For 18 years, Barney Levengood has held one of the toughest and most important jobs in the city.
He oversees the operation of the Indiana Convention Center, Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium as executive director of the Capital Improvement Board.
He's also become one of the state's highest-paid public employees. Levengood, 54, earns a salary of $221,325—more than the governor and the mayor combined. He also gets a $500-per-month car allowance.
Some observers are wondering whether that's too much, particularly considering that CIB is pleading for new taxes to keep it afloat. The quasi-governmental board is facing a $47 million annual deficit.
Before asking the mayor and state legislators for a bailout earlier this year, Levengood added 30 employees, boosting CIB's head count to 172—a 20-percent increase. He also handed out 3-percent raises to most employees, and some got much more; stadium director Mike Fox's salary jumped 36 percent, to $128,242.
CIB has cut almost $9 million from its budget in part by cutting grants to local arts groups and suspending funding for an emergency maintenance fund. And salaried employees including Levengood are taking twice-a-month furloughs that will save another $88,000.
But considering the group's dire financial state, CIB ought to be doing more to limit salary expenses, said Ed Treacy, the Marion County Democratic Party chairman. He called the 3-percent cost-of-living raises in January "totally unacceptable."
"Private businesses would have to have cutbacks and layoffs at this stage of the game," Treacy said. "It's one thing when the economy is going well, but maybe it's time to look at the salaries again and possibly have cutbacks."
Treacy said he doesn't have a problem with high salaries if pay is commensurate with experience and market forces. But he says the times demand at least a temporary freeze or reduction in salaries.
Levengood said he hadn't realized the full extent of the CIB's budget troubles when he approved the raises.
"In hindsight, this may have not been the best decision, but we honestly didn't believe there would not be a solution," he wrote in an e-mail. "We wanted to continue to operate and still do today as if we are a viable organization."
Levengood still earns less than the director of Atlanta's convention center earned back in 2006, said Pat Early, who heads CIB's compensation committee.
CIB's volunteer board looked at the $267,000 salary for the Atlanta post as it considered what to pay Levengood. The Atlanta position also came with a potential for a 20-percent bonus, a perk Levengood does not enjoy.
"He would be very sought after if he was available," Early said of Levengood. "His reputation is great. He's just a great operator."
Before coming to Indianapolis, Levengood oversaw the SeaGate Centre in Toledo, Ohio, and served as an executive for the Baltimore Convention Center and Baltimore Civic Arena.
Since Levengood took the CIB post in 1991, the job has grown. The city built Victory Field, Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, venues CIB operates. And the Indiana Convention Center has undergone three expansions, including an ongoing $275 million project that is replacing the former home of the RCA Dome with more exhibit space.
The board's shortfall can largely be blamed on an additional $20 million per year required to operate Lucas Oil Stadium, which is much bigger than its predecessor. CIB also expects to absorb $15 million next year in Conseco Fieldhouse operating costs for the Pacers.
Meanwhile, CIB has lost some of its revenue sources. The group took in $2 million a year for naming-rights revenue at the RCA Dome, but the Colts get every cent from Lucas Oil. CIB also earns less from the Capital Commons parking garage after the city gave the eastern half to Simon Property Group Inc. for its new headquarters.
Early said Levengood is not to blame for the CIB budget mess. The board has been operating with deficits every year since 1999, but Early said those shortfalls never made much of a dent in CIB's reserves until now.
And he defended Levengood's decision to give the CIB staff raises in January. Levengood didn't get a raise this year, but last year he got an 8-percent boost. (The board sets the salary for the executive director, who determines salaries for the rest of the staff.)
"I've worked with Barney for 17 years," Early said. "He picks up paper clips off the floor instead of buying a new box. He's as fiscally responsible a manager as we possibly could have."
A spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard, who appoints six members on the nine-member board, said he would defer to the judgment of the Capital Improvement Board on whether salaries are appropriate.
The job is complex and challenging and requires a well-paid leader, Early said.
"You can get someone to do brain surgery for less than a brain surgeon makes," he said, "but you just might not be happy with the result."