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Monday, June 21, 2021

Mayor Ballard’s parking deal; payday loan from a bad check cashing store

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It’s the latest example of privatization in Indianapolis and Indiana gone amuck. The Ballard administration’s plan to privatize operation of the city’s parking meters and city-owned parking garages to the same company, ACS, which messed up privatization of welfare and food stamps in Indiana and other states.

ACS, now a division of Xerox, has also messed up privatization of parking in cities across the country, most notably Washington, D.C., and in the most egregious example – Chicago.

Critics of the Ballard plan, both Democrats and Republicans, have assailed the parking deal. But last week, criticism came from an unexpected quarter.

Aaron Renn is known as a leading expert on cities. He’s lectured and written worldwide about urban issues. Indiana-born, Renn has been supportive of many efforts to make Indianapolis a better city in which to live.

Renn writes a respected blog called Urbanophile. On Sept. 7, Renn criticized the Ballard administration’s parking deal. His views were cited by local bloggers of all sides of the political spectrum.

Interviewed on our WTLC-AM (1310) “Afternoons with Amos” program, Renn recounted that the Indianapolis deal is the same deal ACS concocted with Chicago several years ago. The difference? Chicago got a one-time payment of more than $1 billion and ACS got unfettered control of the city’s parking meters. Indy gets just $35 million and payments over 50 years that’ll nowhere add up to Chicago’s take.

Renn charges that Indy’s deal uses “literally the exact same contract” as the Chicago deal. “Given that Chicago’s deal is famously one-sided” says Renn, “this is mind-boggling.”

Parking rates in Chicago have soared so high that fallout caused Mayor Richard M. Daley to lose popularity. The bad taste the parking deal left in the mouths of Chicagoans is one reason for Daley’s sudden decision to forgo a seventh term.

There is plenty Renn criticizes, like the fact that Indy has no right to terminate the 50-year agreement under any circumstances unless the vendor defaults. ACS also gets the right to revenues from parking tickets written by police officers.

Renn says the deal is bad public policy because Indy can’t change its parking policies unless it makes the “vendor richer.” In essence, says Renn, “the city has defacto frozen its parking policy for 50 years.”

Indianapolis’ parking meters currently make money for the city, with, says Renn, an estimated 70 percent profit margin. But the Ballard/ACS deal gives all that profit potential to ACS. The Indianapolis Business Journal estimated ACS could earn between $750 million to a billion bucks with this deal.

And in a slam everyone in our community can easily understand, Renn described the Ballard parking giveaway deal this way.

“ACS is loaning the city $35 million and is getting repaid with potentially a billion in interest,” Renn recounted. “That’s like you or me borrowing $35,000 and paying back a million in interest. Even credit card companies aren’t that greedy. This is like taking out a 50-year payday loan from the worst check cashing store in town.”

Renn doesn’t dislike the mayor; he just feels this is a bad, bad deal for our city.

“I beg the city to reconsider and not do this deal. Fifty years is an awful long time to have your hands tied.”

I couldn’t agree more.

What I’m hearing

in the streets

Just when you think we live in a post racial era, where racism and bigotry is over, bias rears its ugly head in the strangest places. Three of our African-American community’s most prominent residents felt compelled to resign their memberships in the tony Highland Country Club over charges of racism and discrimination.

Super lawyer Lacy Johnson, Executive Vice President and COO of Clarian. Sam Odle and former Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer resigned their memberships because of repeated incidents of bias and discrimination against them. One of the most outrageous examples was being made to wait to play a round of golf while whites, allegedly including the country club’s president, could play.

It’s seemingly like a real life scene from the recent movie “Who’s Your Caddy?”; the flick where a wealthy Black is denied entry into a white country club until he buys property next to it.

What makes the incident at Highland even more outrageous is that unlike that movie, Highland is located not in an all-white enclave, but in a highly diverse neighborhood that’s one-third Black.

Data from the 2000 Census shows that the population of the area immediately adjacent to the country club at 52nd and Grandview is 33.6 percent African-American. Granted that’s 10-year-old data which when we get the 2010 data next February, will show the Black percentage will have increased.

For the leadership of Highland to even countenance any form of discrimination and bigotry is reprehensible.

Mayor Ballard holds a courtesy membership at Highland. No, I don’t think the mayor should give his membership up. Instead he should speak out forcefully and publicly condemn the club leadership’s insensitivity and demand that they reinstate Johnson, Odle and Drummer’s memberships with a sincere apology to them and our community.

As expected, last week’s column blasting the bigotry of tea party supporters didn’t sit well with the city’s most virulent bigoted Internet blogger. Despite his valid criticisms of the Ballard administration, the bigoted blogger regularly demonstrates tea partyesque racial and religious bigotry towards President Barack Obama, Congressman André Carson and virtually every Indianapolis African-American political and civic figure.

Most Republicans are not bigots and neither are most Americans. But when the leadership of the Republican Party refuses to condemn the haters among their ranks, their silence connotes consent.

Remember that as you ponder whether to sit home this election year, or get engaged and go vote.

See ‘ya next week.

E-mail comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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