Mayor Greg Ballard’s fascination with the cultures of other countries is one of his endearing qualities. And until the last year, we might have said his ability to relate and understand the perspectives of everyday people was, as well. It certainly helped explain his surprise victory in 2007, when he grasped onto taxpayer outrage over rising property taxes to unseat Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson.
But over the last year, he’s seemed more out of touch, a malady that often besets politicians as they get comfortable in their jobs. How else do you explain his decision last summer to award his staff a collective 18-percent raise following the hiring of a new deputy for education with an annual salary of $120,000?
It’s admirable that the mayor wants to surround himself with the best and brightest, many of whom could make even bigger paychecks in the private sector. But the spending spree was incongruous with the fiscal sacrifices he was demanding in other areas of government, including public safety.
That flap came back into our consciousness this month after the mayor disclosed during a trade mission to India that the city had been working for years on a $6 million plan to turn an east-side park into a championship-level venue for world sports, including cricket. The mayor said he hoped the park would host the inaugural U.S. Cricketing Championship in 2014.
The episode generated plenty of snickers from locals, many of whom have never watched a cricket match or, if they have, certainly couldn’t recite the rules. In truth, the sport is more popular here than many realize, in part because of the inflow of workers from around the globe to multinational companies like Eli Lilly and Co. and Roche Diagnostics.
But if a world-class cricket venue is such a great idea, why didn’t the mayor make a public case for the investment before deciding to tap Rebuild Indy money to develop it?
The Rebuild Indy money—which came from the sale of the city’s water utility to Citizens Energy Group—is largely earmarked for infrastructure improvements, such as road and sidewalk repairs. It might be worth putting this park ahead of more bread-and-butter concerns like repaving streets. But no one from the Mayor’s Office has publicly made that case.
Because of the lack of public process, the world sports park looks like a Ballard pet project, one he is plowing forward on despite daunting fiscal challenges facing the city. Things are so tough, in fact, that the mayor and city and county agencies have spent weeks trying to cut 5 percent from the 2013 budget.
It was six years ago that Ballard was winning over voters with his “Had enough?” yard signs and his pledge to rein in spending. With the passage of time, has he forgotten why voters embraced him in the first place?•
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