August 19 city council 2: No tolls for 1SI’s bridges, bitches.


When I saw Tyler Allen come into the chamber before the meeting started, I asked him if he’d ever been to a New Albany city council session. He said no. I laughed, and told him he’d find it entertaining.

Tyler, who sat on the second row with former councilman Larry Kochert on one side and the nattily attired One Southern Indiana team on the other, spoke eloquently in favor of the “no tolling” resolution, introduced by Councilman Pat McLaughlin, which subsequently passed by a tally of 6-2, with Diane Benedetti bizarrely abstaining.

As an aside, let’s just say in a charitable way that CM Benedetti had an “off” night, abstaining on the tolling resolution for no stated reason, being on the wrong side of the 1SI funding question, and having earlier brought forward a proposal for a $50,000 council grant toward Farmers Market improvements that virtually no one expected last night, or could explain in any detail.

Still, in spite of the considerable (and comical) confusion, and with no substantive documentation of the plan for Farmers Market improvements, Benedetti insisted on a first reading vote; amazingly, it failed by only one vote. Significantly, Councilman Bob Caesar voted in favor of it, sans comment.

Remember that vote, because it meant that CM Caesar voted for money to improve the Farmers Market without having any way of knowing exactly how work would proceed, or in what fashion it would be performed, or when it would begin.

Granted, virtually all those in attendance, including this writer, favor improvements to the Farmers Market. That is not the point. When a plan is produced, so will the money.

The point is, Caesar evidently did not need to know how the money would be spent before indicating favor. Later, when it finally came time to address the no-tolls resolution, it was none other than Bob Caesar insisting that the council could not possibly register an opinion on something that it did not know, i.e., how and when tolls would be applied.

In fact, Caesar did not seem to even understand that the tolls being proposed would be placed on existing bridges, bridges already financed, to help build new ones.

Rather, it was Bob Caesar disgracefully performing (thrashing) as Michael Dalby’s 1SI surrogate, seemingly searching frantically for Kerry Stemler’s “build the bridges and none of your backtalk, peasant” bullet point list (trust me, Caesar would have been far more coherent in opposition if he’d managed to find someone else’s list), and vainly struggling to lead the way against the no-tolls resolution with this stunning argument: How can we possibly know how tolls might work, and how can we vote in favor of something we don’t know?

Not sure, Bob, except you just did it a while ago, when not knowing what would happen with the Farmers Market was okay … and, of course, you served as the pompon team and voted “yes” for a second time on a reading of the ordinance to gift 1SI with $70,000 to perform services that the organization cannot document or explain, other than periodic exaggerations, meaning that you voted twice in favor of “not knowing” when it comes to 1SI and the Farmers Market, but expressed a preference for knowledge when it comes to the exact tolling plan for the dual bridges boondoggle – although you didn’t know anything about the tolling plan you were supporting.

Does Caesar really believe that flagrant contradictions like this are not visible to us, out in the gallery? Does he believe that the conflict of interest v.v. 1SI is not plainly visible? It’s surreal, this downtown businessman striving to appease the exurban 1SI cadre, which doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about downtown New Albany businesses like his. How does Caesar rationalize his zeal for self-defeating measures?

Another council member with strong ties to One Southern Indiana, and another member who, like Caesar, emphatically should not be voting on any ordinances pertaining to 1SI owing to an obvious conflict of interest, is Kevin Zurschmiede, the council’s lone Republican.

Although he gets it right more often than not, last night — compelled like Caesar to justify the unelected 1SI’s preference for making public policy pronouncements that supersede those of elected officials — CM Zurschmiede resorted to relating a family tale of traffic jams to make the point that two bridges need to be built, informing us that his son sometimes loses hourly pay by being late to work, a situation that would be alleviated by two bridges and the tolls necessary to build them.

Seated behind me, Larry Kochert gave voice to what most of us were thinking: Maybe your son needs to get out of bed a bit earlier.

Tyler Allen then quickly and deftly refuted Caesar’s muddled inanity, Zurschmiede’s frequent smirks and 1SI’s subsidize-the-rich organizational platform by pointing out the example of Illinois objecting to Missouri’s plans for two Mississippi bridges on grounds of the funding burden being unequally applied to citizens of Illinois, reversing a seemingly irreversible building plan and building the one needed bridge, not a second unneeded bridge … and without tolls.

I’ve been the first to criticize the city council for spinelessness, and there has been much to criticize in this and previous councils.

However, last night’s no-toll resolution places the city of New Albany in an unprecedented position of principled regional leadership on an important issue.

Who’s next to take a stand against tolling, and by extension, a stand for re-examining the Bridges Project as a whole? Develop New Albany? Obvious, as tolls would devastate downtown New Albany. Other local entities in New Albany and Floyd County should follow suit, immediately.

Indiana House candidate Shane Gibson (D) has done so. How about the incumbent? It is two days and counting since I asked Indiana Senate candidate Chuck Freiberger for his position — not that I’m holding my breath. I suggest that these questions be asked of all candidates this fall: Tolling – for or against? Bridges Project – valid in its current form?

Tolls are the Achilles Heel of the Bridges Project, and accordingly, tolls are the Achilles Heel of any person or organization supporting the Bridge Project. New Albany’s city council now has taken the lead in applying tire iron to weak spot. I suggest others follow suit, because tolling proponents have no way of combating the grassroots on this issue, other than trotting out the Stemlers of the area to insist that resistance is futile.

It isn’t.