Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers
Posted September 20
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. September 16, 2016
Checks and balances.
Some will rob you with a six-gun/Some with a fountain pen.
Folksinger Woody Guthrie had desperadoes and Depression-era bankers in mind when he wrote those words in a song called "Pretty Boy Floyd."
But that second stanza could just as well apply to embezzlers. Even today, it seems routine hold-ups or burglaries command more attention than bigger, stealthier thefts of funds from businesses and organizations by trusted workers. Embezzlers strike small firms, churches and nonprofits as well as large corporations. In these cases, their fellow workers or customers often end up holding the bag.
Two local examples of that have recently been in the news.
Between January 2013 and 2014, more than $18,000 was stolen from the Heritage Elementary Parent Teacher Organization. Genevieve M. Meyer, former treasurer of the PTO, who had pleaded guilty to felony theft, was recently given a three-year suspended sentence to be served on probation. She was ordered to pay back the money.
This week, the board of directors announced that a $60,000 embezzlement that occurred between 2009 and 2012 may mean the end of the 55-year-old Pocahontas Swim Club, Fort Wayne's oldest. The club's former treasurer, Dana LaMaster, pleaded guilty to the theft in 2014 and was sentenced to a year of home detention and two years probation.
LaMaster also was ordered to pay restitution, but Alice Jordan-Miles, the pool board's co-president, told The Journal Gazette's Frank Gray no more than $300 has so far been received.
Another member of the club, Christina McKay, told Gray the club has struggled to pay its bills since the embezzlement and must raise $10,000 by Oct. 1 if it is to continue to sell memberships and plan to reopen next spring.
A crowdfunding site started by swim-club supporters Monday had raised almost $5,000 by Thursday afternoon, and a rummage sale will be Saturday at the swim club at 3020 Ojibway Trail.
Whatever size or type of organization you're involved with, if money is involved, make sure you've taken steps to protect yourself from potentially devastating embezzlements. Nonprofit organizations with largely volunteer staffs and boards are especially vulnerable.
Experts recommend requiring two signatures for all checks drawn on an organization's account or two approvals for each use of the group's credit card, requiring invoices for all expenditures and arranging for regular outside audits. Writing in Entrepreneur Magazine, Doug and Polly White offered a fundamental piece of advice:
"When you think it can't happen to you, your business is the most susceptible.
"As Ronald Reagan said, 'Trust, but verify.' "
South Bend Tribune. September 16, 2016
Indiana should close unfair tax loophole.
Local elected officials have vowed to continue their fight against big box stores using a loophole in tax laws to dramatically lower their tax bills.
They should. What the box stores are doing now amounts to an unfair fight that will mean millions less in tax revenues for local governments already preparing to take a hit from state-mandated Circuit Breaker property tax reforms.
Last week the Indiana Tax Review Board held that a Kokomo Kohl's store could include property values of nearby vacant store buildings, called "dark sales," when figuring the assessed value that determined their property tax. Howard County had argued that only occupied store values should be factored into the calculations.
South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County are siding with Howard County, arguing stores that don't pay their fair share of property taxes will force other individuals and small businesses to pay more.
Several commercial properties, including Meijer, Kohl's, Lowe's, Target and CVS stores are appealing their assessments in St. Joseph County, putting more than $17 million in property tax revenue in jeopardy.
The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill this year — and the governor signed it — to stop retailers from using dark stores in reassessments. But the measure only applies to appeals in the future, not the ones that already have been filed.
The permanent solution to this issue needs to come from legislators, who must make the law absolutely clear and fair to all taxpayers. Big box stores shouldn't be allowed to evade large parts of their taxpaying responsibility and leave already cash-strapped communities holding the bag.
Terre Haute Tribune-Star. September 15, 2016
Mission moves, but need remains.
Longtime institution for homeless deserves help
The Wabash Valley should remember two realities regarding the Light House Mission.
First, the nonprofit homeless shelter is relocating and intends to serve the community, just as it has done since 1890, for years to come. Second, the number of people needing those services remains high.
On Monday, the Rev. Tim Fagg announced the mission will move its shelter operation at 1450 Wabash Ave. to 1201 S. 13th St. The mission currently runs its Conner's Center for women with children at the 13th Street location. After the move, the consolidated Light House Mission facility will have the capacity to house about 70 women and 110 men.
The move is part of a downsizing effort by the mission to cut costs. A drop in donations has reduced the mission's yearly revenue from $1.4 million to $800,000, said Fagg, the mission's chief executive officer. By consolidating the shelter with the 13th Street program, the nonprofit organization will save an estimated $179,000 in annual utility, insurance and incidental expenses. The mission still owes $400,000 on the Wabash Avenue building, which it moved into in 1990.
Fagg said the organization has reduced the number of employees, wages and compensation. Several other properties the mission maintained have been sold.
The downsizing will boil the mission's operation down to the 13th Street facility and its three thrift stores in Terre Haute. Fagg, a lifelong Terre Hautean, is optimistic the changes will stabilize the organization's financial picture.
Likewise, he hopes the changes serve as a reminder to younger generations of Valley residents that the shelter needs their support. The goal is to return to the break-even level, financially. "I hope people will realize that and take a second look at the Light House Mission and try to help us," Fagg said.
A generation of longtime donors has dwindled, as many pass away, he explained. When those regular contributors die, their children and family often discover that "Mom or Dad donated to the Light House Mission every month," Fagg said. The mission aims to raise public awareness of the need through visits to churches and public speaking throughout the community.
Contributions can be mailed to or dropped off at the mission's Wabash Avenue shelter until the move is completed, and to the 13th Street address thereafter, or offered by phone at 812-232-7001 during business hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, Fagg said. The involvement of young people in the charitable giving routine is crucial, he added.
"Unless they're trained to donate to charity — whether it's the Light House Mission, Catholic Charities or the (Terre Haute) Humane Society — those donations are going to drop off," Fagg said.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless Hoosiers remains steady. The statewide Point in Time count in 2015 showed a slight drop from 2014, but a sizable increase in the number of homeless veterans, from 710 in '14 to 784 in '15. Terre Haute, which typically ranks near the top of Indiana metropolitan areas in unemployment, intensely feels the homelessness situation. The Light House Mission's situation serves as a sobering reminder.
Logansport Pharos-Tribune. September 15, 2016
Pick the candidate, not the party.
If you plan to cast a ballot when voting starts next month, you ought to be aware of a new state law that's now in effect.
Basically, if you're casting a straight-party ballot, the new law ensures that won't cover your choices for some county council or local school board races.
A law recently passed by the Indiana General Assembly changes the rules, and now straight-party voting doesn't apply to those races. It means you'll have to choose candidates individually for county council at-large seats or any school board races, even if you pick the D or the R ticket at the beginning of your ballot.
In Cass County, there's a four-way race for three at-large seats on the Cass County Council. Then there are contested races in three of the four local school corporations — Southeastern, Pioneer and Caston.
So we urge you to become an informed voter. Over the coming weeks, we'll be publishing news stories on each of the school corporations with contested races. As we do each election season, we're also planning a set of candidate profiles to allow all the candidates to make their case in their own words.
We also encourage you to pay close attention not just to the county council and school board races, but to all the other races, too — and consider voting in each race individually rather than "pulling the lever" for the Democrats or Republicans en masse.
Wanting to vote for a certain party is understandable. Individual party members might not be ideal, the thinking goes, but they still help the party as a whole promote its fundamental policy stances.
But we believe a candidate's party should be one of several factors voters consider at the voting booth — not the sole deciding factor.
It takes a little research ahead of time and a few extra seconds punching buttons in the voting booth. Take that extra time this fall and vote for the candidate, not just the party.
This year, straight-party ballots won't cover choices for at-large county council seats or local school board races.
Take some time to research the candidates for all races and vote for each individually rather than "pulling the lever."