Friday, November 4, 2011

We Get The Government We Deserve: Coasting in Noblesville V

We’ve all gotten good lately at listing the things we hate about politicians in Washington. So why do we keep electing John Ditslear as mayor of Noblesville? As an office holder he embodies everything we say we dislike about politicians in Washington – and he does it right here in our town.

Unethical Campaign Financing
We groan about politicians who line their campaign accounts with special-interest money. That’s exactly what John Ditslear does. He holds golf outings, inviting businesses he knows want something from him or his employees.

Last time he ran for office, Ditslear had asked for and gotten over a quarter of a million dollars from city contractors and other entities that want or need city approval. Of that, more than 75% came from people who couldn’t vote for him.

The Indianapolis Star reported last week that a third of campaign funds raised by Indianapolis mayoral candidates, Greg Ballard and Melina Kennedy came from out of town sources. In little ol’ Noblesville, John Ditslear more than doubled that embarrassing figure, then defended it. In a Star article last January, he actually argued, “They [the donors] offer to help me get re-elected because they think I do a good job,” and “I don’t invite people because they do business with the city; I invite people who I think would enjoy a round of golf and a nice meal.”

Why would somebody from Naperville, Illinois (who last year gave Ditslear $1,550) or Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin (who last year gave $500) give a damn how good the mayor of Noblesville, Indiana is? Because they want something.

When was the last time you sent a campaign contribution to the Mayor of Naperville, or Sheboygan Falls?

And it’s actually gotten worse. Since April of this year Ditslear has raised $47,807. Of that, only 8% came from Noblesville voters*. That means 92% of his most recent influx of donor cash came from people who don’t live here, can’t vote here and don’t pay taxes here. That’s 3 times as much as the Indianapolis mayoral candidates.

Such campaign methods are illegal in 7 states and laws are pending to make it illegal in scores more.

Loose With The Facts
We say we hate politicians who spin their meager accomplishments into fantasy resumes. That’s exactly what Mayor Ditslear does.

He recently bragged of bringing 53 businesses to town last year. Look at his list (as I did in last week’s post) and you’ll find businesses that are already out of business, some who simply changed locations, others who only changed their name when bought out, and at least one who downsized because they were struggling, and yet Ditslear claimed it was a new business.

He also claims his Economic Development Department has created 2,200 new jobs in the past 10 years. But I can’t find any proof that this is true. I can only find a list of promised jobs – promises made over the years by corporations that the mayor gave tax breaks to (many are also his out of town campaign contributors). As best I can tell, nobody follows up to see if the promises are kept.

Despite these happy-horse-shit press releases from Ditslear’s City Hall the latest unemployment figures show Noblesville has the highest unemployment rate in the county. Carmel 6.1%, Fishers 5.8%, Hamilton County 6.2%, and Noblesville - 7.8%.

Sweetheart Deals To Insiders & Big Corporations
This past July Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear and his handpicked city council members approved a $7 million corporate welfare package for a company called Positron.

Positron is a Fishers company, so their employees already live nearby and won’t be relocating, the leaders of the company are under a constant cloud of suspicion for illegal activity, their stock value has been below ONE PENNEY! during recent weeks, and Fishers had the good sense to refuse the deal and say, “Go ahead, go to Noblesville. We don’t care.”

Meanwhile, other city projects, facilities, and services are subject to budget cuts.

Bullying and a Sense of Entitlement
We say we hate politicians who intimidate dissenters and feel entitled to their office. But in many ways, that describes John Ditslear’s conduct as mayor.

In 2007 I wrote a series of columns detailing Ditslear’s campaign finances and his successful plan to pack the city council with candidates sympathetic to him. He immediately went to the newspaper I wrote for (The Times) and tried to get me fired as a columnist. The publisher refused, but offered Ditslear equal space to rebut my columns. Ditslear didn’t rebut. He instead used his campaign war chest to fund mailers that accused people like me of “personal attacks,” then he went higher to the paper’s owners and tried again to get me fired as a newspaper columnist.

People told me Ditslear kept saying of my columns, “That’s not the way we do things in Noblesville.” Apparently he thought that being elected entitled him to power without scrutiny.

Sorry John, that’s not how we do things in America.

After the elections he went to a local civic group’s board meeting (whose board I sat on) and tried to get the Times’ publisher, who wouldn’t fire me as a columnist, removed from a city committee.

Petty retribution from a thin-skinned bully.

At that meeting I was more embarrassed for John Ditslear’s conduct than I’ve ever been for a local leader - ever. Every single person in the room lost respect for Ditslear that night.

That publisher – the one Ditslear was trying to blackball from city committees was his current opponent in next week’s election: Mike Corbett.

Mike never told me about Ditslear’s repeated verbal attacks on him for running my columns. I only heard about it from other employees at the paper and local citizens who witnessed them. When I tried to thank Mike for defending me, he brushed the issue aside. He didn’t do it for me. He did it because it was right. And even though Distlear was rude to him beyond imagining, Mike kept offering him equal space in the paper.

That’s because Mike is a gentleman, and a stand-up guy.

When Mike threw his hat in the ring last summer it required that a specified number of registered voters sign a petition on Mike’s behalf. By law, those petitions became public knowledge. After the signatures were verified by the county and Mike became a candidate, Ditslear apparently accessed the list and began harassing people who had signed it. I’m told he called some on the phone and confronted others in public asking why they signed. Most told me they replied something like, “Because I believe in democracy,” or that, “no politician should run unopposed.”

This is a tough time for politicians like John Ditslear. As a mayor he embodies all that offends us about politicians. He employs unethical campaign financing tactics, he inflates his meager successes beyond reason, he’s prone to inexplicably sweet deals with powerful insiders, and he apparently feels entitled to be in power, bullying those who dare question him.

We get the leaders we deserve, and Noblesville deserves better.

*I have not personally evaluated the 4/11-to-present campaign contributions. This particular data came from the web site of Candidate, Mike Corbett.

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