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IPS board chief recuses herself from Mass Ave land sale

April 8, 2016

The president of the Indianapolis Public Schools board said she will recuse herself from voting on the sale of a prized piece of property that IPS owns along Massachusetts Avenue to avoid any conflict of interest concerns.

Board members are set April 28 to approve a proposal for redeveloping the 11 acres bounded by College and Massachusetts avenues that currently house a former Coca-Cola bottling plant and an IPS bus yard.

IPS received six proposals from five developers, including two from Milhaus Development LLC.

IPS board president Mary Ann Sullivan told IBJ that she has intentionally removed herself from the bid process because of her husband’s ties to the Milhaus bids. Sullivan is married to Brian Sullivan, managing partner of Shiel Sexton Co. Inc., the general contractor listed in Milhaus’ proposals.

Sullivan joined the board in January 2015. Because of her husband's position, she pledged to avoid voting on any IPS-related real estate deals, she said, not just the redevelopment of the land along Mass Ave.

“I took a blanket recusal,” said Sullivan, a former state representative. “The lawyers said, ‘You don’t need to do that. You have to do it on a case-by-case basis.’ I decided to err on the side of extreme caution.”

That might not be enough to appease governmental watchdogs. Gary Welsh, who pens the conservative Advance Indiana blog, wrote late last month that “Sullivan has no choice but to recuse herself from this decision, although I’m sure prior acts by the board have ensured her wishes will be carried out.”

Sullivan, however, maintains she was unaware that Shiel Sexton was even part of the Milhaus bid until reading about the proposals in the local press and since has not been involved in any of the discussions.

She was not present at the March meeting when the board originally was slated to vote on a redevelopment proposal. Members decided to delay a decision to give them more time to review the bids.

A real estate advisory committee that was formed to review the proposals will make a recommendation for the board’s consideration.

Abbe Hohmann, president of Site Strategies Advisory LLC, is leading the bid process for IPS and said the potential for a conflict has not been discussed by the committee.

“I think we’ve done everything we can to make it a transparent process,” she said.

IPS Administrator David Rosenberg backed up Sullivan’s pledge to recuse herself from the process.

“President Sullivan has never participated in any real estate discussions with myself or the IPS administration at official board meetings, one-on-one conversations, or otherwise,” he wrote in an email.

IPS has received six proposals from developers, including the two from Milhaus. Others are from Mass Ave Partners (a partnership of Strategic Capital Partners and Schmidt Associates), the team of Browning Investments and Flaherty & Collins Properties, and Hendricks Commercial Properties. Hageman Investments also submitted a bid, but it didn’t meet specifications and no longer is under consideration.

David Shank, CEO of Shank Public Relations Counselors Inc., which represents Mass Ave Partners, said the team is aware of Sullivan’s ties to Shiel Sexton and “would trust her integrity.”

The proposals, which range in cost from $106 million to $260 million, generally call for a mix of office and retail space, in addition to housing and parking options. Two proposals include hotels.
 

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