Harris on the Record

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

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 The evacuation plan was outdated, and the factory lacked a health and safety committee, as required by law.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?


What Did the New York Time Confess?

Not wanting to add to the media  mania about the East Coast school murders but consider this:

The New York Times in its’ Saturday December 15 editions plublished a chart of “Mass Shootings in the U.S.”

It detailed 10 other such travesties that began in 1949: a shooting in Camden, N.J.

The next one was in 1966 with the shooting by Charles Whitman, who shot 14 people from the tower at the University of Texas in Austin.

So, from 1949 until 1966 there had been no such recorded, according ”the the gray lady” of any such shootings until 1966.

So, good folks what happened between 1949 and 1966 that the landscape missed.

The answer is TELEVISION.

Think on it.

It began with shows depicting  a breakdown of family values, a disrespect for authority, a gun cult, and on and on.

And, with that came HOLLYWOOD with the bloody assaults against authority – ” Dog Day Afternoon,” etc.

And, when anyone raised a question about the violence on television and movies, freedom of expression/speech was the cry from the liberals from West and East coasts.

There had been plenty of nasty weapons over these years, but nothing of this magnitude had occurred.

But, then came televison,

Watch television today, it is sick.

And, then we anguish of why someone would kill his mother.

I’m not a sociologist but watch what we expose our children to: does it have a difference?

My prayers are with the parents of victims who had no choice.

Anyone for a New Town Hall?

Town Council members Candace Ulmer and Susana Suarez  are promoting a new town hall for Zionsville.

And, guess where they think it should be located?

None other than the Dow property.

Efforts to discuss this further with Suarez and Ulmer have been unsuccessful. Neither has responded to e-mails to gain an insight into their thinking for such a venture.

But, according to highly-placed sources, the councilors don’t think it’s appropriate to have a town hall in a building that was once a church.

Please allow me some second guessing on the machinations behind this.

What better way than to give credence to the environmental concerns about the site, and to give the public the confidence there are no one-eyed toads there, but to locate the town’s municipal building there?

Hey, if it’s safe enough for the councilors, it’s okay for all you good folks to come to the new building in a dead zone.

But, first some history of how town government moved to the current building at 1100 West Oak Street.

True, the building was the former site of the Zionsville United Methodist Church, which the town purchased in 2002/2003 for $2.5 million. And, it needed some maintenance as it had been vacant for a few years.

If anyone remembers, the former site of Zionsville government was in the building at the southwest corner of 4th and Oak streets, which had also been the location of a church. History repeating itself? It was sold for approximately $400,000, and is  now the home of an insurance agency.

There was considerable debate over the move west down Oak Street, and yours truly was one of those who questioned it in stories I wrote as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star.

But, in hindsight, over the past 10 years the building at 1100 West Oak Street has more than accommodated town government and civic organizations, but it hasn’t come without costs.

The old roof was replaced over the past two years, a new boiler for the heating plant was installed last year, 8 or 10 new furnaces are now functioning, along with air-conditioning condensors, all of the money coming from proceeds of the sale of the former town hall.

Town manager Ed Mitro did not respond to e-mails to discuss these expenses, and any future costs. 

If Suarez and Ulmer have a problem with the current location, why not promote a new facility on adjacent ground, rather than moving  to a location outside of town that would create more traffic through Zionsville?

The town currently owns two acres north of the present building, which includes two large parking lots, and north of those a vacant grassy area.

But, my vote is for Town Hall to stay put and spare taxpayers the expense of another town hall.

Why take valuable commercial property at Dow for an entity such as town government which pays no taxes?

A New Bowser in Blue

Zionsville’s boys in blue are about to take on another four-footed sleuth.

A K-9 unit – a dog and handler (read officer) in case the police nomenclature escapes you.

These additions to police departments are supposed to sniff out evildoers hiding in all sorts of cover, point the way to possible hidden drugs, track down fleeing culprits, and occasionally might get a taste of the felon’s flesh.

As the story goes, Zionsville’s last Rin Tin Tin couldn’t find the Marsh meat counter.

But now, Chief Rob Knox has lobbied for another doggie detective for his department, and folks are lining up to financially support it.

Hey, who doesn’t like dogs? Great P.R. for the department, fantastic at controlling unruly protestors at Town Council meetings, can leap small buildings in a single bound, well, you know.

Perhaps Knox feels that time has erased the memory of the prior experiment, but for the uninformed here’s a little deja vu all over again as Yogi would say.

Several years ago, the department ”retired” its’ canine after a rather colorful run.

From what I was informed by an usually reliable member of the department at the time, what could be termed excessive expenses came to be associated with the dog, whose handler charged the department overtime when he took the pup out for bladder relief. It was labeled in the claims presented to the town as ”continued training” and that pup had massive kidney problems.

But, the best chapter was the dog house, that could easier fit in one of Joseph Wambaugh’s books about the Los Angeles police department.

The canine’s partner moved into a rather upscale housing section with all sorts of covenants – you know the kind – can’t leave garage doors open, no outside boat storage, swimming pool covers, etc.

One of the covenants where the pooch and his partner moved required that any exterior structure have matching building materials as the main house, such as roofing, siding, windows, no outside air-conditioning units,  lights and so on.

Would you believe that when the bills came in, the total for the custom-built doggie Taj Mahal was $5,000, and the ZPD paid off.

So, the lesson from all this isn’t the initial cost of the canine, but the schooling for the dog and the handler, food and veterinarian bills, liability insurance, and don’t forget the ”continued training.”

Let’s hope the new Bowser can find the Marsh meat counter.

Guess Who’s Coming to Town

What a hoot!

If you were Mike Tyson, what city would generate the most controversy for a 23-city run of his new show, “Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth?”

None other than Indianapolis where the former heavyweight boxing champion fell from grace after his conviction for rape 21 years ago.

Think about it. It smacks of pure hokum to hype the tour.

Bet the farm there will be protests from women’s rights groups and support from Tyson fans, which will draw the media flies, creating more free buzz, as evidenced by the space he received November 29 on the front page of The Indianapolis Star.

It’s a natural for the media masters that would draw kudos from P.T. Barnum, despite the smoke from a representative of the company managing the tour, who termed it “a coincidence”  that Iron Mike’s 10-week road show will open here, Feb. 12 and 13 at the Murat Theatre.

Tyson was found guilty by a Marion County Superior Court jury on one count of rape and two counts of criminal deviate conduct on Feb. 10, 1992 and spent  three years in the Indiana Youth Center in Plainfield.

Get the timing – conviction Feb. 10, show opens here Feb. 12.

Writing about the  New York City opening in August, Emma Brockes, a correspondent for London’s newspaper, The Guardian, was quoted in The Indianapolis Star story Nov. 29 that the Brooklyn native wants ”to rehash his defense and question her credibility,” referring to Desiree Washington, the victim. Tyson has always proclaimed his innocence.

As a reporter for the former Indianapolis News, I was in a front row seat during the trial, which had all the media trappings. International and national reporters descended on Indianapolis, many of whom were fresh from the Florida rape trial of a young Kennedy relative, and they smelled blood.

After jury was selected Feb. 5,  the members were sequestered at the former Indianapolis Athletic Club, at Meridian and Vermont streets. That night a fire broke out in the club, and two firefighters and a club guest died.

The next morning as Tyson’s entourage entered the City-County Building to a media scrum, Wally Matthews, a reporter for The New York Post, yelled at Tyson, “Shouldn’t play with matches Mikey.”  Tyson never blinked.

Welcome to the bigtime Indianapolis.

Ms. Washington was a contestant in the Indiana Black Expo beauty pageant, and Tyson was a guest when he met the 21-year old entrant, later asking her out. But, the evening out-on-the town was delayed when Tyson stopped by his Canterbury Hotel room where he said he had to check phone messages. (You won’t find Tyson’s room number 606 anywhere in the hotel. It was removed years ago.)

Ms. Washington accompanied Tyson to his room, and, that was where prosecutors and Ms. Washington said the crimes occurred.

What always puzzled me about her story was the time she spent in the bathroom of Tyson’s room.

Alone in the boxer’s room late at night before any incident, she excused herself and went into the bathroom, where if she had any concerns for her welfare there was a lock on the bathroom door and a telephone in the bathroom, but neither was used.

If there was any good to come from evil, it was the change in how grand jury cases were allocated to Marion County courts.

On Tyson’s appeal, his trial defense team, headed by Vincent Fuller, of the high-powered Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly, was replaced by Alan M. Dershowitz and Lee McTurnan, a former Zionsville resident. They had been law clerks for Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. The third member of the appellate team was Jim Voyles, of Zionsville, who had assisted Fuller during the trial phase.

Voyles explained this week their appeal focused on the grand jury process. Marion County Superior Courts were assigned grand juries every three months. When a grand jury returned indictments, the court which had jurisdiction of the grand jury subsequently heard those cases.

Voyles said subsequent changes in the law changed that, and cases resulting from grand jury indictments are now rotated among the superior courts.

That was Mike Tyson’s legacy to Indianapolis – until next February.

Allow me an introduction

After 40 plus years of writing, it’s difficult to put paper and pen aside, especially when the conscience is pricked by some action or activity impacting the public: thus the decision to again pursue the elusive truth.

According to blog etiquette, a brief resume of the author is suggested. So, in all modesty allow me proceed.

Born in 1936 in Brooklyn, N.Y. during one of the nation’s hottest summers, my parents moved a few years later to Delaware where my father was employed as superintendent of the Wilmington transit system. My primary education began at Walnut Green School – a public school with one room, one teacher for six grades, outside toilets and a pump for well water, and I walked there and home two miles each way – character building they say.

In second grade, I entered Tower Hill School, a private school in Wilmington, started by duPont families. I continued there through the sixth grade, and spent the seventh and eighth grade at Friends School, also in Wilmington, and the arch rival of Tower Hill. The story line my parents told me for the school switch was because Tower Hill tuition increased.

In the summer of 1950, my father accepted a position in the management of the Indianapolis Transit System as vice-president and general manager. The only connection I had with Indianapolis was that I used to listen to the race.

At the end of August, my parents and I drove cross-country to Indianapolis, and the day after Labor Day I entered at Shortridge High School as a freshman. I went from private schools with enrolments of a few hundred to public education with enrolments of thousands.

Talk about culture shock.

We had lived on 40 acres in the bucolic Delaware countryside that was owned by Crawford H. Greenewalt, the president of the DuPont Company, which assisted in the development of the atomic bomb.

In Indianapolis, we lived on the second floor of a duplex at 38th and Pennsylvania and the landlord lived downstairs.

To say I was a bit miserable is putting it mildly.

Somehow I amazed teachers and administrators and graduated from Shortridge in 1954, and that Fall entered Indiana University despite premonitions by my advisor that I’d never graduate. Regardless of the odds and fraternity life, I gained an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree – a masters in American History. My primary advisor was Dr. R. Carlyle Buley, a Pulitzer award winner.

Entranced by academia, 1960 found me on the staff of Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill. with my then wife of two years, and a year later with a son, Wes. Ironically, one of the students there now lives several blocks from me, Jim Voyles.

Dismayed by the college president, a position of sports editor opened at the local daily newspaper, The Jacksonsville Journal & Courier, which hired me despite my handicap in journalism and sports. (My credentials – student manager of the IU varsity baseball team.)

My seven years with the Illinois newspaper was a fabulous learning experience, and in 1968  I returned to Indianapolis as a general assignment reporter with The Indianapolis News at twice my Illinois salary. My boss was Wendell C. Phillippi, whose family was from Zionsville.

During the 34 years with the Pulliam papers, and subsequently Gannett Newspapers, my assignments included covering city and county government, state courts, the environment beat and the Indianapolis 500, retiring in 2001.

It was a wonderful run and I was privileged to meet and know many great Hoosiers, as well as some scoundrels.  The Pulliams were an extraordinary family to work for and with.

My spouse, Elizabeth (Betsy), whom I met while at The News (she of  The Indianapolis Star),with her daughter, Ayun, and I moved to Zionsville in 1978 after Judge Paul Johnson married us at his home on a rainy June 29 evening while his wife fried salmon patties.

In 2003,  a vacancy opened on the Zionsville Town Council when Lance Lantz resigned to become street superintendent. The four council members were split 2-2 between myself and the other candidate, Guinn Doyle. Town Clerk-Treasurer Beverly Harves broke the deadlock, and I was elected to complete the vacated term.  That May, in the primary I was elected, and in 2007 was re-elected serving until 2011.

Betsy and I, along with several black Labrador retrievers, have lived in our Zionsville log home for 32 years and plan on staying.

My hope in composing this blog is to bring readers in Zionsville and Boone County thorough, impartial and balanced coverage of news which impacts their lives and their families that somehow is missing in the media.

And, thus I continue the search for the elusive truth.

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