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EDITORIAL: Others must fill Amos Brown void

November 14, 2015

David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, might have put it best when he described the late Amos Brown as “an unwavering crusader and champion for the lost, the last and the least.”

Time and again, the radio personality and community activist demanded answers from politicians about what they were doing to serve the poor and to bolster African-American neighborhoods. He pushed for diversity on boards, in political administrations and in the media. He used his two-hour daily radio show on WTLC-AM 1310 to call for changes in criminal justice, politics and education systems he considered unjust.

And he was willing to make the black community angry if he thought it would help lead to change.

Amos Brown, 64, died Nov. 6 of a heart attack while visiting family in Chicago. Later that day, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly called Brown “a once-in-a-generation community leader.” And he was right.

That’s why no one person can or should rise up to replace Brown. Instead, Indiana needs that advocacy to come from a group of black leaders—men and women with diverse thoughts and ideas about solving problems in our communities.

So many strong black voices already exist in Indianapolis that there’s no need for a new kingmaker. Instead, Brown’s legacy should be inspiration for rigorous debate of the issues that most affect the poor and minorities—a debate we all should pay more attention to.

D- is unacceptable

Indiana received a D- in a new assessment of state government accountability and transparency conducted by The Center for Public Integrity, a grade that could only be considered an embarrassment—except that nearly every other state in the nation performed badly as well. Only three states scored higher than a D+ and 11 flunked.

Still, the report raises questions about serious ethical and transparency issues—and it comes even after the Indiana General Assembly passed an ethics-reform law meant to force lawmakers and state workers to act with more integrity.

Indiana failed in several areas, including public access to information, political financing and ethics entities.

Not all of Indiana’s problems are easily solvable. The part-time Legislature means most members have full-time jobs, which leads naturally to conflicts of interest. The law passed earlier this year is meant to provide more information about conflicts, but they’ll never be fully eliminated.

But there are steps lawmakers could take to not only improve Indiana’s grade but also bolster Hoosiers’ trust in their government. Among them:

• Give the state’s public access counselor some power to enforce his or her rulings. Currently, people must go to court if an agency refuses to comply with the law.

• Make it easier for the public to search and analyze campaign finance data.

• Require the legislative branch to live with the access to public-records laws that applies to the executive branch.

Most important, the state must ensure that existing laws are followed. The State Integrity Investigation found Indiana had a significant ‘enforcement gap,’ which is the difference between the laws and how well they’re enforced.That gap must be closed.•

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To comment on these editorials, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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