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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

Posted May 15

The (Munster) Times. May 1, 2017

Porter County College Savings Plan Shows Wisdom

When our children are young, it can be difficult to envision what their college years may look like.

Tuition and fees aren't necessarily on our minds when we celebrate their births or walk them into their first kindergarten classes.

But a new Porter County college savings program helps carve out an important place in both the consciousness and finances of families for one of the most exorbitant and important expenses they'll ever face.

Promise Porter County launched Tuesday as a plan to create College Choice 529 Direct Savings accounts for each of about 1,800 county children slated to begin first grade in the 2017-18 school year.

Local business, Urschel Laboratories, has pledged an initial $25 deposit into each of the accounts, and several other businesses stand ready to match funds with an undetermined pot of contributions.

Meanwhile, parents, family and friends of the students can regularly or periodically deposit money into the accounts to begin planning for the college futures of their children.

We've all seen the headlines of ever-increasing college and university costs.

It's easy to see those costs as being distant and not emergent when our children are young. But take a moment to speak to neighbors who have children of middle-school, high-school or college age, and you'll learn just how quickly those years passed.

The Porter County Community Foundation, Valparaiso Family YMCA and others who championed bringing the Promise Indiana college savings campaign to Porter County deserve praise.

It's truly never too early to begin saving for your children's future education, and ultimately professional, aspirations.

Funds can be added to the accounts at any time and can be used for any approved two-year or four-year colleges, trade or technical schools.

Money in the accounts can be applied to tuition, housing or books during post-secondary enrollment.

The program is slated to continue in future years, creating a quality of life asset for current and future generations of Porter County families.

Other Region communities or counties should consider the merits of such forward thinking.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. May 11, 2017

Legislature was mixed bag as usual

"So what's your summary of the legislative session?" Myrtle, my muse asked.

"I don't want to write one," I replied.

"Why not?" she persisted. "Usually you're all agitated about the Indiana General Assembly and spew some of your best invective on them."

"I'm tired," I confessed. "So many good individuals doing so much damage collectively to Indiana. It just gets old after all these years."

"Well, they raised the gas taxes and imposed new fees that will help repair our roads," Myrtle said.

"Yes," I agreed. "That was good, but so long overdue. And they provided $10 million for improvement of rail crossings, too little and too late for the many injured or killed at those crossings."

"They put more money into pre-K schooling," she said with enthusiasm.

"OK," I was energized. "Yes, they did some good things, as when they mandated that Lake County consolidate precincts with fewer than 600 voters. But they did it as they usually do things. It was Republicans, arguing for cutting government spending in an overwhelmingly Democrat area, without supporting their case with data on the effects of consolidation on voter participation in elections."

"You're saying the consolidation was a cynical effort at voter suppression?" Myrtle asked.

"Yes, and no," I answered. "It was a legitimate step that should have been applied statewide with more respect for local conditions. It's part of the long-term effort of the Legislature to deny our counties, cities and towns control over their own affairs, to destroy the little amount of home rule that exists in this state."

Myrtle leaned close to say, "But that's exactly the core of America's dilemma being played out in Indiana. How do we run a country with the technology of the 21st century on the ideology of the 18th century?"

"You're right," I agreed. "Whether we're talking guns, public transportation, education, pollution, health care, or whatever, the beliefs of people 250 years ago are not consistent with today's realities. Yet, we are bound by our determination to adhere to those noble beliefs, those core values."

"Exactly," Myrtle said as she and I were now on the same page. "How can we talk about home rule and the sanctity of local government when Hoosiers travel from one place to another daily for work, for school, and for shopping? At minimum, transportation is a regional issue, not a local one. But we stick with local transit companies as if this were the 19th century."

"We made some effort in the past with school consolidation for cost savings and better education," I said, "but we're terrified to give up that local football or basketball team, fearful we'll lose identity."

"Why doesn't the Legislature also say that towns of fewer than XYZ persons should be restored as villages or neighborhoods in a county structure?" Myrtle offered.

"That's simple," I said. "Most Hoosier legislators regret we don't live in pre-WWI America."

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. May 11, 2017

Veteran's day

For a community attempting to move forward in these parsimonious times, public-private partnerships are welcome. But sometimes, they just don't work out.

A month ago, Indiana Tech proposed a partnership with the city on development of Memorial Park - an almost-hundred-year-old area set aside after World War I to honor those who died in defense of their country.

Indiana Tech's $6.4 million plan for the underutilized park included creating a new track-and-field facility and a softball stadium to be used by the college's teams and students and by the public year-round, and an athletic training office.

Over the past two decades, Indiana Tech has transformed a once-aging campus into a sparkling center of activity on the east side of central Fort Wayne, also rejuvenating nearby neighborhoods. The college's plans for Memorial Park, just a short distance east of the campus, seemed like a way to extend that transformation even further.

But it soon became clear the project would require moving three of the park's memorials: the towering monument to Fort Wayne aviator Art Smith; the beautifully sculpted World War I gateway; and what remains of a grove of trees planted in honor of that war's dead.

Opposition erupted as soon as those aspects of the plan became known. As The Journal Gazette's Dave Gong reported, among the dozens who lined up to speak against the proposal at a public hearing last Thursday were "veterans, children and grandchildren of veterans, and one young man dressed as a World War I soldier named Sammy."

This week, Indiana Tech announced that it was withdrawing its proposal. In the face of such public angst, that decision was perhaps inevitable.

"We obviously are disappointed," said Parks Director Al Moll. "We thought this was a very positive plan. Very rarely do you have an organization step up and provide something of this scale."

But he said he understands Indiana Tech's decision to withdraw the plan, as well as the opponents' position.

"It was never our intent to discredit our veterans but, unfortunately, that was the impression some had," Moll said.

On the positive side, the debate reaffirmed the community's love and support for its parks, he said. It also raised awareness of Memorial Park's attributes.

"I hope some of that passion will translate into support for the park," he said.

Indeed. The park advocacy and veterans groups rallying to protect it have done just half the job. Memorial Park still needs their help.

. The parks department had planned to resurface roads, but the paving work was pulled from a project list because it was on Indiana Tech's list of contributions.

. Memorial Park monuments are part of an ongoing plan for renovations, but Moll said the repair list stretches two to five years with available funds of about $50,000 a year.

. The park's memorial grove once had about 150 trees and plaques, each dedicated to a local soldier fallen in World War I. Now most of the plaques and all but about 20 of the trees are gone.

Next year, the nation will celebrate the centennial of the end of what was once called the War to End All Wars, which came with the signing of an armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. Eighteen days later, Memorial Park was dedicated. Those determined to protect the park can now turn to sprucing it up for the anniversary. The groups can take on a fundraising effort to restore monuments, revive the tree grove and make the park an attractive place to honor our veterans and reflect on their sacrifices.

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The Indianapolis Star. May 12, 2017

Indiana University steps up on climate change

A wonderful bit of news came out of Bloomington this past week, as Indiana University announced an ambitious new initiative to better forecast and take on the impacts of climate change on Indiana's communities and businesses.

Yes, I know. I am talking about climate change, and about environmentalism, a pair of topics that for various reasons have become top-tier areas of division. But here's the good news for those on both sides of the debate: The university's new Environmental Resilience Institute will be founded on the notion of working on much-needed responses to changes that are indeed happening, whatever you believe the causes to be.

"When we talk about this in terms of how it affects people, whether it's about the impact on their food or water, or whether their child will want to stay in Indiana after they grow up, I think those are universal themes," said Ellen Ketterson, an IU scientist and professor of biology who will lead the institute's team of researchers.

"I really want folks to join together on this," she added. "I think everyone has personal experiences that will make for common ground."

Talk to an Indiana farmer, she said, and you'll hear plenty about how weather patterns have changed planting seasons. Or look at the sharp increase in Lyme disease that has been attributed to our suddenly mild winters. Or consider the impact of rising temperatures on Lake Michigan or on crops such as corn and soybeans.

"When I talk to people, from construction workers to farmers, and ask if they are aware of how things have changed with the climate, they will say, absolutely," Ketterson said. "I don't think there is that much distance between us."

There really isn't, until this becomes a political issue, or a policy debate that forces people to make changes they are not ready or willing to make. And therein lies the beauty of IU's new institute, funded by a $55 million investment that is part of IU's broader Grand Challenges Program. The goal of this institute is to improve the quality of information to businesses, communities and policymakers, to spark a collaborative spirit, and to make sure more of us understand the urgent need to act.

Researchers can work with farmers to better understand the impact of climate change on insects, and what that means for birds and crops, said Fred Cate, IU's vice president for research. In many cases, small changes could have significant benefits. Leaving a few extra feet of land along the edges of fields that have been plowed, for instance, allows for more biodiversity and, ultimately, healthier fields.

"We spend a lot of time arguing over the causes and how we got here," Cate said. "A key goal here is to say that this is a real issue and we've spent enough time with rhetoric. It is time to talk about what we need to do."

After all, Cate said, we all want clean air and safe food. We all want cleaner cities. We should all see the benefit of sustaining plants and animals, and of taking steps to prevent the spread of invasive species. And at a time in which so many debates in Congress and at Statehouses are dominated by that aforementioned rhetoric, there is a particular need for reasonable conversations.

"We want to be a model for the rest of the country and the rest of the world," Cate said.

It is easy to be dispirited by the apathetic and sometimes hostile reaction to environmental concerns by leaders at the state and federal levels of government. But it was nice to chat with a pair or researchers who know a lot more about these issues than most of us and to hear from them a message of community and optimism. It's a reminder that this issue does not need to be as political or divisive as it so often has been. Hopefully, state lawmakers will take a close look at the work coming out Bloomington.

Ketterson said one goal of the institute will be to partner with local organizations, such as Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, on short-term projects that can make a real difference in communities. Such projects can serve as a reminder that good things happen when we all come together. Another goal, perhaps a more challenging one to achieve, will be to convince more Hoosiers that we are at a critical point in time.

"We welcome challenges," Ketterson said. "But we don't have 15,000 years to act. We have the next 25 to 50 years to prepare for things we know are coming."

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