IBJNews

INDOT memo strips information in public tug-of-war

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

By one stroke this year, Indiana lawmakers and the new governor vastly improved the public's ability to find out how the show is run at the Statehouse, while in another, top managers at the Indiana Department of Transportation quietly clamped down on what's available.

Gov. Mike Pence and a bipartisan group of lawmakers reversed years of closed-mouth refusals from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to show how and where taxpayer money was spent on job-creation and economic development. Pence touted the measure at a May bill signing, saying it would "ensure public confidence in our economic development efforts."

But officials at INDOT went the opposite direction, telling public employees to stop putting their opinions in public documents, shortly after The Indianapolis Star used those documents to unearth accusations of favoritism on a project benefiting INDOT Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff's family. Woodruff directed INDOT employees to spend $770,000 re-making a connection to I-69 benefiting his family's farmland along the new highway.

A highway supervisor dubbed it the "Troy Woodruff Re-Do", according to The Star. But INDOT's new rules would bar statements like that.

"All information that is necessary for complete documentation of project construction should be reported factually without the addition of personal opinions, editorial comments, or criticism of individuals, companies or INDOT," officials wrote in a memo to state workers.

INDOT also ordered employees to stop replying to emails in chains, creating long strings of information that could potentially unearth more information via public records requests.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the new policy would protect the state from lawsuits and civil claims that rely on statements made in public documents. "There's a lot more at stake there," he said. He added he did not know whether the new orders were drafted in response to the Star's Woodruff investigation.

Gerry Lanosga, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, said he was "offended at the idea that officials are asking public employees to self-censor what they put in routine logs like the ones at issue here."

"Employees shouldn't feel pressure not to be forthcoming about their professional evaluations in such documents, but asking them to keep their personal opinions out will almost certainly cause them to hesitate in offering qualitative judgments regarding programs and projects that could be very valuable to the public," he said.

Lanosga compiled a 2012 report for the Center for Public Integrity giving Indiana an F for public access, detailing broad exemptions in the state law that allow public officials to withhold information. Lanosga, a former investigative reporter, pointed out that the public is often granted access to its governments in starts and stops. One measure, like the new IEDC rules, open the door to the public, while another, like INDOT's, closes it.

For years, IEDC would tout plans by companies to create new jobs in Indiana, but would not say exactly how many were created. Leaders under former Gov. Mitch Daniels refused to provide that information, with the admonition that showing how many jobs were created could spook other businesses looking at Indiana.

But Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, led the charge earlier this year to require IEDC deliver more information about how many jobs companies it wooed to the state actually created. Pence backed the measure and also created a new online portal, making it easier to review IEDC information.

The INDOT policy might be a step backward for public access, but the long push for IEDC transparency was a clear step forward.

ADVERTISEMENT

  • All Hail TW
    Voted for daylight savings time when he swore he wouldn't. Now this. Troy Woodruff is my hero.

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. The $104K to CRC would go toward debts service on $486M of existing debt they already have from other things outside this project. Keystone buys the bonds for 3.8M from CRC, and CRC in turn pays for the parking and site work, and some time later CRC buys them back (with interest) from the projected annual property tax revenue from the entire TIF district (est. $415K / yr. from just this property, plus more from all the other property in the TIF district), which in theory would be about a 10-year term, give-or-take. CRC is basically betting on the future, that property values will increase, driving up the tax revenue to the limit of the annual increase cap on commercial property (I think that's 3%). It should be noted that Keystone can't print money (unlike the Federal Treasury) so commercial property tax can only come from consumers, in this case the apartment renters and consumers of the goods and services offered by the ground floor retailers, and employees in the form of lower non-mandatory compensation items, such as bonuses, benefits, 401K match, etc.

  2. $3B would hurt Lilly's bottom line if there were no insurance or Indemnity Agreement, but there is no way that large an award will be upheld on appeal. What's surprising is that the trial judge refused to reduce it. She must have thought there was evidence of a flagrant, unconscionable coverup and wanted to send a message.

  3. As a self-employed individual, I always saw outrageous price increases every year in a health insurance plan with preexisting condition costs -- something most employed groups never had to worry about. With spouse, I saw ALL Indiana "free market answer" plans' premiums raise 25%-45% each year.

  4. It's not who you chose to build it's how they build it. Architects and engineers decide how and what to use to build. builders just do the work. Architects & engineers still think the tarp over the escalators out at airport will hold for third time when it snows, ice storms.

  5. http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/duke-energy-customers-angry-about-money-for-nothing

ADVERTISEMENT