Cover Story: Current in Fishers turns 1

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Current revisits some of the biggest and most interesting stories of 2011

 

Our Future: City or Town? – Jan. 25

The very first edition of the Current in Fishers asked a simple question: Will Fishers remain a town, or become a city?

A year later, the question remains unanswered, and will likely be the most important one the town poses to itself in 2012, with a referendum scheduled for November’s general election to do just that.

Residents will have three options. First, Fishers could simply remain a town, to be governed as it is now with an elected town council, clerk-treasurer and an appointed town manager. Second, Fishers could become a first- or second-class city like neighbors Carmel and Noblesville. Fishers would then operate as a standard Indiana city: a city council, clerk-treasurer and mayor elected independently of one another. The third option for residents is to adopt a plan of reorganization adopted by the town council and Fall Creek Township Advisory Board in December 2010. That plan would create a “hybrid city,” governed by a city council elected at-large and a mayor appointed from the council.

The fate of that option is in question, however, as the Fall Creek Township Advisory Board voted in late July 2011 to rescind its portion of the merger agreement in a 2-1 decision pitting board members Doug Allman and Renee Cox (now a member of the Fishers Town Council) against Dan Rieke, who maintained his support for the merger, which he voted for as part of the board in 2010.

The Indiana Supreme Court has also agreed to hear a certified question on the matter stemming from a lawsuit filed in late 2010 by Fishers residents Joe Weingarten, Mike Kole and Glenn Brown. The lawsuit alleges the Fishers Town Council is violating voters’ constitutional rights to representation by a directly-elected mayor. Arguments on the issue will be presented at 9 a.m. Thursday before the Indiana Supreme Court at the Indiana Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St.

 

The Booming North – April 12

The pace of development on Fishers’ north side hasn’t slowed since April, when Current reported on the intense attention the area was getting from town staff and officials.

The Oct. 3 groundbreaking of an 110,000-square-foot expansion to St.Vincent Medical Center Northeast, to be renamed St.Vincent Fishers Hospital, proved to be the start for a booming season along the northern part of the I-69 corridor.

IU Health officially opened the first stage of itsSaxonymedical campus Dec. 1, when the $269 million, 200,000-square-foot IU Health Saxony Hospital came online. The hospital celebrated its first baby of the new year, George Ellsworth Orion Meyer – born to parents Nathan and Catherine Meyer – on Jan. 3.

Last week, the Fishers Town Council approved a plan for an ambitious, 1,100-acre “Medical Technology Corridor” along I-69 and 136th Street. More than two years in the making, the plan calls for a series of residential and high-density commercial zones to be developed in the area.

Town Council member David George said he thinks the plan is the first step in Fishers taking the lead in developing the area, saying the town will need to be “proactive” in attracting new businesses in what he characterized as a “soft” economy.

Full details about the Medical Technology Corridor are available online through the development department portal of the town’s Web site, www.fishers.in.us.

 

On the Way to Full Day K? – May 31

In April 2011, Gov. Mitch Daniels announced plans to allocate $150 million of a projected $640 million increase in tax revenues during the next two years toward K-12 education. Chief on his to-do list was funding full-day kindergarten.

The timing of Daniels’ announcement meant Hamilton Southeastern School District administrators, faculty and board members had just more than a month to decide whether to take advantage of the funding – a proposition which would require additional staff and space in an already-crowded district.

Ultimately, the district decided to move forward with full-day kindergarten, opening up 660 spots filled through a lottery. HSE Superintendent Dr. Brian Smith said he expects the number to increase even more in the 2012-2013 school year, as the district will no longer be limiting the number of students it will accept.

“Last year, if we had accommodated everyone that applied, we’d have had 750 students,” Smith said, “so I’m looking for somewhere in the neighborhood of 800. Typically, data across the state has shown when it’s open to everyone, it’s not uncommon for 65-70 percent of eligible students to opt for full-day kindergarten.”

Of the 12 elementary schools in the HSE district, eight had a waiting list for full-day kindergarten in 2011. To accommodate the extra students, Smith said the district will be adding two more portable classrooms.

While the district won’t receive its first set of data on the program’s effectiveness until the kindergarten “roundup” in February, Smith said he expects it will prove to be a positive move.

“I think when students are focused on academics all day, there certainly is more time to focus on standards and fundamentals,” Smith said. “The biggest question is, what are we going to see two to three years out from that? Is that going to level, or are those kids going to still be ahead of the kids who didn’t take full-day kindergarten?”

 

Pulling Back the Curtain – Aug. 16 

The abrupt resignation of the Center for the Performing Arts’ CEO Steven Libman in July left many wondering about the fate of the $150 million center. A special report printed by Current in August illuminated some of the reasons for Libman’s departure, but questions about his stewardship of the center, and its financial position, remained.

At least some of those questions were addressed last week following the release of an internal review and regular audit of the facility. The three-page review, signed by board chairman Rollin Dick, criticized a number of operations and reporting procedures at the center – chiefly among them unexplained travel, unapproved expenses and overpaying for performers.

The review details how an unnamed female employee traveled with the former CEO, yet “documentation to support the validity and/or appropriateness of that employee’s travel expenses” is not available. This information was typically provided for other employees who traveled with the CEO, the report says.

The review also says a process requiring employees to support expenses charged to the Center was “inefficient and not always supported.” New policies require the CEO to approve every expense, Basile said, with the chair of the Center’s finance committee overseeing the CEO’s spending. Single expenditures of more than $50,000 now require the board’s approval, he said.
A contract committing to spend about $700,000 for a nationally televised PBS program was finalized without the board’s approval, the review said, adding, “It now appears this project will result in a net loss to the Center of about $400,000.”

Finally, under the former CEO, scheduling of performances and contract negotiations was done by one individual and were not subject to review, the report says.
“Our review did not find evidence of appropriate consideration of the economic viability of performances,” the review says. “Our review of contracts with several performers indicated that losses were inevitable on their performances … There was also indication that the Center paid more for some performers than was necessary.”

The full audit and internal review are available online at http://www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.

 

In his own words – Nov. 1

The ongoing saga of embattled Secretary of State Charlie White has played out on two stages. The first is a very real criminal investigation charging the state’s top elections official with seven felony counts, among them voter fraud. The second is political, pitting Republicans – lead by calls from Gov. Mitch Daniels for White to resign – against Democrats in a battle to control White’s replacement should he be found ineligible for office.

The Indiana Recount Commission, responding to a September 2010 complaint by Democrats alleging the White knowingly registered in the wrong precinct, voted unanimously in June to allow White to retain his position. In December, Marion Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg overturned the commission’s decision, ruling White was ineligible for his office. A request for a stay on the ruling by Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who appealed the decision, was granted byRosenberg. Zoeller has asked the Indiana Supreme Court to rule on White’s eligibility for office. There is no indication yet whether the court will hear Zoeller’s appeal.

White would still lose his position as secretary of state if found guilty of any of the seven felony counts charged against him. In that case, his Democratic opponent, Vop Osili, would replace him. White’s trial is scheduled for Monday.

 

By Jordan Fischer
jordan@youarecurrent.com

Jordan is the managing editor of Current in Fishers.

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