NOTIONS: Modest proposal to make regional officials heroes

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TO: Elected officials in Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Madison, Morgan and Shelby counties

FROM: Bruce Hetrick, Marion County Center Township peon

Years ago, I wrote an advertisement for my boss. Under the headline “A different drummer,” it began: “One way to lead is to find a parade and step before it. A better way is to start the parade and keep it going.”

Well, my friends, as stewards of central Indiana’s suburban communities, you face an unprecedented opportunity to start a parade and be drum majors for life.

You see, we’ve got trouble-right here in swollen River City. That’s trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Colts and conventions.

Now, I drove through your counties during football season. (We urbanites do our fair share of shopping, dining and other business throughout this region.) And here’s what I saw:

I saw rural and suburban storefronts brandishing Blue Nation banners. I saw rural and suburban saloons packed with screaming Colts fans. I saw Colts pennants waving from windows and antennas of SUVs bearing your counties’ license plates.

On game days, I saw-right here in Center Township-thousands of SUVs and luxury sedans that also carried your counties’ license plates.

And from those vehicles emerged smiling, voting, tax-paying Colts-fan constituents all gussied up in blue and white jerseys labeled Manning and Harrison, Stokley and Freeney, James, Pollard and Wayne.

Colts games aren’t the only times I’ve seen your constituents, either.

I see their pretty painted faces every time one of your cheerleading squads goes for a big championship. I see them by the thousands when one of your marching bands competes for a state title. I see your volleyball fans and wrestling fans, basketball fans and football fans.

I see your business people meeting other business people, your government people meeting other government people, your teachers meeting with teachers, your nurses with other nurses, your kids learning side by side with other kids.

Heck, the Indianapolis Convention Center and RCA Dome is like a second home for folks from your communities.

Then, last week, I saw your legislators nodding in agreement when our speaker of the House said that these nine counties do, indeed, constitute a family-friendly community, and that we ought not corrupt it with slot machines just to avoid a tiny tax increase that would more evenly spread the burden of these magnificent meeting and sports facilities.

Which brings me to your leadership opportunity.

My idea came about at Houlihan’s. I was lunching with Mike Crowther, president of the Indianapolis Zoo.

I was in a funk because folks were taking potshots (OK, firing with machine guns) at Mayor Bart Peterson’s proposal for a new Colts stadium and expanded convention center.

But Mike, a native Australian who moved to the States in his teens, told me not to despair. This isn’t football, he said, it’s rugby. And my ears perked up for a management lesson.

In football, Crowther said, you spend lots of time in a huddle, making plans. Then you step up to the line and try to execute them. If, however, your opponent foils your plans (as the Patriots do the Colts’), the game’s over and you lose.

But politics and business, Crowther said, work more like rugby. In rugby, he said, you don’t plot everything in advance. You simply put the ball in play, see what happens, and react.

So when House Speaker Brian Bosma said the mayor’s stadium-convention center plan was “dead,” I was thinking like an American football fan. Silly me.

Then, when Gov. Mitch Daniels said, “This will work out. There are many other options. I’m sure one will be found in the end,” and House Minority Leader Pat Bauer said, “I think there’s alternatives. We have to find another horse to ride,” I realized these guys are all playing rugby.

Now knowing what game we’re playing, my light bulb went off when Speaker Bosma spoke of “a regional solution.” It was a single clause in a single sentence in a single story in The Indianapolis Star. But in that politically astute trial balloon lies your shot at electoral heroism.

By proposing and passing a tiny, regionwide sales or hospitality tax, you, visionary suburban leaders, can save the day. You can save the NFL team your constituents so adore. You can rebuild the sports and convention facilities your constituents so enjoy (we’ll dub them “Greater Indianapolis Convention Center” and “Wal-Mart Nine-County Field”). Most important, you can rescue from the evils of gambling the community your constituents are so proud to call a family-friendly home.

When he was mayor of Indianapolis, Bill Hudnut liked to say, “You can’t be a suburb of nothing.” Bill Hudnut spoke wisely.

Let’s meet about this regional rugby match soon. I’ll reserve a room at the convention center.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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