Harris on the Record

What impacts you and the media doesn't cover. – Art Harris

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

A Roger Brown Memory

A trip down memory lane, and please excuse any unintentional lapses in gray matter, but its’ been a few years since Roger Brown and I sat on a stool at St. Elmo’s Steak House one afternoon and discussed a delicate matter that the mayor’s office asked me to mediate.

Brown, who died March 4, 1997, at 54 and far too soon, is acclaimed as one of the greatest players in the American Basketball Association, playing for the former Indiana Pacers when the franchise was part of the ABA.

(February 28, at 9 p.m., Channel 20, WFYI will present Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story with interviews with Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller, Bill Cosby and Bob Costas. If you never saw Brown play, here’s a chance to see his greatness.)

After the unified government act, known as Unigov, passed in 1970, the new City County Council provided for four at-large members, and in 1971, Brown was elected to one of those positions as a member of the Republican Party.

The exact year of my moment with ”the Rajah” escapes me, but the events leading up to it, I can never forget.

At the time, I was a reporter for The Indianapolis News covering half of the new city reorganization. My associate, the veteran city government reporter Hugh Rutledge, took the other half of municipal coverage. One of the departments of city government on my ”beat” was Public Safety, which included the fire and police departments.

From time-to-time, The News would get calls about a late model pink Cadillac zooming around town, mostly at night, with red lights flashing beneath the grill work.

In those days the afternoon newspaper had a weekly column labeled City Desk Memos, which contained tidbits not considered as major news events, but qualified as minor items worthy of mention. After, two or three reports about the colorful Cadillac, I wrote a short piece for City Desk Memos, in which I noted the driver was a mystery.

Well, not for long. An anonymous caller said the car belonged to Brown.

And, so began the search for the elusive truth.

As it turned out, Brown, still a city councilor, had become a deputy coroner, which enabled him to have the emergency lights on his personal vehicle.

One day, my phone rang in the offices of The News in the City-County Building asking me to come to the mayor’s office on the 25th floor of the City-County Building. At the time, Richard G. Lugar was mayor.

I can’t now recall who it was I spoke with, other than the person had a top-level appointed position in Lugar’s office.

The request to me, made on behalf of the city administration, was would I meet with Brown and delicately explain why he was getting so much ink about his red lights and Caddy.

Time has dimmed how or who arranged the meeting, other than it was mid-afternoon at St. Elmo’s.

Brown arrived on time, and after small talk I explained my mission and asked about the red lights.

I must say that there was nothing pretentious about him; he was quiet, reserved, truthful and a gentleman.

He said his emergency lights and authority as a deputy coroner allowed him access to incidents that had the potential of becoming more confrontational. He told me that because of his status as a professional athlete he felt his presence could prove a calming influence, which was supported by police officials I spoke with.

Then came the $64,000 question.

”What should I do to avoid this publicity” created by his car and lights, he asked?

I suggested a late model brown Chevrolet would not be a distraction.

Brown looked at me like I was from Mars, but after a further explanation, I think he got the message.

We shook hands and he thanked me.

I don’t know whether he took the advice, but the calls to the newspaper about a pink Cadillac with red lights were no more.


Penn State + Notre Dame = Cover-ups

Has anyone considered the similarity between the scandal which rocked Penn State and the current hoax involving a Notre Dame linebacker and his fake dead girlfriend?

It’s all about big-time athletic teams, anchored by profitable football programs and cover-ups to preserve the face of the schools regardless of the bodies left in the wake.

The Penn State fiasco brought down its preeminent coach Joe Paterno and the university’s president and athletic director, not to mention the conviction of the perp, Jerry Sandusky.

What was one of the more egregious facts that came out of that smarmy story was that certain Penn State personel knew of Sandusky’s lust for young boys and turned a blind eye for years.

Now, we have the South Bend feel-good story gone south.

And, I’d bet season tickets that if Deadspin.com hadn’t broken the story, the Damers would still be in denial.

A whole host of coaches, mentors and priests were privy to the saga of the Irish star linebacker Manti Te’o and his online relationship with a girl named Lennay Kekua. The Fightin’ Irish media machine cranked-out story of her supposed death and Te’o’s resolve to play on, all to promote the football team’s undefeated season and its’ upcoming championship bowl game with Alabama. 

Three weeks later, Dec. 26 Te’o smelled something fishy, and it wasn’t even Friday, and he confessed to his coach his dead girlfriend wasn’t dead. The coach alerted higher-ups and the school hired private investigators to check out the inconsistancies.

The story was even under wraps at media day Jan. 5 before the BCS bowl game in Miami.

Then along came the Web site Deadspin, and now Notre Dame is throwing their Heisman hope to the dogs.

At first, the university’s athletic director Jack Swarbrick, a onetime Indianapolis poohbah, held a press conference and tearfully claimed the school’s investigation showed Te’o was the victim of a hoax.

But now, as the media hounds smell blood, good old Jack wants Te’o to take the heat of the klieg lights and face the music and talk publicly.

The Golden Dome is beginning to get a little tarnished.

What’s Next For Firearms’ Owners

Here’s what worries me about the government – state and federal – consciously trying to reduce gun crimes.

Granted, some of President Obama’s proposals have merit and should be seriously debated by Congress.

I don’t know of any hunters who take semi-automatic rifles afield in pursuit of prey.

But, what’s coming next?

Despite the flurry of proposed federal legislation, the president’s use of executive orders, and the New York governor’s quick-on-the-trigger enactment of what he claims are the toughest gun laws in the nation, there’s bound to be another deranged individual who will commit murder and mayhem with a weapon, whether it be legal or illegal.

Then, we will hear more cries for more restrictions from the liberal media, and the politicans’ knees will jerk and more laws will be floated slowly but surely limiting gun ownership.

And, where will it stop?

One of the more inane proposals currentlty being floated is to put armed guards in schools. A better solution would be to secure doors, windows and require identification for anyone wanting entrance for a legitimate purpose. 

If anyone wants to measure the level of media frenzy for the government’s control of firearms, look no further than The New York Times multitude of articles in that vein. Its’ December 19, 2012 editions featured a front page article labeling white Republicans more likely than white Democrats to own guns. Note the key word is “likely.” 

About 25 or more years ago, I went to a ”gun and knife show” at the state fairgrounds where most of the firearms were antiques and the attendees were collectors.

Fast forward to November 2012 and another such event at the same location and the crowd was overwhelming, but more significantly were the numbers of new handguns and semi-automatic rifles for sale. The aisles were packed with people, there were tables after table of firearms and booths displaying all sizes of ammunition. That was in one building, and I never got into the other two buildings after three hours of looking, not buying.

But, there were plenty of people purchasing guns and ammo, all with no background checks.

I asked one vendor what he attributed the crowds to. ”Obama,” he said.

As a qualifier, I was a waterfowl hunter for 50 plus years until I could no longer wake before dawn, slosh through swamps and streams in mind-numbing temperatures to sit and wait for wildfowl. As an old Illinois River duck hunter explained why he had quit, ”I lost my kill.” A few years ago I understood him.

Most of my firearms are antiquated hand-me-downs from my father who were willed to him by his father, and could be deemed as collectors’ items. I own two antique Colt handguns – vintage 1849 and 1894. I have an Indiana license to carry a handgun should the occasion arise when transporting a handgun outside of my domicile.

As long as I follow the state and federal laws of owning a handgun, rifle or shotgun, it is repugnant to me that I would be required to register my firearms with anyone but my insurance agent, and even that’s worrisome.

Why I Don’t Want Walmart

Anyone reading The New York Times’ stories  in past weeks about Walmart surely must question why Zionsville would overlook the mega-giant retailer’s world-wide record of questionable labor practices and give it tacit approval for our community.

In its’ series of stories, The Times reported allegations of bribery in Mexico to locate outlets, a wave of labor demonstrations in the United States, and questions arising from a Nov. 24 fire in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of 112 workers in a garment factory used by several Walmart suppliers.

On Jan. 8, Walmart is scheduled to request a zoning variance from the Zionsville Board of Zoning Appeals, and then, if approved, seek development plan approval from the Town’s plan commission Jan. 22 for a new store in the 11000 block of Michigan Road, within three miles of an aging store at 86th and Michigan Road.

Here’s what The Times reported in its December 29 editions about Walmart:

*Walmart led an effort to block a plan to have global improvements in factories in Bangladesh, according to minutes of an April 20 meeting as well as several participants.

*Walmart has become the world’s largest retailer by demanding the lowest costs from suppliers and delivering the lowest prices to consumers – while promising customers that the billions of dollars of goods it buys from Bangladesh, China and other countries are produced in safe, nonsweatshop factories.

*Walmart says it is doing everything it can to prevent factory fires. ‘Walmart has been advocating for improved fire safety with the Bangladesh government, with industry groups and with suppliers,’ Kevin Gardner, a Walmart spokesman, said in an e-mail.

*Walmart also insists that its apparel suppliers were using the Tazreen factory (fire site) without its approval. Two days after the fire, Walmart said it had ‘de-authorized’ use of the factory, but without saying when or why: two weeks later it said it had taken the action ‘many months ago.’ 

*Many workplace safety experts say Walmart’s own monitoring system is part of the problem. A report on an inspection of Tazreen Fashions, conducted on May 2011, found the factory had only 30 of the 66 required fire extinguishers. There were no fire alarms or fire hose pipes on the factory’s fourth and fifth floors and no smoke detectors in the room where yarn was stored. The evacuation plan was outdated, and the factory lacked a health and safety committee, as required by law.

* Documents found at the factory after the fire show that six Walmart suppliers had been using the factory in the previous 18 months, including two relying on Tazreen in the weeks before the fire. Documents show that as recently as last Sept. 13, two months before the fire, 55 percent of the factory’s production was for Walmart suppliers. Walmart said it had fired a supplier who it said was using the factory without permission.

*Serious safety problems continued well into 2012.

The full-page story in The Times cites what it claims to have found that rebutt many of Walmart’s assertions of fire safety systems and inspections in the Bangladesh factory.

Nonetheless, by allowing another Walmart, isn’t Zionsville burying its’ head in the corporate sand and refusing  a conscientious effort to say enough to the glut of goods produced on the backs of  poorly paid and protected workers?

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