The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. June 14, 2020.

City’s need to diversify is immediate

Community soul-searching should be a positive outcome of George Floyd’s death at the hands of officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. An accounting of a demonstrable commitment to diversity and inclusion is beginning to happen elsewhere; it must happen here, as well.

Fort Wayne attorney Tim Pape, a former city councilman, pushed the city into the debate last week with a letter to Mayor Tom Henry.

“The energy that has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement presents an opportunity to correct an injustice in appointments to four of the most powerful boards within local government: Redevelopment Commission, Legacy Fund, Capital Improvement Board and Plan Commission,” Pape wrote. “Currently, there are no black citizens appointed to any of these highly influential, highly visible, critically important boards. These boards make choices on community direction, strategy, policy and funding. This is where inattention and insularity can lead to disconnection and denial.”

The mayor’s initial reaction, in an interview with WPTA-TV ABC 21, was to say the city tries, but “we don’t get a lot of people interested.”

Lack of interested or qualified applicants isn’t a valid excuse. The same day we published Pape’s appeal for more diversity, members of City Council nominated two black men to the Economic Development Commission, voting 6-3 to appoint Quinton Ellis as their representative to the commission. In an interview, the Fort Wayne attorney said he was recruited by newly elected council members Michelle Chambers and Sharon Tucker.

“I didn’t express an interest before, but a lot of people probably don’t know that you need to go online and fill out an application to serve on these boards and commissions,” Ellis said. “I think the public needs to be educated, as well as the minority community specifically, that there’s a process to make it known you want to serve.”

But he also noted that, in practice, city appointees don’t apply for their posts – they are tapped by city leaders.

“It’s just a situation where it’s always been done a certain way, and if you are not in certain circles, you won’t get tapped to serve,” Ellis said.

New attention to the deeply ingrained practices resulting too often in all-male, all-white boards seems to be making a difference. In addition to City Council’s appointment, the mayor released a statement acknowledging Pape’s criticism is valid.

“Currently, we do not have enough minority representation on City of Fort Wayne boards and commissions,” Henry wrote. “It’s a top priority of my administration to have more diversity on the volunteer boards and commissions. We’ll continue to be proactive in encouraging minority residents to submit applications to be considered for future opportunities. We welcome their participation, and our city will benefit as a result of having diverse voices at the table making important decisions.”

The city’s website will be updated to include a list of appointees to city boards and commissions, according to John Perlich, public information officer for the city. It should follow the lead of the Allen County Public Library’s Board of Trustees, with dates of appointment and term expiration. Allen County and other units of local government should do the same.

Community members energized by the changes we might see must stay vigilant, however. It’s easy to lose ground. Fort Wayne has benefited from the contributions of five strong female leaders whose retirements are effective this summer: Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson, University of Saint Francis President Sister Elise Kriss, Foellinger Foundation President Cheryl Taylor and Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan. Each of their positions will be filled by an eminently qualified individual. But each is a white male.

Allen Superior Court Judge Nancy Boyer, the county’s first woman jurist, also steps down this week. Her successor will be appointed by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb from three finalists selected by the Allen County Judicial Nominating Commission. Again, each is a white male.

The community benefits when its leaders look like the community itself. An enduring commitment to diversity and inclusion must begin today.

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South Bend Tribune. June 14, 2020.

Allow no-excuse absentee voting in Indiana for November election

In the midst of a pandemic, Indiana’s Election Commission, guided in part by the bipartisan recommendation of state leaders, made the smart, non-political decision to ensure that Hoosiers could cast their vote in the primary election without fearing for their health.

It should offer that same option for the fall election.

It should ignore evidence-free claims that mail-in voting is rife with fraud and focus on the responsiblity to make voting easier, not harder, and protect this right in the middle of a public health crisis.

Indiana rose to the challenge a few months back, with the commission unanimously agreeing with Gov. Eric Holcomb that the need to reduce personal interactions justified allowing “no excuse” absentee voting for the Democratic and Republican primaries. Normally, Hoosier residents would have to apply for an absentee ballot, provide an acceptable excuse for doing so and be approved by the county election board.

It was the right thing to do.

That safety and convenience should be extended to voters in November. Making such a suggestion would seem to be non-controversial, as in the past, both parties have acknowledged — and even embraced — absentee and mail ballots as a way to make voting easier, expand participation and lower election costs.

But all of that has shifted, with the president and some of his Republican allies claiming — again, without evidence — that voting by mail is a threat to the integrity of American elections.

A recent Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states found just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.

But let’s face it, the sudden outrage about mail-in voting isn’t about security concerns. It’s about the perception that the process benefits Democrats. Like most things these days, voting by mail has become a partisan issue.

This despite studies that have come to the same conclusion: As states have expanded their use of mailed ballots over the last decade — including five states that conduct all-mail elections by default — both parties have enjoyed a small but equal increase in turnout.

Last week, Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson declined to say whether mail-in voting will continue to be available to all Hoosiers in future elections, or if the opportunity to vote by mail again will be limited to only those with a specific excuse for being unable to vote in person.

For his part, Holcomb said that he prefers to vote in person, and noted that he happily waited in line for nearly 40 minutes on June 2 to mark his ballot in what the governor described as “a very safe environment.”

All Hoosier voters — regardless of party affiliation or political leanings — should feel just as safe and happy about exercising their constitutional right this fall. Holcomb can help ensure that happens by recommending the election commission allow no-excuse absentee voting.

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Kokomo Tribune. June 12, 2020.

It’s time to apply

Indiana’s Evan Bayh Twenty-first Century Scholars program makes a simple promise: If you avoid drugs, stay out of trouble with the law and graduate high school with at least a 2.5 grade point average, the state will pay your college tuition.

The promise is working — for those who apply and meet new requirements.

This year’s class of scholars is just the fourth required to complete 12 activities to better prepare them for college. These include creating a graduation plan, participating in an extracurricular or service activity and visiting a college campus. Eligible students who fail to complete the requirements will not be awarded the state’s full-tuition scholarship.

We know children have been home from school for months because of the COVID-19 closures, and now school is out for summer.

But the Twenty-first Century Scholars program currently is accepting applications for the next class of students. The deadline is June 30. If your child is in the seventh or eighth grade and qualifies for assistance in paying for school meals, log onto www.scholars.in.gov/enroll and sign up.

Don’t delay. By making a simple pledge to remain drug-free and maintaining a GPA of 2.5, Indiana will pay your child’s tuition to a state-supported college or university.

Data gathered by the Commission for Higher Education suggest our Twenty-first Century Scholars must push themselves academically and earn an honors diploma in high school. Five percent of Howard County’s scholars who enrolled in a state-supported college in 2017 required remediation their freshman year — a 31% percent improvement in just six years. Yet, countywide, just six students among the 240 honors graduates attending a public college in 2017 needed such help.

Why is this so important? The commission has found that students who take a remedial college course have just a 1 in 4 chance of graduating.

Nearly 50% of Howard County students received free or reduced-price school lunches in 2019, the Indiana Youth Institute reports. Our five county school districts should encourage each one of these prospective Twenty-first Century Scholars to pursue an honors diploma.

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