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Frequently Asked Questions About FAIR

WHAT IS FAIR?

FAIR (Fostering Accuracy, Involvement & Responsibility Inc.) is a non-profit, non-partisan, statewide research and advocacy organization created to bring greater fairness and cooperation to Indiana's public construction referendum process. FAIR is dedicated to helping communities and the governing bodies that serve them make well-informed and smart investments in their future economic health by encouraging honest communication and collaborative decision making among local officials, taxpayers, businesses, and all stakeholders in the community.

WHY IS FAIR NEEDED?

Changes in the law regarding public facility construction have had a chilling effect on much-needed projects, on local officials who make responsible decisions, and on many professions, industries, and workers that serve Indiana communities. These well-intentioned changes have prevented local officials from responding to false or misleading statements, and created divisive political battles that can leave long-lasting scars in communities.

For example, once school district officials hold a public “1028” hearing on a new building project, they or their representatives are no longer allowed to speak publicly in support of the project. While attorneys disagree on just how restrictive those limits are, at least one judge blocked a school corporation from making any public statements on a project – even though there were no limits on what the project’s opponents could say. We believe that kind of limit flies in the face of freedom of speech and the fairness Hoosiers expect.

WHAT DOES FAIR HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?

We want to enhance public awareness of the inequities in the present system, help state legislators recognize the need for refinement, educate local officials, and provide resources so that they will be more effective in working with their communities.

HOW WILL FAIR DO THAT?

By providing educational materials and presentations built upon successful strategies employed in Indiana and other states where the referendum process has been used for years, FAIR will help local officials become more effective at public engagement and collaboration. Our goal isn’t to “sell” communities on specific building projects – it’s to help local officials do a better job of working collaboratively with constituents so there is agreement on needs and best courses of action long before the referendum process begins.

WHAT ELSE WILL FAIR DO FOR LOCAL OFFICIALS?

We intend to become a clearinghouse for information and resources, so local officials in one area can learn more about strategies used by their counterparts in another.

WHO BELONGS TO FAIR?

Our membership represents associations, professionals, companies, labor, educators, and others whose livelihood depends upon having a fair process for public review of building projects.

DON’T YOUR MEMBERS BENEFIT FROM BUILDING PROJECTS?

Absolutely, and we make no secret of that. For many of our members, public construction projects represent their primary source of revenue. That’s why having a fair process is so important to them, and it’s why they provide financial support to FAIR.

But our members aren’t the only ones who benefit when sensible, needed public building projects are approved. The communities in which those facilities are located benefit by having high-quality buildings that will serve public needs for decades to come and that make the community more attractive to potential residents and employers. In addition, our members’ employees benefit because projects ensure that they will continue to earn wages that allow them to support their families – and the communities in which those workers live benefit as they spend those wages and pay taxes.

WILL FAIR PROMOTE SPECIFIC PROJECTS?

No. We believe that local projects will succeed only when they are understood and championed by local people. In addition, we do not have the resources or individual community knowledge to campaign effectively at the local level. We will share the knowledge, skills, and strategies officials need to lead their own efforts, and offer counsel to those officials as needed.

IS FAIR A LOBBYING ORGANIZATION?

We do not intend to lobby elected officials or provide funding to parties in local referenda. However, we will testify before legislative committees when appropriate to share our concerns about the present process and offer our suggestions for making it more fair and equitable.

WHY SHOULD ANY COMMUNITY BUILD IN THESE TOUGH TIMES?

That’s an excellent question, given that the recent economic problems have made it tougher for many people to make ends meet. Frankly, building just for the sake of building makes little sense in any economy. But carefully planned projects that meet current and anticipated needs are critical to the future economic health of communities. In addition, construction projects provide fuel for Indiana’s economy.

The key is identifying the needs and developing a program that meets a community’s needs in the most cost-effective manner – and the best way to accomplish that is the kind of collaboration FAIR will promote.

AREN’T PUBLIC PROJECTS LIKE SCHOOLS OVERBUILT?

There’s a common perception that schools and other public buildings are constructed more elaborately and expensively than they need to be. It’s not unusual for detractors of public facilities to refer to them as “Taj Mahals.”

While there have been some projects that have captured the opinion of many as being wasteful (and that have received extensive coverage from the media), the reality is that most public projects are built with careful attention to budget. For one thing, most public projects in Indiana are subject to Public Works laws, which means the contracts must be awarded to the lowest, most responsive bidder. The competition to be the lowest bidder forces contractors to find the most cost-effective ways to meet the specifications without reducing quality.

It’s also important to remember that public buildings have to be built to significantly different standards and expectations than homes and many commercial buildings. For example, schools require additional fire protection and fireproofing that is not needed in most other types of buildings. Extra requirements like that tend to drive the per-square-foot cost higher.

Often, features or materials that appear to be expensive may actually be a lower-cost choice in the long run. For example, terrazzo flooring typically costs more to install than vinyl tiles. But terrazzo is essentially a permanent material that will last throughout the entire life of the building, while vinyl tile must be replaced every few years. Usually, once the tile has been replaced two or three times, the total cost is comparable. In addition, terrazzo requires far less maintenance. So a school district or town that specifies terrazzo might be seen as spending too much, when its taxpayers will actually pay far less over the life of the building. Unfortunately, in an era of “sound bites,” the public rarely gets the opportunity to hear the full story.

SHOULDN’T STATE GOVERNMENT DECIDE WHAT GETS BUILT?

FAIR believe that the type of buildings that are built in a community should be a local decision, made by people who are elected by (and answer to) local taxpayers. Some communities may prefer very simple facilities, while others may believe that public buildings should contain additional features or amenities. It’s important for local officials to work collaboratively with the communities they serve. When that approach is taken, the type of building that is constructed should reflect both the community’s needs and its preferences. Of course, not everyone in a community will be happy with decisions that are made, no matter how collaboratively local leaders work.

HOW CAN I MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION ABOUT A REFERENDUM?

First, be sure you actually participate in the election. Far too many citizens fail to take advantage of these unprecedented opportunities to direct the future of their communities. Second, become as well-informed as possible. Listen carefully to both the supporters and any opponents. If anything either side says seems unclear, don’t hesitate to ask for an explanation.

HOW CAN I JOIN FAIR?

If you share our beliefs and objectives, we invite you to contact us for information about membership.