Westfield council overrides mayor’s veto on new campaign finance rule

The Westfield City Council voted Monday to override the mayor’s veto of its new campaign finance disclosure rule before also voting to withdraw a proposal to terminate its State Road 32 agreement with the state.

Last month, a majority of the Westfield City Council voted to require all members disclose whether they’ve received $1,000 or more in campaign contributions from a donor before they vote or take any action on a project originated by that donor. Westfield Mayor Andy Cook refused to sign the legislation, effectively vetoing it and sending it back to the council.

By a vote of 5-2 Monday, the council decided to push the legislation through. Council members Jake Gilbert and Scott Willis, who originally voted against the action, did not vote to override the veto.

“Our legal team has provided an opinion that this resolution is not legally sufficient,” Cook said in an email. “I trust that analysis and have not heard any compelling counterpoints from the Council. I fully support all laws on reporting of political contributions and expect all office holders to comply with those laws. This seems like a regulation for the sake of regulation.”

Previously, council attorney Anne Hensley Poindexter said the resolution establishes “house rules” that do not attempt to change election laws already established by the federal and state government.

Manny Herceg, Westfield’s city attorney, reiterated his opinion Monday that the council could be exposing itself to legal action if it proceeds with a rule that steps on the state’s toes.

“State law completely occupies campaign finance and campaign contributions, and therefore, this is illegal and invalid,” Herceg said.

The council also voted to withdraw a previous attempt at terminating an agreement with the Indiana Department of Transportation to evenly share costs associated with the redevelopment of State Road 32 up to a total $15 million.

Previously, Westfield City Council President Mike Johns and other council members raised concerns about potential cost overruns on the estimated $15 million project.

“We won’t have a clear idea of the final cost of the project until the project is put out to bid in the fall of 2022. Essentially, we have to trust the $7.5 million estimate by our engineering department is accurate,” Johns said.

After noting that all council members support redeveloping State Road 32, Johns said the city’s administration has not been forthcoming with the project’s finances. He said it’s his “educated guess” that it will cost beyond $15 million to complete State Road 32 and its related projects.

Johns also said INDOT confirmed the project’s cost is already $900,000 beyond that initial estimate, but has since stated that it will “engage in discussion with the city of Westfield to confirm what additional costs [INDOT] may be able to participate in.”

He also mentioned that a pedestrian bridge over State Road 32 that was previously considered for the project has been removed, but the city’s Board of Public Works approved $541,000 be paid to project manager American StructurePoint for design work that had been completed two years prior.

“Those are just a sampling of the frustrations that I have experienced, that we as a council have experienced, while trying to investigate the State Road 32 project,” Johns said.

In response, Cook said he took exception to much of what Johns presented and said he wished for the opportunity correct what Johns had said. Ultimately, the council unanimously voted to withdraw the motion and allow the agreement to stand.

“While we still have grave concerns in the way that the agreement has been modified and changed by the administration and INDOT with no council input, it still provides a credible format for managing the process,” Johns said.

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4 thoughts on “Westfield council overrides mayor’s veto on new campaign finance rule

  1. Westfield downtown businesses and visitors and drivers will look back in the near future and wishfully think about a pedestrian bridge over route 32. Crosswalks will unnecessarily create additional traffic jams. Pedestrians will get hit by cars. I am sure the bridge would be much less expensive to build now than 10 years from now when we realize we needed it or lawsuits pile up forcing action. This will make the underpass at monon trail and 161st street pale in comparison.

    1. I agree there needs to be something in place for pedestrian traffic. While I can appreciate the Council’s frustration that they’ve not been included in more decisions, the fact remains that we should definitely NOT abandon the $7.5MM in free money from INDOT when the project has to happen. Hopefully some combination of folks will recognize this before we get too far along and they can incorporate the design that’s already been completed and paid for!

  2. I appreciate that our council wants to ensure we are prudent with our spending. But at what point does too much “fiscal conservatism” result in underinvestment in important community assets and our quality of life. Cutting back on the vision for Grand Junction, fighting with INDOT (as opposed to partnering with them) over what will become a required investment in SR 32, the decision to not adequately address the 161st and Monon crossing, generally ignoring the professional engineers who have actual traffic data about the merit of some of these projects, all of these are examples in my opinion of being penny wise and pound foolish. Opinions will vary on these projects but I believe we will end up doing most if not all of them at a later time and at a much higher cost.

    Finally, one of the things I admired about the tea party group was that they respected the constitution, I don’t see how that squares with their decision to usurp the state’s authority and to wade into regulating campaign finance at the city level. Time will tell, but I’d bet if this is challenged in court it will be deemed unconstitutional. It’s nothing more than campaign finance theater aimed at developers. We cannot legislate integrity, if a member of the council has conflicts on matters before them they should have the integrity to reveal them, if members of the council believe their colleagues have conflicts and aren’t acting with integrity in disclosing them, they should make it known. From there, let the people decide how to handle it with their votes. We need less dogma and more cooperation among all of our city leaders.

    1. How is disclosing large donations before a vote a problem? John Q Public doesn’t read CFA’s and there is a fair amount of “buying” going on. Recusals are rare even when ethically they should.