ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL EDITION: When it comes to the RCI, can the RDA opt out of the RFRA?


ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL EDITION: When it comes to the RCI, can the RDA opt out of the RFRA?

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Back on July 20, I attended a pep rally for public officials.

The topic was the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative (RCI), which first came to my attention in 2014 when both Jeff Gahan and Ed Clere attended a sparse merchant mixer meeting to tout the idea.

To me, RCI is just another big-ticket bauble to distract the attention of folks who should be concerned about why we can’t fill potholes, reconvert streets to two-way traffic, or recognize the threat posed to us all by income inequality of the sort that RCI’s backers accept as the default rules of the game. But I don’t, and had the best of intentions to write about my experience before today.

Sorry about that. It didn’t happen. RCI is a multi-faceted boondoggle, the usual suspects are swarming, and I’ve been busy with other things. In the absence of coherence, I’ll go scattershot and try to provide a broad outline peppered with venom.

On Monday night, the Clark County Council approved an ordinance authorizing the Regional Development Authority (RDA), this being the necessary first step for participating governmental bodies. Opponents of RCI reckon that the Floyd County Council will follow suit on Tuesday.

Learn about the case against RCI here, and in this video by Martina Webster. There are valid concerns about eminent domain, crony capitalism, corporate welfare and the largely non-existent sources of local matching funds, among others.

Fortunately, none of this means that RCI is a done deal — at least yet.

The state will choose two winning contestants from those regions submitting proposals, with the losers queuing to try again next time, so it’s rather like uncertainty of buying a lottery ticket combined with the Nigerian bank scam e-mail: Even if you win, you have to pay to get the money (20% local match, and 60% from unnamed sources).

Lagos … meet Galena.

Purportedly, RCI is the solution to the answer to a question: What’s Indiana’s biggest issue pertaining to economic development, at least according to how the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation define economic “development”?

They believe it is Indiana’s population stagnation, “largely attributed to its shortfall in retaining and attracting talent.” Read about it here … and here.

This excerpt is from Elizabeth Beilman’s coverage.

 … The Regional Cities Initiative, or RCI, is a state program intended to support “quality of place” projects through regional collaboration.

The state has allocated $84 million to be split among two regions and used for redevelopment projects that would transform those regions into more desirable places to live …

 … The General Assembly passed RCI legislation in May, establishing the funds and outlining the criteria for the IEDC to consider when choosing which regions to award funds to.

State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, who was House co-sponsor of the legislation, said the RCI was a “no brainer.”

“I think what it boils down to is this has the potential to be a transformative opportunity for Southern Indiana …” Clere said.

Multiple regions across the state are in the process of submitting their comprehensive project plans, due Aug. 31.

One Southern Indiana has taken the lead in producing this plan through a new initiative called “Our Southern Indiana.” The plan includes developments across Clark, Floyd, Washington, Scott and Harrison counties as the Southern Indiana region.

Wendy Dant Chesser, 1si president and CEO, presented the five key areas that the projects cover — waterfront development, regional greenway system, workforce development, River Ridge Commerce Center economic engine and regional water resources …

 … In order to be chosen by the IEDC for RCI funds, the five counties’ fiscal bodies that form the region here must approve the formation of a Regional Development Authority, or RDA. Five non-elected or nongovernmental representatives will be chosen and approved by the each county commission.

If chosen, the Southern Indiana RDA would execute the plan that Our Southern Indiana has devised with the input of local officials and residents through various public forums.

A local ordinance and by-laws — which Our Southern Indiana has preliminarily drafted — would outline specific restrictions or obligations tailored to this region’s needs.

The IEDC guidelines suggest the projects are funded through 20 percent RCI funds, 20 percent local public funds and 60 percent private funds.

I’m tired and sober, so let’s put it this way.

River Ridge accounts for roughly 60% of the “wish” funding presented as part of the RCI proposal by One Southern Indiana’s front committee.

River Ridge was crony capitalism’s chosen regional winner decades ago.

The rest of us are intended as ancillary housing habitations for River Ridge.

There’s a toll bridge being built straight to River Ridge.

Soon the city of Jeffersonville will be renamed Amazonapolis, and yet, with $434 million being sought, $252 million is slated to go to River Ridge … and a paltry $200,000 to a study of the state of the region’s water resources.

That’s an afterthought, a puddle of spittle, and probably less than Dan Coffey has cleared from demolition kickbacks just this year.

And: Not a penny is proposed for public transit, arguably the finest regional use of such funding if one accepts the primacy of River Ridge … which I don’t wish to do at all.

On the day of the pep rally, Ron Grooms made a typically leaden speech, which of course was widely praised by the usual economic development sycophants in clucking attendance, even though it sounded entirely like the dubbed English language version of the commissars praising falsified crop yields from atop Lenin’s Mausoleum during May Day parades of old Moscow times.

Grooms recited the banal boilerplate, stressing how important it is for us to make Indiana a great place to live, to attract talent, and keep our best and brightest right here in Hoosierland.

I’ve been livid ever since.

What Ron Grooms was, and remains, is an outspoken, unrepentant and Kool-Aid swilling proponent of Indiana’s catastrophic Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), precisely the sort of bigoted fundamentalist gibberish actively assisting in the dispersal of Indiana’s population, and the prevention of investment in the state, but recognition of facts like these lie so far beyond Grooms’s reach as a partisan political hack that he stood right there in a room filled with regional elected officials and told them, in effect: Only by creating an RDA to sign onto the coin-flip of the RCI would they be able to cancel out the deleterious effects of RFRA, as foisted on them by his own party’s hypocritical Torquemada wing, to which he is slavishly devoted.

Grooms sees no contradiction in creating one mandatory piece of bureaucracy to chase people away, and then establishing another to bring them back, and mayor’s race or no mayor’s race, had I packed a Boston Cream Pie for lunch that day, I’d have sprinted to the front and crammed it in his face.

My question, which unfortunately there was no time to ask, and hence this column’s title:

Yo, Ron — When it comes to the RCI, can the RDA opt out of the RFRA?

See you at Pine View on Tuesday afternoon. The meeting’s been changed to 4:00 p.m., in case you were wondering.

Recent columns:

August 6: ON THE AVENUES: Money is the ultimate bully.

July 30: ON THE AVENUES: Homegrown New Albany, but not in a good way.

July 23: ON THE AVENUES: A citizen’s eloquent complaint about the parking debacle at River Run reminds us that planners and brooms go hand in hand.

July 16: ON THE AVENUES: Louisville Beer, then and now … and cheers to Rotary.

July 9: ON THE AVENUES: A mayoral petition as prologue to history.

July 2: ON THE AVENUES: “Water on the brains: Much less for far more will keep us swimming in it.”