Last week, Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, was spreading the word in communities along the rail line to tout what he believes his company can bring to making the Hoosier State something it's not under Amtrak's management.
The stories out of Indianapolis, Lafayette and Chicago detailed high hopes that stretched beyond the requests for such amenities as reliable Wi-Fi connections, food service and nicer compartments.
Ellis was building new expectations, including a future in which the passenger trains would make 12 runs a day between Indianapolis and Chicago. He spoke about how the Hoosier State's clientele would be built on excursions instead of on sheer transportation need.
That would fall in line with local Hoosier State fans' dreams that, if done right, passenger rail could actually be the ticket for day trips to Chicago, in which families could bring their bikes on a morning train, ride Lake Shore Drive all afternoon and then return to Lafayette's Big Four Depot before sunset. Or it could be used as a key component for a day game at Wrigley Field.
Ellis, whose company is in negotiations with the Indiana Department of Transportation to maintain and market the Hoosier State, made all that sound possible.
One sample: "If Iowa Pacific can pull this off, it's going to be an absolute positive for this community," Dana Smith, former head of Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, told the J&C.
If Iowa Pacific can pull this off .
The Hoosier State might very well be the new patron saint of lost causes by now, if it weren't for dogged work of some of passenger rail's biggest fans.
After Congress dumped Amtrak's shortest lines, including the Hoosier State, that regional coalition persuaded local mayors and the state that the line was worth saving — and to pony up the $3 million to make it happen. And when the Federal Railroad Administration threw a wrench into negotiations of a long-term deal by putting additional demands on the state, that coalition provided the voices that persuaded the feds to back away from the ledge and give INDOT room to maneuver on a new public-private, Hoosier State deal.
So with the Hoosier State, everyone has learned to believe in the minor miracles that come through persistence.
Will the state commit millions in infrastructure improvements to make Ellis' dreamy talk of a dozen trains a day a reality? That might not be the easiest of sales jobs, given that two years ago the Statehouse seemed perfectly willing to let the Hoosier State wither instead of fund what the governor believed should be financed by Congress. Maybe reliable Wi-Fi, better marketing and better on-time service would be the place to start.
But we've been down that track of lost causes before. And the Hoosier State keeps surviving.
The Herald-Times, Bloomington. April 18, 2015.
Ernie Pyle left indelible message for the world
Hoosier journalist Ernie Pyle died 60 years ago today.
The renowned war correspondent, columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner was killed by enemy fire on a tiny island in the Pacific, just four months before the end of World War II.
Pyle, who studied journalism at Indiana University before going off to the battlefield, brought the real story of the conflict — war through the eyes of the scared enlistee huddled in a foxhole as the ground explodes around him; war that frightens even as it drives a GI, perhaps just turned 19, to astonishing heroics and sacrifice; war that plods through months and years of blood, gore and exhaustion, painting all before it gray with gloom — to the folks back on the home front.
His audience — Pyle's column was carried in more than 700 newspapers — told that story to the moms and dads, lovers, sisters and little brothers who, perhaps for the first time, could begin to understand the real pain of such cataclysm.
When Pyle died, the end was in sight. In fact, he'd stuffed a draft of a column to mark the imminent end of the war in Europe into his pocket before he was cut down by machine gun fire.
In that column, Pyle had written that he wouldn't soon forget "the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.
"Dead men by mass production — in one country after another — month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.
"Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous.
"Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them."
That view of what war really is made Pyle a hero to the troops, a legend in newspapering and someone whose message must never be forgotten.
South Bend Tribune. April 17, 2015.
It takes more than bluster to attract jobs
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner didn't mince words when he told the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune recently of his plans to bolster the economy of his home state, even if it means sucking the economic life out of one of his neighbors.
"Believe me, I am going to rip — try to rip the economic guts out of Indiana," Rauner said. "I am one of the baddest, you know, enemies anybody can have. And when I set a goal, we do it. I don't care what the headline is. I want the results. And we're coming after Indiana big time. But you know what, we're going to do it on our terms, the right way."
If the right way is making reckless predictions to do anything it takes to turn Illinois' stumbling economy around, then Rauner is on the right track. But making predictions and actually accomplishing the goal are two different things.
It's easy to dismiss Rauner's comments as so much political bluster. Rauner and the Illinois legislature are trying to craft a new budget by the time lawmakers adjourn at the end of May. Right now, state leaders are staring a projected $6 billion budget deficit in the face with the potential of significant cuts if progress is not made.
Clearly Rauner is using the controversy over Indiana's passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to try to lure Hoosier businesses to Illinois. It was exactly that kind of backlash that opponents of RFRA claimed they were worried about.
In an April 5 column published in the South Bend Tribune, Ball State economist Michael Hicks explained that the actual relocation of businesses from one state to another is overhyped and amounts to only a small percentage of new jobs any state can attract. Hyperbole such as Rauner's is evidence of the length some states will go to in the fight to boost their own economies.
On the contrary, one of the most effective ways to boost a state's image in the fight for jobs lies in trust, Hicks wrote. "Without trust, contracts are meaningless scraps of paper and trade comes to a grinding halt."
We're not sure what impact Indiana's RFRA will have on the state's economy and the ability to attract and keep jobs in Indiana. It likely will take months or years before that's determined. But as Indiana tries to grow its economy, it must do so with the openness and trust Hicks describes.
If Rauner thinks his impetuous, political bluster will entice businesses to choose Illinois over Indiana, he needs to rethink his strategy. It won't work.
In the meantime, Hoosiers would do well to stay the course recommended by so many — including Hicks — and that is to maintain an open and honest atmosphere that is welcoming to all businesses. Those are the traits that will grow Indiana's economy.
The Tribune, Seymour. April 17, 2015.
Make email rules clear to avoid troubles ahead
As access to emails of government officials has been making national headlines, the Indiana Public Access Counselor has seen an increase in inquiries about what is required of public officials across the state.
Dale Brewer, from the office of the public access counselor, said interest has been piqued since news broke regarding the private email server maintained by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the public business that might have been done through it.
Luke Britt, the Indiana public access counselor, has weighed in on the question as recently as Oct. 8, regarding the Lake County commissioners. He put them on notice that emails in a personal account fall under the Access to Public Records Act when they contain government business.
Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director and General Counsel Stephen Key said, "The problem with (public officials and employees) using their private emails, if they're not going to make those subject for public inspection, is that they are — while not maybe violating the letter of the law — they're circumventing the intent of the law.
"They're taking this correspondence and putting it in a style or format that evades the public's ability to monitor what they're doing and how decisions are being made."
In his Oct. 8 opinion, Britt encouraged public officials to seek the public's trust.
"The best transparent practice would be to implement a policy where email communication on private accounts dealing with public business is considered potentially disclosable public record," his opinion concludes.
The Indiana Commission on Public Records' Electronic Records Policy directs government agencies to maintain all electronic records, including emails, in accordance with existing retention policies, based on the content of the email. Some records on the retention schedule are supposed to be retained for 10 years.
Going by the advice of the public access counselor's office, public officials are putting themselves in questionable territory if they mix personal and government correspondence. A nongovernment-operated account — even one used strictly for county business — can create issues with the public's trust.
Governments at all levels should review their policies about use of email. Setting clear lines now will make it easier to resolve questions of access and openness in government later.