Anderson Herald Bulletin. May 19, 2021.
Editorial: In the Legislature, money talks
The report from the Hoosier Action Resource Center is titled “Corporate Captive: Big Business at the Indiana General Assembly.”
“Corporate Captive” is a pretty good description of the report’s findings. “Overpowered” might be another.
The report reveals that 91% of all campaign contributions to legislative candidates in the 2020 election came from political action committees and large donors.
Using data from the website FollowTheMoney.org, the report reveals that candidates for the Indiana House of Representatives raised nearly $17 million, and candidates for the state Senate raised more than $10 million. It says 79% of that money came from PACs and businesses, and just 2% came from contributors of $100 or less.
House Speaker Todd Huston alone raised $1.75 million, and Senate President pro tempore Rod Bray raised $1.06 million.
“Our campaign finance laws allow organized money to overpower the voices of everyday people in pursuit of their own interests and profits,” the report said. “The influence of the wealthy and powerful is pervasive, and our legislature has become enthralled to those who control the big money.”
The report singles out the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which contributed more than $420,000 to legislative candidates last year, and the Indiana Manufacturers Association, which contributed roughly $90,000. Both groups made a priority of pushing through retroactive immunity for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the concerns of organizations representing workers and consumers, the legislation moved quickly through both houses of the General Assembly.
The business lobby also fought off efforts to require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers. Instead, lawmakers approved a bill that merely allows those workers to ask for accommodations, something they already had a right to do under current law. The new law doesn’t require employers to grant such requests.
Lawmakers also responded to priorities of the Indiana Hospital Association and the Indiana Health Care Association by providing liability protections to hospitals, long-term care facilities and out-patient clinics. Together, those organizations contributed more than $115,000 to legislative campaigns.
The top five construction, housing and real estate PACs contributed nearly $2 million to would-be state senators and representatives. As a result, the report said, Hoosier tenants have some of the weakest protections in the country, and weak building regulations threaten Indiana’s environment and put consumers at risk.
Fighting back, the report says, will require a unified approach.
“To outweigh the money and power of corporate interests in our state, more Hoosiers must get off the sidelines and get involved in our legislative process,” said Kate Hess Pace, the organization’s executive director.
It would also be a good idea to put some limits on all those campaign contributions.
Columbus Republic. May 23, 2021.
Editorial: Operation Columbus Day reveals scope of drug problem
We knew Bartholomew County’s drug problem extends past its borders, but over the past several weeks, the reach of the issue has become much more clear.
“Operation Columbus Day” has led to more than 60 arrests — including at least 36 federal indictments and 23 local prosecutions — since police first started dismantling a drug trafficking network in the Columbus area in 2018.
By the first week of April, law enforcement had collected around 114 pounds of methamphetamine, 4 pounds of heroin/fentanyl and 28 pounds of marijuana along with 115 firearms as part of the investigation.
The drug bust, the biggest in the county’s history, is alarming on several fronts, but particularly in where the drugs are coming from and how arrests are continuing to be made.
These drugs aren’t all homegrown, as investigators say they’re tied to a Mexican drug cartel. They’re cheap and potent, and are being transported hundreds — if not thousands — of miles to Columbus.
Almost a month after police revealed their operation, six more individuals were taken into custody on May 7 in connection to ongoing drug trafficking in Bartholomew County.
These drugs are more than likely playing a role in our local overdose numbers. This year, 13 cases have been investigated for drug overdoses by the coroner’s office. Last year, there were 17 during this same period.
While a large one, the sad reality is this group isn’t the only supplier of deadly, illegal drugs in the area.
It’s unclear who is supplying the drugs, but Columbus city officials also put out a warning last week that they’ve recently seized more than 100 counterfeit Xanax pills on the streets. These pills, believed to be made in Indiana, also contain fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is used for its heroin-like effect.
Bartholomew County has a complex drug problem that’s far-reaching, and there’s no simple way to fix it.
Thankfully, numerous new recovery services have opened over the past year to help citizens while police continue to put dealers behind bars.
Hopefully the recent arrests will lead to lower drug activity, and more people will get the help they need.
KPC News. May 23, 2021.
Editorial: Sad saga at MSD ends
We have followed the saga between the Metropolitan School District of Steuben County Board of Trustees and its now soon-to-be-former Superintendent Brent Wilson.
Wilson will be leaving MSD and possibly the community on June 30 when his contract expires. After a bitter lawsuit with the board, he accepted an approximately $900,000 settlement to leave. (Some board members say Wilson is “only” leaving with $200,000, that he would have gotten the rest of the money at the end of his employment anyway.)
Assuming they move from the community, Wilson, who was respected by many and perhaps even adored by some of those who worked for him, will be gone, along with his wife, Tammy, a third-grade teacher at Hendry Park Elementary School.
At issue with Wilson, hired in 2006, was not the way he managed and led the district. It was his contract — with an automatic renewal provision — that some board members disliked. The self-renewing contract would have kept him in his position until retirement. When the board removed that provision in 2016, the path toward this lawsuit was paved.
We would like to note that this is not out of the ordinary. In our research, we have found at least one similar contract in northeast Indiana.
Some board members also felt Wilson was overpaid. His base salary was $149,480. For comparison, East Noble’s base salary for its current superintendent is $135,000. At Smith-Green, the salary in the contract signed in 2018 was $91,000. At DeKalb Central United, the base salary is $116,155.
Some board members quietly campaigned on a platform of either reducing Wilson’s pay or eliminating the automatic rollover provision. (Some board members were not so silent about their desire to cut benefits of all administrators and did just that, only to reverse themselves.)
When Wilson was hired in 2006, the board based its employment offer on the salary of another superintendent in Indiana at a similarly sized school district who had just been hired. The offer was much higher than he was expecting, so Wilson countered with a proposed salary that was similar to the previous superintendent, plus annuities to make up the difference to reach the proposed salary. The optics were much better than a high salary on its own.
In addition to their base pay, superintendents receive such benefits as complete insurance coverage, or in one case, insurance for $1. Most receive vehicle allowances, cell phone reimbursements, annuities or other retirement packages and an account with the teachers retirement fund. When added up, it can be a significant sum.
In northeast Indiana, outside of Fort Wayne, superintendent pay doesn’t come close to that paid in central Indiana, where the base salaries can be in the $200,000 range. With all of the perks, Wilson’s entire package is more than $200,000 a year, but again, not his salary.
Over the years, some people in the MSD school district have equated the value of the entire package to Wilson’s salary, which in some ways is accurate and in others is not.
Board member emails obtained by MSD administration show a certain faction of the board favored cutting Wilson’s package and, perhaps, getting rid of him all together. These emails also show a predisposition of some board members to willingly flaunt and violate Indiana’s Open Door Law by coming to consensus and making decisions outside of public meetings. One board member even offered to host meetings of three members at a time in order to settle issues without having a full quorum of the board. From what this email implied, the board member wanted to hold what is called a serial meeting, which is illegal under Indiana law.
Anecdotally, we have come to the conclusion that the community is outraged by this whole affair. Yes, some people wanted to see Wilson go, but most did not, from what we have been able to surmise. Specifically, Wilson had overwhelming support from the teachers, staff and administration. Developing that chemistry is what makes a school system a living thing that functions for the collective good of the community.
Some members — not all — of this school board have created a poisonous atmosphere. There was a secret investigation of alleged impropriety that just wasn’t there. There’s the blame game — including of this news organization.
This whole affair has been a distraction. For example, repairs to buildings that should take place in the summer, and not when children are inside in the fall, may need to wait until next year because they did not become part of a sensible construction calendar.
As one building principal told us, they’ll just have to get the buckets out when it rains until the summer of 2022 when the leaky roofs can be fixed.
If people want change, perhaps they need to throw their names in the hat and run for the board. And at the voting booth, people need to remember who was behind this distraction. It might take four years, but that’s the way change is brought about.