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Furthermore …


From outside looking in, city services lauded

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s view to make you appreciate exactly what you have.

For local government, Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana offers that view.

Vaughn, a regular contributor to INforefront, Indianapolis Business Journal’s online opinion community, wrote this week of a visit to Fort Wayne’s city-county building.

She found a marked contrast to its counterpart in her own community.

“Having interacted with local government in Indianapolis for several decades, I was prepared to feed a parking meter and go through a security gauntlet, complete with metal detectors and guards rifling through my purse, to get to the meeting I needed to attend,” she writes. “I was pleasantly surprised to find a set-up befitting the name ‘Citizens Square’. There was a large parking lot adjacent to the county building, providing FREE parking to those needing to conduct business with local government. And, there were no metal detectors or security guards, which created a far more welcoming atmosphere.”

Vaughn goes on to note that her interactions with Allen County government over the years have been good.

“I have worked with their Election Board and found it to be much less partisan than its counterpart in Marion County. And yesterday, I was struck by how different I felt inside their county government building.

“Maybe it’s just a name but in Allen County they seem to recognize that government should seek to provide easy access to its services and to do so in a setting that is citizen-friendly. What a contrast to the Soviet politburo look and feel of our City-County building,” she writes.

Test of Toll Road lease at hand

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels liked to boast that Indiana hit the jackpot when it negotiated a 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road in 2006. He claimed the Spanish-Australian consortium that paid $3.8 billion upfront for the lease “overpaid” for it.

He was right. Traffic volume – and the toll payments that would generate the investor group’s revenues – has fallen short of expectations almost from the start. The recession compounded the shortfall, even as tolls increased – from $4.65 in 2006 to $10 effective July 1, for the 157-mile length of the road.

So it should come as no surprise that Cintra-Macquarie is in financial trouble. The consortium reportedly is struggling to make debt payments on its holdings and is considering filing for bankruptcy protection. Officials have told the Indiana Finance Authority they are trying to negotiate more favorable terms with their lenders.

The Wall Street Journal reported in March that investment firms were buying up parcels of the debt, including about $500 million purchased this year for 60 cents on the dollar, and were seeking to exert more control over the road’s operation.

If that’s the case, Hoosiers could be about to find out whether the lease provides the protections Daniels administration officials insisted were in place, including the claim that if the operator goes bankrupt the state will resume operations of the Toll Road and keep the $3.8 billion. The lease provides that, in the event of breach of contract, the operator has 90 days to fix any problems. If it fails, the lease then gives the two sides 60 days to resolve differences; then the state can resume operations of the road.

That could be a long 150 days for motorists and businesses that depend on the Toll Road.

New name should be easy for D.C. team

Now that the U.S. Patent Office has canceled trademarks for Washington’s NFL franchise, attention has focused once again – and rightly so – on the offensive use of “redskin” as a team name.

While the debate over use of the word continues, some clever observers already have started proposing names as a replacement. How about the Washington Drones? The Washington Do-nothings clearly taps into frustration with Congress, as does the Washington Gridlocks.

Current events appear to have inspired lots of support for the Washington Warriors, along with less-kind Washington Chicken Hawks. Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten offers up the Washington Department of Football Services.

Former congressman Joe Walsh, discussing the name controversy on his AM radio show on Thursday, was kicked off the air when he used racial slurs. The radio station, which has declined to comment, apparently told the tea party supporter that he had crossed the line.