Justice center developer trying to meet with council members

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The company that wants to develop a criminal justice center has invited the entire Indianapolis City-County Council to a meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss lingering concerns about the $1.6 billion project, which died in committee last month.

As the preferred vendor, WMB Heartland Justice Partners hopes to resurrect the project and see it pass the council on June 8, said John Dionisio, investment director for New York-based investment firm Meridiam, one of the three equity partners in WMB. The proposal could be revived with a majority vote of the 29-member council.

A majority turnout of council members to the meeting could create a legal problem for the developer.

“We invited council members to the meeting fully aware of the Open Door Law issue,” Dionisio said. “We don’t expect to violate it.”

The invitation went out late Monday, so it’s not likely that a majority of the council would show up, said Fred Biesecker, the council’s legal adviser. He said he warned WMB that convening a quorum would be a violation of the law, which requires public notice 48 hours in advance.

In addition, the council needs to avoid violating Indiana’s serial-meeting statute, or the “Bob Knight Rule,” by holding small-group meetings with WMB, Biesecker said. The law prohibits elected officials from breaking into groups of three to five people over seven consecutive days to discuss the same official business. Indiana University Trustees had used the serial-meeting loophole to discuss the fate of basketball coach Bob Knight in September 2000.

“Please join WMB for an open working session with our architects, engineers, and fiscal advisers at One American Sq (29th floor), beginning at 1 PM, tomorrow, Tuesday, May 19,” said the email from Dionisio to council members. “We are also happy to meet with Councillors individually if more convenient.”

Dionisio said WMB continues pushing for council support because the financing that was arranged is good through June. Mayor Greg Ballard's office is also working behind the scenes to gather enough votes to revive the project. Ballard spokeswoman Jen Pittman couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

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