CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: The Prairie is saved at last!

July 11, 2005

Few things in the not-for-profit world have gotten my dander up more than the ongoing saga of Conner Prairie the last two years.

More to the point, I have been dismayed by the disrespect and lack of gratitude shown by Earlham College toward a dedicated board and CEO who worked so hard to put the museum on the map before being summarily fired by the school in 2003.

Thanks to reporter Andrea Muirragui Davis, our newspaper has led the local media in covering the story. Please read Andrea's latest installment on page1. I am heartened to see a major step toward justice.

As I've read our coverage from the get-go, I've been more and more convinced Conner Prairie was being mismanaged and held back by the college.

Through it all, Earlham President Doug Bennett seemed to have motives other than the success and perpetuity of Conner Prairie in mind as he dug in his heels. It appears he was thinking more of power, money and control than anything else.

It's telling that Bennett wasn't even present at the ceremony July 5 when the attorney-general-brokered settlement of the dispute was signed and heralded. The school's seemingly more reasonable and genteel board president, Mark Myers, did the honors.

I know several of the Conner Prairie board members who were fired. To suggest that any of them had anything less than the growth and success of the organization in mind is laughable. They all wanted Conner Prairie to flourish and, as a collective body, understood how to make that happen.

It's my hope that some or all of these passionate and dedicated community leaders and civic volunteers are invited to rejoin Conner Prairie's board in the wake of the settlement, which appears to be a win-win deal for the museum and the college.

The museum couldn't find a better group with more institutional knowledge of Conner Prairie's inner workings and its history. It would be a fitting way to rechart the organization's course and to see that justice truly does prevail.

An update on 70 mph

I wrote a column back in May about the upcoming speed limit change to 70 mph in Indiana, which went into effect July 1. To get the official word from law enforcement at the time, I spoke to Indiana State Police 1st Sgt. Brian Olehy.

The public information officer told me that, even though speed limit signs wouldn't be changed to officially read "70 mph" by July 1, drivers could drive 70 in Indiana beginning that day without fear of getting a speeding ticket.

In other words: The law is the law; you can ignore the signs!

Imagine my consternation over the last several days when The Indianapolis Star published three separate items reporting that motorists must obey the 65 mph signs until the signs are changed or risk getting a ticket. I thought of all the readers I may have betrayed in my earlier column, and I even anticipated irate phone calls asking me to pay their speeding tickets.

I feared readers would never trust me again, so the first thing I did when I got back in the office after the July 4 holiday was place another call to Olehy to find out what was up. I was perfectly willing to 'fess up to my mistake and set the record straight.

But I was right. Olehy reiterated the information he gave me in May, confirming that it was A-OK to drive at 70 mph even if the signs said 65. He even told me the central office had sent out an extra bulletin to all the districts stating as much.

Olehy wasn't sure who was spreading the misinformation, but I didn't really care. I was just glad I didn't lead anybody astray.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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