If you’ve never been to a meeting of the Louisville Southern Indiana Bridges Authority, then you’re really missing out on some of the best performance art going down in Kentuckiana.
Like highly skilled artists, the 14 appointees to the bi-state authority sit around their conjoined conference tables, surrounded by media and a fascinated (if not outright bewildered) public, and with the aid of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations and unyielding corporate Newspeak they transform what would otherwise be a closed undemocratic process into a open undemocratic process, right before your very eyes.
This phenomenon of the open-closed meeting is a byproduct of modern American oligarchy, where atrocities can be hidden in plain sight because the devil lies in so many details. This effectively allows an organization like the Bridges Authority to appease our middle school social studies notions of democracy by inviting the public to witness an autocratic process firsthand, which is kind of like inviting someone over for dinner and making them watch you eat.
Or, as a fellow spectator noted, “We’re just watching them sit around and jerk each other off.”
So went this latest meeting of the Bridges Authority, held at the Kentucky International Convention Center, where the only new business was old business; much of the information released was already discussed at last week’s meeting.
However, there were a few highlights:
(1) As LEO Weekly reported earlier, the folks at Say NO To Bridge Tolls blasted the Bridges Authority in a press release imploring them to disclose any conflicts of interest per Gov. Steve Beshear’s call for greater ethics enforcement among state-sanctioned committees:
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has ordered members of policy-making boards such as the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority to reveal any potential conflicts of interest on an official disclosure statement. Say NO to Bridge Tolls is calling for all “Tolling” Authority members (including those appointed by Indiana) to comply with Beshear’s ethics order before the December 16th vote approving tolls.
Greater Louisville Inc., One Southern Indiana and the Louisville Urban League are all part of the coalition. Tolling Authority members, include chairman Charles Buddeke, who also is on the GLI board; Joe Reagan, GLI’s CEO; co-chairman Kerry Stemler and member Pat Byrne, who are affiliated with One Southern Indiana; and Ben Richmond, CEO of the Louisville Urban League may all have conflicts of interest. Additionally member Sandra Frazier may also have conflicts of interest. Her firm Tandem Public Relations built the website for The Build the Bridges Coalition and worked with the coalition on an aggressive media relations outreach program (according to their website).
Shawn Reilly of Say NO to Bridge Tolls said “We have asked that all members of the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority comply with Governor Beshear’s order before voting on the bridges financing plan at their December 16, 2010 meeting.”
Reilly also said “The public needs to know if Tolling Authority members or their families have ties to Wall Street banks or construction companies that stand to profit from potentially lucrative construction, consulting, or finance contracts.”
Regarding Frazier’s potentially conflicting interests, she tells LEO Weekly that Tandem no longer has any current contracts with the Bridges Coalition, which she had contracted with in 2007 and 2008 to develop their website.
“When I was nominated to serve on the Authority in the fall of 2009, I disclosed the fact that we did work for the Bridges Coalition,” Frazier says, adding that all members of the authority submitted disclosure documents to Metro government. “(A)nd we declined to do additional work for the Coalition following that. So any idea that I would stand to benefit from the project is incorrect.”
Despite this, Frazier says she wasn’t aware if the current Bridges Coalition website contained any work that Tandem had done in the past, or whether or not she could appreciate the specter of impropriety given that she has made money off of advancing a pro-bridges agenda now, two years ago or in the future.
“As far as being independent with my vote (on this authority),” she says, “I have no doubt that any past financial ties won’t be an influence.”
(2) According to one of those aforementioned PowerPoint slides, Kentucky will be picking up a bigger lion’s share of the project’s public funding than expected. Indiana has moved a whopping $579 million out of the project, leaving the Hoosier State with only a $566 million share.
“The majority of the project’s cost is Kentucky’s anyway,” says Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock, “something like a 67 percent to 33 percent share. From our perspective, (the Spaghetti Junction expansion) creates its own disproportion on the project’s cost.”
Translation: Spaghetti Junction is our red-headed stepchild, and if anybody’s going to beat it, it will be us.
Interestingly, the other differences between the Bridges Authority’s 2008 initial financing plan and the updated version they’re submitting to KYTC before the Dec. 31 deadline are stark. Aside from Indiana effectively removing half its share of public funding form the project, the initial plan didn’t include tolling projections at all. But the new one? It conveniently requires $2.2 billion worth of toll-based revenue that wasn’t on anybody’s radar when they were tabulating Excel spreadsheets for the ’08 plan, which leads us to:
(3) Those $1.9 billion in public funds the Bridges Authority now says are in place? Well, not only are those funds subject to dramatic change in the span of just two years — Kentucky’s public share decreased by 45 percent alone from 2008 (when it was nearly $3 billion) to 2010 (where it now sits at just $1.3 billion) — they’re not really guaranteed at all because a good chunk of that revenue is “anticipated,” and therefore hasn’t been appropriated, earmarked nor legislated. It’s like signing mortgage papers for a house when you don’t even have a job.
Furthermore, per Kentucky’s House Bill 3, which created the Bridges Authority out of dust, manna and (imitation?) Armani suits, a financial plan may not be submitted by the authority if that financial plan “contains expected appropriations by the General Assembly beyond those appropriated in the most recently enacted biennial highway construction plan.”
“It’s ludicrous,” says Tyler Allen, co-founder of 8664. “Where is that money? It’s not in that highway plan. You tell me where it is. You won’t find it.”
Indeed, according to KYTC’s July 2010 six-year highway plan, $463,900,000 in public money is allocated toward the “Louisville Bridges” in the form of GARVEE bonds, federal highway system funds, federal interstate maintenance funds and federal statewide transportation program funds. Add to that $132,500,000 in “innovative” private sector financing (all of which is allocated, oddly, for the East End bridge), and you still have a massive hotel that requires more than $2.2 billion in tolls to plug.
Nonetheless, Bridges Authority finance and construction committee chairman Kerry Stemler says that Kentucky’s share of the money “has all been accounted for in the highway plan,” and that there should be no problem with submitting their financing plan to KYTC as a result. Everything checks out. All is good. Nothing to see here except more numbers and project delivery timeline slides, like this one:
(4) Bridges Authority spokeswoman Christi Robinson says that the authority has every intention of complying with the governor’s ethics order, but says since she hasn’t read the Say No To Bridge Tolls press release, she wouldn’t comment on whether or not they would comply with the December 16 disclosure date.
Robinson did, however, tell me that they have no way of knowing who’s in the room — not even investment bankers — because they don’t ask anybody to sign in.
“It wouldn’t be legal if we forced everybody to sign in who wanted to attend a public meeting,” she says.