Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 5, 2014 at 1:02 pm •  Published: August 5, 2014
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The Journal Gazette. Aug. 3, 2014.

State slinks further into ethics morass

How low will the bar have to slip before Indiana lawmakers finally demand tougher ethics laws?

Troy Woodruff and Inspector General David Thomas have lowered it another notch. Woodruff, the former chief of staff for the Indiana Department of Transportation, won't face criminal or civil charges related to state land deals benefiting his own family members, thanks to a ruling from Thomas.

The inspector general simply concluded Woodruff's conduct "gives rise to the appearance of impropriety" and "diminishes public trust."

And how.

An Indianapolis Star investigation in early 2013 found that Woodruff and his family members were among the property owners whose land was bought by INDOT for the Interstate 69 project in southwest Indiana. The state paid $7 million for 32 parcels of property appraised at less than half that amount.

Woodruff, along with his father and brother, sold a three-acre field to the state and the rest of the land to an uncle and cousins. The deals gave the family an 83 percent return on investment, according to the Star.

Indiana's conflict-of-interest law states that a public servant can be charged with a felony if he or she "knowingly or intentionally has a pecuniary interest in or derives a profit from a contract or purchase connected with an action by the governmental entity served by the public servant."

State law doesn't forbid public servants to have such a conflict, only to disclose in writing any dealing with their agency totaling more than $250 and to seek clearance from the state. Thomas ruled the law didn't apply to Woodruff because his land deal involved a possible eminent domain case and, as such, was not a typical contract.

The inspector general investigated the land purchase in 2010, clearing the former GOP lawmaker of wrongdoing, although other legal observers argued his conclusion was flat-out wrong.

The inspector general also dismissed claims involving Woodruff in 2005. Woodruff was elected to the General Assembly in 2004, promising his southwestern Indiana constituents that he would not support daylight-saving time.

Five months after he was elected, the former congressional aide cast the deciding vote for a daylight-saving time bill. His support for one of Gov. Mitch Daniels' chief legislative priorities did not go unrewarded.

At a Woodruff re-election event in 2006, supporters paid $25 to pose for pictures with the governor and to tour RV1, the $175,000 vehicle on loan to the state.

The Indiana Democratic Party issued an ethics complaint, and a deputy inspector general initially found use of the RV for a campaign fundraiser was prohibited. Thomas later reversed the ruling.

After Woodruff's legislative defeat, he and his wife both were awarded state jobs. His mother also was hired by INDOT. His wife remains a highway department employee; Troy Woodruff left last week to go into business for himself - taking with him with years of taxpayer-supported job-training and invaluable state connections.

Lawmakers ignore the repeated absolution of ethical lapses at their own risk. Voters can't continue to overlook conflicts allowing lawmakers' friends and allies to grow richer even as their own communities suffer from dwindling state support. They eventually will cry foul over the Statehouse's low ethical threshold.

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Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Aug. 3, 2014.

Shining light on human rights, then and now

Since 1984, Eva Kor and her CANDLES group have been shining a bright light on the unspeakable inhumanity that occurred at Auschwitz and other death camps in the days of World War II when the Nazis tried to eliminate the Jewish culture, create a master race and dominate the planet through its abject evil.

Kor, a survivor of Josef Mengele's diabolical experiments on young twins, went on to found the CANDLES Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute in 1995 — with considerable help from her husband, Mickey, also a survivor; her staff; her board of directors; and other supporters.

In 2003, a firebomber, who was never apprehended. set fire to the museum building and destroyed irreplaceable photos, documents and exhibits that together told the story of Hitler's reign of demented terror.

But before the final embers of that arson had burned out, Kor and her supporters had already rekindled the resolve to rebuild the museum from the ashes, grander than the original. A new museum opened in 2005, itself a statement against the violence that claimed the original building.

Now that museum, and the educational efforts that emanate from it, set Terre Haute apart from its sister cities throughout the country, even the world. It draws groups of schoolchildren on day trips from across the region, students who will forever remember that it was in Terre Haute that they learned about the Holocaust, hate, hunger, famine, poverty, violence and greed.

Always, those students are mesmerized, wide-eyed, both by what they see and by Kor's lessons of knowledge over ignorance, forgiveness over vengeance, healing over retribution, light over darkness.

Kor also takes her message on the road, speaking to college audiences — such as 500 at Louisiana State University in March of this year — and overwhelming that age group with horror stories that are real beyond any they have heard. She also, of course, offers hope that good can, and eventually does, conquer evil.

CANDLES also has gained international renown for conducting frequent trips to Auschwitz for those who want to see and feel the sites — and remaining sights — of concentration camps. (If you have that interest, a special trip is being planned for next January, a time that will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — which Kor and her late twin sister, Miriam, experienced firsthand.)

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