On March 9, the Metropolitan Planning Organization voted 7-6 to include Interstate 69 in the long-term plan, which will allow federal money to be spent on building the highway and (for now at least) avoids a confrontation with INDOT that would have cost the city and county tens of millions of dollars in funding for infrastructure.
It’s not over yet. Sore loser county commissioner Mark Stoops is challenging the vote because the adult son of county highway director Bill Williams is employed by a subcontractor of a company working on the highway. (Williams sits on the MPO and voted yes.) Local activist David Keppel whined in a letter to the editor that Williams’ yes vote was “legally and ethically dubious.”
This situation reminds me of the following exchange in one of my favorite movies, Spaceballs:
Dark Helmet: I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.
Lone Starr: What’s that make us?
Dark Helmet: Absolutely nothing!
Folks, this is ridiculous. The purpose of conflict of interest laws is to prevent people from voting on things that would directly benefit them, or would benefit a spouse or minor child. That anti-interstate radicals are seeking to trash the personal and professional reputation of an honorable and professional county employee in order to advance a political agenda is representative of everything that is wrong with politics today. Williams cannot simply disagree with anti-interstate radicals on the substance of the issue. No, he must be somehow ethically compromised. This is shameful!
Are we really seeking to have Williams’ vote voided because of where his adult son happens to be employed? If we are really going to trash someone’s personal and professional reputation because of that, there are an infinite number of permutations of conflict of interest we could get into. After all, every single person in the community is going to be directly impacted by the work to upgrade 37 to interstate standards and connect it to the rest of the highway.
There are legitimate arguments against Interstate 69. It is going to be very expensive to build. Some people are going to lose their property to the highway, including their homes. There will be an environmental cost to the highway. We have been debating the construction of the highway for decades, and those objections are as relevant today as they were twenty years ago. The argument about cost might even be more relevant today because of the staggering budget deficit and national debt.
We can and should continue to have that debate, but the debate over I-69 should be based on substantive public policy issues – not on shameful personal attacks against dedicated county employees. Stoops and Keppel should be ashamed of themselves, and both of them should publicly apologize to Williams for their false accusations.