ON THE AVENUES: How has the 3rd district councilman fared since this question from 2015: “Et tu, Greg Phipps?”


ON THE AVENUES: How has the 3rd district councilman fared since this question from 2015: “Et tu, Greg Phipps?”

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

It’s coming around again, isn’t it?

Since the column reprinted today first was published on April 27, 2015 councilman Greg Phipps (D-3rd) has blithely cast Jeff Speck to the dire pleasantries of HWC Engineering, in the process supporting and defending a long delayed and thoroughly botched Gahanian two-way street reversion so hideously disfigured that random speedway band-aids still are being applied … by HWC Engineering.

That’s no plus. More importantly, given Phipps’ previous stated interest in transparency, analytical analysis and political integrity, these theoretical priorities have long since been subordinated to the fix-is-in needs of Jeff Gahan’s pay-to-play political patronage machine.

Has Phipps held a single public forum during the past seven years?

Then there’s this, from 2011: “I have no desire to become a career politician.” Except now Phipps wants four more years, which would total 12. Matt Nash, Bob Caesar and Pat McLaughlin also want extra time: respectively, 2nd, 4th and 4th terms.

Extra time? I can’t agree. All their terms combined have totaled previous little in terms of genuine achievement, although Mayor Gahan surely appreciates their assistance in feathering his own nest.

It’s time for a change, isn’t it? 


ON THE AVENUES MONDAY SPECIAL: Et tu, Greg Phipps? Or: Anger and the electoral variability of transparency.

I’ve been thinking about 2011, when Greg Phipps defeated Steve Price in the primary, and then won the 3rd district city council seat against Jameson Bledsoe in November. For one shining moment, there was dancing in the streets; then we met the new boss, but I won’t look back in anger.

On October 26, 2011, Daniel Suddeath previewed the contest in the News and Tribune.

Phipps was unable to be reached for additional comment, but stated in his election questionnaire submitted to the News and Tribune that some council members have been more interested in “playing politics than finding solutions to our city’s problems.”

“Integrity needs to be restored to the city council,” said Phipps, who is a 50-year-old senior lecturer and coordinator of sociology in the Indiana University Southeast School of Social Sciences.

It is Phipps’ first campaign for elected office, but he’s the president of the New Albany Board of Zoning Appeals and was president of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association in 2007.

He said better transparency is needed in local government, and said he would hold semi-annual public forums, if elected.

“I honestly believe I can provide new and progressive leadership for the residents of the third district and the city as a whole,” he said.

The calendar reads 2015, and Phipps is running for re-election. He is unopposed in the May 5 primary, and has little reason to be substantive, but last week, on April 21, he offered a genuine bolt-from-the-sky, out-of-the-blue revelation, posting a Facebook assessment of Mayor Jeff Gahan’s position on street grid reform in New Albany, which centers on Jeff Speck’s downtown street network proposals, whether they’ll ever come to fruition, and if so, when.

Note that like Phipps, Gahan seeks re-election.

Mayor Gahan is committed to making our downtown streets more friendly to drivers and walkers. Three concepts are being developed to address this issue. What makes it great is that the federal government is going to cover 80% of the cost. Soon we will have options to improve the way we move, which will include more 2-way streets, better signage, and safer crossings. I’m sure downtown residents and businesses will be pleased with the results. Two additional items must be considered before moving forward: 1) the cost of the project. 2) There must be a plan to allow trucks in and out of downtown.

Why is this noteworthy?

To date, Gahan has made no verifiable or attributable public statement suggesting a positive position on the topic, openly and for the record. The mayor has made numerous private comments, most of which have come with “not to be repeated” warnings appended.

Love or hate Jeff Gahan, this much is beyond dispute: He has maintained a rigorous, non-committal public neutrality on street grid reform. At least on this one topic, he has been transparently non-transparent.

Consequently, for Phipps to suggest mere days prior to the primary that Gahan now advocates street grid reform, albeit as a bizarre milquetoast on the down-low, whimpering in a watered-down variety of bureaucratically-worded pablum, constitutes real news.

As such, given months of mayoral silence, we must ask for proof.

Exactly when did Gahan say this, and to whom?

Where can I read it in his words?

Can you show me?

How do we know it’s really true?

More than once since last Tuesday, I’ve asked the Phipps camp to verify the source of this statement with something (anything) attributable to Gahan himself.

I’ve received no answer, and yet as a university instructor and sociologist, surely Phipps understands that the validity of any affirmative claim is suspect if it cannot be verified and attributed in precisely the same fashion as my requests for proof of mayoral street grid intent, on the record, in the open, for all to see.

Without such standards of evidence, academic research would be rendered moot. They’re also questions any reputable journalist would ask, aren’t they?

Obviously, politics constitutes a different set of rules, most of them dubious, and yet during his first run for office, it was Phipps himself who raised the bar and said he’d approach such issues “analytically,” adding that “I have no desire to become a career politician.”

And yet four years later, certain shoes seem to have shifted feet — and it’s getting ugly.

Some might say that by asking reasonable questions, I’m unfairly stalking or bullying Phipps. It isn’t true. My satiric references to yard sign sizes aside, what I’m doing is requesting intellectual accountability from a university professor who has chosen to be a public official, and who has previously indicated with explicitness that he accepts precisely such scrutiny.

Except when they’re my questions,

Moreover, I’m asking for accountability from Phipps as it pertains to his specific role as public official. After all, I remain a constituent. If Phipps wishes to explain which questions from constituents are deemed proper for his response and which are not, it’s an explanation of potential interest to all voters in his district, and not just me.

He should offer this parsing of  constituent service now … verifiably, openly, and for attribution. That’s what greater transparency in local government is all about, right?

In my insistence on making these points, is there negativity, cynicism or anger?

Not much, if any. It may resemble the act of trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle in a pea soup fog while wearing mittens, but I’m not angry about it. Providentially, my colleague Jeff G. has helped me understand this “oversimplification” of anger with an excerpt from an interview with the late comedian, George Carlin.

April 3, 2004: Dirty old man: George Carlin on obscenity in the age of Ashcroft, by Charles Taylor (Salon)

… When people say, “What are you so angry about?” Well, that’s a terrible oversimplification because I don’t live an angry life as people who know me for five minutes or five years will say. They rarely see me in an angry mood. I get irritated like anyone else, in traffic or in a long line that’s not moving. But I don’t carry anger around. What I feel is a sense of betrayal by my species and by my culture — that they lost their way and misled me, too, to a degree.

I’m a disappointed idealist. I think of myself as a skeptic, a realist. I think the cynics are the people who left the gas tank on the Ford Pinto, companies that kill people and just cross them out because they can’t afford to retool. That’s a cynical position. But the saying goes, if you scratch a cynic, you find a disappointed idealist, and that’s what’s going on with me. Down deep and underneath, the flame still flickers. I wish for an idealist, utopic world but the realist in me says it’s never gonna happen because of the way they’ve structured power and money and control and the hierarchies they’ve established.

I’m not angry.

But I’m quite capable of voting my disappointment.*

* If I were to rewrite this sentence in 2019, it would go like this: “But I’m quite capable of filing my disappointment.”

Recent columns:

January 22: ON THE AVENUES: Democrats should judge city council incumbents in districts 2, 3, 4 and 5 by their regressive deeds, not their progressive words.

January 15: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Jeff Gahan and Adam Dickey are Trumping the Donald when it comes to breathtaking moral turpitude. Have they no shame?

January 8: ON THE AVENUES: In the 3rd district, that “stepping aside” time finally has arrived.

January 1: ON THE AVENUES: As a new year dawns, I’m existentially yours.