BRVA – Conflicts & Opportunities

Last week, I was thrilled to be named as the new Executive Director (ED) of the Broad Ripple Village Association (BRVA). I have been an active supporter of Broad Ripple for the 13 years I’ve lived here, and I formalized that support when I ran for the City-County Council in 2015. In the past two+ years of my first term, I have spent a significant amount of my part-time Council position advocating for Broad Ripple. Here are a few of the things that have occupied my time as a Councillor in Broad Ripple thus far:

  • Land use and development issues
  • White River and low head dam safety
  • Broad Ripple Avenue beautification
  • redevelopment of Broad Ripple High School
  • Broad Ripple Drainage improvement project
  • Warfleigh flood wall
  • public safety, notably Monon Trail safety, vagrancy & opioid issues
  • the River Walk project
  • Broad Ripple Park master planning process
  • Broad Ripple Bark Park improvement
  • Red Line and public transit issues
  • Infrastructure and the resurfacing of Broad Ripple streets, sidewalk repair, bridge repair, etc
  • Canal Esplanade project
  • Fresh Thyme pedestrian crossing issue

City-County Council is a part-time, paid position. The salary of each Councillor is $11,400 per year. Except for a handful of retired Councillors (like Councillors Scales, Gray, McHenry and Oliver, for example) each Councillor to my knowledge has another full-time job or several other part-time jobs. I myself am a small business owner, operating Grey Market Wine (a wine curation company) and Ike & Fritz Ventures (a marketing consulting firm) for additional income. 

It is no secret that I live and work in Broad Ripple. In the first two years of my term, however, I made extra efforts to avail myself to the other vibrant neighborhoods of District 2: Greenbriar, Nora, Glendale, parts of Meridian Kessler & Butler-Tarkington, Ravenswood, Meridian Hills and Williams Creek, for example. Refocusing my time and efforts away from my own businesses and towards a full-time community position will undoubtedly make me a better Councillor for my entire district. Earning a living wage for my work as the ED of the BRVA will make my life as a Councillor a more workable situation for my family, as well as allowing me to spend more of my time working towards the efforts of Broad Ripple’s neighboring communities. 

There have been questions raised, mostly by opponents of the Red Line, about potential conflict of interest issues created by holding both jobs simultaneously. I thoroughly researched these issues before even applying for the position, as I had the same questions myself. I consulted Council counselors Ted Nolting & Fred Biesecker, as well as two attorneys in the Mayor’s office, all giving me the same favorable opinion. Jeopardizing District 2’s representation with a conflicting position is not an option in order for me to live my goal of service. To answer these questions more fully, however, it’s important to understand the role of both the City-Council Council and the BRVA, as well as the role of the ED within the BRVA. 

The BRVA does not receive City funding. Primarily, its revenue comes through membership dues (residential and business), as well as event sponsorships and corporate partnerships. Occasionally the BRVA will pursue grants from CICF or other non-city entities. What does this mean? There is nothing that I could or would vote on as a City-County Councillor that would result in the financial gain (or loss) of the BRVA. 

The BRVA has a Land Use and Development (LUD) Committee that takes positions of support, opposition or neutrality on various projects in Broad Ripple. Those positions are usually communicated to the Hearing Examiner and/or the Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC) in the form of a letter or in-person testimony from someone representing the organization. As a Councillor, I have no vote in the decisions of the Hearing Examiner or the MDC. The mechanism by which a Councillor supports or opposes such land use issues is through a process similar to that of an organization such as the BRVA: through a letter of support or opposition and/or in-person testimony at a hearing. As a Councillor, I have written many such letters and have testified on several occasions. Please note that I have never testified or written a letter contrary to a registered Neighborhood Association’s position in my district. 

The City-County Council does not determine land use for the City. Land use is instead determined by various commissions within the Department of Metropolitan Development (the MDC, etc). Rare exceptions are when an MDC decision is “called down” before the Full Council for a hearing. I am going through one such scenario now in Nora. In the vast majority of these cases, however, the parties reach an agreement during the negotiation period, and it is up to the Council to simply approve their agreement so any new commitments are noted in the plan. The Full Council only decides the cases in those instances where an agreement is not reached. The last such instance occurred in 2012 in Councillor Robinson’s district. Even so, Broad Ripple is my largest body of constituents. As the Neighborhood Association of record with Indianapolis, the BRVA is the neighborhood’s official voice. Neighborhood associations largely inform my decisions and positions as a Councillor. As the economic engine of District 2, the interests of Broad Ripple – as communicated via the BRVA – will almost always be closely aligned with the interests of the district as a whole. As previously noted, I have not involved myself in a land use case against any NA’s official position. Could it happen? Sure. Do I ever expect it to happen? It would be hard to imagine an instance where that would be plausible, since District 2 neighborhoods’ best interests will remain my primary concern as a Councilor. 

As the BRVA Executive Director, I will be the organization’s administrator. I will not have voting authority on either the Board of Directors or the LUD. Historically, letters of support or opposition are submitted by either the chairman of the LUD committee or the Board President, and that will continue. Over my two+ years of voting history at the Council, there has been not a single vote that would have necessitated my recusal had I been the sitting BRVA Executive Director. Furthermore, the ED does not “run the neighborhood” as several detractors have posited. The ED serves at the pleasure of the Board of Directors and coordinates the operations of the organization according to the objectives set by the Board. 

Several of my detractors have brought up a position I took several years ago regarding my opposition to the re-appointment of Adam Kirsch to the MDC. These individuals are claiming hypocrisy, when in fact the situations have nothing in common. Kirsch, a political consultant, was serving on the MDC. His client roster included many companies that stood to gain (or lose) substantial dollars as a result of public financing and land use decisions made by the MDC. I still feel that his appointment was inappropriate, though formally there was no direct ethics breech. He has since decided not to continue on the MDC, so perhaps he agreed with those of us who felt that way. For the record, each time I came before the MDC, I felt that Kirsch voted in a responsible way. He never recused himself, but I have no knowledge that he had appropriate cause in which to do so. As noted, the BRVA receives no City money, and does not financially benefit directly in any way from Council decisions. Are the interests of Broad Ripple affected by Council votes and ordinances? Absolutely. That is true for every neighborhood, and is one of the primary reasons I look forward to my new role as the BRVA ED. Effectively advocating for the interests of District 2 is the reason I am a City-County Councillor. Joining the BRVA is a way to make my time in public service more impactful–for my neighborhood and the other amazing communities in my district. (Plus, who doesn’t want to be able to walk to her office?)

There are several precedents of sitting elected officials serving in community leadership roles. Most notably, Jackie Nytes was the ED of the Mapleton-Fall Creek NA while serving with distinction on the Council. Carey Hamilton was also recently the ED of the Indiana Recycling Coalition while serving as a State Representative. Councillor Maggie Lewis was the ED of Dove House Recovery Center during her time on the Council. There are many other examples. Community leadership and public service can co-exist to make an elected official more effective.

If you see me in the neighborhood, I will be delighted to talk to you about all of the amazing things on the horizon for Broad Ripple, District 2, and the city of Indianapolis. I am lucky to serve such a dynamic community that is consistently focused on improvement, innovation and Hoosier hospitality.