Friday, May 02, 2008

Many Candidates Means Hope for Dearborn County

Many Candidates Means Hope for Dearborn County
This was previously published by Register Publiations

This year Commissioners and Council have several candidates from both parties vying for positions.

It is a clear indication that the public is not satisfied with the performance of their elected officials.

I am not satisfied either.

The tone of the Fox/Hughes administration was set just before the first commissioner’s meeting in January 2005 when Jeff Hughes and the not-yet- appointed county attorney unceremoniously fired the county administrator right before the meeting. Lack of civility continued, requiring paid police officers at commissioner’s meeting to enforce the new rule: Public comment is not allowed at meetings unless you get on the agenda a week in advance.

By March 2005 Commissioners shut down expert witnesses and attorneys at public hearings for zone changes. To top it off they told police officers to usher the crowd out at the end. One brave soul likened it to Nazi Germany and the county attorney berated her for her comment.

Members of the audience snickered, just before the Pledge of Allegiance at the 19 June 2007 Commissioners meeting, when a citizen whispered, “This is the only time the citizens are allowed to speak.”

Even when citizens are on the agenda their reception is variable, depending upon their opinion of development issues in the county.

Jeff Hughes attempted to open up public discussion in a letter to the editor, but later backed down to just staying after the meeting to listen to anyone wishing to speak. Who changed his mind?

I wonder why commissioners need police protection but the Plan Commission, which has the most contentious issues in the county, has never resorted to that?

Since 2005, Fox and Hughes have taken a strong pro-development stance. They approved nine zone changes - seven of them were residential. (Maxwell -4, Tucker-1, Kent-1, and Rohe Development-1) Commissioners approved three TIF (tax incremental financing) districts with minimal PUBLIC discussion.

Council and Commissioners consistently appoint pro-development board members-some with obvious conflicts of interest. Taxpayers ended up paying for plans and infrastructure, which clearly benefited some appointees.

Special interests do not have to get on the agenda in advance; sometimes they are not on the agenda at all! Lehner, attorney for DCEDI (Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative), came in August without being listed on the agenda and got a service contract signed for DCEDI, a loophole designed to eliminate public oversight of their organization. She did it again in November for DCRSD (Dearborn County Regional Sewer District) and, without any public discussion, it became a COUNTY WIDE SEWER DISTRICT! She sent over wording in June 2006 to amend the November meeting minutes to show discussion.

Discussion? What discussion? DCRSD and DCEDI failed on many levels and the costs keep growing.

On 7 February 2006 Brian Messmore, the County Administrator, mentioned getting requests for qualifications for COMPREHENSIVE FINANCIAL AND PROGRAM MANAGEMENT SERVICES, which is a fancy title for some company getting a cut of all the projects they manage. After the meeting I asked what the company name was. He said Vieste and he “thought” they were from Indy. Citizen research began on Vieste.

By July 2006, Messmore was talking about “partnering” with Vieste and Level 5 Engineering. In late August, Vieste presented to Council with NO public input, and on 5 Sept 2006 Messmore presented their contracts to commissioners for signing “after much debate.” There was NO PUBLIC DEBATE!

By 16 Jan 2007, the public outcry on this process filled the commissioner’s room as word of the plans for the NW QUADRANT became “public.” Public testimony revealed two realtors and DCEDI’s president sought sellers without advising them of the true scope of the commissioners’ plans. How did DCEDI and realtors find out ahead of the public?

By June 2007, Commissioners signed (with Hughes lamenting the loss of economic development) the final termination contract with Vieste with taxpayer expenditures of over $300,000 plus an additional $300,000 given to DCEDI to acquire land. What did the taxpayers get?

The County Master Plan passed in 2004. The future land use map amendment to that plan received a favorable recommendation from the Plan Commission in October 2007.

Commissioners tabled it in November and it remains tabled. At that meeting, Commissioner Fox asked me, “Do you mean I can’t sell it (land) and get development price? I might have to wait ten years?” In February 2007, he wanted willing sellers in the NW Quadrant- at low prices. By November, he was worried about getting the full equity out of land ASAP. Fox, his brother Randy, and their spouses own almost 90 acres. The adjoining 150 acres land on Bonnell by Collier Ridge was purchased by RTR, LLC – the tax bill is mailed to developer Tom Kent’s address. Does Fox have personal land development plans?

When Commissioner Thompson asks Fox and Hughes to address forced sewer hook-ups, opening the meetings, or requiring resumes for appointees, he gets lip service and little action. It will take two commissioners to change this pattern and open up the meetings.

When Fox and Hughes limited public debate, it led to poor decisions, poor acceptance by the public, wasted tax money, and a lack of publicly determined goals.

I hope this election changes that.

Christine Brauer Mueller
Lawrenceburg Township

1 comment:

Voice of Reason said...

I hope you're not too disappointed with the election results. Better luck next time.