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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Greg Ballard: Passing or failing?

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For many Indianapolis residents Gregory A. “Greg” Ballard is still the “new” mayor.

For others, quiet changes made by the self-described “low-key” mayor have made the city a different place than it was when he took office in January.

After five months the Ballard administration has presided over transfer of control of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to the mayor’s office, launch of the Peace in the Street’s Initiative, an increase in $7 million for a fund to resurface roads and prevent potholes, creation of a new fund to help residents avoid having their utilities cut off during winter, and the city’s successful bid to host the 2012 Super Bowl.

In his first full interview with the Recorder since taking office, Ballard talked about what he’s been up to, discussed the city’s challenges and answered tough questions related to crime, education, city finances and racial diversity in local government:

When you ran for mayor last year many people said you didn’t have a chance and dismissed your candidacy. Are those individuals “paying” for their doubt today?

Ballard: Well, I don’t really look at it that way (laughing). I’m not holding grudges or being vindictive to anybody. We’re just doing what we said we would do; there’s not much more to it.

You have said public safety is “job one.” But some neighborhoods are still devastated by crime. What have you accomplished in this area so far?

I think we’re making big strides in public safety. We wanted to get control of the police department back, and we did. Public Safety Director Scott Newman and the department have concentrated on high crime areas with multiple techniques. We’re using real time data now to see what the crime is doing and determine whether we have had an effect or not.

People come up to me and say they’re seeing more police out there. We just completed a graduating class of new officers and have another class coming out. We also freed up cops on their beats so they can be more visible.

We’re supporting an initiative by Rep. Andre Carson that will give us a thousand wireless laptops because right now some cops have to drive the “hot spots” to file their reports. It takes up to two hours for them to get back and forth, and we want them to be able to stay in the same area and make reports.

Do you have any other accomplishments?

We have a city administration that is much more transparent and open, as promised. We started Indy Stat already, which is a performance review available on the city’s website. City boards actually hold open meetings so that people can see what’s going on. Previously those meetings were held behind closed doors and were shams of a public meeting, so we’re not doing that anymore.

Also, we will have budget reviews starting in July so that the public will be able to see how money is being spent in each department.

We did get the Super Bowl, so we’re happy about that too.

Finally, the City of Indianapolis probably had the best year in over a decade at the Indaina statehouse because the public safety pensions are taken care of, and now we know there won’t be a large bond on the city. Two days before the end of the session health care for the indigent was gonna be picked up around the state except in Marion County. Our people said ‘hey, that’s not quite fair, you need to put Marion County in that mix.’ That got us another $35 million.

We saved Marion County property tax payers $65 million above and beyond the state’s regular property tax reform. That is absolutely huge.

During your campaign you mentioned that you would like the mayor’s office to play an increased role in education. What efforts have you made so far?

We’ve got a team in our office that’s working with the United Way for a pilot program to track every kid in the county from the first through the eight grade. The intent is to tie non-profit groups together so that we can assess whether a second grader can’t read instead of waiting two or three more grades to get to him, when he’s angry fifth grader. We’re partnering with non-profit agencies who have programs that can can help students right away and track student progress every four to six weeks so we’ll know whether or not a kid is on track.

Some Indianapolis residents still fill a bit disconnected from your administration. How do you plan to engage those citizens?

We already are engaging them. No administration has ever done anything like Mayor’s Night Out, where citizens have an opportunity to meet me and ask questions. I’m still out there going to neighborhood association meetings. You can correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think the city has had a more visible mayor. We’ve already held several Mayor’s Night Out events in different areas of the city, with another coming at 6 p.m. at the Indianapolis Training Center, 2820 N. Meridian, on May 29. We’re out there, so people who say they’re feeling disconnected… honestly, we’ve given them quite a bit of opportunity.

We also get positive statements such as ‘Gee, you actually returned my phone call’ from people. So, we’re out there.

Recently critics have accused you with allegations that your administration, compared to those operated by previous mayors, does not place a high priority on meeting federal standards of racial diversity in the police and fire department. What are your thoughts on those allegations?

Well, that’s exactly what they are; allegations. First of all, during the State of the City Address I said IMPD is now a meritocracy (where advancement is based on merit), and received a standing ovation. If that’s fine, then why would people say we don’t have much diversity? Come on, we’re getting praise on both sides, and no one can dispute the increased moral among officers in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, regardless of race. A couple of days ago we had a meeting between the police chief and several of the city’s Black pastors. The chief explained the changes at IMPD to them and it was a very good and productive meeting. I think people just make stuff up without looking at the facts, which riles people up because they don’t have the true story.

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