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Councilors allegedly offered millions in projects for justice center votes

April 15, 2015

Indianapolis City-County Council Chief Financial Officer Bart Brown said councilors have told him they’ve been offered up to $50 million in projects spread among five districts if they vote to approve the proposed $1.6 billion criminal justice complex.

Mayor Greg Ballard’s point person on the complex said he was unaware of any such offers, calling the alleged lobbying effort rumor.

Brown said five Democratic council members have said they’ve been contacted with promises of $10 million in projects in each of their districts if they vote to approve the 35-year deal between the city and WMB Heartland Partners.

“In discussions with certain councilors, they said they were promised large infrastructure projects in their districts if they voted yes,” Brown said Wednesday, a day after a council committee rebuffed the proposal. He said the offered projects include major improvements to parks, streets and sidewalks.

“The talk is, it’s targeted to certain districts, so not all councilors are being offered,” Brown said.

“That’s honestly the first I’ve heard of that,” Deputy Mayor David Rosenberg said in an email. “Not sure where any of that money would come from, so I’m not sure where the rumor is coming from.”

Brown said that’s part of the reason councilors have been calling him. He said councilors “honestly don’t know where we would come up with that kind of money.”
 
Council members who Brown said had received pledges of projects for votes did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment Wednesday. Brown said it’s not uncommon for councilors to be lobbied for support, but he said the size of the purported offers was highly unusual.

Brown commissioned a council financial analysis of the justice center proposal that cast doubt on Ballard administration claims that the complex could be financed, built, operated and maintained without raising taxes.

Tuesday, the council’s Rules and Public Policy Committee voted 6-2 against the proposal from WMB to develop the complex on the site of the former General Motors stamping plant west of downtown.

Rosenberg was noncommittal Wednesday about whether the administration would continue to push for a full council vote scheduled April 20.

“We are continuing to have conversations and explore all options,” he said. “While we are certainly disappointed in the result last night, we look forward to continuing to work with councilors on this important initiative to solve an issue that has faced our community for three decades.”

Because the proposal failed to gain committee approval, Brown said it will not be on the council agenda April 20, but he expects there will be an attempt to add the Justice Center proposal at the meeting.

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