Indianapolis City-County Council to sue over $32M electric-car contract

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The Indianapolis City-County Council has voted to sue the city as a way to prevent it from implementing a $32 million plan to rent 425 electric cars for its vehicle fleet.

The council voted 23-6 Monday night to direct the council attorney to sue the city to nullify the no-bid contract with Los Angeles-based Vision Fleet. The council attorney said the contract was signed illegally and should have been available for bidding.

Meanwhile, Vision Fleet announced Tuesday morning that it is seeking a legal review of the pact in which a five-judge panel determines the validity of the contract and which branch of government has authority to negotiate changes. The company said it  filed a petition in Marion Superior Court in response to the council’s lawsuit.

The office of Mayor Greg Ballard called the council's vote to sue "irresponsible and misguided," The Indianapolis Star reported. Mayoral spokeswoman Jen Pittman said his office believes it has a legal contact.

Most of the electric cars would be used by police and fire departments, with traditional cars used by patrol officers. Ballard said it would save $8.7 million.

Council members debated the proposal to file a lawsuit for more than an hour, WXIN-TV Channel 59 reported, in the process voting down other options that would have delayed a lawsuit.

“This is not political, this is about right and wrong and there’s no question here that this is wrong. It’s wrong on the contract, it’s wrong on how we got into it, it’s wrong that the council didn’t know anything about it,” council member Aaron Freeman said.

The Department of Public Works signed the deal with Vision Fleet in February 2014. Indianapolis is set to be the first market for the venture capital-backed company.

The plan plays into Ballard’s declaration in 2012 that Indianapolis would try to convert its entire non-police fleet, which is about 5,000 vehicles, to non-oil fuel sources by 2025.

“The mayor is taking the boldest initiative in the country to want to deploy this fleet,” Vision Fleet CEO Michael Brylawski said at a press briefing in October.

Brylawski, a former sales and marketing executive with the defunct firm Bright Automotive, said Vision Fleet’s business model was developed by Vision Ridge Partners, a Boulder, Colorado, venture firm that focuses on green businesses.

Vision Ridge formed Vision Fleet to seek out business opportunities, he said.

Vision Fleet has said it will buy the cars from local dealers and rent them back to the city. The company plans to provide all the maintenance and management with an emphasis on effective deployment.

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