Corbett Criticizes City’s Handling Of ITM

Corbett Criticizes City’s Handling Of ITM

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Letter to the editor

Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

-Abraham Lincoln

This quote came to mind as I watched the drama unfold between the Indiana Transportation Museum and the City of Noblesville. We are in the final stages of ITM’s eviction from Forest Park and I’d like to make a couple of comments on the way this episode has been handled.  

This is a real David and Goliath story. However, unlike in the Bible, Goliath will end up winning this battle despite David’s efforts. The City has always held all the cards. It is the landlord, it has seats on the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority (which owns the tracks) and it has the deep pockets and formidable firepower of a taxing authority. The ITM is a non-profit that depends on donations and train fares to pay its bills and is run by volunteers. Still, it managed to operate trains successfully for decades.

But ITM didn’t have a chance once the city decided it was time to go. Love of trains is no match for high powered lawyers and the heavy hand of government. The landlord exercised its right to eviction, placed an unreasonable timetable on the ITM and brought all available public resources to bear on the hapless non-profit. It’s all perfectly legal but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

I’ve commented before on the injustice of a government entity throttling a private business for its own ends. I still maintain that our city overstepped its bounds by targeting ITM and doing everything necessary ensure its demise.

But this letter is about character. When an organization the size of the city of Noblesville takes aim at one the size of ITM, I believe its incumbent on the larger group to show a little mercy, negotiate a compromise and work in a spirit of cooperation to set things right. None of that happened here. The city, with all the power, created an ultimatum and is in the process of enforcing it. ITM had just months (now days) to move dozens of train cars and engines, and can’t even use the tracks to get the cars to safety because the city won’t let it. It’s shameful.

The ITM had its problems. Even its leaders will admit to some tough times in its history here. But you might expect that from a non-profit run by passionate people whose skills likely lean more toward mechanical engineering than non-profit management. Many non-profits struggle at times but they recover as long as they aren’t targeted for eviction by their city leaders. Conner Prairie had its problems a few years back but with skilled leadership and support from the community, its now stronger than ever.

As Noblesville loses a treasured public asset, we need to consider whether our leaders did right by the ITM. Because, for good or ill, they represent us and the decisions they make should reflect our values. I’m not proud of the way my city has treated the ITM. It’s likely too late to salvage that relationship but I intend to do what I can to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.   

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