Open government? Carmel (IN) group blurs the line

When the Carmel City Council voted to fire the director of its redevelopment commission last year, he simply kept on working. Why the longtime consultant, Les Olds, felt he had the authority to do so is unclear. Whatever the reason, months later he submitted a bill for $34,000 — and under the council’s direction, the city clerk-treasurer refused to pay.

But Carmel’s mayor, Jim Brainard, found a way to slip the money out of the redevelopment commission’s budget without council approval — by using a nonprofit operated by the city. Some council members were outraged, though probably not surprised. It wasn’t the first time Brainard had used a nonprofit agency to push his initiatives past them. Nonetheless, some saw the payout to Olds as a bridge too far. Councilors say the mayor is using a now-powerful nonprofit to “launder” public money. By skirting the government’s usual checks and balances, they say, Brainard is spending public money however he wants.

Brainard, a lawyer, says it’s all perfectly legit. And, while council leaders agree, they say they’ve had enough of it. “We are the poster child for bad behavior,” said Councilor Luci Snyder, head of the city’s finance committee. “And it’s because we have money and somebody says ‘figure out a way where I could get this money laundered.’ We are the poster child for stretching the limits of what is doable. We operate in the gray areas — and you have to save us from ourselves.” Continue>>>