Lawrenceburg City Council meets Thursday, December 27.
Mike Perleberg-Eagle 99.3
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - Lawrenceburg’s 10-County Regional Grant Program is being put on hold for a week, if not longer.
Lawrenceburg City Council members Doug Taylor, Mike Lawrence, and Jane Pope voted Thursday to table approval of the 2012 economic development grants. The council majority wants a legal opinion from their attorney before they vote for any further grants. Councilmen Bill-Bill Bruner and Aaron Cook were in the minority.
A federal subpoena is behind the cautiousness. The subpoena issued by a federal grand jury from U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana out of Indianapolis signals that there may be an investigation into Lawrenceburg’s grant and loan programs.
Attorney Leslie Votaw, sitting in Thursday for city attorney Joe Votaw, indicated that nobody in the city knew the subpoena was coming when it was served on or about December 21.
According to a press release from Lawrenceburg Mayor Dennis Carr, the subpoena requests records, checks, applications, disbursement and loan repayment records for grants and loans given by the city. Among the entities specifically named in the subpoena were the city, the Lawrenceburg Economic Development Commission, Lawrenceburg Board of Works, and the Lawrenceburg Bond Bank.
“The City is complying with the request by beginning the reproduction of the documents requested and attempting to provide said information by the date requested, 1/24/2013,” Carr’s press release said.
The mayor also said the effort would be supervised and coordinated by city attorney Joe Votaw. Following the meeting, Carr told Eagle 99.3 that indications are that the federal subpoena isn’t related to criminal activity.
During Thursday’s meeting, State Representative Jud McMillin (R-Brookville) warned city council against putting a stop to the grant and loan programs, saying that would be a “tragic mistake.”
“If the City of Lawrenceburg decides that they are unwilling to share some of the money because of this, and it turns out there is nothing wrong or the thing that was wrong happened years ago and there is nothing wrong with the current administration, there will be a prime time for people in the state to say 'While we are looking to generate additional state revenues the appropriate thing would be to go in and take revenues from an entity that is no longer sharing their revenues,'” McMillin said.
McMillin also said he believes that if there were a possible offense with the program that was so serious, an injunction would have been issued to stop grant and loan activity.
“A subpoena doesn’t mean a crime has been committed,” the lawmaker added. “Nobody has asked you to stop.”
McMillin said reminded council that there are businesses and jobs depending on the regional grant money.
Council president Mike Lawrence raised ears at the meeting when asked by Clerk-Treasurer Jackie Stutz if he was looking to stop the program.
“I don’t lie,” Lawrence said. “I want to put the brakes on it.”
With the economic development grants tabled, they could come up for discussion and a vote again at City Council’s next regular meeting January 7.
“I don’t think that’s going to hurt. We need to at least check on this to make sure,” councilman Taylor said. “I’m sitting here with a subpoena and I don’t like that.”
Councilwoman Jane Pope motioned that council’s attorneys with lawfirm Barnes & Thornburg be retained to represent council in connection with the federal subpoena and other litigation regarding Middle Earth and Jones Properties. The motion passes, again on a 3-2 vote.
Later in the meeting, the clerk-treasurer requested additional help in her office. Stutz told council that her employees had a large workload even before the subpoena – which could require hundreds if not thousands of pages of documents to be copied – was served. No vote was held, but Pope said the city cannot afford to hire another employee. Pope suggested bringing in one of the city’s financial advisors to assist with getting caught up on work.