Indianapolis mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett on Wednesday proposed a series of ethics reforms that include new restrictions on lobbyists, a government transparency website and term limits.
He also called for scaling back the number of professional service contracts awarded without traditional competitive bidding, something that’s become a frequent source of tension between the City-County Council and the administration of outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard.
The latest example is the flap over a $32 million electric car contract that was never vetted by the Board of Public Works, whose approval is required for traditionally bid contracts.
Hogsett, a Democrat and former U.S. attorney, announced his “Disclose Indy” ethics platform at an afternoon new conference outside the City-County Building.
“As federal prosecutor, the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent a message to those in government that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what party you belong to — if you betray the public trust, you deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,”Hogsett said in a statement. “As mayor, I would apply that same attitude to every level of city government, from the top to the bottom.”
Hogsett promised to work with the council to strengthen the city’s lobbyist registry, saying that in the five years since the current reporting system was established, only two gifts have ever been reported by a lobbyist and no serious enforcement actions have been taken.
He also proposed reviving a two-term limit for mayor that hasn’t been in place since the early 1980s.
For decades, Indianapolis was the only city in the state with a two-term limit for its mayor, but a change in state law allowed Mayor Bill Hudnut to run for a third term in 1984. Hudnut proceeded to win then and one more term four years later, leaving office in 1992.
Efforts to reinstate term limits since then have gotten little traction at the Indiana General Assembly.
In perhaps the sharpest rebuke to the current administration, Hogsett said he wanted to increase competition for professional services contracts.
Ballard, a Republican, has come under fire for awarding high profile contracts through a process that doesn’t require the government to select the lowest bidder. Council members in both parties have complained of transparency concerns with the process and suggested that it leads to fewer firms competing for city business.
However, the “request for proposals” process is common across the country for services that can’t be ranked on cost alone. The most notable recent example in Indianapolis is the proposed criminal justice center, which relied on a complicated financing model and bundled a number of services into one contract.
Jen Pittman, the mayor’s spokeswoman, defended the city’s use of the process, saying “It doesn’t always serve the public well to award professional service contracts based solely on the lowest bid. In some circumstances, reputable engineers and architects may be awarded contracts without public bidding, because it’s more important to design a safe structure than an inexpensive structure.”
In a policy brief, Hogsett acknowledged that there are some situations in which no-bid contracts are appropriate, “but this should never be the default position of city government and, whenever feasible, I intend to introduce increased competition to professional services contracting to drive down costs and make the vendor selection process more transparent.”
Thomas Cook, a Hogsett spokesman, said the details of the proposal had not been ironed out, but it would likely put a burden on the government to justify cases in which traditional bidding isn’t used.
Other initiatives include:
- Creating a “Disclose Indy” website that would serve as a one-stop shop for contracts, ethics filings, campaign finance reports, crime stats, budgets and other public documents. Many of these are available online now, but are scattered across the city website.
- A pledge to refuse “perks,” such as complimentary memberships to golf clubs or gyms.
- A “top-to-bottom” audit of city spending.
- Instituting a one-year wait period in which city-county employees couldn’t take a job with companies that they oversaw or awarded contracts to while in their government role. Under current law, former city employees are already banned for life from working for the private sector on matters that they handled for the government. But under Hogsett’s proposal, companies also could be banned from contracting with the city, if they violate his proposed cooling-off period.
Chuck Brewer, the Republican nominee for mayor, was participating in a military drill with the Marine Reserves on Wednesday, his campaign said, and he could not be reached for comment.
Call Star reporter Brian Eason at (317) 444-6129. Follow him on Twitter: @brianeason.