- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Indianapolis Star. Aug. 16, 2014.

Dysfunction surrounding Glenda Ritz, state board hurts Indiana’s children

Here’s what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had to say about the political climate surrounding education issues in our state: “Indiana has some very, very deep dysfunction right now, some fundamental challenges that I hope for the sake of kids that they can work through.”

Duncan said that back in January. And the dysfunction has only gotten worse since then.

The public face of the breakdown centers on the persistent, frequently petty arguments that pit Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz on one side and the state Board of Education, Gov. Mike Pence and the Center for Education and Career Innovation on the other.

State Board meetings have devolved into tedious, hours-long affairs in which Ritz and board members frequently squabble over policy and procedural matters. Ritz, the only Democratic statewide officeholder in Indiana government, stormed out of a board meeting last year, and at one point even filed an ill-advised lawsuit against the board, which she chairs.

Board members, all of them appointed by Republican governors, have sniped at Ritz on social media and in letters to newspaper editors. In a letter to The Star last month, board member Gordon Hendry, a Democrat appointed by Pence, accused Ritz of creating “absolute chaos” on the board.

That chaos sunk to new depths on Aug. 6 when Ritz revealed she had reached a settlement in October with the testing company at widespread disruptions in administering the state’s crucial ISTEP exams in 2013. Incredibly, Ritz didn’t inform the board of that development until nine months after the case was settled.

Two days later, Ritz fired back at her critics with her own letter to The Star in which she accused the governor and his team of essentially lying about her record.

Arne Duncan had it right in assessing Indiana’s problems. “That kind of dysfunction is not good for moving education forward. When adults fight, kids lose,” he told reporters in Washington, D.C.

Part of the endless fighting is driven by politics. Part by turf battles over who gets to set education policy. And part by genuine philosophical differences over how to measure student achievement, assess teachers’ effectiveness and hold schools accountable for their performance.

But none of it helps the state achieve what should be its primary goals: ensuring that all students have access to a great education and helping more of them take full advantage of that opportunity.

It’s time for the adults in charge of education in Indiana, all of them, to step back, assess their own words and attitudes, and vow to start over in working together in more professional, respectful and productive ways. Do it for the communities they serve. Do it for the sake of their own reputations.

Most of all, do it for their primary constituents: the children of Indiana.


South Bend Tribune. Aug. 15, 2014.

Don’t expect reform if you don’t demand it

Ethics violations aren’t the sexiest of issues.

There’s no “gotcha” video to go viral and generate outrage and demands for reform. There’s seemingly nothing to stir up the public when public officials engage in conduct that raises questions of an ethical nature.

That may help explain why Indiana legislators have so far failed to clean up a situation that for years has desperately cried out for attention.

We’d like to think that the three recent major cases that have vividly illustrated the deficiencies of Indiana’s ethics laws — one of them involving the Indiana House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner — will make the difference.

That House lawmakers considering ethics reforms in the wake of the Turner case will follow through — and seriously and responsibly address the lack of disclosure and transparency. These issues have watchdogs tearing their hair out but don’t seem to have registered with the public in general.

At a recent news conference, Inspector General David Thomas announced the results of a 19-month investigation:

Troy Woodruff, a state transportation official, had not broken Indiana law. Woodruff had failed to disclose his family’s sale of prime land near a highway project he oversaw. While clearing Woodruff of “being a criminal or violating the code of ethics,” Thomas added, “But here’s the thing, and I guess it’s another takeaway — when you engage in conduct that goes right up to that line and then you dance away from the line and say it wasn’t violated, that’s OK. But this is what happens.”

Indeed, this is what happens when officials feel little pressure from the people they serve to address an obvious wrong. Until that changes — until voters demand their representatives fix the gaps in Indiana ethic laws — Hoosiers should expect more of the same.


The Times, Munster. Aug. 15, 2014.

Continue work of modernizing courts

Indiana’s new chief justice, Loretta Rush, has a lot on her plate. She not only has to preside over the Indiana Supreme Court, but also to modernize the state’s other courts as well.

Indiana is well on its way toward bringing courts into the 21st century, with its expansion of what promises to become a statewide computerized case management system.

That system lets lawyers file legal documents in electronic form, without having to leave their office. It also opens those documents to easier public access as a result.

That helps attorneys with small research staffs - or none at all - get information they need to better represent their clients.

It also gives the public a better understanding of how the legal process works.

That’s the same rationale for our belief that Rush and her colleagues in the judicial system must now grapple with the issue of cameras in the courtroom, an area where Indiana has lagged.

Indiana has considered this issue from time to time, but it remains trapped in the past.

The Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Court of Appeals allow cameras to record and broadcast their proceedings, but not trials in local courts. And the chief justice allowed The Times to partner with the Lake Superior Court to webcast routine proceedings in a single courtroom.

There’s also the example of when former Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura allowed MTV to film “Juvies,” a reality show aimed at scaring teens into behaving better.

But the process of gaining judicial approval - or, more likely, rejection - to film proceedings in lower courts is too long and cumbersome a process.

We understand and share concerns about not disrupting judicial proceedings. The courts’ primary mission should be to dispense justice.

But technology has changed significantly in recent years, and cameras are less obtrusive now. They are also pervasive throughout society - except in Indiana’s lower courts.

Allowing use of cameras in lower courts would greatly enhance the public’s understanding of how courts operate. Operating in the public’s eye also builds faith in the judicial process, showing judges have no hidden agenda, just the pursuit of justice.

Rush’s agenda for her term as chief justice should include re-examining the court’s long-standing reluctance to allow cameras in Indiana courtrooms.

Bring all of Indiana’s courts fully into the 21st century


The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. Aug. 13, 2014.

Darkness overtakes Williams’ blinding acting talent

Few celebrity deaths shook the entertainment world in the way Robin Williams’ suicide did.

He was only 63. He had a TV show that was successful because of him. He was sought after in the movies. He had won an Oscar. He was a hit with his live performances. He had wrapped up several projects, including “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” in which he reprises his role as Teddy Roosevelt.

And he took his own life, which was proof, if any were needed, that mental illness is an equal opportunity disease, affecting the rich as well as the poor, the famous as well as the anonymous, those who can get help and those who are alone with their illness.

The Wrap, an online entertainment news publication, listed 13 unforgettable Williams scenes. They were all interesting, all unforgettable. But anyone familiar with Williams’ work could also come up with 13, and at least some would be different from the Wrap’s, which can be found atwww.thewrap.com/robin-williams-remembered-13-unforgettable-performances-video/

Regardless, the Wrap’s selections show Williams’ remarkable range. There are scenes from “Mork & Mindy,” ”Dead Poets Society” and “Hook.”

But there’s nothing from “Insomnia,” which proves not that the Wrap missed something but rather that anyone can come up with a unique list of Robin Williams’ Greatest Hits.

If Williams’ name brought people to “Insomnia” (2002) because they expected a manic display of humor, they were profoundly disappointed.

Williams played a creepy pulp novelist suspected of killing a teenage girl. Williams’ character taunted a cop played by Al Pacino. And the performance underscored Williams’ range. Not once is there even a flash of Williams’ humor.

“Good Morning, Vietnam,” which was among the Wrap’s 13, had many examples of Williams’ wild riffs. But one would be hard-pressed to call the film only a comedy. The movie was famous for its contradictions: Williams made jokes, followed by a bombing, Williams did comedy for a truckload of soldiers heading toward a fighting zone. There were scenes of soldiers moving war materiel while Williams’ DJ character was talking.

In a way, contradictions like those were Williams’ life and death. His light was almost blinding. But for all his brilliance, Williams struggled with, and lost to, darkness.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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