Brainard looks to ease restrictions on redevelopment commission

Mayor Jim Brainard expects the Carmel City Council’s strong oversight of the redevelopment commission to be eased early next year.

The city council imposed stricter regulations over the Carmel Redevelopment Commission before it refinanced the commission’s $184 million in debt in late 2012. The additional oversight allows the council to have control over any kind of debt issued by the redevelopment commission, any contract greater than $25,000 and the annual budget.

Several council members at that time argued that the CRC operated with little oversight or control from elected officials, which led to massive spending and unsustainable debt.

Brainard told the IBJ he thinks the requirements are illegal because they go beyond state code, which allows redevelopment commissions to sign contracts without city council approval.

“It’s absolutely contrary to state law,” Brainard said, mentioning it’d be like the redevelopment commission passing an ordinance to limit the council’s powers. “It would have no legal effect. This ordinance doesn’t, either.”

Jeff Worrell, a CRC member and city council member-elect, said the oversight causes an extra step and hassle for those involved.

“I do support amending that ordinance to go back to what the state legislature intended,” Worrell said. “It just slows everything down.”

Council President Rick Sharp, who unsuccessfully ran against Brainard in the Republican mayoral primary this year and has criticized the mayor for overspending, said he wasn’t surprised to hear the restrictions might be lifted.

“Those of us who helped the strengthen the council oversight of city business … said we expect much of that oversight to be rolled back fairly swiftly,” Sharp said. “This will be a critical test for the council to prove their independence.”

He said other than not approving the $60,000 contract extension for former CRC executive director Les Olds, the council has supported CRC decisions.

“It will be sad to see the CRC sink back into a cloak of secrecy,” Sharp said.

Council member Sue Finkam said she didn’t like the $25,000 threshold for contracts but supported having some oversight when the issue was discussed in 2012.

While she hasn't counted the votes, Finkam acknowledged that several council members have discussed introducing an amendment, which she could support.

“I enjoy and appreciate a close working relationship with the CRC director,” Finkam said. “Even if we relaxed some of the oversight language, I don’t see that relationship changing.”

Finkam mentioned she’d also like to have a city council member serve on the CRC, which previously had been allowed in Carmel. Worrell said he would support that, too.

With the most vocal critics removed from the council, it’s possible an amendment could pass.

In addition to Sharp’s defeat, several council members known for disagreeing with Brainard lost their seats in the primary election, including Luci Snyder and Eric Seidensticker.

No races are contested for the general election in Carmel. The new council will take office Jan. 1.

The issue is expected to be introduced within the first few months.

“I would expect the first 60 days of the new year will be very, very busy for the new city council,” Sharp said.

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