INDIANAPOLIS – By a 6-4 vote a City-County Council committee controlled by Democrats overcame Republican opposition of two weeks ago to subpoena 30 sets of city documents related to the lease of the Regional Operations Center on Indianapolis’ east side.
“I was named to this committee to stop the stonewalling,” said Democrat Frank Mascari of Beech Grove. “Something really stinks.”
Mascari was recently named to the committee to break a 5-5 partisan tie on the committee as Republicans sought to question the inquiry based on procedural matters.
Democrats want to find out why former Public Safety Director Frank Straub, at the direction of Mayor Greg Ballard, signed a 25-year $18 million lease on the renovated Eastgate Consumer Mall on North Shadeland Avenue in early 2011 to house Indianapolis’ public safety operations during the upcoming Super Bowl in 2012.
Councilman Jack Sandlin, a south side Republican, admitted the lease agreement was probably not in the city’s best interest but has objected to what he viewed as the politically based investigation by Democrats one year before Republican Mayor Ballard is expected to announce his intentions on whether to run for re-election in 2015.
Majority attorney Fred Biesecker told the committee that after repeated requests developer Alex Carroll provided the committee with approximately one thousand pages of documents pertaining to the lease agreement and the loan he sought from a lender based on the city’s commitment to a long-term presence at the ROC.
Biesecker said that is why Carroll was dropped from the committee’s subpoena list but the Department of Public Safety and the administration are still targets of outstanding public records act requests.
Councilman Monroe Gray, a Democrat, announced the Ballard administration as the worst in his tenure on the council for responding to open records act requests in a timely manner.
Republican Aaron Freeman accused the Democrats of bending the rules of the committee by denying attorneys representing the mayor and the developer the opportunity to speak on the record while packing the committee with one more democrat to secure a majority.
Freeman also chastised Biesecker for not answering an email request a month ago for information on the documents being sought. Biesecker said the subpoena list was on the committee’s website. Freeman said Biesecker should have advised him that’s where the information could have been found.
Gray said that committee members needed access to the relevant documents before deciding what questions need to be asked of witnesses or attorneys.
Sandlin said that three years ago the council did all that was legally required of it by determining the need for a lease for a regional operations center and that it was up to administration to negotiate that lease.
Straub signed the lease without the approval of the city controller or corporation counsel. The building was partially constructed when it was opened on Jan. 25, 2012, ten days before Super Bowl XLIV per the city’s agreement with the National Football League. After the game, IMPD specialty units, Homeland Security and East District Headquarters moved into the building though nine months later inspectors determined the fire suppression system did not meet code requirements. A year later, in September 2013, Straub’s successor, Troy Riggs, determined a lack of firewalls in the basement and other essential construction put city employees at risk and the building was evacuated.
The city continues to pay $57,000 rent every month on the empty building while awaiting construction updates. Carroll and the city recently signed an agreement to complete the work with a target date of moving IMPD and Homeland Security employees back into the ROC in time for May’s Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
After the meeting was adjourned, Democrat Angela Mansfield asked why Republicans on the committee refused to sign a conflict of interest waiver as part of their commitment to the investigation.
Carroll and his company made significant donations to Republican candidates and organizations over the course of several years.
Straub resigned under fire in August 2012, and became the police chief of Spokane, Wash., where he may be beyond the reach of a subpoena to appear before the committee and answer questions about the ROC lease agreement.