Thursday, March 22, 2007

21 March 2007 Dearborn County Council Special Meeting on Vieste and NW Quad

21 March 2007 Dearborn County Council Special Meeting on Vieste and NW Quad

Present: Fehrman, Chairman, Morris, Ullrich, Kraus, Sr., Lansing, Cheek, and Mitter (arrived 10 minutes late due to work emergency- Council started at 7:40 PM)
Also present: Pickens, Auditor, and Messmore, Administrator

Charlie Fehrman opened the meeting and limited the discussion to the Council members.

Tom Cheek a year or so ago- it wasn’t Council who hired Vieste. I checked with two friends of mine who grew up in Aurora and work sheet metal in Indy and ran the company names past them. They were familiar with Jungclaus Campbell, but note Vieste and had no negative comments on them.
Cheek then called Mike Harmless of Crowe Chizek- had met him about 5 years ago doing work for Aurora. He explained to me how the sewer bills went with Branaman’s company. He said the company hadn’t raised rates in a long time and was overdue, and so the rate changes were big. It was all done legally through Ice-Miller and the mayor. Branaman is a high powered engineer and a good business man. Crowe Chizek did all the work for the rates on that project. The current mayor of Lawrence did not respond to the email that Cheek sent this week.
[NOTE: Due diligence needed to be performed on these companies. The county relies on Messmore, their administrator, to perform most of this. Double checking with your friends and acquaintances- as Cheek did- is fine, but that does not constitute a thorough background check on these companies. In this case- Crowe Chizek WORKS for Lawrence Utilities, LLC- so their opinion should be only part of the background check. Cheek learned from Harmless that the SEWER bills hadn’t been raised in a long time. In the investigative reports from the Indy Star and the one run by the current mayor, they list the WATER bills rates as having a 110% increase and specifically say that it didn’t include sewer or trash pickup which push monthly bills in many cases to $100 or more. They also cite the water rates in all of the surrounding areas as a comparison. (Morgan County- 56.75, Lawrence 40.29, Boone County- 35.00, Noblesville- 34.79, Johnson County- 30.25, Shelbyville- 30.25, Indianapolis- 20.55, Anderson- 16.80, Carmel- 15.40, and Martinsville- 9.35- Source IURC- 2004)
Another disturbing “coincidence” is that the utility vendor payments to companies affiliated with the members of Lawrence Water, LLC (Branaman is an owner) go to the following companies who are/were all located at 9105 E. 56th St. in Lawrence in 2003.
CEA (Congdon Engineering (Branaman and Dick Robertson were (maybe still are) employees or owners. $1,054,322
Innovative Mapping Solutions- $373,672
Integrated Data, LLC- $403,935
Integrated Realty, LLC- $244,911
Integrated Resources, LLC - $2,679,475
The Merit Group, Inc- $85,500
TOTAL- $4,841,815
That address on 56th Street showed up again in the white pages this week as one of 2 addresses for Vieste, LLC in Indy. (They have a 3rd address in Chicago) The 56th Street address is NOT listed on their web site. Mr. Branaman, who was originally listed as a principal on the Vieste web site has been removed from that site- as have some of their affiliated companies. Just how connected are all these companies? And why does info keep disappearing from web sites?]

Dan Lansing- Why is Vieste doing the same work as DCEDI?
Messmore- We’re only doing something that wouldn’t be duplicating any efforts. We would do everything we could to… - then he made some reference to an expression they used at Hillenbrands to mean “no waste.” The humor was lost on the crowd.

Bill Ullrich- What is the relationship between London-Witte and Vieste?
Messmore- London Witte is the experienced independent financial advisor that we needed. It provides a check and balance. (There was no comment on their relationship) Messmore asked if he could return to his seat.

Dennis Kraus, Sr. – in response to Messmore- yeah- you can go back where you came from. [Laughter] The county was better off when we had no money- we didn’t waste as much. We need our own employee to do this- maybe with Planning or GIS office. Industrial development is needed for the tax base and there is plenty of land available for development that won’t offend anyone in the county- use that first! Wait for the master plan to be completed. There are lots of positions we could fill for $750,000. [APPLAUSE]

Bill Ullrich- There was nothing he found that was negative to Vieste or anyone else. He’s glad they separated out the jail- that’s really needed. The Commissioners put in a lot of work to get a comprehensive look at a capital plan. We want an alternative that’s done right- not to offend anyone. We want to see what we’ve started – progress. Your involvement out there is part of that process. [Note: But that involvement was not “encouraged- or sought out- it happened when people heard from a few neighbors about these “plans.”]

Liz Morris- was surprised at someone as fiscally conservative as Dennis Kraus is suggesting hiring our own employee. We’d be paying for that from here to eternity. I think we’re better off hiring out in some sort of fashion. We’ve wasted a lot of time. Dearborn County needs to move forward listening to input from the county. Get data from EDI or the Plan Commission or wherever and move forward.

Mark Mitter- I have been a proponent fro diversifying the tax base of the county for a long time. We need to balance growth. That being said- it is imperative as elected officials to be responsive to citizens. In the Comp Plan and now with the future land use plan, one way to do this is with an advisory board. It took about a year to get these maps done. If we move forward now- we won’t be taking that information into account. If we don’t pay attention to the Future Land Use Map, then the citizens who spent all their time- with no pay- will feel like we are treating them as if this work was not important. We need to be sure the future of this county is being determined by the citizens- and a cross section of the county- not all special interests. [NOTE: Messmore likes to say they are using the land use map- but he is using the first draft of efforts from December of 2005. That map didn’t get to the public nor was it worked on until later in 2006. The advisory board did not get together after that draft for a while due to a change in directors in the Planning Office.]
On Monday, in INDY I completed a short course in ethics for state officials. The local officials are not bound by this- but maybe we should be. Part of those standards are that people don’t participate in contracts and then work for the company that produced those contracts. Even if it is not ILLEGAL- our local constituents have to feel like it’s ethical. What occurred with Vieste – though not illegal- well- I have concerns of ethics. [NOTE: YES!!!]
I am not sure about creating a new position, I see Vieste and EDI duplication, EDI is constituted to not look out for the interests of the county government. We could form something locally with the Chamber to have economic development go forward under local control. I have been sitting on the fence all week- part of me wants to support this, but I have concerns because it is SO MUCH MONEY. Maybe we should do the jail and see how it goes- as there is a sense of urgency there.

Kraus- Mark- could we have a partnership with EDI, County, and the Chamber to use all out info, before we throw out tons of money? In my mind if you continue those bonds at the Courthouse- you really are increasing taxes, because if you paid it off, you could decrease taxes.

Cheek- On your 2/28 timeline #2 you show identification of parcels and TIF’s
Messmore- Certainly- we have parcel IS, but we also have to see how we can fit development into those parcel we have to look at more things like environmental and topographical issues. We need to find out what it take to bring 25 acres or so to buildable acreage.

Mike Comparato- Vieste- When TIF’s were done, they were done on assumed values. So there is a lot of work to be done to analyze specific uses on those parcels. A lot of that is in existence- we can expand on what is in place and marry that info with developer tours and independent 3rd part development. One relates to the TIF and one timeline relates to the County at large. London Witte could do this better, but they aren’t here tonight.

Cheek- Is the schedule the same?

Comparato- timeline is valid, but due to this delay will go out further.

Kraus- Mr. West can you answer a couple questions?

Jim West- DCEDI- In the TIF districts we had to identify all the parcels. We didn’t have a marketing plan- we were working off what was in the area already. But we can do marketing analysis.

Fehrman- I have listened and took notes- We have 5 choices:

1. Do the entire thing for $778,000
2. Take off the $400,000 marketing and do just the studies for $378,000.
3. Table economic development and just do the jail
4. Create a county employee position to run this
5. Partner with the chamber- or existing county organization

#1 was all Nays.

#2 was 3 ayes and 3 nays and Fehrman asked for discussion before he cast the tie breaking vote. (Nays were Kraus, Morris, and Mitter)

Fehrman asked West and Rozow to comment on the partnership ideas.

West told Council- we’ve done some of what you have been asked to do- we know it’s needed. It needs to be done objectively- OUTSIDE this community and HIRE it to be done. Either go forward or go backward- we are losing opportunities. I am getting frustrated with the process- just don’t duplicate efforts- adding staff or another organization would be duplicating efforts.
[NOTE: The duplication questions were referring to EDI and Vieste.]

Mike Rozow- Chamber of Commerce- We should use the dollars in the most effective and efficient manner. I think a partnership would work- I see a group coming together. I went to the ground breaking for Honda- so many good things can happen. We are more than willing to come together and be a point person.

Cheek- What’s with the ground breaking using a rototiller? [Laughter]

Mitter- Only concern is that hiring an employee- who do they report to?

Kraus- go with Mark’s plan- just want to be in control of the bucks.

Fehrman was looking for commissioners in the audience- none present.
A citizen wanted to ask a question- Fehrman denied the request. [NOTE: They were still in the middle of a vote- technically]

Mitter- I voted Nay – I witnessed over my 11 years of service that citizens want to control their future and they want input. When that is not available and they are not part of the process… This (input) has NOT happened and I have concerns. When this started I was sort of fired up and ready to get fresh ideas- and then I didn’t see the Comp plan and maps considered to the degree I felt they should be. The ETHICAL thing bothers me- IT JUST DOESN’T PASS MY SMELL TEST!
Do the jail and test Vieste- Future land use maps will be done in April or so- the advisory board will send them to the Plan Commission for a public hearing after public hearings and surveys are considered. Then the PC sends them to the Commissioners for approval. Let that process finish out. Can we afford to take the time? We have to- to do it right. We could do it by July 31st.

Cheek- Point of order- a motion is on the floor-

Morris- I don’t have Mark’s experience- but it is imperative that economic development go forward. I like the new idea of partnering with the chamber, EDI, and some outside advice, while waiting for the jail to go through.

Fehrman- I know we have to go outside the county and there’s expertise there and there’s a cloud over the collective head of where we are now. We should be marching forward with a strong gait, but instead it would be a limp. I apologize to you Mike (Comparato) - but I vote NAY.

The Council looked at Option 3.
Pickens said the billing and documentation has to be explained on each claim to the commissioners at their meeting.

Messmore- Of course I’ve got some skin in it- I want the best possible service and product at the lowest possible cost. [NOTE: Really?]

Mitter- The land use should be in place- not sure what the commissioners will do if they will pass the map or not. When the Comp Plan went through- everything went well and then at the end one of the commissioners didn’t want to pass it. [NOTE: Benning]

Council passed a modification of the 3rd version:
Messmore will monitor Vieste’s scope of work and Pickens monitors the bills. The $378,000 is pending for about 4 months (July 31st) to see how the jail goes. The master plan future land use maps will be finished by then as well and can determine where commercial/industrial growth should be considered. 4 Ayes- 2 Nays (Mitter and Kraus)

Pickens reminded them to look at funding for London Witte to identify TIF parcels- Council will meet in April on that as well.

Meeting adjourned at 8:55 PM

Christine Brauer Mueller
Lawrenceburg Township


Anonymous said...

Cheek then called Mike Harmless of Crowe Chizek: That is an insider vouching for the company - hardly an independent assessment!

$4.4 million to "affiliated companies" at the same address? What is going on there? More ways to feed at the government trough? We surely do not need that here!! And we already have a group of "politically active" affiliated companies set up to take money from Dearborn County. Is about to become another Lawrence?

If Dick Robertson is managing all this work, do we have a duplication with Messmore? Speaking of Messmore, he appears to be neck deep in this. What is he getting out of this, beside someone to do his work for him?

...that people don’t participate in contracts and then work for the company that produced those contracts. It should be illegal as well as being unethical!! Mitter is right "It doesn't pass the smeel test". Vieste should go!

...partnering with the chamber, EDI, and some outside advice... With EDI continuing their secret activities? This doesn't solve the problem! EDI should be open to the public as much as possible, after all it is funded in large part by "public money"

Finally, should the County be reconsidering the employment of Vieste, Messmore and West (DCEDI)? Should we start over with a clean slate, with groups not tied into the politics (for any candidate) and if they write the RFQs and contracts, not be allowed to bid to do the work?

Alan S.Freemond Sr. said...

Messmore will monitor Vieste’s scope of work and Pickens monitors the bills.

First of all Messmore is the guy who found Vieste. In order to justify his choice, even unconscientiously, he may not be totally neutral, that'd be natural with no reflection on Messsmore's honesty or his unique administrative ability.

However,since Vieste is not overly popular with the citizens of the county watch how pure Camparato et al will be during the jail project, hoping to get close to the mother lode. I'd not be surprised to see these guys become charitable to various parishes, and some do good organizations.

The public trough is so appealing that people will do most anything to feed at it.

IT sort of reminds one of that old Tom Lehrer satiric ditty about DOING WELL BY DOING "GOOD"