There are “many challenges currently facing our cities which have tested the abilities of governing bodies to adopt policies to improve the condition of their cities and, at the same time, hold professional managers accountable for their proper implementation.” (Kemp, 1998).
The Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County have reached out to others in order to recap issues in our local communities seeking to shed light on efforts being made toward better government, better governance, and concerns centered on the best and worst uses of taxpayer funds. The number one obstacle that impedes citizen involvement in government is “a lack of time,” so we’ve covered some issues for you, but encourage you to make the time in the very near future (Yang & Callahan, 2007).
WHAT HAPPENED IN WESTFIELD IN 2021: A YEAR-END REVIEW by Marla Ailor
Westfield is the fastest growing city in Hamilton County according to USA.com, and grew by almost 249% in population in 2021. Transparency and accountability, however, remain a hot topic of conversation. The year opened with a Finance Committee meeting that reflects this idea in the minutes, and the final Council meeting of the year, though a quick one, ended similarly. Council President Mike Johns, adjourned the meeting after the necessary funds were incumbered in order to pay for the more-than-a year-long “Mayor’s Investigative Review.” The costly review revealed a significant level of dysfunction and lack of professional courtesy within our local government.
Litigation brought about by Mayor, Andy Cook, against the Clerk-Treasurer, Cindy Gossard, and her lawsuit in return, were dismissed via joint stipulation and cancellation thanks to the efforts of the Council and all parties involved along with their respective attorneys. In an effort to defray the costs spent in 2021, the City Council reduced Mayor Cook’s 2022 budget ask by $700,000.
The City Council passed a “Transparency Resolution” which they hope will help restore trust and communication within the city, generally.
On a brighter note, Grand Junction Plaza opened on December 21st after more than a decade of planning. Parking garage consideration is on hold until water/drainage mitigation is presented, however it’s likely the issue will be heard earlier in 2022 according to the Council President. The 6-acre $35 million dollar park will cost between $700,000 and $1 million dollars annually to operate according to old estimates, and there's still that pesky matter of needing another $13 million dollars to complete it according to design, but it's OPEN!
Software Engineering Professionals or SEP and Abbott Labs also opened in 2021, and production at Abbott is scheduled to begin in or around May 2022. Let’s not forget that Portillo’s opened in November and remains extraordinarily busy which comes as no surprise to the Italian Beef sandwich lovers around here!
While many things seem to be in a proverbial state of flux, all city officials, administration, and residents are happy with the new fire station approval which will be the city’s first new station in more than ten years, incidentally. Our rapidly growing population base, after all, creates a need to greatly expand the level of existing municipal services.
Drs. Paul Kaiser and John Atha were hired by the Westfield-Washington School Board this year as the new superintendent and assistant superintendent, respectively. Fortunately for Westfield, and thanks to an early intervention by a small group of folks called COSTS (Coalition of Stakeholders and Teachers), the WWS School Board does not appear as “broken” as other boards locally. While the district faces similar challenges to other school districts, many of them brought on or brought to light by issues related to endemic COVID-19, the WWS School Board and Superintendents have been able to carve out time to focus on the district’s many positive attributes. Parents with students at WWS explain that the district has been focused on education curriculum, academic excellence, and recognition of student achievement which has been a welcome and uplifting change. Unfortunately, WWS continues to utilize the CASEL model for its approach to social emotional learning which gives many stakeholders great pause. From a fiscal perspective, all taxpayers and voters should be on alert, get informed, and stay up to speed on school referenda in Indiana.
HSE SCHOOL DISTRICT & CITY OF FISHERS YEAR-END REVIEW by Unify Fishers
As the HSE School District enters into a new year, let’s look back on issues we faced, as well as the future of our schools. Unify Fishers has been at the forefront of bringing issues to light in our city and schools on Facebook and by working behind the scenes.
In 2021, our district welcomed a new Superintendent, Dr. Yvonne Stokes. Because of the mandates brought on by COVID, including mask mandates, virtual learning, and contact tracing, it’s been a challenging year for many parents. Tensions have risen at School Board meetings, only to have parents leave the meetings more frustrated by the lack of data or communication presented to support the continuing mask mandates and quarantine rules. Unify Fishers has spoken on this topic, along with other major issues facing our schools. Our goal is to give the community a voice. We seek to hold the current administration responsible on important issues.
Another matter we are still facing in our schools is the lack of a “true” curriculum. Administrators implemented the Lucy Calkins “philosophy” with the last Superintendent, even though it has been proven nationwide to not be a solid program for learning. With the lack of cohesive teaching of phonics, reading, and writing, children are being let down regarding their overall education. Dr. Stokes has not updated our curriculum, even though our ILearn test scores ranked among the lowest among surrounding districts. This is the effect of spending too much time on social issues, instead of going back to “the basics.” Students are being “passed” to higher grades not knowing how to put a period at the end of a sentence, capitalize, do simple math facts in multiplication and division, or write on lined paper properly (based off our 1:1 iPad directive). Lucy Calkins was meant to allow teachers to have more freedom in teaching. However, teachers are finding that without a standard curriculum to follow, they must spend extra time researching and writing their own lesson plans. This chaotic situation creates issues where not every grade teaches the same plans, at the same time. Teachers don’t have the proper support from our Administrators, and parents need to keep speaking out about the lack of “excellence” in our schools.
Looking forward, we must keep an eye on how grant money is spent in our schools. We must also continue to ask questions at meetings and through emails and phone calls. The Administration implemented Panorama Surveys over the past few years and continues to keep data on how our children are answer the divisive questions found in these surveys. With the data, the administrators then push for more money to be spent on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Our teachers are not counselors and should not be put in a position to determine what is “wrong” with our children based off of these surveys. We need to leave that to the counselors trained in these areas, and instead, spend money where it’s needed. Be aware there is an Opt Out to these surveys. Our grassroots group, Unify Fishers, has helped parents by providing links to the Opt Out of the Panorama Surveys found on the HSE Schools website.
Administrators are also giving Professional Development (PD) to our teachers on a regular basis paid for by grants on subjects such as Restorative Practices and Racial Equity. We must push for our teachers to have more neutral PD in areas in which they feel they need help.
We still have a lot of work to do to hold our schools responsible for teaching excellence in Math, Science, and English. We have to keep an eye on where our tax dollars and grant money is being spent- and push back if it’s not in productive areas. This is best accomplished by electing school board members in 2022 who stand on the side of the parents, not only on the Teacher’s Union. Stay tuned to Unify Fishers for candidates for school board this year.
While much of our attention was focused on what was happening in HSE Schools this year, Unify Fishers kept a close eye on what was happening within the City of Fishers and its government. Our city of just under 100,000 residents saw some great success, yet there is some reason for concern regarding recent developments. Within the City Council, two members resigned in 2021. Samantha DeLong was replaced by Crystal Neumann, and David Giffel recently replaced long time council member, David George.
The City of Fishers had some nice wins for the year. The city is on its way to becoming the “epicenter of life sciences” in the Midwest. The Fishers Life Science and Innovation Park has landed more than $500 million in new, planned investments from healthcare-focused companies. Five new life sciences companies have agreed to move to or expand in Fishers just this year!
Also, development of the Nickel Plate Trail continues to progress. The trail runs just west of I-37/69 where the railroad track once was. In summer 2021, the pedestrian tunnel was constructed beneath 116th Street. The tunnel will open to the public in the spring of 2022. A pedestrian bridge above the tunnel exit on the north side of 116th Street will connect the existing train platform to the new Nickel Plate Station plaza. One concern regarding the project is that the costs appear to be far surpassing the original estimates.
5G towers have continued to pop up throughout Fishers neighborhoods. While the city has denied a few of them, most of them have been approved. Residents receive notices of the towers. HOA’s can meet with Verizon to discuss more favorable locations within their subdivisions for the towers. The Board of Public Works and Safety meeting scheduled for January 11th will be discussing 5G towers going in eight Fishers neighborhoods. For more information on where 5G towers are headed, go to www.fishers.in.us/1110/5G-Cell-TowerFiber-Deployment.
Finally, our main concern with Fishers is the types of housing developments the city seems to be favoring. This year several developers have come to the City Council asking for approval for high density/low-income housing and apartments. Fishers has long been a community in which people aspire to live. Do we really want to change that? Our City Council should be looking out in the best interest of current residents and their property values. Adding low-income housing and apartments to Fishers will not help the schools, the safety of our current residents, or property values. We, at Unify Fishers, implore our city leaders to reject the myriad of high-density housing developments and apartment complexes that will be proposed in 2022. We ask our concerned community members to get involved with this issue.
NON-MAYORS IN CARMEL Excerpts from William Shaffer’s Non-Mayor Public Facebook Page
How could $290 million dollars be added to Carmel’s debt last year without your knowledge?
Simple. The puppet government – Carmel Redevelopment Authority – and Carmel utilities “needed” it. State of Indiana local government finance officials have published Carmel’s financial data, the city finished the year more than $1.5 billion in debt. Some $900 million of that debt is held by the Carmel Redevelopment Authority (CRA), most of it dependent upon project developers to pay back subsidies through property taxes. Debt now totals $1,518,102,164 or $249,467,330 more than it was Jan. 2, 2021 (or by an increase of 20 percent this year) causing one concerned reader to reply with the following comment, “I am…still in amazement as to when the average “Joe Citizen of Carmel” will wake up and be concerned by the rising numbers…When is enough, enough?”
Good public participation practices can help governments be more accountable and responsive to their communities and can also improve the public’s perception of governmental performance and the value the public receives from their government and transparency is a core value of governmental budgeting. It makes perfect sense that individuals across Hamilton County are banding together to protect their interests. Our children and their futures are one of those key interests! How long can the active citizens tow the line for those who “can’t or won’t make the time?” At what point do local lawmakers realize they’re armed with nothing more than hyper-pluralist theory? (Which argues that too many groups are getting too much of what they want which results in a government policy that is contradictory and lacks direction.) Sounds pretty accurate to me.
If there’s a fiscal conservative in Noblesville who knows what's happening, feel free to send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kemp, R. L. (1998). Managing America's cities: A handbook for local government productivity. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Yang, K. & Callahan, K. (2007). Citizen Involvement Efforts and Bureaucratic Responsiveness: Participatory Values, Stakeholder Pressures, and Administrative Practicality. Public Administration Review, 67(2), 249-264.
The Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County is a watchdog organization in Hamilton County, Indiana of residents who are volunteers focused on fiscal policy and fiscal issues. It exists to distribute opinions on issues affecting Hamilton County residents. Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the FCoHC or its board members.