"The Official Portrait of Miss InDiana"

"The Official Portrait of Miss InDiana"
aka "Miss Victory"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"It's the Accountability, Stupid"

It's the Accountability, Stupid
by Craig Ladwig

The Associated Press headline screamed the news: “Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control.” The article suggested that someone, anyone, get control.But our legislators are pumping out laws so fast they are hard pressed to even read them. The solution, rather than more control, is a renewal of the glue that holds a constitutional republic together — accountability.

The annual Gallup Annual Survey of Public Confidence in American Institutions found that the least-respected institution is Congress. No surprise there, but it’s worth noting that the rating is the lowest of any institution in the 35 years Gallup has been conducting its survey. Congress is rated so low — only 12 percent of respondents with a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence — that it reflects what can only be utter public disdain. And the July Rasmussen Report found only nine percent responding that Congress was doing a “good” or “excellent” job.

It is hardly comforting that the highest ranked institutions were the military at 71 percent and the police at 58 percent. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal has a theory about this. He thinks it is because the military and the police are “self-reforming” institutions, both requiring self-discipline as a job requirement.Democracy, clearly, has lost its ability to calm us.

All of this suggests that the American citizenry is poised for a historic turn — one toward those few remaining institutions it sees as accountable. And the turn will be made even if the institutions can offer accountability only through the discipline of a command structure. (Can it be an accident that self-government so often ends in “temporary” military or police rule?)

Locally, the Gallup findings seem applicable. Hoosiers are uncertain about their future. They have reason to doubt the self-discipline and the accountability of their legislatures, their chief executives, their city councils, their county councils and their judges. Here are the talking points at our coffee table:

Indiana schools, libraries, museums, convention centers, music halls, sports stadiums, economic development districts and dozens of other appointed quasi-governmental units hold tight the hands of bonding attorneys and architectural firms who walk them through the arcane world of government finance in exchange for percentage fees.

In at least one Indiana city they want to put private businesses under the review of Neighborhood Code Enforcement. That makes two breathtaking assumptions: That the city’s inspectors would know more about maintaining a business than its owners; and that a business owned by, say, a politician's relative would not enjoy a certain advantage in the new scheme of things.

In every Indiana city there are appointed members of planning and zoning boards moving other people's property around as if playing Monopoly, accountable only to rules understood only by the most specialized law firms.And finally, several national newspaper chains, one owning influential dailies in Indiana, announce they will outsource certain types of copy editing to India.

With things spinning so, maybe that’s where they think the Indianians live.

T. Craig Ladwig is editor of the Indiana Policy Review, a quarterly journal commissioning articles on state and municipal issues.


Pete Boggs said...

Kudos to T. Craig Ladwig for pointing toward the truth!

While the painful symptoms are widely known as excessive public spending & taxation, the source of the problem is not; the undue influence of "big law."

The problem didn't originate here (Indiana), but has grown exponentially. Conflicts and disclosure problems (Constitutional problems) are rampant and growing. The problem is GREED; vs. a legitimate, free market profit motive, reconciled by, not rationalized away from, standards (i.e. Constitution).

Want to follow "the money?"

Many of the people who breeze in and out of our county capitols & state house (access), playing the "inside game," are employed by the state's biggest law firms, and many of them are also lawyers. There's nothing wrong with the profession itself, rather it's the lopsided or undue influence that's of concern here.

Public funding for questionable development projects (does govt. belong in the development business with confiscated taxpayer dollars, where "good" ideas are routinely funded by the private sector and equity investors who assume the risks?), takes place outside the view of the citizens or taxpayers required (demanded) to pay for it; a process which requires the specialized "expertise," niche practitioners or groups within a few law firms (Government Affairs), whose profit margins or annualized realization would make folks on Wall Street blush.

If taxpayers fully understood the obscure practices of "big law," they would surely revolt. The bond business (the property & income of taxpayers pledged without appropriate disclosure or open process, to fund public projects) is lucrative "business" or income for these large firms, their partners, 401K and retirement funding... think about it. Lobbyists employed by these firms often visit a county seat or capitol in the morning, and the state house in the afternoon. Lawyers become legislators, some of whom become lobbyists, and so it goes...

This is not a criticism of the entirely honorable, free market profit motive, the PRACTICE OF LAW, specific firm(s) or their partners & employees; but a concern about a process that's ruinously out of control. The tax burden placed upon productive citizens has reached maximum compression; the point at which they move (in recent history, the sunbelt) or rebel. Indiana's population trend is headed in the wrong direction; sending US congressional seats or proportional representation to those states attracting people and therefore, business and capital.

Forget the array of legal concerns which arise from such questionable practices and consider where these practices take OUR STATE. The practices are unsustainable because the golden geese required to fund them are flocking to other places. Many who should know better, ignore their own role(s) in the problem and therefore any solution. They teach their children to do right while ignoring it themselves in their own practice(s), and send them to private schools; not the public schools that fund their 401K's and they rationalize otherwise, as "serving" your interests in a system of decline and declining enrollment.

We're a mobile society and this includes upper level partners of these firms, who may not have an allegiance to the state of Indiana. Love of place is essential to its progress and best interests. Leadership, if it exists in our lobby-active, larger firms, should therefore do the more challenging work of INTROSPECTION.

No, the problem didn't start here. But, from "where," will the solution come?

Melyssa said...

Thank God that there are lawyers who go into law simply for the love of our beautiful rule of law, THE CONSTITUTION.

Now is the time for more of such Barristers to step up to serve their country.