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Sunday, July 21, 2024

The mayor meets with some pastors

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The meeting didn’t go well.

Mayor Greg Ballard had announced he would meet with “Senior pastors, imams, rabbis and faith leaders” to “expand the dialogue between the city and the faith-based community on current issues and challenges facing our youth, neighborhoods and communities.”

Some 400 were invited and an e-mailed memo said some 200 were expected to attend.

Far, far, far fewer actually showed up at North United Methodist Church on the morning of Sept. 17.

Forty were there, said the Indianapolis Star. Channels 13 and 59 said 30. The mayor’s office provided me a list of 51 who signed in. But several who signed in weren’t pastors, while pastors like Bishop T. Garrott Benjamin didn’t sign in. So, I’ll be fair and say between 60 and 70 attended; but less than 50 were pastors and even fewer were “senior pastors.”

The Star and others had assumed the city’s oldest ministerial association, the Baptist Ministers Alliance, had been excluded from the meeting. But Alliance President Rev. Stephen Clay and other alliance members were there as were members of Concerned Clergy and others who’ve spoken out about IMPD’s ills.

There was a good representation of Islamic imams and ministers of other faiths. But conspicuously absent was the head of the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis and rabbis. The latter probably because the meeting was scheduled for the morning before the start of Yom Kippur – Judiasm’s holiest day and an extremely busy day for rabbis.

The media weren’t allowed in the meeting, but I talked afterwards to ministers supporting the mayor and those who have issues with him.

Both groups said that some faith leaders commended the mayor’s efforts. Both groups said at first the mayor talked about his accomplishments, stressing that crime was down. But both groups agreed the meeting took a different turn when Bishop Benjamin and others brought up the disparity in how the mayor handled the Officer David Bisard case versus how he handled the Brandon Johnson case.

In the Bisard case, Mayor Ballard took swift action, speaking with the family of the dead cyclist and taking swift action against officers. Compared to Mayor Ballard never speaking to Brandon Johnson or his family or even saying anything about the case until weeks after the incident.

Those at the meeting, including those supporting the mayor, agreed that the mayor didn’t handle the criticism well. When the criticism came, I’m told the mayor turned defensive, petulant and irritable.

Mayor Ballard has a serious problem accepting public criticism. That’s a normal human trait, but one that’s fatal in an elected official.

In some respects, Mayor Ballard shares some of the traits of Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty. To some Washingtonians, Fenty lowered crime, improved neighborhoods and services. But to many Washingtonians, Fenty was arrogant, unapproachable, forgetting who elected him, and cloaked with a paper-thin tolerance for criticism.

Mayor Fenty was defeated in a primary election last week.

And after last week’s poorly attended meeting, the mayor’s attitude could send him down Fenty’s path.

What I’m hearing

in the streets

Is the city’s oldest organization that helps ex-offenders with employment and opportunity in turmoil? Have they lost major grants and support because unqualified, politically-connected hacks populate its board and top management?

For years, every time a major national African-American was announced, Indy’s Black media received an advance heads-up from the Indiana Convention and Visitors Association (ICVA). Until last week, when under pressure from the Mayor’s Office, ICVA cut local Black media out of the loop when Mayor Ballard and ICVA President Don Welsh announced that the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) would hold its national convention here in 2015.

NOBLE was formed in 1976 to work towards “equity” and the “elimination of racism and bias of any type” in law enforcement.

NOBLE has been active in 56 cities and areas; but invisible here. According to NOBLE’s Web site, its Greater Indiana Chapter is headed by Bruce Henry, an IMPD officer currently on leave serving as human resources director for the city of Indianapolis.

But, unlike NOBLE’s other chapters, there’s no contact information for NOBLE’s chapter here. Some Black IMPD officers tell me the local NOBLE chapter was formed about a year ago and as been invisible in all the discussions regarding IMPD’s recent travails.

And unless he’s been promoted recently, Henry’s just an IMPD sergeant. But, according to NOBLE’s by-laws, only those with the rank of lieutenant or above in law enforcement agencies can be NOBLE members. So, it seems Henry doesn’t meet NOBLE’s own regular membership rules.

But my curiosity was aroused by a couple of sentences in the city’s press release announcing NOBLE’s convention. “The ICVA and a special partnership (emphasis added) with Mayor Ballard drew the convention to Indianapolis,” the release crowed. And ICVA President Welsh was quoted as saying, “We are extremely grateful to Mayor Ballard for his continued commitment to tourism and the integral role he played in selling NOBLE on Indianapolis (emphasis added).”

So, what did the mayor and the city do to attract a national Black convention with an invisible and shadowy local chapter? Did the city buy credibility for its embattled police department by providing incentives for NOBLE to hold its convention here?

Providing incentives like free or drastically reduced Convention Center rent and fees, hotel room subsidies, in-town transportation perks and other concessions and amenities are normal in the convention business. ICVA provides them for the biggest, most lucrative national conventions.

But rarely are such concessions provided a convention that brings under 2,000 people to town.

Perhaps those concessions and deals are why ICVA and the mayor’s office kept Black media in the dark about this. And why NOBLE’s executive director has so far ignored Black media interview requests.

I assume NOBLE got a great deal on its 2015 convention here. I hope the mayor and ICVA are giving two far larger Black conventions – the National Baptist Convention and Kappa Alpha Psi – who meet here next year even better deals than the mayor and ICVA gave NOBLE.

If not, the Kappas and Baptists and our African-American community should demand to know why.

See ‘ya next week.

You can e-mail comments to Amos Brown III to acbrown@AOL.com.

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