I talked with Mayor Greg Ballard today about making national news. An executive order he signed put him — and Indianapolis — in the Wall Street Journal. It follows his call to switch the city from a fleet of gas-powered cars to electric vehicles.
Ballard said “we didn’t have to shop it” to the newspaper. “They took it right away.”
As the mayor sees it, the national appeal of his order comes from its devotion to national security and energy security.
Ballard said he didn’t sign the order as a casual observer of electric vehicle technology. “I’ve been studying this for years. I’ve driven a lot of the cars.” And, through the city’s commitment, he wants the rest of us to see that “these are good, solid transportation vehicles. You can use them. And they’ll save you a ton of money,” in the long run.
Beyond that, “we certainly have to reduce our dependence on the foreign oil. There’s no question about it,” he said.
When he talks about energy dependence, he recalls his days “as a guy who’s been in the Gulf War … That war was completely about oil.”
“Military folks don’t mind going to war for national security,” he told me. “But, when the technology’s at a certain point that maybe we don’t have to go down that road any more, then that’s when you have to act — and I believe that now is the time.”
Ballard hopes the U.S. Council of Mayors will follow the lead of Indianapolis. “Then, we can have an impact and we can spread this throughout the country.”
A meeting with mayor Greg Ballard reminded me about the two pins in the picture here. They’re mementoes of some impressive competition, a few years ago.
The participants gathered in a gymnasium — at Southport High School, if I remember correctly. I was there as a judge. But this was not an athletic event. Instead, it was academic — to display mental and technical prowess.
Students from several Hoosier high schools wanted to win a robotics competition. The pins came from two of the competing teams.
The participants were remarkably creative — and I left the gym thinking they deserved more recognition than they received that weekend.
Mayor Ballard apparently sensed the same thing, this week, as he announced a new citywide robotics competition. He’ll tell you the news conference deserved better coverage because “it’s all about the workforce of the future.”
Not long ago, I heard a teacher say “the way to a kid’s brain is through their hands.” Ultimately, that’s the goal of this robotics competition.
Mayor Ballard wants the event to inspire students to study STEM subjects — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. “It just generates a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, for those sort of subjects,” he told me. Building robots “really motivates them and gets them going in the right direction” — toward STEM careers.
It must be working.
Ballard said only 8 local schools had been in such robotics competition before. Now, suddenly, 30 more high schools will create robotics teams. He says the experience will serve more than the students. It “will help Indianapolis and central Indiana for a long time.”
The competition will be held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on January 19 and 20.
The Salvation Army says what it wants and what it needs are two different things. It needs $3.3 million during this year’s holiday fund drive, the Tree of Lights campaign. That’s just to fulfill its basic commitments. The Salvation Army will happily accept more money, if people are more generous.
I came across some new research that suggests generosity is in our genes. We want to give. We want to help. But, the researchers found a problem. They concluded: the more we think about charity, the less we give.
The Salvation Army launched its 2012 fundraising campaign today — hoping the bells and the red kettles inspire some spontaneous giving.
This season is crucial to the Salvation Army. The money it raises between now and January will have to go a long way.
“A lot of people trust the Salvation Army,” said Major John Turner, the divisional commander for the Salvation Army in Indiana, even though people aren’t always aware of the services provided by his organization.
Most people know the Salvation Army responds in times of tragedy. Early this year, its staff and volunteers scrambled to Henryville after tornadoes hit southern Indiana. Today, Salvation Army representatives are still down there – helping victims build new homes.
The every day duties are, maybe, less-familiar. The Salvation Army feeds the hungry and the homeless. It provides shelter to victims of domestic violence. And, it helps restore the lives of people with addictions.
“We still see record numbers of people coming to us for assistance,” Major Turner told me. That’s why this year’s goal — that $3.3 million — is even bigger than last year’s campaign target.
At the same time, economic conditions make fundraising more difficult. “It has been a struggle out there,” the Major said. So, the people on his staff “have to be creative” to get donations.
One thing never changes, though: “we are there to help people in their time of need.”
I know the leaders of Fishers are happy to have something else to talk about. The Town vs. City debate has been settled. On Election Day, voters chose to make Fishers a city.
Some details still need to be addressed before that happens. So, I wondered how that might affect Fishers’ development plans between now and then.
Town Manager Scott Fadness told me “we’re going to keep moving forward with all the plans we had underway. It’s an exciting time in Fishers and I think there’s a lot of big things headed our way.”
I asked whether anyone might want to just “tread water” until a mayor is in office. “I think Fishers residents wouldn’t put up with that,” Fadness said. “They want a progressive community and we’re going to keep moving forward.”
Tom Dickey, the Community Development Director in Fishers told me, after the Election Day battle, this project could be good for the town. “It’s time to come together. I think the Fishers residents and leadership feels that. So I think this project will be more of a unification of Fishers and I think that’s going to be the exciting part of our role in this.”
Political promises are like the running boards on this old Stutz sedan. Once you’re in, you don’t need them any more. Now, with the election over, it’s time to prepare for real policy.
One proposal that failed in the last session of the General Assembly is expected to come back in the next: mass transit.
Tuesday afternoon, I asked Kim Irwin how her group feels about their prospects in the months ahead.
Kim is on the Executive Committee of ICAT, the Indiana Citizens Alliance for Transit. The group formed about four years ago, when the state had no “transit advocacy group.”
On Election Day, ICAT and other like-minded organizations didn’t want to appear to be taking sides in the state legislative races – especially since Irwin said they “can feel really confident that we are seeing increasingly broad, bipartisan support.”
The transit groups have big, long-term goals. So they want to talk to the legislators – new and old – to make sure they understand what’s at stake in this discussion.
How soon will they reach out? Kim Irwin says: probably today.
The Sunday pundits are still talking about Richard Mourdock’s debate comments. While much of the analysis is critical, there are people who agree with what the Republican candidate was trying to say.
I know others who feel as Mourdock does. So, I share this as a sort of “Letter to the Editor.” The following comes from a man who regularly prays outside an Indianapolis abortion clinic, Bishop Joshua Beecham.
Wow, what a country we live in! Finally a public official who is willing to take the pro-life stand to its obvious conclusion, willing to stand with integrity and conviction, and unwilling to compromise the truth even when it’s not popular, even when his comments are misunderstood – the kind of integrity and conviction that most Americans say they want in a politician – and what do we do; we mock and ridicule and ostracize him and twist his words to mean something different than what he intended. As he clarified after the fact, of course he doesn’t believe that God wants a woman to be raped! But what he does believe, as do I, is that God is the author of life, and that every life, regardless of the circumstances through which and into which it is born, is created by God and is precious to Him.
Here’s an illustration that I think puts it in perspective: Imagine that a woman is being beaten and raped and someone happens to come on the scene, which causes the rapist to flee the in a hurry, so quickly that a bag full of money falls from his pocket – over $1,000. People would feel like the woman should keep the money, that it was a kind of recompense for her suffering; they may even say that God was smiling on her because of the money. But if she ended up pregnant many would consider the baby no more than an unwanted reminder of the rape. Have we become such a twisted, materialistic country that money is more precious than a human life, that $1,000 would be considered a greater blessing than a precious baby? I think that is what Mr. Mourdock was trying to get at, and he should be applauded for it, and those who are mocking him should consider that in doing so they just might be found mocking the value of a life.
Bishop Joshua Beecham
I am so tired of politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, using the abortion issue simply as a means of getting votes from a particular demographic but not having any real concern about the real issues related to the matter. This is a precious human life we are talking about, besides the real trauma that abortion brings upon a woman. Those who are in favor of abortion, and even those who claim to be pro-life often label as “insensitive to women” those who do not think rape or incest should be an acceptable reason for abortion. But the truth is that it is the woman who ends up paying double for the rape; first by the rape itself, then by adding to it the awful memory that will be etched into her mind and body that she destroyed her baby. Besides that, there is the emotional trauma that follows abortion, the higher risk of breast cancer, the higher risk of infertility, depression, and many other things. By not making exceptions for rape and incest we are not only upholding the value of the baby, but also the well-being of the mother. And women who have kept their babies in situations such as rape and incest will tell you that they are glad that they did, and that the baby has been a blessing.
Mr. Mourdock’s words were poorly chosen, as he admitted, but his integrity in carrying through the pro-life message to its fullest ramifications is commendable. Rape or incest isn’t the baby’s fault, so why should the baby be put to death? Neither is it the woman’s fault, so why should she suffer the trauma of an abortion? Every life, mother and baby, is precious to God, regardless of the circumstances. A politician who is willing to take such a stance is rare, and should be celebrated for his or her courage and integrity.
I remember when the 500 was the only race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And purists considered it sacrilege to allow any other cars to cross the yard of bricks.
We heard a lot of such talk before the Brickyard 400. NASCAR’s arrival at Indy was perfectly timed for that series’ surge in popularity.
Since then Formula One came and went.
We have Moto-GP.
This week, the Speedway tries something new, again: Grand Am racing. The Rolex Series.
Michael Shank, the owner of Michael Shank Racing, appreciates the Speedway’s history. “I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and this place was the world to me … It’s hallowed ground, man. My favorite place on earth.”
I talked to Shank a few weeks ago, after getting a ride in one of his cars. That was a chance to publicize the race, to encourage people who’ve never seen these cars to come and check them out.
Shank described it as the best road racing competition in the country. “Our hard racing is more like NASCAR,” he told me. “Our high-tech cars are more like Formula One.”
They’ll use the Formula One course, going the opposite direction of what people see in the 500 or the 400. But, “we’re owned by NASCAR which means our rules are very tight. The cars are very equal. So, you’re going to see very hard racing, wheel to wheel rubbin’, bangin’ into each other…It’s really exciting stuff.”
It’s also timed. The person who’s ahead at the end of three hours will be the winner.
Shank hopes racing fans will take the time to sample this series on Friday. “We want everyone to come out here. I think there’s something for everybody.”
What do you think when you see the Indianapolis skyline? I suspect most of us see signs of progress and growth.
Marsh Davis says “a lot what’s being built today is pretty boring.”
Davis speaks as the President of Indiana Landmarks, an organization determined to save sites that might be sacrificed for something else. It’s certainly happened before. Davis points to the old Marion County Courthouse.
Davis says the courthouse was still structurally sound. But it was dirty. And had pigeons.
It also had the misfortune of existing in an era that “didn’t appreciate the level of historicity in buildings,” he says.
So now we have tall buildings and lots of glass. But, Davis says, “they don’t have the same character or materials that the earlier buildings did.”
For me, summer holidays inspire thoughts of history. In this case, it was the Fourth of July that moved me to call Marsh. I wanted to know more about how Indiana Landmarks works – and why old buildings mean so much to him.
“It’s more than just buildings,” he told me. “We’re really preserving places.”
And, that isn’t easy.
Davis acknowledges the work of preservationists creates an image of “people who stop things from happening – and that’s fair to some extent.” He sees his job as that of a problem solver. “Not telling people what they can’t do but what they can do with respect to saving our heritage.”
Our interview will be broadcast Sunday morning on My107.9 at 6 and WZPL at 7 in the morning.
Join us and hear why Davis says “we’re not about saving the past. We’re about saving really cool stuff that happens to be old. But we’re doing it for the present and future generations.”
Carmel can claim another rare distinction, these days. It’s a city without water restrictions.
Carmel sits on an aquifer, what an official news release describes as “like an underground river.” But that should not be taken as a release from responsible watering.
Carmel is handling “the largest demand for water the area has ever experienced.”
Consider the tower in the photo here. It holds three million gallons of water. These days, sprinklers around the city will take 24 million gallons of water a day. The equivalent of eight towers!
Sue Maki of Carmel Utilities told me roughly a third of the city’s water customers have irrigation systems. “About 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.,” she says, “these systems are turned on. So those water towers … start to go — Whoosh – down very quickly.”
That should be sufficient incentive for Carmel water customers to consider a visit to the “Smart Irrigation” show tomorrow. The meeting may prove more valuable than anyone anticipated when it was scheduled.
Planners want to share information about new products and about techniques that will reduce water consumption – and reduce water bills.
The Smart Irrigation show runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Carmel Public Library. That’s on Fourth Avenue SE, across the street from Carmel High School.
The informational talks are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
If you ever need an example of determination, talk to anyone at CIRTA.
Last winter, the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority hoped to win legislative approval for its mass transit plans. The proposal hit a road block. Ehren Bingaman, CIRTA’s Executive Director, says “the debate about transit never really got to occur” because other issues were inserted into the bill. And that “cost us the issue.”
The transit campaign isn’t over though. Like road construction, it never stops.
Bingaman is a passionate advocate of the dream to improve bus service and, maybe, add light rail to central Indiana. He’ll go wherever he’s invited to discuss the idea. To find new support for the plan. That’s why I sat down with him, recently, in a recording studio at My107.9 — to find out what he and CIRTA are doing now.
“We have to have a long-term vision. What we’re doing with transit requires marathon runners not sprinters,” Bingaman told me.
WHAT DOES CIRTA WANT?
Simply put, the transit plan would connect the counties of central Indiana. It would double the bus service as it exists today. It would increase the hours of operation and the frequency of service. The designers envision “bus rapid transit” — with buses operating like trains, using their own lane in the street, always getting a green light as they move back and forth between downtown and the suburbs.
There’s also the hope that we could see actual trains running from Noblesville into Indianapolis. “That can be done in the first ten years, if we’re successful in getting the revenue to invest in the plan,” Bingaman said.
That revenue matter proved to be part of the problem.
“The thing that we were asking the General Assembly for,” Bingaman told me, “wasn’t for them to increase any taxes and dedicate funding for transit.” Instead, it was to approve a referendum option so counties could make that decision on their own. That would mean voters in those counties would approve a new tax to pay for the tracks. It seems that was too close to a regular tax increase in the eyes of some legislators.
WHAT IS CIRTA DOING NOW?
Bingaman and his team are working with their partners now — and looking for more of them — in advance of the next legislative session. He says the current supporters have provided 99 resolutions declaring their desire to see more transit funding and to see that local residents have the chance to vote on a transit referendum. And, it would be an option, Bingaman said. Not a requirement. Marion and Hamilton Counties could vote first. The others could wait and watch — to see if the system would work for them.
Bingaman said it’s a matter of education.
You can hear the entire interview at 6 o’clock, Sunday morning, on My1079 and on WZPL. The program will also be broadcast at various times on WXNT 1430-AM.
WHAT CAN WE DO WITHOUT THE PLAN?
This is where we talk about the traditional alternatives to one person, one car. Walking. Biking. Carpooling. It’s a recognition that the current bus schedules don’t suit everyone. For me, for example, with a little creativity, I could ride a bus to WISH-TV. But, my work day ends too late to get a ride home. So I drive. It’s for such reasons they created “Commuter Connect“.
Patricia Castaneda of CIRTA works with businesses that want to find better ways for their employees to get to and from work. With over 400 companies in its system, Commuter Connect can match people who want to share a ride, once in awhile.
The planners even have a little built-in insurance, in case something comes up that keeps you and your carpool partner apart. It’s the option of a free cab ride home.
Those are things we can consider as we wait to see what legislators do with the proposal.
Until then, watch for CIRTA booths at local festivals and fairs. Transit planners have arranged to have their own day at the State Fair in August. Then, after the election in November, they may do some advertising for their message.
Bingaman said he’s “optimistic about where we stand with the General Assembly and what we hope to accomplish next year. We’re optimistic about people’s attitudes toward transit. We have a lot of indicators that make us think this is going to be successful.”