Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hogsett Putting Own Stamp on Mayor's Office

Joe Hogsett Participates in the Polar Pedal in January
Photo from Facebook
Let me first say that this blog post is long overdue.

While it's too early to say what kind of Mayor Joe Hogsett will ultimately be and will ultimately accomplish, eight months is enough time to realize that the days of Greg Ballard are long gone.  There's definitely a new Mayor in town.

Now, this isn't meant necessarily as a slight to Ballard.  Greg Ballard had his way of being Mayor of Indianapolis, and it was without question different from his predecessors.

In the history of UniGov, Ballard stands out. No man before Ballard had upset his way to winning the Mayor's Office.  Prior to Ballard, it had always been a neat and nice hand over of authority.  The incumbent had never lost to a challenger, and the political climate that carried Ballard to victory was entirely new.

It was in that atmosphere that Greg Ballard became Mayor of Indianapolis.  Once he got there, Ballard showed little resemblance to the man the voters thought they elected.  Promises of spending cuts, holding the line on taxes and fees and more police officers went by the wayside, and transparency went out the window.  

Despite a Public Safety Department that was supposedly engaged with public safety as "Job One" of his administration, Ballard saw any significant progress on crime largely eroded by the time he left, and then there's the city's financial woes.

Fiscally, Ballard left a city budget deep in debt with no means to fix itself because any assets had been sold to make a quick buck and to pay for pet projects like a World Sports Park few asked for and  a devotion to the sport of cricket.

It was a sticky wicket.

While there are still disappointing headlines of crime and far too many people using firearms to settle their differences, you get the feeling that Joe Hogsett is out here with us rather than on the 25th Floor looking down on us. That perception was something Greg Ballard, despite many successes and Mayors Nights Out, could never shake. It was the idea that he was aloof and not interested in working hard on the details. Sometimes you got the feeling you were talking to a man who would rather not be listening to you or someone who just refused to give you the opportunity to be heard.

That’s just not the feeling you get from “Mayor Joe”.

It’s been almost eight months since Hogsett took office, and the atmosphere of the City-County Building is much different.  In fact, what a difference there is at the City-County Building these days. If you don't believe me, just talk to any elected official.

Normally, you'd expect Democrats like me to be singing Hogsett's praises, but some of the best comments I've heard about Joe have come from members of either party when comparing the new Mayor of Indianapolis to the one that just left office.  

The days of the Mayor's Office being the guiding light of the city continue, but Hogsett’s door seems to be open.  The ideas can come from either side of the aisle. 

One City-County Councillor of the Republican persuasion told me that he/she has met with the Mayor more during the Hogsett Administration's eight months than during Ballard’s entire eight years in office.  A Democrat elected to a county-wide executive office said that Hogsett treats his/her office as an equal rather than an underling. “It was the first time we ever were asked about anything with the budget since I’ve been in office,” said the official.  Another Republican was impressed that Hogsett reached out first instead of it being the other way around.

This is from a guy that got over 60 percent of the vote.

The work of governing the city has long begun for Hogsett, and there are the occasional individuals with complaints.  Some neighborhood groups tell me feel ignored by the Hogsett Administration and that certain aspects of the transition could have gone better. It's criticism I know Hogsett will take to heart.

Mayor Joe has a tremendous number of accomplishments he can tout.  From improving transparency in government to backing out of bad deals to continuing the war on abandoned homes to lighting the streets with street lights to continuing to push education initiatives such as Pre-K education to just being there for those adversely affected when Carrier announced its plans to pull out of our city, Hogsett has done a tremendous job.

One of his toughest jobs has been to whip up a tasty and appetizing budget in an atmosphere that simply isn't conducive to that sort of feat.  The rubber has met the road now as the Mayor has begun the process of working with the City-County Council in implementing his first budget.

The budget, as written, would cut spending without significant staffing cuts or cuts to public safety. There are also no tax increases in the budget which, according to the Hogsett Administration, would cut the city’s structural budget deficit in half. In essence, the budget focuses on making city government leaner and meaner.  For his part, the Mayor calls it focusing on efficiencies in a budget that spends less money than it did previously.

There’s still a long way to go, and Indianapolis is a long way from perfect. Many challenges are left to climb and tackle, and Hogsett would be the first to admit it. Still, the early returns in his first 230 some days on the job show that Hogsett is as skilled as they come as Mayor and that Indianapolis made the correct choice in November.

Mayor Joe is off and running.  Try to keep up.

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