Lawrenceburg In "Tents" Debate Over Utility Spending

A big, expensive tent is the subject of disagreement among Lawrenceburg city officials.

The frame of the large event tent being made "semi-permanent" at the Lawrenceburg Fairgrounds. City officials are split on whether Lawrenceburg Municipal Utilities was granted permission to erect the tent without first receiving cost approvals. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.

(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – Did Lawrenceburg Municipal Utilities have proper authorization to permanently erect a $70,000 tent on city property?

It depends who you ask.

Lawrenceburg Municipal Utilities director Olin Clawson purchased a large event tent for $70,000 last year. It was put up temporarily in a parking lot at the Lawrenceburg Conservancy District property for use at the inaugural Whiskey City Rodeo in September and October of 2018.

Recently, work began to put up the tent semi-permanently on city-owned property at the Lawrenceburg Fairgrounds. According to Clawson, $70,000 has already been invested into a new foundation for the tent. Another $20,000 is being paid to erect it.

At the August 28th meeting of the Lawrenceburg Utility Service Board, board member and city councilman Tony Abbot touched off a contentious discussion when he raised issue that the board had not approved funding for the tent’s permanent raising.

The USB, which oversees LMU, is made up of the same five members of Lawrenceburg Common Council.

“This board has never voted to build that tent permanent,” said Abbott. “We asked to get a cost estimate on how much it would be and next thing I know it is being put up on park property.”

With the backing of fellow councilman and USB member Aaron Cook, Abbott said a motion was made to get a cost estimate before the tent began going up. He added that he would have never voted for the tent in the first place, and never would have voted to put it up.

“I never got the chance to vote and that’s what I’m upset about,” said Abbott.

USB member and councilman Paul Seymour said a video of the May 28, 2019 meeting where the vote took place makes it clear permission was given “to proceed and bring back the price.”

“That’s like writing a blank check,” remarked Abbott.

Seymour said the USB may have made a mistake, indicating the motion voted on in May was unclear. Clawson said he was left with the impression he had permission to proceed with work to make the tent permanent and began seeking bids for the work.

Clawson said having the tent permanently at the fairgrounds at the site of the Whiskey City Rodeo makes financial sense. It can be used for the rodeo that generates revenue and brings out-of-town visitors to Lawrenceburg, as well as other events.

But Abbott again contended that the way LMU moved forward on erecting the tent was against the USB’s wishes.

“I never would have voted for $70,000 to put that tent up permanent,” said Abbott.

“Would you have voted for $70,000 to put it up every year?” asked USB member and councilman Mel Davis.

“I would have voted to sell it for $70,000,” replied Abbott.

Davis said he does not have a problem with the placement or use of the tent. Cook said he is for keeping the tent up permanently so that the tent cost issue doesn’t come up again.

The discussion then began to get further heated as Abbott and Seymour bantered about the motion in question.

Eventually, the USB voted to take the matter to the Lawrenceburg Board of Works.


More Discussion At BOW Meeting

Mayor Kelly Mollaun avoided commenting on the tent’s cost at Tuesday’s meetings of the BOW and Lawrenceburg Parks Board, but indicated he would have liked to see proper approval given before work began to raise it permanently.

“If we’re going to change the landscape of the fairgrounds, it probably needs to be done appropriately with something brought in writing to the Board of Works,” said Mollaun.

“You have to have some kind of record,” he added.

Clawson said the vote to purchase the tent was passed nine months prior to the rodeo held during the week of the 2018 Lawrenceburg Fall Fest.

Lawrenceburg clerk-treasurer Richard Richardson said his office has no record of the vote and asked Clawson to provide it. City attorney Del Weldon agreed after reviewing the May USB meeting video and minutes, stating that the $80,000 price to purchase the tent initially and the $35,000 cost to raise and take it down were not approved either.

Davis indicated there was a vote.

Richardson then stated there was no USB vote to put up the tent permanently.

Davis and Cook responded that there was a 4-1 vote by the USB on August 28 to do so, pending BOW approval.

Abbott said the “right procedure” should have been followed from the beginning, to go to the parks board then the BOW to get permission to erect the tent. Mayor Mollaun agreed.

“We should have done it right the first time. There should have been permission asked to put it up on city property,” added Mollaun.

Clawson said no matter which board, the tent is on land owned by the city. He said he and the LMU attorney researched and could find no state statute laying out a procedure. But Abbott again insisted that permission must be received from the board governing the specific property.

“It should go through the proper channels, but nobody knows what the proper channels are,” said Cook.

Seymour said since the USB voted 4-1 to give approval, he feels the BOW, which contains some of the USB and council members, should go ahead and make the vote.

“I feel pretty sure we’re going to okay this thing, but here we are talking about it,” said Seymour. “If we forgot to take a vote, lets correct it. We’ve got an event coming up in a few weeks that does good for the city and I think all intentions were pretty good. I don’t think there’s anything here anybody should be ashamed of.”

Mollaun noted that more than 50 percent of the semi-permanent tent project is completed.

Offering a reason why the tent was not initially made permanent, Seymour said that the first year the tent was set up, the Lawrenceburg Conservancy District would need to regain use of the LCD-owned parking area where it had been set up. He said the area where the tent is being put up permanently has not been used for other important purposes.

BOW and park Board meetings were scheduled for Friday, September 6. Mayor Mollaun said 48 hours notice would be required for the board to vote on the matter. Abbott asked that the BOW receive a copy of the estimated costs and plans for making the tent permanent.

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