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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

June 4, 2019

The (Munster) Times. June 2, 2019

Shell games, payday-style loans won’t fix Gary city government

Gary’s mayor no longer has the mandate of her electorate, having been resoundingly defeated in the May primary election.

Now a scheme she supports — one that constitutes government by shell game — should be discarded by the Gary Common Council.

Lame-duck Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson first proposed selling the city’s public safety building at 555 Polk St. last fall.

She did so under the guise of generating $40 million in “emergency” revenue to make fiscal ends meet.

It’s a shell game for a payday-style loan that could leave Gary in worse fiscal shape in the long run, all in the name of a supposed short-term fix.

The city doesn’t plan to vacate the building once sold. Instead, it would lease the public safety building back from the prescribed nonprofit entity buying the building.

As we argued in a September editorial, government by shell game won’t repair the dire financial straits of a foundering Gary.

Now the Common Council is poised to vote on the plan Tuesday, and it clearly should be voting no.

Any plan involving such bait and switch should send a shudder down the backs of any fiscal-minded government leader or taxpayer.

The lease agreement in this case would be with the Gary Building Corp., a nonprofit entity created decades ago for the sole purpose of owning and leasing facilities to city government.

That nonprofit went defunct when the state canceled its registration but recently was revived, with its board composed of two members of the city administration and a Gary resident.

Under the plan, the city would sell the building to the corporation for $40 million, and in turn, the corporation would lease the building back to the city.

Borrowing would be required to make the whole deal work.

The city of Gary would be required to set aside local income tax revenue, currently being used to pay debt and operational expenses, to repay the bond debt.

As part of the plan, the corporation would issue lease rental obligations in a principal amount not to exceed $40 million, with bonds in a series not exceeding 8% annually, according to the ordinance. The length of the bond could be up to 22 years.

It amounts to a subprime mortgage of the city’s financial future.

It’s also clear the plan’s chief supporter, Freeman-Wilson, is a short-timer in Gary city government.

Voters handed her a defeat in May, with challenger Jerome Prince winning the Democratic nomination, and a virtual lock on the November general election.

Freeman-Wilson only received 37.5% of the 14,448 votes cast in her primary race to Prince’s 48.2 percent.

The rest of the votes were diluted in a field of eight other candidates.

That’s a clear sign she no longer holds the favor or mandate of her citizens.

By year’s end, she’ll be packing up and leaving City Hall. The sale and lease plan for city property should be rolled up with her other personal effects and taken with her.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. May 24, 2019

Avoiding the area’s next tree infestation

The remains of ash trees across northeast Indiana are sad reminders of the destruction caused by a beetle apparently introduced to the U.S. in wood cargo material nearly 20 years ago. Since 2004, the emerald ash borer has wiped out most of the area’s beautiful ash trees. Now, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is warning of an oak-killing fungal pathogen that has made its way to the state.

State officials have confirmed more than 70 Walmart stores and 18 Rural King stores in the state have received rhododendron plants infected with the pathogen, Sudden Oak Death. Shipments carrying infested plants were sent to nine other states as well.

Megan Abraham, with the state’s Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology, said in an email that some of the plants were found in northeast Indiana.

“Division inspectors are visiting each store to pull and destroy infected material and inspect the rest of the materials there for signs of further infestation,” she wrote. “Many rhododendrons are sourced from out of state these days and it’s not uncommon for these plants to have fungal diseases. P. ramorum, which is the fungus that causes Sudden Oak Death, is being surveyed for annually in Indiana and many other states.”

She advises anyone with concerns or questions to contact the DNR at 866 NO EXOTIC (866-663-9684).

Ricky Kemery, who writes “The Plant Medic” column for The Journal Gazette, said both rhododendrons and azaleas are susceptible to the disease. The Department of Natural Resources does inspect nurseries, he said, but “they are understaffed - this is probably the tip of the iceberg regarding this issue.”

Derek Veit, superintendent of forestry operations for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, said the oak species and environmental conditions here are not the same as on the West Coast, so it’s not known how local trees will be affected.

But the threat reinforces the city’s decision to diversify its urban tree canopy after the ash borer infestation.

“Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation has been working toward a 10-20-30 species diversity goal,” Veit wrote. “The rule is a guideline intended to reduce the risk of catastrophic tree loss due to circumstances such as this pathogen. The guidelines suggests an urban tree population should include no more than 10% of any one species, 20% of any one genus or 30% of any family. It is aesthetically pleasing to plant similar tree species in defined spaces. This guideline is used as measuring stick to evaluate our urban canopy as a whole.”

As for the pathogen hosts, Kemery suggests rhododendrons and azaleas aren’t good landscaping choices in this area anyway, based on soil conditions.

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South Bend Tribune. June 2, 2019

Indiana schools can’t address bullying if they’re not reporting incidents

The Indiana law passed to address the issue of bullying has exposed yet another glaring problem.

The accurate reporting of bullying incidents by school officials.

How else to comprehend the hundreds of school corporations throughout the state that have continued to report zero or a low number of bullying incidents to the state each year — all of which defies the reality of student life. Which helps explain why the Indiana Department of Education asked school corporations statewide, as part of a survey, “What situations might prevent school districts from accurately reporting bullying incidents?”

Good question.

Of the 155 survey respondents, about 75 percent agreed “difficulty reporting behaviors that don’t fit the label” of bullying might affect the accuracy of data. Only 50 percent agreed that “our school corporation reports are accurate,” and 20 percent agreed “the legislative definition of bullying is vague.”

If the school corporation themselves can’t vouch for the accuracy of their reporting, how confident can parents and students be that schools are taking bullying seriously? Of the 1,846 schools listed in the state’s database for the 2017-18 school year, 863, or 47 percent, reported zero bullying incidents.

State Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, the author of the 2013 mandate that requires school districts to report bullying incidents, told The Tribune that “When about half of the schools say they don’t have any incidents, that’s totally a fable ... They don’t want to be held accountable.”

Locally, the South Bend Community School Corp. reported 312 bullying incidents for 2017-18 school year. Give credit to the corporation for appearing to take the reporting mandate more seriously than other local districts.

Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. reported 27 bullying incidents across its 15 schools — including Penn, one of the largest high schools in the state with about 3,400 students, which reported a total of four incidents. Between the district’s three middle schools, there were 14 incidents collectively reported.

And School City of Mishawaka reported 14 bullying incidents for last school year across 10 sites, down from the 90 incidents reported the previous year.

If those figures are accurate, then it appears that some officials have somehow solved the bullying problem.

Nathan Boyd, the director of African-American student and parent services for South Bend schools, noted that the number of incidents isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He sees it as an indication that the children who are bullied are “more comfortable sharing experiences they’re having.”

If only more school corporations were equally comfortable sharing those incidents with the state.

And it’s not just school officials who need to get on board with Indiana’s bullying measure. It’s clear that the state’s education department and lawmakers aren’t on the same page. The Tribune story revealed the confusion about the state’s authority to audit districts and hold them accountable for reporting accurate bullying data.

Turns out that for an audit to be conducted, at least two parents must report concerns about the accuracy of bullying incidents in the department’s report (the latest one is expected to be published in August on the department website) — something that Porter, who authored a 2018 bill to hold districts accountable, didn’t know until a Tribune reporter told him.

An education department official said the department will soon meet with Porter to ensure the rule “reflects the intended spirit of the statute.” We hope they resolve this and any other issue to help make the law as clear and effective as possible.

And parents should understand the role they can play in holding their children’s schools accountable for reporting accurate statistics. They can and should step forward if they believe the reports don’t reflect reality.

Because schools can’t effectively address the issue of bullying if they don’t acknowledge the depth and breadth of the problem.

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