Bloomington citizens had dual opportunities on the evening of Aug. 29 to witness our nation’s crisis in leadership up close, firsthand, at the local and state levels.

Down on Kirkwood Avenue, the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) Board of Trustees, after two years of shirking its duties, finally took action to resolve the ever-deteriorating work environment inside the library. Unwilling to defend Director Cindy Gray’s sale of a handgun in the library, board members finally forced and accepted her resignation.

Meanwhile, over in City Hall, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) held a public hearing on a proposal from Duke Energy to have ratepayers financially guarantee a new $2.1 billion “clean coal” power plant in Knox County about 50 miles southwest (upwind) of Bloomington.

While local media trumpeted the hearing as an opportunity for citizens to provide government “regulators” with input, nothing could have been further from the truth. These guys aren’t regulators, they’re facilitators. They serve the Indiana coal and utility industries, which is to say they are co-conspirators in the warming of our planet and reckless disregard for life upon it.

They also work for Mitch Daniels and couldn’t care less about the public.

Library board out of touch

The public record on Cindy Gray’s tenure at the MCPL conveys an image of public servants who are woefully out of touch with their responsibility to nurture and protect our public resources.

Indeed, their actions and attitudes suggest they have little understanding of just how revered the library is in this community, or how the community works.

Most important, the concept of “public” is totally lost upon them. As library staffers argued in the first article that the Alternative wrote about the situation, it’s a matter of philosophy, a question of attitude.

The board and the administration approach the library as a business. And from the moment Cindy Gray walked through the door, fired one veteran assistant director and quickly drove another out, a new “organizational culture,” in Gray’s words, enveloped the MCPL, with the board’s acquiescence, complicity and/or approval.

It’s a culture reminiscent of Enron. Trustees cover their eyes, ears and noses, and directors think they’re CEOs, free to do what they want. In the MCPL model of business-knows-best, that meant accepting personal loans from subordinates, using taxpayer-funded credit cards for personal expenses and selling guns in the building.

And, as every working man and woman in America today knows, in the new American business model, workers matter not at all. Even if they are responsible for their facility having been designated among the best of its ilk in the nation, employees are dispensable.

Losing some of them, Gray wrote to the board in a July 2006 e-mail, “could indeed be healthy for the organizational culture.”

At the MCPL, despite their educations, experience and accomplishments, workers were silenced beyond Cindy Gray's desk. While the board says procedures were in place for the public and employees to communicate with board members, for 2 1/2 years MCPL employees understood that they were barred from doing so.

And that, of course, shielded the board from the truth. After the board did start hearing employee concerns in April and the public, the board’s boss, started learning the truth, Gray was gone in a matter of weeks.

And the board was busted.

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To see what impact this new “organizational culture” has had on the library workplace, readers need only skim the comments made on stories published on the Alternative and Herald-Times Web sites.

Unless the board stonewalls, the MCPL is poised to become only the third union-shop library in the state. A staff that, over years, produced the best library of its kind in the country now feels it needs organizational protection from those who run the place.

Throughout it all, MCPL board members, with one notable exception – Trustee Randy Paul – have stood mute. As the H-T chased rumors in the days just before Gray departed, Board President Stephen Moberly wouldn’t even tell the paper if she was still in the library’s employ.

A move to have Paul recalled by the Monroe County Community School Corp., which appointed him to the board, was squashed by an outpouring of MCPL employee support.

And when board members have spoken publicly about the situation, almost to the individual, the only problem they seem to have with all that has transpired is that the public found out about it all and forced them to act.

That’s the most inexcusable angle to this ugly episode, the fact that today’s public servants don’t believe in the public.

IURC an industry tool

As lamentable as leadership at the MCPL has been, it’s playground politics compared to the IURC’s historic abdication of responsibility. Under that politically appointed body’s regulatory guidance, the state of Indiana is, embarrassingly, one of the world’s leading contributors to global climate change.

Not one of the country’s worst, one of the worst in the world.

As environmentalist John Blair noted during a May presentation in Bloomington, just two state-“regulated” Indiana businesses release more toxic air pollution than Cook County, Ill., Los Angeles County and Orange County, Calif., combined.

One of those industries is Duke’s coal-fired Gibson Station power plant near Princeton, which is IURC-“regulated.” The other is AK Steel in Rockport, which holds pollution permits from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

A July 2006 study by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) showed that Indiana has five of the nation’s 50 dirtiest power plants, the most of any state.

Indiana gets 95 percent of its electricity from coal.

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So, on an evening when millions of acres of the American West and the entire country of Greece were aflame from global-warming-induced wildfires, the IURC came to Bloomington to help perpetrate upon the public one of the great frauds of the 21st-century – clean coal.

There is no such thing as clean coal, and there never will be. The term is oxymoronic, public-private propaganda.

That the IURC couldn’t give a damn about the public is evidenced by the fact that Indiana’s CEO Gov. Mitch Daniels has already directed the commission to approve Edwardsport, and to do it fast. There’s an election coming. There are jobs votes to be bought down in Knox County. And no one who cares about the environment is going to vote for George’s man Mitch anyway.

Anyone who thinks the IURC answers to anyone but the governor is clueless about state government.

As the Minneapolis cop told Idaho Senator Larry Çraig, no wonder we’re going down the tubes.

Steven Higgs can be reached at .