ON THE AVENUES: His nose knows tolls and polls (2010).


ON THE AVENUES: His nose knows tolls and polls (2010).

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Let’s turn back that forever unforgiving stuck-in-the-70s New Albany alarm clock to October 21, 2010, and the following essay from the time of my employment (yes, they actually paid a few farthings) as pre-merger New Albany Tribune columnist. It has never appeared here previously.

Surveying the 2010 bridge tolling contestants, we see that Dalby, Price, Garry, Daniels and Grooms have long since swapped jobs, the latter now afflicting us with Chamber of Commerce envy in his second term as state senator, but either Chuck Freiberger or Jeff Gahan is going to take care of this in 2018 — right?

Kerry Stemler, prime architect of the approaching bridge toll regime, remains in place as a well-groomed, obsequious and venerated regional figure of the country club set. His toll fetish is about to come to glorious fruition, but before this happens there’ll be another potentially momentous event.

As readers already know, I’m a member of the current Leadership Southern Indiana class, and on the 19th is Economy & Commercial Enterprise Day. In the morning, we’ll be touring the Port of Indiana, and one of our guides will be none other than Stemler, the gray eminence himself.

I’m giddy. Positively giddy. Now, back to the future, yet again.

His nose knows tolls and polls.

October 21, 2010

Doublethink: A simultaneous belief in two contradictory ideas (Orwell).
— Merriam Webster Dictionary

One Southern Indiana’s well-tailored chairman, Michael Dalby, stood before New Albany’s city council, a fractious and generally dysfunctional entity, one nonetheless transformed for the occasion into a veritable firing line of incisive questioning.

Huh? Evidently I’d missed a turn near Albuquerque.

At stake was payment to 1Si for vague economic development “services” previously rendered, for which Dalby advanced colorfully apocryphal claims, none accompanied by the slightest documentation, to the overall effect that without 1Si, New Albanians would be living in yurts on the Mongolian steppe, subsisting on fermented mare’s milk and, for entertainment, watching beetles copulate.

Eventually Steve Price zeroed in, embracing the campaign issue that seemingly came from nowhere this summer, but really didn’t, and asked (I’m paraphrasing): How can the current council financially support an organization that advocates tolling existing bridges to pay for the colossal Ohio River Bridges Project?

A well-rehearsed Dalby did not hesitate.

“We are not in favor of tolls. Nobody is in favor of tolls. That’s not something we want to see happen.”

A tremor ominously rumbled in all directions, and half a world away, a game of yak polo halted abruptly as the riders reached for their furiously stuttering BS Meters.

Back here in New Albany, after a hyper-kinetic bout of Duck Duck Goose, our council members approved a reduced stipend for 1Si and sent Dalby back to his executive suite. If I were Kay Garry, I’d stop payment on the check.

I say this because Dalby’s miraculous election eve conversion to tender, merciful concern for the pocketbooks of Southern Indiana plebeians doesn’t just strain one’s credulity.

It splits, breaks, smashes, mangles, incinerates, lacerates and spits in the very eye of credulity. Let’s avoid that other nasty “L” word, and say merely that Liberties with the truth are being taken. As such, kindly permit me to provide the sort of forensic evidence generally lacking when 1Si’s dampened palm comes at you, outstretched.

Here’s Michael Dalby in a press release that was quoted on April 15, 2010, in “The Ville Voice” on-line blog. His memo extols the virtues of the ORBP, and devotes hundreds of words to buffing and polishing the act of tolling, just in case a stray, ordinary soul in Kentuckiana might somehow notice that tolls were being considered as a financing option.

“We support the process that has been put in place by both Kentucky and Indiana – the formation of the Bi-State Authority – and giving them the ability to review any and all funding options … If viable funding options emerge that don’t include tolling, we fully support that approach. Nobody wants to pay tolls. However, if including high-speed electronic tolling is the only way to fund the project and get it built in a timely manner, then we will accept a funding solution that includes tolling.”

It is doublethink, writ large. Dalby now asks us to believe simultaneously in two contradictory ideas: That 1Si is “not in favor” of tolls and also “supports the process” of the unelected Bi-State Authority, which has the unimpeded power to levy tolls on existing bridges to finance the monstrosity of the ORBP.

And from whom does this unimpeded authority’s unelected power derive? From Indiana’s and Kentucky’s elected officials, foremost among them Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who clearly indicated his bridges project position in a video interview with the Courier-Journal (August 25, 2010):

“I don’t think anybody’s got even a wildly unrealistic plan that doesn’t involve tolls.”

To enforce discipline as Bi-State Authority capo to the governor’s folksy star turn as Hoosier Godfather, Daniels previously anointed local businessman, 1Si shadow government stalwart and Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana theocratic apologist Kerry Stemler.

While customarily operating on the hazy periphery preferred by traditional regional power elites, Stemler appears in daylight every now and then to utter fearsome non-negotiable bromides, as in his most recent public pronouncement on tolling in a Tribune article by Braden Lammers on October 9, 2010:

“I’ve studied this long enough. Tolling, for this to get built, will be a part of the project.”

No wonder the equestrian athletes in Arvaikheer tugged at their mustaches as the word “tilt” lit up their bovine manure detection devices.

Daniels says, “Tolls.”

Stemler says, “Tolls.”

The Bi-State Authority appointed by politicos to make tolling decisions without that minor, nagging democratic principle of polling, say, “Tolls.”

1Si’s Dalby says, “No tolls” and “Tolls,” simultaneously, and expects us to buy it. Doddering old Geppetto, among others, knows exactly what’s about to happen. But what about the Jeffersonville councilman, Ron “Profiles in Abstention” Grooms?

Grooms, also a candidate for District 46 Indiana Senate, gave us a valuable pre-election glimpse of his legislative prowess last Monday.

On colleague Keith Fetz’s compromise resolution, revised to specify the council’s opposition to tolls on existing bridges, as opposed to future tolls on freshly built ORBP bridges, Grooms heroically … abstained. The resolution passed.

On a motion requesting that the Jeffersonville city council attorney convey to One Southern Indiana the council’s concern with 1Si’s partisan endorsements, and to request clarification of such political skullduggery in light of the council’s annual $30,000 support level, Grooms courageously … abstained once more, and the motion also passed.

Perhaps Grooms discerned a troubling conflict of interest in questioning the same ham-fisted political action committee that endorsed him. Fortunately for voters, divestment from 1Si and its hand-picked slate of candidates is a simple, elegant solution to doublethink in all its banality.

Isn’t there an election soon?

September 29: ON THE AVENUES 3-PK, PART THREE: Survey says … Irv’s street grid agitprop won’t be putting Diogenes out of work any time soon.

September 29: ON THE AVENUES 3-PK, PART TWO: Inkem binkem notamus rex, protect us all from the city (still) with the hex (2014).

September 29: ON THE AVENUES 3-PK, PART ONE: Chocolate covered frozen banana republic, or “understanding” Harvest Homecoming, our peculiar institution (2014).

September 22: ON THE AVENUES: On two-way streets, a modest proposal for the consideration of my disoriented one-way counterpart.