Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fishers: Scandals, issues and stories

The community of Fishers is approaching an historic milestone:  Its first-ever city election and its first Mayor. But as we sort through the transition to a city, we might do well to think about some things that have happened in the last few years.  Some of them may continue to be issues, some not, but all are cause for reflection.   So, in no particular order:

1.  Council districts.  Council members have self-dealt for their own advantage for years in drawing council districts.  If they moved out of the district, they redrew the district lines.  There were two notable instances of this, starting with....

2.  The strange case of Scott Faultless' Geist home.  About 2005, it was said that then-council president Scott Faultless had moved into a fancy new house adjoining the south shore of Geist Lake.  The problem was, that property was not in the town limits of Fishers, and there were no adjoining connections to the town as required by state law.  In a very sudden, and strange, move by the Town Council, they annexed 4 different parcels, INCLUDING THE LAKE BED, and then Faultless' home.  Then they redistricted to include it.  That home was the only Geist home for years that was "in Fishers".  People still mutter that if this wasn't illegal, it should have been.  It certainly was bending the rules for power's sake.    And even stranger....

3.  The never-ending case of Charlie White.  In September 2010, it was revealed (by me) that Town Council member Charlie White did not live in his Delaware Township council district as required by law, but had moved all the way across town to Saxony.  White resigned, admitted he "made a few mistakes, I will learn from this" and thought no big deal, after all he was a member of the Fishers Town Council and the GOP candidate for Secretary of State.  However, the Hamilton County Prosecutor asked for and got two special prosecutors to investigate possible criminal charges.  In the meantime, White was elected Indiana Secretary of State.  After assuming that office, a Hamilton County Grand Jury indicted White on felony charges, and White started changing his story.  White would ultimately be convicted of 6 felonies, including vote fraud and perjury, and was removed from office.  He is currently trying to overturn his convictions, by attacking his defense attorney as incompetent, former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who is himself under investigation.

4.  City Council districts.  State law requires the current Town Council to draw the new City Council districts.  Unlike the at-large nature of the Town Council, there will be 6 real neighborhood districts and 3 seats at large.  But the Council has not yet acted, and has rejected suggestions for citizen involvement in drawing the districts.  Given their history of self-dealing (there is a LOT more than stated above!), it would be a REALLY great idea if they did this.

5.  Geist annexation.  Starved for a tax base due to the "bedroom" nature of Fishers, the Faultless-led council decided to annex the Geist area as a source of new tax revenue.  Geist residents were not happy.  Faultless, never one to pass up an opportunity to make enemies, started spewing lies about Geist that they did not "pay their fair share", called them "freeloaders" and worse, all of which was funny, as much of Geist existed prior to Fishers' explosive growth.  Instead of finding a "win-win" way to bring them into Fishers, Faultless, with allies Stuart Easley and others, fought a scorched-earth campaign to annex, which they eventually won, state law being totally one-sided on this issue.  But Geist residents have not forgotten.

6.  The 2011 Council election.   Backed by a combination of people who were all unhappy with the council majority, the 2011 GOP Primary in May 2011 saw all but one contested seat for Town Council, unprecedented for Fishers, which normally had no contests at all. Geist United Opposition leader Pete Peterson narrowly beat a Faultless-Easley backed opponent in a Geist district, and Renee Cox upset incumbent Eileen Pritchard, also in a very tight race.    In the fall election, two Democrats sought a council seat and the clerk-treasurer's job, but were defeated by wide margins in a very low turnout election.

7.   The 2012 City referenda.  This was without a doubt the biggest political fight in the history of Fishers. Pro-City proponents had organized as "CityYes", a bi-partisan group, two years after I called for Fishers to become a City in January 2007.  After submitting petitions in May 2010 asking for a November 2010 vote, the Faultless-led council stalled, and came up with a "reorganization plan", with a committee chaired by prior Town Council President Walt Kelly, who is now a candidate for Mayor.  The Reorganization Plan would have merged Fishers and Fall Creek Township and resulted in a figurehead mayor appointed by the council. Outraged unincorporated citizens and pro-City Fishers residents banded together to defeat Town Hall's proposed Reorganization and turned Fishers into Indiana's newest City.  I personally am very proud of the significant role I played in this movement, and thank all the people who worked so hard to make it happen.

8.  Fishers lack of an adequate tax base.  This was talked about a lot during the 2012 referendum campaign. Fishers has a poor history of economic development, and has a real problem growing the business property base sufficiently, which hurts not only itself, but HSE schools as well.  Partly this is a lack of executive leadership, partly the "committee" nature of town government, and some other things, such as overuse of TIF districts (a long, boring, but important subject for economic development and local government finance). Carmel, the same size population as Fishers (just over 80,000) has TRIPLE the tax base of Fishers. Recently Carmel is landing large new employers while Fishers bleeds jobs.

9.  The 2014 Mayor's race.  This is just starting to get off the ground, but GOP candidates for Mayor are crawling out of the woodwork.   Some have announced, some not, but the named candidates at present are:

  • Walt Kelly, former Town Council president for over twenty years until he resigned and Scott Faultless took over;
  • Town Manager Scott Fadness;
  • Town Council member Renee Cox, the only council member who supported the change to a City;
  • Former Greenfield Mayor Brad DeReamer, who has announced for City Council, but also stated he might switch to the Mayor race.  
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