- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Indianapolis Business Journal. Dec. 13, 2014.

Curry, Thomas should explain Bennett investigation

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and state Inspector General David Thomas should acknowledge the mysteries swirling around an investigation into former state schools chief Tony Bennett and explain to Hoosiers exactly what happened, and how it won’t happen again. Curry, meanwhile, ought to get on with his job of determining whether Bennett should face charges for using his office to politick for re-election.

From the top, the inspector general briefed Curry in November 2013 on the investigation into whether Bennett, a Republican, used resources of his office during his failed 2012 campaign against Glenda Ritz. In July of this year, the inspector general settled an ethics case against Bennett by fining him $5,000, and Curry opted not to charge Bennett for infractions including storing campaign donor lists and political contacts on office computers.

Then the Associated Press dropped a bombshell early this month by reporting that the inspector general months earlier, in February, had delivered to Curry a significantly broader report citing more than 100 election law violations involving Bennett and 14 employees. Bennett could be charged with ghost employment, the report said.

Curry, a Democrat, said he learned about the full investigation like everyone else, through the AP story. Thomas then released an email from a prosecutor’s office employee confirming receipt of about a dozen binders in February. Thomas also had sent a letter to Curry offering to discuss the results.

So far, there are more questions than answers.

Thomas generously allowed that misplacing documents in the state’s biggest prosecutor’s office is understandable. But in any ordinary office, binders this explosive would have been whisked to the top faster than Bennett could say education reform. Did they arrive at Curry’s desk? If not, why not?

Meanwhile, Thomas, who steps down this month after 10 years as the state’s first ethics chief, owes an explanation of why he sent the full, blistering report to the prosecutor in February and then slapped Bennett’s hand in July.

Joe Hogsett, who resigned as U.S. attorney in July to run for mayor, also was sent the documents, Thomas said. The U.S. attorney’s office says it can’t comment on a continuing investigation, and Hogsett’s current spokesman isn’t talking, at least not yet. Hogsett will need to open up, particularly now that he wants citizens to entrust him with the city.

For his part, Bennett has said the matter was closed when he paid the fine, and isn’t commenting.

It’s a safe bet that if the binders were collecting dust in the Prosecutor’s Office, they’ve been found by now. But Curry nevertheless has said he requested a batch from the inspector general and Thomas has promised to resend.

If the allegations about Bennett are true, they smack of possible criminal activity. It’s now incumbent on Curry to restore confidence in his office and get on with the business of deciding whether the documents support charging Bennett.

___

The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. Dec. 12, 2014.

Return to the table

Take a trip down memory lane, to a time when Frank O’Bannon was in the governor’s office and Suellen Reed served as superintendent of public instruction.

The eight-year stretch when Democrats held the governor’s office and Republican Reed served two of her four terms as state schools chief was arguably the least disputatious and most productive period in Indiana’s education history. Through the Education Roundtable, Govs. O’Bannon and Joe Kernan were partners with Reed in every sense of the word, supporting the work of the Indiana Department of Education and collaborating with educators, business leaders and parents to improve Indiana schools.

Today, with Republican Gov. Mike Pence in the Statehouse and Democrat Glenda Ritz overseeing the Department of Education, strife and anger pervade nearly every state-level education discussion. Yet recent history shows that officials can and have put politics aside to serve students. Why is it not happening now?

The governor’s assertion that he’s seeking accord by dissolving the Center for Education and Career Innovation is questionable at best. The agency was the primary source of dysfunction, but Pence’s call to give the State Board of Education authority to select its own chairman is simply another means of undermining the elected state superintendent.

If Pence truly wants peace, as well as progress for Indiana schools, he will follow the O’Bannon-Reed model and empower the roundtable as the state’s education powerhouse. It would enhance his own political record and - most important - serve Indiana students.

“It’s not that long ago that the situation was totally different with a divided government,” said Jonathan Plucker, former director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University-Bloomington. “It doesn’t have to be this way. We have seen it work better in the past.”

Plucker, now the Raymond Neag Endowed Professor of Education at the University of Connecticut, recalled the initial conflict between Reed and the Evan Bayh administration, which sided with business leaders in complaining that Indiana schools weren’t producing qualified workers and university officials charging schools weren’t producing college-ready students.

In 1998, Reed suggested to the newly elected O’Bannon that the battles might end if interested parties had to sit down to share their views. They created the 29-member roundtable, which quickly eclipsed the state board as Indiana’s primary education panel. Legislation establishing the roundtable calls for members appointed jointly by the governor and state superintendent. There must be representatives of business and community leaders and an equal number must be representatives of higher education and elementary and secondary education, including special education practitioners. Two members of different political parties are appointed by both the Senate president pro tem and House speaker.

The composition of the panel is the key.

“It was all of these people they brought together,” Plucker said. “They found ways to work together on very constructive conversations. I loved Education Roundtable meetings. I came away from each one with a notepad full of ideas. There was so much intellectual capital around the table.”

Roundtable meetings were don’t-miss sessions for some of the state’s most powerful leaders, he said. The board did important work. It made Indiana a national leader in setting strong academic standards, accountability measures and evaluation practices.

“The roundtable pushed full-day kindergarten in a state that doesn’t even require kindergarten,” Plucker said. “That’s heavy, heavy lifting. It just didn’t get much credit for what it did.”

After O’Bannon died in 2003, Gov. Joe Kernan continued working with Reed and the roundtable began creating a long-overdue early learning program, as well as a comprehensive plan to guide learning from preschool through post-graduate studies. But Superintendent Reed, who repeatedly was the GOP’s top vote-getter, increasingly drew fire from Republicans who complained she worked too closely with teacher unions. Gov. Mitch Daniels initially allowed the roundtable to wither, then used it as a platform for his personal education views. Its occasional meetings are scarcely noted today, as Pence seeks to marginalize Ritz’s policy role.

He can change the tone. Pence should return the roundtable to its original prominence and allow it to resume its good work. The governor will benefit; Indiana will benefit.

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South Bend Tribune. Dec. 10, 2014.

Time has come for Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana

It appears the issue of whether to lift Indiana’s ban on Sunday alcohol sales will make its way once again to the next session of the General Assembly.

How far it moves - the issue hasn’t received a committee vote in seven years - remains to be seen. But the sales ban should be eliminated.

The issue of Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana has been debated for years and it’s pitted two of the state’s most powerful lobbying groups against one another - supermarket chains and convenience stores vs. package liquor stores.

Those groups and organizations that support the status quo say allowing Sunday sales would give national chain grocery stores an unfair advantage over smaller, locally owned package liquor stores. Supporters cite national polls that say consumers are satisfied with their alcohol choices, access to the products and regulation of the products.

Those wanting to end the Sunday ban argue it is an antiquated law that was adopted at the end of Prohibition to advance Christian aims. They say it is an inconvenience for consumers who are forced to travel outside the state on Sundays if they wish to purchase alcohol. In fact, Indiana is the only state that prohibits retail carryout sales of beer, wine and liquor on Sundays, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Public opinion may be on the side of finally eliminating the ban. A recent WISH-TV/Ball State Hoosier Survey shows 52 percent of respondents are in favor of Sunday sales while 46 percent are opposed.

The issue boils down to consumers and whether they feel strongly enough to push legislators to vote in favor of allowing Sunday sales. Consumers were never motivated in the past to force the General Assembly to make a change.

It’s also a matter of economics and the business of competition. As this board noted in a comment last year, lawmakers have been choosing one group of merchants over the other and the powerful liquor store lobby can be credited with making that happen.

Hoosiers for Sunday Sales, which created a Facebook page that has garnered more than 2,000 likes, estimates the state is losing $10 million to $12 million a year by not allowing Sunday sales.

There’s no compelling reason to keep the Sunday ban in place.

___

Kokomo Tribune. Dec. 9, 2014.

Transmissions drive new plan

Awakening from a five-week, self-imposed information cocoon, Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne unveiled a five-year plan for Chrysler Group LLC in November 2009.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight was among the 400 analysts, guests and journalists who attended Marchionne’s announcement in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Chrysler’s CEO asked the mayor to a get-together following the presentation.

That suggested to us Kokomo’s Chrysler facilities and then-4,400 employees were a part of the company’s five-year plan. We predicted a new transmission line could be in Kokomo’s future.

We were right. Chrysler announced a new transmission line for Kokomo in 2010. The $343 million investment would produce today’s eight-speed transmissions and retain 1,184 Kokomo jobs.

Later that year, President Obama visited town the same day Marchionne announced another transmission line for the area. The price tag on the investment - which later turned out to be a nine-speed line - was $843 million and would preserve 2,250 jobs.

Marchionne returned to Kokomo in 2013 to announce 1,250 jobs for the area: 850 jobs at the former Getrag Transmission plant in Tipton and 400 jobs in Kokomo.

Chrysler’s investment in the area continues.

Monday evening, the Kokomo Common Council unanimously - and rightly - approved Chrysler’s request for a 10-year tax abatement on $266 million in new equipment at two of its Kokomo plants. After council members OK the abatement a second time Dec. 22, the automaker can expand production of its eight-speed transmissions and retain an estimated 212 Kokomo jobs.

Once the new equipment is in place, the company will have invested $1.9 billion and added 4,050 jobs in the Kokomo area. Its four transmission plants will have the capacity to produce 800,000 units annually. Chrysler today employs 8,450 in north central Indiana - a 92 percent increase in its area workforce in just six years.

Marchionne announced a new five-year plan for Chrysler this past May. And like the one unveiled in 2009, Kokomo and Tipton transmissions will help drive it.

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