Council members question city’s electric car program

Questions about cost and a heavily redacted contract are plaguing Indianapolis' plan to rent more than 400 electric cars for city employees.

The City-County Council's Public Safety Committee vocalized concerns from officers Wednesday that the plug-in sedans aren't fit for use by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, The Indianapolis Star reported.

An investigation has been launched into the seven-year contract to rent 425 electric cars from a California-based company for about $32 million. The council's chief financial officer has said the vehicles could cost the city millions more than Mayor Greg Ballard and his administration have let on.

Ballard said in October that the so-called "Freedom Fleet" is expected to save the city 2.2 million gallons of gas over the next decade. He has said the cars eventually will save taxpayers $8.7 million.

Council members have tried to learn more about the program in an effort to field complaints from police officers about the cars, which the officers say are small and lack the pursuit capabilities of gas-powered vehicles. But officials have found it difficult to read the contract, with 46 pages completely blacked out, and others that were heavily redacted, including a page detailing the payments owed by city taxpayers.

"I think I'm reading the CIA redaction of killing Osama bin Laden," said Councilman Aaron Freeman. "I've never seen so many black marks in my life."

The Ballard administration promised Thursday to release the contract in its entirety, after the Public Safety Committee took steps to subpoena the remainder of the document. The city's attorney previously had defended the contract's redactions, saying the document contained trade secrets, which can be withheld under state public records laws.

But contact information for company representatives also had been redacted, Freeman said.

"What possibly could be a trade secret that we blacked out who we're going to serve when we sue one another?" he asked.

The city's police officers also have expressed concerns over the safety of the electric cars, which don't have a trunk, leaving officers nowhere to store a gun. An officer who recently visited Freeman's house was forced to break the department's protocol and leave a machine gun in the back seat of one of 172 electric vehicles currently in use by the city, Freeman said.

Now he's working on an ordinance to block the vehicles from use by the police department, he said.

At least one council member, Frank Mascari, wants to suspend the contract.

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