office will be built, and without the TIF loans which characterized other downtown developments.  I noted I have been strongly critical of TIFs, for a number of reasons.

Since then I have had a some comments about how even this project involves what I have called "corporate welfare", that is taxpayer giveaways to do a particular development.  And they are correct, this project does do that. Some of those so-called incentives for this Maple Street project include:

  • A sale price for the land of $25,000.  The Redevelopment Commission appears to have paid $175,000 for the property, then about $12,000 to demolish the existing structure built in 1940. The land has an appraised value of $95,500, so the new owner is getting it at a considerable discount. 
  • Waiver of impact fees amounting to $58,000.00. 
The City was prepared to award TIF money, which it would borrow on its own credit, but that did not happen.  That was the point of my comment in the original post.  Again, this is a step in the right direction, but serious scrutiny needs to be given to other incentives.  At a minimum, the return to the taxpayer should be a net positive, not a negative. City Administration would doubtless argue (and have, publicly and privately) that the long-term benefits will be both tangible and intangible.  That is a conversation worth having.  

There are long-term liabilities to all the TIF and other taxpayer funding in the downtown redevelopment. Our total debt is skyrocketing.  The last total I was able to get, and then only by an official Public Records Act request, was over $250 million.  Per capita debt rose about 700% between 2007 and 2013, a period of time when our population also rose. Developments in TIF districts do not add to the tax base available to fund local government (including some impact on the schools) until the debt is paid off, even if a particular project did not get a TIF loan. Some of the TIF-funded projects, such as the Depot, Switch, and others, generate less in new tax revenue than is needed to make the debt service payments. 

And again, the Maple Street project does not do that. But there is nothing to prevent TIF funding from happening again unless citizens speak out, and make their voices heard at the ballot box. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Step in the Right Direction

As many know, I have been opposing the use of TIF districts to fund private development since 2007, when the Fishers Town Council pledged TIF funds to a redevelopment of downtown, and a project called Riverplace in the southwest corner of Fishers on 96th between Allisonville and the White River. Both of these proposals, enthusiastically backed by town leaders, were total and abject failures.  And in 2014, I objected to the TIF financing of the existing downtown projects, which are so risky that the developers of the "Depot" and "Switch" projects could not get private financing or bank loans and still make a profit on these deals.

But perhaps they did listen to me and the increasing chorus of voices complaining about these taxpayer handouts, which I had criticized as corporate welfare.  The newest downtown project will go in on Maple Street, buying a lot which had previously been purchased by the Fishers Redevelopment Commission, and will house a real estate company.  Even better, this business is not asking for any TIF funds nor even a tax abatement. They are getting a waiver of some impact and other fees.

So in a complete reversal of prior projects, which gave away public land for free and tens of millions of borrowed dollars to make it work, this project pays for the land, will pay future taxes, and likely create new jobs.

There is only one downside that I can see so far - the property is still in the downtown TIF, so the increase (called an increment) of new real estate taxes will go to pay for the TIF loans for other projects, and not to the general tax base to pay for necessary government operations such as police and fire services, among other things.

I have been strongly critical of TIFs, and I will continue that. I feel that they are fiscally irresponsible, non-transparent, and easily subject to abuse. They create winners and losers, making non-TIF taxpayers fund the bill for basic government services, and subsidize new business over old.

But the members of the Fishers government will hardly give me credit for any of this, but perhaps they are listening after all. And if elected to the City Council, I will continue to voice and fight for the citizens, whether or not anyone else is listening.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Filing for City Council at Large

I am pleased to announce that I have filed my paperwork to be a candidate for Fishers City Council at Large for the 2015 election.

I hope to bring diversity to the City Council, a diversity of opinion and background and political perspective that is missing in our local government.  Fishers is likely the most diverse of all of the communities in Hamilton County, drawing people not just from Indiana like myself, but from all over our country, and indeed, from all over the world. Increasingly, they do not reflect the one-party domination of local government, but have their own views and often do not identify with any particular political party.  I hope to give a voice to those who feel disenfranchised by local government,  Many are so disillusioned that they no longer even vote in local elections, a fact which is dangerous to good representative government.

As a father, a grandfather, an attorney for 37 years, and an activist in local politics outside of the mainstream, I can be that voice for those who do not feel that local government represents them, and all too often in the past, has not listened.  The biggest example of that is when the voters overwhelmingly agreed with me that Fishers should become Indiana's newest city, which all but one person in local government opposed.

I listen to only one voice, the voice of the people of Fishers.  I ask for your support in this venture. Please go to my website,, for more information, to sign up for my mailing list, or to make a donation, or even to contact me with questions, or offers of support.