TAWN PARENT Commentary: This is no time for Hoosier hysteria

June 20, 2005

Some big decisions this spring have not made me particularly proud to be a Hoosier or a resident of Indianapolis.

Sure, we got funding for a new stadium and a convention center expansion. That will bring more visitors to our community, and it says we care about sports and tourism.

And glory hallelujah! We finally got daylight-saving time, the economic benefits of which are unproven. That says we care about being like everyone else, whether it makes any sense or not.

But do we care about education, government efficiency, the environment or equal opportunity for all? Recent actions of our elected representatives just say no:

Defeat of Indianapolis Works: With budgets squeaky tight, the city and county need to get the most out of every dollar. That doesn't happen with overlapping agencies and dozens of taxing districts. This sequel to Unigov was 35 years coming and we needed it badly. Because the potential savings won't happen, we'll all pay the price of reduced services.

Education: Thanks to the General Assembly's failure to adequately fund K-12, Indiana schools are eliminating hundreds of teaching positions, including 100 at Indianapolis Public Schools, which can ill afford to lose them.

The Legislature also neglected to move Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress to the spring. Which means schools will continue to drag kids back into the classroom in the heat of the summer, only to waste much of the first month drilling them for the test.

Public health: The workplace smoking ban is a mixed bag. That it passed was a victory. But it doesn't take effect for nearly a year and it's weaker than the original version. It's unfortunate that outdoor restaurant areas will be exempt. Eating outdoors is one of the joys of summer. As a wife and mother of asthmatics, I can say if you're sitting near a smoker, it doesn't matter if your table happens to be outside.

Equal opportunity: Our Legislature incomprehensibly supported a constitutional amendment to ban samesex marriage. The proposed amendment will go before voters in a few years if it survives another vote in the Legislature. Then the City-County Council added insult to injury by voting against amending Indianapolis' humanrights ordinance to include civil-rights protection for homosexuals.

It's been quite a spring.

The business community has long lobbied for DST, insisting that the lack thereof sends the message that Hoosiers are backward. But what message are we sending when we cling to an inefficient government structure, deprive our children of quality education, and deny our gay brothers and sisters protection from discrimination?

Someone told me the other day that Indianapolis is metropolitan, but not cosmopolitan. Well, this kind of attitude ain't gonna get us there.

Do these recent actions make cutting-edge companies want to locate here? Or their enlightened employees? Do these developments make our own graduates, in all their diversity, want to settle here?

Another cloud looms on the horizon: Curbside recycling is in jeopardy. Because of budget constraints and poor participation, the city may scrap the program, which costs nearly $400,000 a year, said Margie Smith-Simmons, Department of Public Works spokeswoman.

A decision is expected by the end of the month. The city is wisely considering less drastic options. Changes are long overdue. Given that Indianapolis does little to promote the program or facilitate signing up, and in fact penalizes users by charging a fee, curbside recycling was doomed from the start.

We should follow the lead of surrounding communities, such as Speedway and Franklin, which require curbside recycling and roll the fees into water and sewer bills or property taxes. Such communities boast participation rates of 75 percent and up, compared with Indianapolis' paltry 3.5 percent.

If the city publicizes the program and makes it convenient, it will surely succeed. Combining the fee with sewer bills, which are low relative to other cities', is a good solution that deserves the full support of the City-County Council.

Curbside recycling reduces the amount of trash the city has to burn, which keeps our air cleaner. And it helps citizens learn to take care of the Earth. Going green also is one way of avoiding another black eye. It's only a small piece of what this community needs to improve, but it's a start.

After all, if we want to be progressive and be perceived that way, it's going to take a lot more than changing our clocks twice a year.



Parent is associate editor of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to tparent@ibj.com.
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