Vop Osili is leading the Indianapolis City-County Council in a new direction as it emerges from recent controversy.
“I imagine the council with a focus on what benefits our constituents the most,” said Osili, a Democrat who was elected president of the council on Feb. 19 with unanimous support from his party and Republicans.
Osili’s tenure began following the resignation of Stephen Clay, whose sudden rise to power and six-week reign led to sweeping changes marked by turmoil.
Almost immediately, Osili became a unifying force on the council at a time when it must address the urgent needs of more than 800,000 people who live in the city. Osili says he is up to meeting the challenge.
“Thinking creatively about a problem and working out a solution is motivating,” said Osili, who was elected to the council from the 11th District in 2011.
“He certainly brings integrity and a passion for the community to the position,” said Pitt Thompson, executive director of Christamore House, an organization that provides educational and youth services in Osili’s district.
Osili is also motivated to act whenever he sees residents in his district who live in food deserts and don’t have close access to grocery stores and lack the transportation to get to shelters and kitchens.
“Affordable housing is also an enormous issue,” said Osili. “Housing that provides shelter and easily accessible food as well as opportunities for skills training and job placement.”
Although he was born in Nigeria, Osili grew up in his grandparents’ home in Haughville on the city’s westside. He is concerned about how longtime residents like them could be affected by gentrification, which often displaces urban homeowners in favor of more affluent buyers.
“I believe in economic development, but not the ugly side of it,” Osili said. “I understand that oftentimes the victims of gentrification are people who look like me.”
Osili said one tool to handle gentrification is identifying so-called “hot zones” where rising home values could lead to property tax increases that many residents cannot afford.
“Once we identify a zone, then we can find someone who is at risk of losing his or her home and offer assistance,” Osili said.
Ian Nicolini, vice president of Develop Indy, an economic development initiative of the Indy Chamber, praised Osili as a champion of economic growth that benefits residents of all incomes.
“He has been a strong advocate for economic development,” Nicolini. “He has been a great partner and we look forward to working with him as council president.”
Committed to community
Osili also is committed to helping ex-offenders find employment and decreasing recidivism. The council, along with Develop Indy and Employ Indy, will soon launch Hired, a program that awards tax abatements and other incentives to companies who make significant progress in hiring ex-offenders.
“We will do this every year until it becomes the norm,” he said.
Osili wants the council to think more “outside the box” and expand its problem-solving abilities by having more partnerships with community organizations and academic institutions such as IUPUI. This, he says, will provide more solutions to city problems and overcome the hurdle of limited resources.
“With partnerships, we can produce far more and increase our research horsepower as a legislative body,” Osili stated. “It could also spark new ideas, energy and excitement about government and community work.”
Osili also is passionate about mentoring youth and involving them in developing community solutions. He often encourages groups of students involved in organizations such as Teen Works, which provides year-round employment and college readiness programs to area teens.
“Vop understands the community from a range of perspectives,” said Tammie Barney, president and CEO of Teen Works. “He has a constrained and thoughtful approach to his decision-making, and I think our council can benefit from that. He is fair, level-headed and has an ability to hear both sides without pushing his own agenda.”
Osili restored Democrats to the chairmanship of all committees. However, he maintained the balance of political parties that Clay established on the committees.
“It is important that we work outside of party to address the needs of the people who put us in office,” said Osili.