Councilors to get peek at justice center plans

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Some city-county councilors might get early access to information about a new criminal justice complex, but they have to agree to keep it under wraps.

Meanwhile, the council’s staff attorney and financial analyst signed confidentiality agreements so they can evaluate details city officials continue to withhold from the public.

The outsiders have five more weeks to catch up with Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and bidders, who have been discussing since April the request for proposals for the facility, which could cost as much as $600 million. The mayor’s office expects to make its selection by Dec. 23.

The city anticipates entering a 35-year agreement with a group that would finance, design, build, operate and maintain the courthouse and jail in exchange for a single annual fee. Director of Enterprise Development David Rosenberg has said that fee won’t exceed what the city and county already pay for the sheriff’s office and other criminal justice agencies. Rosenberg won’t disclose the maximum fee that was stated in the RFP.

The city’s stated limit was not released to the public with the rest of the RFP documents on Oct. 17.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said in a formal opinion sought by IBJ that the city’s procurement of the justice center is “irregular.” Nevertheless, Britt said the city should make public the RFP, including any drafts that were shared with bidders behind closed doors.

The mayor’s office intends to release the remaining information, along with early drafts of the RFP, the week of Nov. 24.

Republican Councilor Jeff Miller, whose district includes the former General Motors stamping plant site where the justice center would be built, said he planned to meet with Rosenberg Nov. 14. Miller said he’s not looking to dive into the numbers, though, mainly because he lacks the expertise.

“The ones ultimately that are going to provide the most intense evaluation are the ones that are paid to do that,” he said, referring to Fred Biesecker, chief counsel to the City-County Council, and Bart Brown, the council’s chief financial officer.

Democrats have criticized the city’s lack of transparency on the deal and had proposed creating a bipartisan task force that would be allowed to review information before it’s released to the public. Biesecker said the task force idea was abandoned, but councilors who expressed an interest might still meet one-on-one or in small groups with the administration.

None of the interested Democrats—Vop Osili, Mary Moriarty Adams and Pam Hickman—responded to interview requests from IBJ.

“I believe this process needs to be more open and transparent, and I believe that’s true for a number of local projects,” Hickman said in an email. She did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

Minority Leader Michael McQuillen said he recommended Miller, Marilyn Pfisterer and Aaron Freeman to the proposed task force. Pfisterer said she’s interested in receiving more information but hadn’t yet worked out a time to meet with Rosenberg.

The process will be nearly complete by the time the full council weighs in. Once the administration chooses from a pool of three pre-qualified bidders, the recommendation will go to the Board of Public Safety, a five-member body that typically reviews contracts for the Department of Public Safety and the Marion County court system. The board is made up of two council appointees, two mayoral appointees and Public Safety Director Troy Riggs.

What the council will be asked to approve is the public-private agreement, which outlines the responsibilities of the city and contractor and how much the city must pay over 35 years.

Ballard’s team is hoping all the bids come in under the maximum annual fee that was stated in the RFP.

The city set that limit based on assumptions about how much money could be saved with more efficient jail and court facilities. One of the major sources of savings would be the elimination of a contract with CCA, which operates Jail II. Marion County Sheriff John Layton, whose deputies run Jail I, has said he could operate all the county’s jail space without increasing staff.

“That basically really is what the council is going to base their decision on—whether or not we could achieve those savings,” Brown said.

He said the administration’s figures are realistic as long as agencies, especially the sheriff’s office and court system, are able to reduce their head counts by the time the new facility opens in 2018.

After reviewing confidential information, Biesecker said he’s not opposed to the deal at this point but is eager to see the actual proposals due Nov. 21.

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