by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
As some of you know one of the jobs I have is I teach college and at the end of every semester my students get a grade. Well, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has completed his first full year in office and it’s time to give him a grade.
Now the way I decided to do this is to look at what the Mayor is most proud of with his accomplishments and take it from there. And luckily for me, I got a recent copy of a political fundraising e-mail he sent out to his fellow Democrats and other supporters which will make for the perfect starting point.
The Mayor touted four programs in the e-mail…
- Project Indy, a summer youth jobs program that employed 1,000 young people across the city.
- Funding two new IMPD recruit classes and bringing back community based policing.
- Ending the decades-long ban on streetlights and tearing down more abandoned homes than in the last two years.
- Passing a budget that cut the city’s $50 million structural deficit in half and spent less than the last budget.
Not bad for the new Mayor, but to give him the right grade, we to take a look at a couple other items.
First, the budget. The Mayor is right when he says the current budget spent less than the last. Hogsett’s budget spent about $13 million less in this budget than the previous administration, $12.7 million to be exact. However, this is where we need to throw a little perspective into the picture. The city budget went from $1.103 billion to $1.091 billion, or a decrease of 1.15 percent. That’s like my wife telling me instead of spending $110.30 on a new dress she spent $109.10. I do agree you have to start somewhere, but I wouldn’t have tried to make too much of this point.
In addition, the “reduction” in the structural deficit ($55 million to $23.8 million) is also a little more involved upon closer inspection. One could argue, and I have in the past, that part of that structural hole was plugged, in part, with $13 million in state funds as part of a one-time distribution of local option income taxes. And the city reduced its contribution to its rainy day fund by about $17 million which one could also (and I did) argue helped close some of that shortfall.
Now let’s talk about public safety.
When it comes to public safety, the Mayor did find funding for two new recruit classes, but some of that is offset by retirements and other departures from the force. By last count, the next two recruit classes will bring in about 86 new recruits, but the city expects 55 officers to leave the force, even though past history tends to show that number is above 60, at the end of the day there’s only a net increase of about 30 officers. Luckily, IMPD will make an effort to make sure the number of new hires is above 85. But that unfortunately is overshadowed by the city’s record murder rate (149/150 depending on how you do the math). The Mayor ran on a public safety platform and unfortunately on his watch the city has seen the largest number of murders in its history.
So when we take all this into account what grade does the Mayor get?
For now, it’s a B-/C+. He gets credit for taking steps to add to the police force, nearly 90 new street lights in badly needed neighborhoods, focusing on mental health and drug addiction as part of the criminal justice strategy, summer jobs and street lights, putting a halt to the Council’s ill timed pay raise proposal, but he loses points because of the record the murder rate and some of what could be labeled “ creative accounting” when it comes to budget.
However, the nice thing about all this is that when we do this again next year at this time, like my college students, I only expect the Mayor to improve.