A legal battle over the city’s troubled $32 million plan to rent a fleet of electric cars could cost taxpayers dearly. But Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration—thanks to a badly bungled deal and knee-jerk secrecy—left the City-County Council little choice.
The council voted 23-6 on June 8 to sue the city to invalidate the agreement with California-based Vision Fleet, which scrambled to file its own petition seeking mediation instead.
The deal has been a bad-government clinic from Day 1. The Ballard administration inked the deal for 425 vehicles in February 2014, without soliciting bids or presenting the plan to the City-County Council. The city became the first customer for a startup promising to buy vehicles from local dealers and rent them back to the city, maintenance included. The administration didn’t even announce the agreement for another seven months.
The missteps only got worse from there, according to coverage from local news sources including Fox 59:
• Administration officials described the deal as a contract for services—which in theory would exempt it from competitive bidding requirements. But documents suggest Ballard’s staff had to rework the original paperwork to support that contention.
• The mayor’s staff responded to council criticism by releasing a heavily redacted copy of the 46-page deal, further enraging councilors. The administration eventually relented and released the full contract.
• An audit showed the city illegally transferred about $300,000 in restricted funds from storm-water fees for a payment toward the electric cars. Ballard’s staff acknowledged the transfer but described it as a loan.
• IMPD Chief Rick Hite complained Chevy Volts aren’t suitable for assignment to non-patrol officers, and Public Safety Director Troy Riggs says he was never consulted.
Council members of both parties voted to invalidate the deal. They cited different reasons, but a common thread was a secretive, we-know-best attitude emanating from the Ballard administration.
It’s hard to know whether the deal makes sense financially for the city. The MSRP for a Chevy Volt is $34,345, meaning 425 of them would cost $14.6 million from a dealer. That would suggest at least half the deal’s cost is for Vision’s vehicle maintenance, fleet-management services and profit.
Vision Fleet CEO Michael Brylawski said his company already has spent $9 million on the contract. He requested a five-judge panel order the parties to mediation.
Brylawski, who described Ballard as a visionary last October, quarreled on Twitter this month with City-County Council members—suggesting critics are scoring political points at the expense of a good deal for the city.
His beef should be with the mayor.
The City-County Council deserves applause from taxpayers for taking their time, doing due diligence, pushing for openness, and ultimately tapping the brakes on a dubious deal.•
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