Carmel Council to consider establishing formal investigations process

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The Carmel City Council on Monday night introduced two proposed ordinances intended to provide guidance related to the council’s statutory powers when it investigates city employees, contractors or any charges against them.

Laura Campbell, the council’s past-president and North District representative, co-sponsored both proposals after hitting a roadblock in two investigations.

While attempting to look into the Hotel Carmichael’s $18.5 million in overruns and the recent handling of what she calls a “very disturbing employee complaint,” Campbell said she realized state law fails to sufficiently define how councils can and can’t execute their investigations.

“Part of the problem is, I’ve requested documents from the city and they’ve said they don’t believe they need to provide them,” Campbell said.

Campbell wouldn’t say which documents she was denied access to, but confirmed they were related to a city employee’s complaint. She also declined to elaborate on the employee complaint, but provided IBJ with a statement about an investigation she launched last November.

“The investigation seeks to determine whether City of Carmel written policies regarding employees’ complaints have been adhered to in this instance,” Campbell’s statement reads. “As a council, we are working to help the city create and maintain a safe environment where employees are treated with dignity and respect, and that the city policies in place are followed consistently to allow employees to get a fair resolution of their complaint in a timely manner.”

One proposed ordinance introduced Monday is intended to build upon the investigatory powers afforded to local legislative bodies by the state. Campbell and six other members of the council co-sponsored the proposal. The matter was sent to the council’s Finance, Utilities and Rules Committee, but a date for its next meeting was not set Monday night.

According to Indiana code, legislative bodies may investigate city departments, officers, and employees of the city, any charges brought against them, and the affairs of a person with whom the city has entered or is about to enter into a contract. The investigating legislative body is allowed access to all records pertaining to the investigation, and they may compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence by subpoena.

The law continues to say, if a person refuses to testify or produce evidence, the council may ask the city’s clerk to issue a written report of that refusal to a judge. The judge then decides if that testimony or evidence should be handed over.

Campbell said, even though state law is clear that the council has the power to subpoena evidence, it doesn’t specify the process for how the council might do so in specific instances.

The proposal introduced Monday would allow for a committee or councilor to be appointed as lead investigator by the council president or a majority vote of the council. It states a subpoena may be issued by the lead investigator, the special investigation committee chair or a majority vote of that committee.

As it’s currently written, the special investigation committee would have to identify the general nature of its investigation. However, that doesn’t mean that all information uncovered by subpoena would immediately be public knowledge. The delivery of those subpoenaed items could take place outside of a committee or council meeting and could instead be reviewed behind closed doors at an executive session.

If the recipient of a subpoena refuses to comply, the lead investigator could refer the matter to the full council. Then, the council would determine if the matter should go to court.

A second proposed ordinance co-sponsored by Campbell, Sue Finkam and Kevin Rider attempts to complement the first by eliminating any unintended limitation of the law department’s statutory duties or the council’s rights.

Finkam, the council’s president and Northeast District representative, also declined to comment on the nature of the investigations. She said a report on the finance committee’s review of the Hotel Carmichael should be ready within a couple of weeks. She also said she stood behind Campbell’s investigation into the employee complaint.

“Doing that investigation is an important and necessary step for the council to get additional information,” Finkam said.

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