News and Tribune

July 23, 2013

THEIR OPINION: July 24, 2013

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers. Distributed by The Associated Press.

Public pays, but economic development team lacks accountability

It was a welcome, and overdue, move when Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly approved legislation this spring to require the Indiana Economic Development Commission to be more transparent in its operations.

The latest example of why transparency is so critical is the frustrating case of Elevate Ventures, a private nonprofit hired by the state to stimulate business investment. It took an Indianapolis Star investigation, published July 14, to alert taxpayers to troubling conflicts of interest. The news story prompted a federal audit of Elevate Ventures.

Pence also has ordered an independent review of the state’s work with Elevate.

For their part, Elevate Ventures’ leadership team and the IDEC insist that no rules were broken when $800,000 in public funds were steered to companies run by Elevate’s founder, Howard Bates, and his son.

The feds may conclude differently. Their guidelines say a recipient of 2010 Jobs Act money can’t also be director of an entity investing the money, nor can a recipient be an immediate family member of a director.

The IEDC and the companies it works with have long tried to have it both ways: They use public dollars for economic development, but then claim exemption from scrutiny because, in the name of private enterprise, they need to protect trade secrets from competitors.

The contradiction would be more palatable if the results were proven. But Indiana still has fewer jobs than it had when the recession hit And the potential jobs touted by IEDC and the companies it helps haven’t materialized in the numbers promised. That discrepancy is especially frustrating in a state with an unemployment rate of more than 8 percent.

The Elevate Ventures case is just one of several disturbing revelations regarding the IEDC in recent years.

A thorough check of the troubled business history of Bob Yanagihara, who promised to bring 1,100 jobs to Indianapolis, would have cast grave doubts on his ability to deliver. Likewise, Mynette Boykin’s record should have raised red flags about her plans to bring economic revival to the Southern Indiana city of Madison.

Yanagihara, now deceased, never came close to launching the proposed business. Boykin didn’t deliver either. With Yanagihara, at least, the cost was limited to embarrassment, disappointment and loss of credibility. Boykin got $1.5 million from the taxpayers in incentives. And in both cases, the problems came to light only because of Indianapolis Star investigations.

Then there was the strange case of Monica Liang, hired under a $100,000 contract by the IEDC to explore business opportunities in China when her only experience was as an interpreter for the city of Marion. She was quietly terminated after Chinese government officials accused her of soliciting a bribe, a charge the IEDC investigated internally rather than taking to the authorities. Offering little detail, the IEDC said it failed to substantiate the allegations.

Lack of openness, lack of due diligence, lack of measurable results — it certainly adds up to an agency deserving of the priority attention Pence assigned it shortly after taking office in January.

State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Indianapolis, author of the new law, says he is heartened by the governor’s strong words upon signing the legislation and believes the law should be allowed time to show its effectiveness. If a need for modification arises by the start of the General Assembly session in January, he added, he would be open to revisit the law.

“We don’t want to make companies disclose trade secrets,” he said. “But it’s a balancing act. I’m a strong believer in the public’s right to know how taxpayer dollars are being spent.”

So far the balance has been tipped to the private side. It’s time for the weight to be shifted back toward transparency and the public — the people who are paying the bills.

— The Indianapolis Star

Hoosiers can expect more from a former governor

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels is indignant over an Associated Press report this week that revealed provocative emails from his days as governor that suggest he sought to eliminate what he considered liberal “propaganda” at Indiana’s public universities.

The AP obtained the internal emails through a public records request. Some of the messages showed that Daniels requested that historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn’s writings be banned from classrooms and asked for a “cleanup” of college courses. In others, he talked about cutting funding for a program run by a local university professor who was one of his sharpest critics.

We’re willing to take at face value the former governor’s explanation that he was not trying to censor opinions or quash academic freedom, although it’s understandable to question him about that given that he’s now the leader of a major public institution of higher learning. He claimed he was only trying to prevent what he viewed as false or widely discredited versions of history from being taught in the state’s K-12 classrooms.

Mitch Daniels, after all, is a conservative with strong conservative credentials. It should come as no surprise that he espouses the oft-repeated conservative view that higher education is a bastion of elitist liberals who haven’t done a very good job of preparing its students for the real world.

Rather, our primary concern is Daniels’ reaction and response to the AP report. In its aftermath, he doesn’t just clarify the intent of his emails or explain his motivation for sending them. Instead, he attacked the article, which we published at the top of Page 1 on Wednesday, as “unfair and erroneous” in interviews with reporters at Purdue.

Unfair and erroneous. Serious charges, to be sure. What in the article was incorrect? What did Daniels view as unfair?

Would he care to elaborate? Apparently not. He now refuses to talk to the AP or answer those questions.

Having no specifics from Daniels to consider, we’re all left to judge the matter on our own.

And here’s how we see it. The Associated Press report is newsworthy, thorough, fair, well-researched and well-written. The story is told largely through Daniels’ own words via the emails obtained and contains a variety of comments from appropriate parties.

Without further explanation and discussion from Daniels, we find his response to the AP report to be weak and defensive.

None of this, of course, may matter much. His job is undoubtedly secure at Purdue, where he became the university’s president in January after being unanimously selected by the board of trustees, most of whose members he appointed while governor. As the AP reported, the trustees reaffirmed their support for him on Wednesday.

“President Daniels has stated and demonstrated his complete commitment to freedom of inquiry and has been an emphatic voice for that freedom,” the board said in a statement.

It should also be noted that the Purdue board followed Daniels’ lead in attacking the AP report.

“The board rejects as totally misleading the original article and reaffirms its unanimous and complete support of President Daniels,” its statement reads.

Totally misleading? Would Purdue trustees care to elaborate on that claim? Apparently not. That’s where the statement ends.

Daniels answers only to his board now. The people of Indiana have little direct influence over him. But, in terms of his reactions and responses to newsworthy items pertaining to him and his tenure as their governor, Hoosiers have a right to expect better.

— Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

The missing metrics for Daniels’ pay

The initial reaction to the $58,153 the Purdue trustees plan to include in President Mitch Daniels’ salary after his first six months missed the mark on Friday.

Complaints about Daniels’ “raise” or his “bonus” didn’t fully grasp the contract he signed when the former Indiana governor started in West Lafayette in January.

Daniels came to Purdue with a challenge for the trustees to tie a considerable portion of his salary to performance-based goals. His base pay was negotiated at $420,000 with a chance to earn the other 30 percent by meeting goals set out for him each year. The bottom line: If Daniels gets what he calls “straight A’s” and gets the full 30 percent, he’d make $546,000 in a year. (By comparison, his predecessor, France Csrdova, made $555,000 a year, once deferred compensation was factored.)

Here’s where the criticism lies: Why haven’t the trustees laid out what Daniels must do to earn that 30 percent?

On Friday, the trustees awarded him the full share for six months because, they figured, he had a good start.

What’s that? Where are the stated metrics? What sort of stretch goals are the trustees asking Daniels — and ultimately, the campus — to meet? Or is that 30 percent just another part of a guaranteed salary?

On Friday, the trustees again put off talk about those metrics to measure Daniels — a real metrics kind of guy. So much for that challenge.

— Journal & Courier, Lafayette