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Ballard transition led by GOP insiders, business executives: 24 local leaders size up city for new mayor

December 24, 2007

With little encouragement and less financial support, mayor-elect Greg Ballard was forced to campaign as a longshot outsider. But his surprise election turned the tables. In the last six weeks, he's been embraced quickly by Marion County's Republican elite. And his transition team is stacked with insiders.

To prepare an administration in less than two months, Ballard assembled a transition team of 24 local leaders, who then pulled in 150 volunteers to examine the current shape of city and county government.

The two dozen include heads of several silk-stocking law firms, senior officials from previous Republican administrations, and local business heavyweights. They range from Indiana University's Bill Stephan and the Indiana Neighborhood Partnership's Moira Carlstedt to IBJ Media Corp. co-owner Michael S. Maurer and Sommer Barnard PC attorney Gretchan Gutman. Maurer is a former secretary of commerce under Gov. Mitch Daniels; Gutman spent nearly a decade as senior Republican fiscal analyst in the Indiana Senate.

"He's going to probably rely heavily on the transition team," said University of Indianapolis political science professor Stephen Graham. "The real question is, what kind of recommendations are they going to make? Are they going to suggest substantial cuts in existing budgets and so forth? The direction their recommendations take is a sign of what kind of administration to expect the next few years."

Ballard calls his transition team "a combination of people with gravitas mixed in with up-and-comers."

"We wanted people who were disinterested or couldn't have influence over the areas they were checking into," he said.

To spearhead his transition, Ballard chose Joe Loftus, former senior deputy mayor under Republican Steve Goldsmith and now a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP. Loftus broke the transition into three key areas: 24 teams of people who would investigate the current structure and business of every office; a personnel committee charged with screening candidates for senior appointments; and an inauguration committee.

Loftus said two committees-finance and neighborhoods-had the widest scope, and supported the other teams, in areas such as public safety, metropolitan development, administration or public works.

Ann Lathrop, a former city controller and now a partner at Crowe Chizek & Co., oversaw inquiries into monetary questions. Carlstedt led Ballard's communication with neighborhood groups.

"The way I looked at putting together these teams was to find relatively high-profile individuals who were successful in a variety of fields who would give immediate credibility," Loftus said. "This is about as comprehensive a look at the city as I think has been done in a long, long time."

Daunting challenges

That task would have been a big one at the best of times. But many of the transition team's leaders, in addition to their day jobs, are also busy preparing for the Legislature's property tax overhaul next year. That's a lot to get done in short order.

"I got graced with it over Thanksgiving, so I had about 2-1/2 weeks to get my arms around it," joked Indiana Manufacturers Association President Pat Kiely, a transition team leader.

Every transition team leader received a binder that suggested a standard set of questions. The teams then interviewed government department heads, as well as their personnel and outside stakeholders.

Ballard plans to issue a full report about his team's recommendations, but instructed team leaders not to tip their hand in advance of its release.

Yet the process they followed shows Ballard already has a clear set of priorities. The transition effort is laying the groundwork for the new mayor to make budget cuts, restructure departments and streamline management hierarchies in the name of efficiency.

The transition process had a special focus on cataloging the scope and expiration dates for contracts, as well as the shape and tenure of boards, which suggests that current Indianapolis outsourcing relationships could change. And, much as Daniels did upon his election, Ballard will attempt to install new quantitative measurements to gauge departmental performance.

Lathrop said many of the transition teams reported possible new sources of revenue, or opportunities for "managed competition" for goods and services from the private sector. She said many contracts had not been reopened for bidding in years. On the open market, Indianapolis might be able to get a better price, or a bigger bang for its buck. Even long-term contracts may be modified.

The investigation suggested a need to review government fees and the functions they support. Ballard will explore moving many functions online.

Changes at top?

Some of the issues were practical. Barnes & Thornburg Managing Partner Bob Grand, a longtime Republican insider, looked into the structure of the Mayor's Office.

His team learned how the phones work, how mail is answered, and how guards provide personal security. Grand also examined how the office is managed.

"I'm pretty confident there will be less people, but we'll have to see how that all shakes out," he said.

Other team leaders found areas they believe were ripe for improvement. Bose McKinney & Evans LLP partner R.J. McConnell, who oversaw Ballard's public works transition team, found the people who plow Indianapolis' snow and fill its potholes were dedicated and competent. But he still came away with recommendations for reorganization.

"Our quest was to find out what was working and what wasn't working," he said. "We discussed a lot of issues that will involve perhaps doing some restructuring, cost savings, trying to streamline the process, cut down on bureaucracy and make the department more efficient and effective."

Some skeptics have questioned whether Ballard, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and former executive with the health care firm Bayer, will be ready for the job of running the nation's 13th-largest city, no matter how strong his transition team. His predecessors had more government experience. Democrat Bart Peterson had been Gov. Evan Bayh's chief of staff. Goldsmith had served as Marion County prosecutor. And Goldsmith's Republican predecessor, Mayor Bill Hudnut, had been director of public safety and a U.S. representative.

But Ballard's team point to his military and business experience as strengths. After working with him directly, they vouch for his ability to digest a great deal of information and make definitive decisions.

"A year from now, will he know more? Yes, that's logical. Over time, he'll know more and more," said INHP's Carlstedt. "But do I think he has a very good sense of who's involved, who's investing human or financial capital? Absolutely."

Still, Graham, the political science professor, believes it will be a harder transition than Ballard's supporters admit.

"He'll have a long learning curve. I think we all wish him well, but I'm sure there will be some bumps along the road and difficulty in trying to implement his hierarchical plan for city government," Graham said. "Everybody wants costefficiency, but he'll have to learn about political realities-especially within his own party-which will make it difficult for him to do everything he wants to do."
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