I-69 and Interstates/Highways and State Government and Regional News and Government & Economic Development and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

County commissioner pushes to invalidate I-69 vote

March 13, 2012

A Monroe County commissioner is pushing to invalidate a Bloomington planning panel's vote that added a contentious section of the Indianapolis-to-Evansville Interstate 69 extension to the group's local highway plan.

Mark Stoops alleges that last Friday's 7-6 vote by the policy committee of the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization is invalid because one member failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest, The Herald-Times reported.

The group's decision to include the I-69 extension in its local plan was needed to ensure that the state Department of Transportation could use federal funds to build a 1.75-mile segment of the highway within the MPO's jurisdiction. That funding had been in question since the panel voted last May to omit that section, citing concerns about how it would be funded and the highway project's environmental impact.

Stoops, who is a member of the MPO, contends that fellow member Bill Williams has a conflict of interest because he has a son who works for a subcontractor that's involved in construction of the I-69 extension. Stoops said that under state statute that amounts to a conflict of interest that should have been reviewed by a third party.

"That first step under state statute is that the appointing authority, the county commissioners, must request a review and a decision by the MPO in writing," Stoops said in the prepared statement. "That was not done."

He said the county's commissioners can only act in a public meeting and he was only notified of the potential conflict of interest issue last Thursday, the day before the four-hour meeting and the close vote in favor of adding the highway to the local transportation plan.

Stoops said Williams, who's the county's highway director, should have recused himself from that vote, but Monroe County Attorney Dave Schilling disagrees.

Schilling said the county legal department has advised Williams that it doesn't believe the situation represents a conflict of interest. He said the county's legal department heard late Thursday that the issue might be raised at the Friday meeting, and ultimately advised Williams that it did not believe he had a conflict of interest.

Schilling said Monday that that position had not changed.

A message left Tuesday at Willliams' office seeking comment was not immediately returned. The Herald-Times reported that Williams was unavailable for comment because he is out of the office until next Monday.

Stoops contends that if Williams' "yes" vote is invalid, then the vote would be 6-6 and the motion to include I-69 in the TIP would have failed. He does not believe there would need to be a re-vote on the issue if that was the case.

Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan, who also cast a "no" vote at Friday's meeting, said he believes the statute Stoops referred to is not applicable to local entities. But Kruzan said attorneys will have to look at the code and make the determination.

Schilling said the appeals process is not clearly set out for such metropolitan planning organizations because the "MPO is a unique creature."

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