Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The mayor, the arts, and the parks

Our mayor here in Indy has had a busy few weeks. He recently announced that he's cutting the city's arts furding by 35% this year, eliminating it totally within four years. He also announced that he would like to close and sell the city's small parks to save the expense of maintaining them. My initial reaction was more disappointment than shock; the mayor's done some wavering about public support for the arts, so I wasn't surprised to see he's once again backing cuts. Also, the mayor's in the habit of speaking before he thinks. These things might not come to pass.

But it says a lot about his approach to his job and city government. For one thing, any elected official's credo should include something like, "I will leave the city in better shape than I found it; barring that, I at least won't leave it any worse." And selling parks is a one-way step. Converting a park to housing is relatively easy, while converting residences into parkland is much trickier. And, his process is shady at best, corrupt at worst. He's using an outside real-estate company to determine which, if any, parks should be sold. The company isn't getting paid for this work. Rather, they get to broker the deal for any parkland the city decides to sell, and they collect a commission on the sale. They determine if parks need to be sold, and they're essentially paid per park they eliminate.

I can't decide what to make of this arrangement, but I see two options. Option one, the ramifications of this deal never occurred to Mayor Ballard. Option two, the mayor wants to eliminate a lot of parks, but wants an outside agency to absorb some of the blame for the decision, and structured the deal with that in mind. Neither option is particularly reassuring, though I prefer the first; I'd rather the mayor be dumb than corrupt.

Both the arts cuts and the park eliminations say a lot about the mayor's take on government. City government isn't just about patching potholes and scraping the snow; one of its functions is to improve the quality of life for its citizens. I want to live in a city that people want to visit, that residents are proud of, where life is better than elsewhere. This isn't the government's responsibility, but the government has a leadership role. Our civic leaders (whether government, cultural, social, or economic) show us what's important by example. If they think culture is vital, it becomes vital. If they think parks are important, they are important. And if our government leaders decide that arts and parks aren't important, that carries a lot of weight beyond its direct financial impact. Cities are dynamic organisms, not static; they're always either growing or shrinking. The mayor should be leveraging growth, instead of trading away the city's potential to shave .2% off its budget.

For detailed information about how the city's arts funding is spent, check out the Arts Council's information page. And, sign the online petition (not affiliated with the Arts Council) to save Indy's arts funding.


Lisa said...

Thanks for the link to Save Indy Arts. You may know this given where you work, but I thought I’d give you a heads up that the Arts Council will testify on Thursday, Aug. 21 (tomorrow) at 5 p.m. Details are on my blog if you are interested or can come to the hearing.


Hi there,
If you want to learn how your arts money is really being used check out HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAXATION. We did a little digging and it turns out self-dealing to the tune of at least $739,000 was happening...likely more.

As far as Lisa (who started the save indy arts) site. Well she lives in Fishers and you might want to look at who her clients are.

We covered it all over on the Hoosiers For Fair Taxation blog. And stay tuned, cause there is more that will will expose before the city council budget hearing before the full council.