- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Evansville Courier & Press. August 19, 2015

Medical school finally coming together.

The Indiana University Board of Trustees is pushing forward with one of the most significant developments in modern Evansville history. Last week, the trustees finally approved the IU medical school in Downtown Evansville.

What this should mean is that the funding request now will go to the state budget committee, which meets Oct. 12, and hopefully will determine whether to release funding for the project. That should mean a groundbreaking in October.

The Indiana Legislature approved $25.2 million in the state budget for the IU and University of Southern Indiana portions of the medical campus next year. Meanwhile, the private University of Evansville will be contributing $6 million to the project for its participation in the project.

Pat Shoulders, an IU trustee and Evansville lawyer, heralded the coming medical school. “We’re getting close. The only thing between right now and the groundbreaking is the final legislative meeting.”

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke joined in the optimism. “It’s a bipartisan project, so I don’t see any reason why the money shouldn’t be released in October, which would clear the path for a groundbreaking in October.”

Indeed, once the funding is approved and the ground broken, Evansville and area residents will see construction of a major campus constructed within the boundaries of Locust, Cherry, Southeast Fourth and Southeast Sixth streets - truly an exciting venture for Downtown Evansville.


The Elkhart Truth. August 20, 2015.

Rare mayoral executive orders appropriate in Elkhart, Goshen

City councils passing extended civil rights protection would be nice, but Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman’s approach is next best and Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore should do the same

Issuing proclamations is common for our local mayors. Issuing executive orders not so much.

So when Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman issued one to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s hiring policy, it created a stir.

He was compared, at least in conversation, to President Barack Obama, who has used an executive order on the hot-button topic of immigration. Obama has been accused of abusing his power.

For the record, Obama’s 221 executive orders so far is less than a number of other presidents. George W. Bush issued 291. Ronald Reagan issued 381. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put out 3,522.

For a leader to issue such an order should be rare. It should be at a time when leadership is needed to assure protection or move a conversation forward without going against the spirit of democracy.

Kauffman acted, and acted appropriately in this instance.

Republican city council members had taken a pledge that they wouldn’t vote for changes to the civil rights code.

A conversation over the summer dragged on. It was on and off the agenda and became clear that there weren’t votes to pass any changes.

If Kauffman had issued an executive order for the city’s civil rights ordinance, it would have been going too far for that type of action. Goshen, Elkhart and other Indiana communities should pass changes to civil rights ordinances to assure a defense against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A government’s duty is to protect its citizens, including from such discrimination. Adding the new language to the civil rights code makes sense in this day and age.

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, who’s up for reelection, has said he’d consider doing the same thing Kauffman did. It carries more political risk for him, but he should do it. It’s what’s right for local citizens.

As we’ve said before, assuring that someone isn’t discriminated against is a moral issue. The civil rights codes essentially say that someone can’t be denied a job because he or she is Christian, but don’t go that far for someone who is gay. Religious belief and acting in a way that doesn’t discriminate because someone is different than you are two different things.

Kauffman’s order mandates that the city government he was elected to oversee won’t discriminate. His order tells the city’s Community Relations Commission to look into cases of possible discrimination. In classic Kauffman style, he took on critics and explained that there haven’t been cases because until a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling there weren’t grounds for protection.

The executive order is too far for some, not enough for others. In this conversation about how to extend protection against discrimination in Indiana, this is a good start and one that Kauffman could assure in his final months as mayor.

Even Carmel and Valparaiso, where Republicans have held sway in politics, are working on extending protection to all city residents, not just city employees or those who file with a community relations commission.

Local communities and their political leaders need to assure that the citizens who live there can do so without fear of discrimination.


The South Bend Tribune. August 21, 2015.

Public the losers in open records ruling.

Indiana House Republicans are the winners in the latest battle in the debate over the state’s open records law.

And the losers? All who care about a transparent and accountable government.

Last week, Superior Court Judge James Osborn dismissed a case against state Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, and the Indiana House Republican caucus. Osborn said he has no jurisdiction over House affairs due to separation of powers. His ruling relied on a 1993 Indiana Supreme Court case that said that courts could not interfere with the operation of the state legislature.

The ruling leaves the merits of the case - whether the public is entitled to see correspondence between state lawmakers and lobbyists - unheard and unsettled. And it means that legislators are free to continue keeping their internal communications, including email, voice mail, text messaging, notes and other records, from public view.

Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Energy and Policy Institute and Common Cause Indiana had sued over an open records request for correspondence between Koch and various utilities regarding a bill about solar power. The House denied the request, saying the General Assembly is exempt from Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. The House rejected a second, more specific request for records, citing an exemption for “work product.”

Indiana’s public access counselor has been clear in his advisory opinion that the Access to Public Records Act applies to lawmakers. He’s also said that the law does allow legislators to shield some documents as work products, but urged the General Assembly to be “judicious in deciding what to withhold and what to release.”

Instead the House has defined “work product” as basically everything, shielding all from the public in whose interests members are trusted to act. They’ve raised concerns about the privacy of constituents who communicate with them. A reasonable concern - and one they could address by finding a way to protect sensitive, private information while still adhering to the law’s goal of openness. An appeal of this case is likely, but legislators should do the right thing whether or not they’re compelled by a court to do so.


The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. August 19, 2015

State government taking ethics rules more seriously.

For the past decade, Indiana has struggled to prevent the conflicts of interest that can arise when an official leaves government for private employment. In 2005, the state enacted a bill requiring a one-year “cooling off” period before an ex-state employee can go to work for a company he or she had done business with while still in the government. The law allowed department heads to seek a waiver for employees in special circumstances.

But as The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly and the Indianapolis Star have reported, there have been far too many cases where the waiver process has been taken too lightly. Often, both the state’s ethical reputation and the interests of its citizens have been the losers.

But the situation appears to be improving.

The Star reported this week that waivers from the cooling-off period, which had averaged about 10 per year for the past decade, have dropped to only one so far this year. Both Gov. Mike Pence and the legislature deserve some credit for tightening the rules. Heightened awareness also may also be discouraging exiting state workers from seeking ways to work around the waiver requirements.

Created to prevent former employees from profiting from the influence or knowledge they had gained in public service, the law was regularly ignored or subverted.

Private jobs sought by former officials in such departments as transportation, education and child services raised conflict-of-interest questions. One former Indiana Department of Transportation official, thwarted in his efforts to get a waiver, found another route around the law, hiring on as a consultant to a company he had helped obtain state business just months earlier.

“The revolving-door law really wasn’t working,” Julia Vaughn, director of Common Cause Indiana, said Tuesday. “People were going ahead and freely spinning through the revolving door and not being impacted by it.”

In 2013, Pence began requiring state department heads to clear all proposed waivers from the revolving-door law with his office. A measure adopted by this year’s legislature requires all waivers to be approved by the Indiana Ethics Commission. The sole waiver so far this year was processed before the new law went into effect July 1.

Vaughn acknowledges that there are ethical battles involving state government still to be fought. But she’s encouraged by the efforts to plug the gaping holes in the revolving-door law.

Still, “I don’t want to sound skeptical, but sometimes there’s uber-compliance when everybody knows that everybody’s watching.”

There are only two answers to that concern. Keep fine-tuning the law to eliminate loopholes. And keep watching.

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