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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Others agree city/Citizens water deal is leaky as a bad water pipe

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While enjoying Butler’s amazing NCAA Final Four exploits (Yep, they shoulda won), I reflected that, increasingly, others besides me are raising serious questions about the deal to sell the Indianapolis Water Co. to Citizens Energy Group.

Businessman and Democratic mayoral candidate Brian Williams sent out a detailed analysis of the deal and his observations on attending one of the public meetings held by Mayor Greg Ballard and Citizens CEO Carey Lykens.

I talked with Williams about his concerns. They included whether this was the best deal for the residents of Indianapolis and whether Citizens was paying fully for the deal. Williams shared my unease with the lack of detail about the deal that community leaders, the media and the public have received.

In recent days, it’s come out that Citizens is planning to borrow the nearly $171 million dollars the city would receive at closing for the water company. Now Citizens Gas is a huge enterprise that takes in some hundreds of millions in revenue. The water company takes in similar sums.

Business entities of that size regularly have credit lines, or available cash reserves, to handle costs like this.

That Citizens would have to borrow the money needed to give the city its $171 million in cash, instead of using the existing cash flow of the water company and/or itself raises serious questions about the financial strength of both operations and whether there is sufficient cash flow to work this deal.

Now, even the Indianapolis Star, which heretofore had been a cheerleader for the deal, is starting to see the light and the many holes in the city-Citizens arrangement.

There are too many loose ends, unanswered questions and suppositions in this deal to make me comfortable that this is the best route for Indianapolis to take with its fresh water and wastewater facilities.

Brian Williams and others are correct to raise their questions. It’s imperative that the city and Citizens provide more, to use the Wall Street terms, “visibility” and “guidance” to the residents of Indianapolis as to what’s contained in this deal, how it is structured, the financials of the companies, and the ability of the cash flow to pay for the borrowing costs of this transaction.

This deal needs to be as clear as the fresh water we drink; not as opaque as what goes down our drains.

What I’m Hearing

in the Streets

Ominously, 2010 is shaping up as another bloody year in Indianapolis streets. The numbers of homicides is up a stunning 60-plus percent during the first quarter of 2010, compared to the first quarter of 2009. The new Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department administration and new public safety director have been strangely quiet about the sudden sharp rise in killings. As have the Black ministers and other community activists usually on the front lines of concern and worry about rising street violence.

With virtually no public outcry or complaint, two parochial schools, St. Andrew & St. Rita Catholic Academy and St. Anthony’s, will become public charter schools this fall. The newest mayor’s charter schools were approved Monday by the City-County Council.

The precedent has been set for other religious-oriented schools to perhaps become public charters in the future.

Could the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library be planning a series of funding cuts that could reduce library services in majority African-American neighborhoods?

By the time you read this, two-thirds of Indianapolis-Marion County households will have returned heir 2010 Census forms. A super accomplishment, despite plenty of obstacles placed in our way by Census Bureau bureaucrats. I’ll talk later this spring about those obstacles, but for now I want to thank everyone who has returned their 2010 Census forms so far.

Indianapolis’ census performance has not only been great overall, but has been super in our African-American community. Our best neighborhoods and our challenged neighborhoods all rose to the challenge and understood the importance of answering the census. African-American communities in other major cities have lagged behind in their census response, so Indy’s turnout has been even more superlative.

With such a great community census response, the challenge for our community’s leaders, including grassroots leaders, will be to spend the rest of the year learning how to utilize the 2010 Census data when it’s released in February. It’s vital that our community’s organizations and institutions use the data everyone cooperated in providing to pressure businesses, institutions and the government to invest and in some cases re-invest in African-American communities.

Balancing family and work is an issue many families face, including working moms. In the high-pressure world of television news, it’s something female anchors have faced for years.

Nationally, Jane Pauley and Katie Couric and scores of local anchors like Debbie Knox have balanced being an anchorwoman and a wife and mother. Others have faced a more difficult choice. And that was the dilemma faced by the city’s senior African-American female anchor, Cheryl Parker.

Last week, Parker announced her retirement from WXIN Fox 59 news after 16 years at the station, 13 as the station’s co-lead evening anchor. The award-winning, Emmy-nominated Parker cited the desire to spend more time with her nearly two-year-old twins as the reason for her retirement.

Parker told viewers, “This is an extremely difficult decision. However, my family has to come first.”

Being a TV anchor is great. Being a great mom to two children is even greater. I and everyone in Indianapolis wish Cheryl the best with her decision and with what God leads her to do in the next phase of her life and career.

However, Parker’s departure from Fox 59, coming so soon after the retirement of 18-year veteran reporter Derrick Wilkerson two weeks ago, has some openly wondering about the station’s commitment to racial diversity on their newscasts.

Wilkerson and Parker’s departures from the station reduce the number of African-American on air reporters and anchors by 50 percent. For a station that had prided itself on and made its mark from day one with its on-air racial diversity, the pressure to replace Parker with another African American will be great.

And our community will be watching how station owner the Tribune Co. handles Parker’s transition.

See ‘ya next week!

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