Back to opinion page.
Clearing the air on Kirk White’s speechLast August, Kirk White, the Director and Special Assistant for External Relations for Hoosiers for Higher Education, spoke to a public hearing held in Bloomington by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) on extending Interstate 69. After his remarks, White had to be escorted out of the building by law enforcement for his own safety after he was approached and heckled by I-69 opponents, according to both the Indianapolis Star and the Evansville Courier & Press. The Courier & Press also reported that highway opponents physically blocked White’s way back to his seat.
Gregory Travis, the "Executive Director" of the "Association of Monroe County Taxpayers", accused White of "willfully misrepresenting Indiana University's position on I-69" on February 9th at 11:09 on Hoosier Talk, the online message forum for the Herald-Times and its affiliated newspapers. Travis also wrote on February 11th at 23:39: "It was inappropriate to identify his role within the university if he was simply stating the personal opinions of himself and several other people who happen to also be employees of the university.
However, having done so, it was inappropriate to not include a disclaimer that he was not speaking for the university nor relating official university policy."
Indiana University President Myles Brand told IU faculty member Lewis Polsgrove in an e-mail that "White was speaking in 'his role as the Director and Special Assistant for External Relations for the Hoosiers for Higher Education/Community Relations Office'," and clarified that Indiana University does not have an official position on I-69, which Polsgrove quoted in a letter to the editor to the Herald-Times. This is what led Travis to claim that White was "willfully misrepresenting Indiana University's position on I-69."
However, White didn't say in his speech that he was representing an official position of Indiana University. (White’s speech can be viewed at the AMCT Web site.) He spoke in favor of the highway, and said that it would have benefits for Indiana University. White told me that Brand knew ahead of time that he would attend the meeting and speak.
What White did say is he was presenting views in support of I-69 "On behalf of many of my fellow university leaders". There is nothing in that statement that was not factual. Indeed, President Brand wrote a letter to U.S. Representative John Hostettler in November of 1999 expressing support for the Interstate highway, stating, "As a public university, we believe it is important to encourage positive economic development in our home state. Building I-69 through its original siting in Southern Indiana would, I believe, provide a significant economic boost to this region... Moreover, I am sure that many of out students in Bloomington and their parents would greatly appreciate the improved access to their hometowns, thereby avoiding trips over sometimes treacherous rural roads in the notoriously changeable Indiana weather."
What White was doing was perfectly acceptable and appropriate, but Travis made a big deal out of nothing in an attempt to discredit a supporter of an Interstate highway that Travis virulently opposes, all but actually calling White a liar.
I find it amusing that it is White that engendered so much controversy months after the fact, considering that IU law professor Cathy Crosson lit up an INDOT official with a profanity-laced tirade at the same meeting, daring him to have her arrested, according to the Indianapolis Star. Crosson's behavior was certainly more objectionable than any manufactured impropriety by White.
It wouldn’t be the first time Travis has engaged in such mischief. The name of his group is a play on the Monroe County Taxpayers Association. Choosing a name so similar to an already existing local group could have landed AMCT into legal hot water had MCTA pursued the matter, especially since the Herald-Times reported on June 11th, 2001 that Travis chose the name "to needle the Monroe County Taxpayers Association". There is precedent for this. A guest columnist pointed out that the Herald-Times Web site, HoosierTimes.com, had to remove the name "Digital City" from a portion of its Web site when they learned the name was already in use by an AOL affiliate.
Travis also purchased www.mcta.net when MCTA let the domain registration lapse, as well as www.GrassrootsUnited.org, the Web domain for another local conservative group, Grassroots United of Monroe County. Both names now point to the AMCT Web site, and this move could have also proved problematic for Travis had MCTA pursued the matter. In one domain name case, Michael T. Doughney originally purchased the domain name www.PETA.org was to set up a site called "People Eating Tasty Animals", but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals won a court case to acquire the domain name. According to ABCNews.com, Doughney was ordered to "limit his use of domain names to those not 'confusingly similar'."
Of course, the I-69 debate is not over, even with Governor O'Bannon's decision to build the highway along Route 3C near Bloomington. There is plenty of opportunity for both sides of this divisive issue to lobby their representatives in government on the matter and attempt to convince the public that their position is right. But one hopes that in the future, personal attacks on the integrity of well-respected public officials will be avoided.