WOLLEY: New leadership needs to exceed Lewis’ achievements

A new Indianapolis is still emerging and it requires the kind of leadership that pushes us toward progress, conserves the value of public service over politics, respects the will of the people, and reflects our common decency—if we are to become who we should be as a city.

The recent coup at the City-County Council was a power grab against the first African-American female leader of the council—and it raises the issue of our values.

Cloaked in a subterfuge of bipartisanship is a new coalition that must not only maintain and improve upon the work of the previous administration, to meet the demands of the emerging Indianapolis, but do so while living out our emerging and shared values.

Indianapolis is now about progress. From mass transit, to wage-enforcement ordinances, to the protection of homeless camps, to raising city workers’ pay to a livable wage, to cutting the structural deficit, to the beginnings of criminal justice reform and a program tying tax-increment-financing dollars to funding for public art in blighted communities, Indianapolis progressed significantly under the leadership of former City-County Council President Maggie Lewis. The new coalition must match or improve that pace of progress.

We continue to affirm the value of public service over politics. The allegation about sexual misconduct aside, I respect the positions new President Stephen Clay has taken on matters pertinent to the African-American community and the city as a whole, but the complete thesis for why he needed to lead the council at this time has yet to reveal itself. Elected officials do not run this city alone—they either facilitate or stymie progress. Clay and Republicans face a Pyrrhic victory if they fail to demonstrate that their leadership is about public service and not just politics. Servant leadership is still the ethos of our community.

Leaders still must respect the will of the people. In 2015, over 150,000 Marion County voters decided the composition of the City-County Council, electing 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans. This did not mean Republicans had no role in government, but rather that they earned the role of principled and loyal opposition. They have now seized more than they earned. That black pastors and their congregations asserted themselves by backing Clay should be of note to city officials and civic institutions—it means something.

The recent actions and lingering allegations surrounding the City-County Council did not cause fellow citizens to discard our shared sense of common decency. The city’s leadership must reflect the best of us. The City-County Council needs to do a better job in this area.

The new Indianapolis is still perfecting itself.

The new coalition will need to address public safety—both the disturbing trend of record homicides and the work of criminal justice reform. City leaders need to develop innovative policies to address affordable housing and social displacement while balancing the need to cultivate the development of unique neighborhoods.

As city finances improve, the new coalition might also have the opportunity to make shrewd investments for the city’s future. Will this new coalition of social justice advocates and conservatives agree on the future? For example, could this coalition agree to make an investment in a better social services system or does the policy debate become a battle over fiscal conservativism?

The new coalition council and its leadership must not only address the challenges and unevenness of our progress; they are also responsible for protecting and shaping our values—the new and old.•

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Wolley is a lecturer at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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