(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - A Lawrenceburg 10 Country Regional Grant is being rescinded after a local state lawmaker’s involvement with the recipient comes to light.
The regional grant committee which includes State Representative Jud McMillin (R-Brookville) voted last year to recommend a $600,000 grant for a group called Destination Brookville LLC. Based on that recommendation, Lawrenceburg City Council voted to approve the grant request January 7.
The organization sought to use the grant money to rehab some buildings in downtown Brookville and make the town more of a tourist attraction. The grant would have brought a new restaurant to the town, expanded the current Brookville Theater into a multiplex, created a bed and breakfast in the Old Case House, and refurbished some apartments into short-stay rooms, according to a report in The Brookville American-Democrat.
McMillin tells Eagle 99.3 he abstained from voting on the grant as a committee member citing friend and family relations who head Destination Brookville. McMillin’s mother and father are agents for the organization and he has other personal ties to people involved. McMillin founded Destination Brookville, but says he has since divested himself of interest in the organization.
As all state lawmakers are required to do, McMillin signed a conflict of economic interest form on January 7, 2013 that lists Destination Brookville LLC and Turning Point Fitness, a gym in downtown Brookville, as businesses where he had economic interests in 2012. The American-Democrat newspaper reports that the document is on file with the Indiana Secretary of State.
The possible conflict of interest has irked some Lawrenceburg City Council members. Councilman Mike Lawrence, who initially voted to approve the grant on January 7, began to look into the situation after reading a later newspaper report in The Dearborn County Register on McMillin's involvement. The Register article referenced an earlier Brookville American-Democrat report.
“I’m a little aggravated over this subject,” Lawrence said at a February 4 meeting.
Lawrence said he sought to repeal the grant after learning of McMillin’s alleged conflict of interest, which was not included in the grant application. He and two other council members voted to do just that. While many grant requests are denied each year, this is the first time a Lawrenceburg regional grant has been repealed.
“I researched a little farther. I think the article in the (Dearborn County Register) said that Jud McMillin’s father was a registered agent. His mother is one of the owners. His business partner is one of the owners and his dad’s best friend is one of the owners. That was not disclosed to us,” Lawrence said.
The grant application stated that the destination restaurant would have been located in the first floor of a Destination Brookville-owned building which houses Turning Point Fitness. Lawrence said that had he been aware that the grant was for a restaurant, he would not have voted for it.
“It’s been told several times that the 10 County Grant money is not for restaurants,” Lawrence said. “(The grant) is to renovate an old building, which to me falls under redevelopment.”
At one point during the grant approval process, Lawrenceburg City Council halted the regional grant program following a federal subpoena regarding an FBI investigation into the city's grants and loans. In late December ,McMillin went to council and cautioned them not to stop the grants.
“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 told council at that time.
Lawrence said February 4 that at the December meeting McMillin gave city council a “guilt trip” over the possibility of stopping the grant program and moving ahead with tax relief for Lawrenceburg property owners.
The grant program has continued since city council voted January 7 to approve $3.8 million in grants for economic development projects across southeast Indiana, including the rescinded Destination Brookville grant. However, the property tax relief Lawrence and fellow council members Jane Pope and Doug Taylor wanted died during budget negotiations.
“It’s okay to give his mom $600,000 of these people’s money, but we can’t give these people property tax relief. I don’t get it,” Lawrence said.
Lawrenceburg Redevelopment Director and Mayor’s Assistant Grant Hughes this case is an example of how the city's due diligence worked. The $600,000 had only been budgeted, but not yet awarded.
McMillin accused The Brookville American-Democrat of being on a witch hunt "looking for something that just doesn't exist."
"There is a notion that there are financial disclosure statements that I filed here that indicated something contrary to what I've been telling people the entire time," McMillin said. "I did have an interest in a lot of these things at the beginning of 2012, but just as I have told everybody, I have divested myself of those interests before this grant process got started."
Hughes suggested reviewing the Destination Brookville grant application, but Lawrence tells Eagle 99.3 he'd prefer to see that grant eliminated and put toward other projects.
McMillin counters that by saying Lawrence has benefitted himself from Lawrenceburg's grant programs. Prior to being elected councilman, Lawrence received a city grant for his private business.
The state representative defended the Destination Brookville vision, saying that the individuals involved are investing much of their own money into the estimated total $2.2 million project. Also, the historic Brookville Theater could go out of business within the next year unless a creative way of funding it is found, McMillin said.
"This is an effort to revitalize an entire community. It will create jobs and sustainable economic growth. This is exactly what the grant program is for," McMillin said.
McMillin said the economic vitality project in Brookville is no recent revelation. He adds that he's been working on the project and investing in it for five years prior to running for office.
"The idea that this is just money being gifted to people is just ridiculous," said McMillin.