Council to weigh probe of public safety lease deal

A bipartisan group of city-county councilors wants to investigate the Regional Operations Center, which Public Safety Director Troy Riggs ordered vacated on Sept. 9 over fire-safety code violations.

The council will vote Monday night on a resolution to create an investigative committee, looking at "why the Department of Public Safety entered into an allegedly unfavorable long-term lease and other agreements relating to the Regional Operations Center."

Located in the former Eastgate Consumer Mall on the city's east side, the 75,000-square-foot center housed about 150 police and homeland security employees. Riggs ordered the employees to evacuate on Sept. 9 after city fire and building inspectors deemed the building unsafe.

The resolution is backed by Democrats Joe Simpson, Pam Hickman, Zach Adamson, Frank Mascari and Mary Moriarty Adams, as well as Republicans Aaron Freeman and Marilyn Pfisterer.

Simpson said Friday that he proposed the committee after seeing WTHR-TV's interview with property owner Alex Carroll, who claimed to have received a secret up-front payment along with the lease, which is worth $18 million over 25 years. Department of Public Safety officials haven't confirmed that the payment took place.

"I have the ability to get to the bottom of it, if this committee is approved," Simpson said.

Simpson said the committee would have 10 members, five from each party, and the same subpoena powers as regular council committees. Lingering questions about the deal might have to be answered by former Public Safety Director Frank Straub, Simpson said.

Also Monday night, the council is set to vote on the city's 2014 budget. The majority-Democrat council and Republican Mayor Greg Ballard have yet to reach a compromise. The main sticking point continues to be how to cover a roughly $9 million shortfall in the Department of Public Safety and maintain current staffing levels in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Related to the police staffing issue, Democratic Councilor John Barth will introduce a proposal to create a bipartisan study commission on the "appropriate and necessary number of IMPD officers and to review and analyze long-term funding options." Barth said he wants to study the issue, regardless of how the city decides to fund public safety in 2014.

"I don't want IMPD staffing to be a political issue," he said. "From a council perspective, it's literally impossible to budget appropriately if we don't have a number that we're shooting for, a number we agree on."

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