Following our requested relocation from the lobby of the auditorium (to the outside) on April 30th (see May 31st blog post) at the “Community Discussion” presented by Connect Madison County (CMC), we inquired with AndersonUniversity officials concerning its written policies and rules for use of its auditorium. We were initially concerned about any rules pertaining to flyering, but later noticed a discrepancy regarding the fee charged for the facility. We were initially told the standard rental rate for non-profits is $625 and that’s what CMC was charged for the use of the facility. But when asked again, University officials said they actually charged $550– not the $625 which is the fee per the official schedule for non-profits.
Two days ago, we asked the University why the for-profit company was charged a non-for-profit rental rate, but we’ve not received a response. Perhaps their answer will clarify.
The University declined to provide a copy of the CMC’s rental application paperwork which might have been instructive to this point. Officials said that Anderson is a private institution and thus not subject to the disclosure requirements of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.
This is not only a question of proper accounting. More importantly, it’s about the disturbing privatizing of the public process for the 3 “Community Discussions”, which were not discussions at all— just mandated “positive” presentations by persons and organizations largely motivated by the commercial potential.
The reservoir plan is a multi-faceted and impactful public issue. Yet the Connect Project (it operates as Anderson Creative Solutions, LLC) is a for-profit corporation. According to a company official, “in Madison County it is funded by local advertiser dollars and partnerships. The Connect! brand exists to promote positive news and stories from our local community and build our strength as a community through a stronger, more positive source of information.”
Public policy is not all sugary sweetness. Any issue usually has at least two sides. While the company obviously prefers that its corporate brand and messages be positive, it has no right to, in effect, commandeer and manipulate a critical public issue, to eject from their pubic events those who would express doubt or disagreement, and to suppress community concerns, in part by using the police power of the state.
To the extent that Anderson University might have inappropriately aided the private corporation in this abuse of the public trust, either intentionally or unintentionally, by giving the company a discounted (not-for-profit) rental rate or, more seriously, by enforcing (via its security force), its actions to arbitrarily suppress respectful public dissent at the April 30th event, then these would represent another example of the current plight of our democracy in these troubled times. As Independence Day approaches, let’s consider how to better protect our hard-fought rights against tyranny and oppression.
In an inspiring way, David Lamb expresses this pertinent point about how we should seek to understand and accommodate dissent in this country:
“It occurred to me …that our penchant for directing an endless stream of criticism at ourselves is one of our best corrective mechanisms, and is in many ways, an expression of idealism. We expect more of ourselves than the people of most nations, and we still cling to the belief that aspirations and realities can be shaped into a union of realized values.” David Lamb, A Sense of Place