Mayor’s communications strategist leaving city post

The man behind Mayor Greg Ballard’s communications strategy will leave his city job next week.

Robert Vane, Ballard’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, plans to start his own firm specializing in crisis and strategic communications. His last day with the city is Nov. 5.

“I’d like to take my chances with the private sector,” said Vane, 42, who served in roles at construction firm Shiel Sexton, the Indiana Republican Party and in the Marion County Clerk’s office before joining Ballard’s administration in November 2008.

He would not discuss potential clients while still in his job with the mayor’s office. But he said he would be judicious about abiding by conflict-of-interest rules that prohibit him from working on projects in which he participated while at the city.

Vane started with the Republican administration after Ballard had been criticized by political opponents for saying what was on his mind without considering the political risk. A prime example was his statement to reporters that he would like to create a Chinatown on the Southside and turn Indianapolis into a North American hub for cricket.

During his tenure, Vane has coordinated political messaging on issues such as the sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities and the city’s choice to give $30 million to help the Indiana Pacers operate Conseco Fieldhouse.

Vane said he pushed to make the mayor’s office more transparent by holding dozens of public meetings on city matters and making documents accessible online.

“The mayor is insistent on transparency," Vane said. "We were able—in a readily apparent way—to make local government more transparent than it’s ever been.”

Political opponents, while critical of Ballard, complimented Vane for the job he did in improving the mayor’s communications.

“The mayor was very well-served by Robert,” said Ed Treacy, chairman of the Marion County Democratic Party. “He was able to do the best job he could with the raw material that he had.”

Brian Vargus, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis who studies elections and public opinion, said the role of communications director is highly important in any administration.

“Part of what they’ve got to do is fight against citizen incompetence,” Vargus said. “A good number of people don’t pay attention to what government does most of the time—it’s like elevator music until something doesn’t work right. The communications director has got to be able to reach out to those people who normally don’t pay much attention and generally put a positive spin on whatever is going on.”

Vane’s replacement has not yet been selected.

His departure follows the exit of other members of Ballard’s administration, including former Chief of Staff Paul Okeson, former Deputy Mayor Nick Weber, and City Controller David Reynolds, whose last day is Friday.

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