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Boone County / Hamilton County / Regional News

Carmel City Council loosening control over city operations

January 5, 2016

The newly elected Carmel City Council is quickly relinquishing some of its control over city operations.

During a lengthy meeting Monday night, the council voted to loosen its grip on an arts grant fund, the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, storm water management, city lawsuits, the Carmel Redevelopment Authority and decisions regarding locations of stop signs.

Some of that power is now transferred to Mayor Jim Brainard, as several of his critics feared would happen.

The votes took place at the first official meeting for the new council stacked with Brainard’s supporters, and while it’s unlikely every agenda will be packed with nearly 50 action items, the approval process could continue to be fast paced. Ordinances that will allow the council to skip sending items to committees for discussion and me it easier to vote on items during their first readings were approved Monday.

Council members said that by keeping more of the discussion in the regular meetings instead of the committee meetings, the decision making process will be more transparent. Full council meetings are recorded and streamed online, while committee meetings are not.

Under changes approved Monday, Brainard now has control over how to spend money within the Supports the Arts Fund, instead of needing council approval to fund projects and organizations, and will have a bigger role in storm water management.

The council will continue to determine how much money is appropriated to the Support the Arts Fund, but once the money is there, Brainard will have the final decision on how it is distributed.

An ordinance requesting an additional $100,000 for the fund is pending before the fiscal body. It would bring the fund total to about $800,000.

Brainard will also now serve on the city’s Storm Water Management Board. Prior to Monday’s meeting, the council had acted as the city’s Storm Water Management Board but now the Board of Public Works and Safety, which Brainard serves on, will take on that responsibility.

Brainard said the council should be focused on policy decisions, not the day-to-day storm water operations.

“I think the Board of (Public) Works is setup to do those things,” Brainard said.

But not every oversight change went over smoothly Monday. Brainard has publicly discussed his intentions to repeal heightened council control of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, but only a portion of the regulations were removed Monday.

In late 2012, the council initiated the increased oversight before refinancing the commission’s $184 million in debt. The new rules allowed the council to have control over any kind of debt issued by the redevelopment commission and any contract greater than $25,000.

“This is inconsistent with what state law is,” Brainard said. “State law controls the redevelopment commission. Not the city council.”

During Monday’s meeting, the council approved eliminating its control over contracts greater than $25,000, but the debt oversight provision did not receive the unanimous support that is needed to take a vote on it at its first reading. Council member Carol Schleif requested postponing a vote until the next meeting Jan. 18.

The council did unanimously agree to repay the CRC the $5.4 million it had to borrow at the end of the year. In December, the CRC covered four bond payments for the city because year-end general fund estimates showed that it wouldn’t have enough to pay the bills for the remainder of 2015. 

Under the agreement, the city had 60 days to reimburse the borrowed amount, but there were no penalties outlined if the city had not met that deadline. 

In other action on Monday, the council agreed to increase the city attorney’s settlement limit from $8,000 to $25,000, repealed a provision that required the Carmel Redevelopment Authority to give semi-annual reports to the council, and gave the city engineer the power to decide what stop signs should stay or go.

City attorney Doug Haney said increasing his authority on the amount he can settle lawsuits for would actually allow him to save the city money in other legal fees because it means more cases will be settled rather than requiring additional litigation.

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