During the first part of this week's ROC Investigating Committee, testimony was provided by Jim White, a retired member of the Indiana State Police and veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Iraq. When Frank Straub became Director of Public Safety, White was serving as director of the city's emergency services. He currently serves on the faculty of IUPUI's school of public and environmental affairs. At the time of Straub's arrival, White had been working for months on a new site to relocate MECA's operations from its old location. He identified an excellent site at the Indianapolis International Airport, which was owned by Kite Realty and available for immediate occupancy. After White shared with the committee the details of that proposed lease agreement, it was absurd to think that Straub would have rejected the airport location in favor of the Eastgate location. As White told the committee, "As a taxpayer, I scratch my head. It doesn't pass the common sense test."
According to White, Kite presented the City a signed lease offering more than triple the space MECA had at its current location at that time for a minimum ten-year period for total lease payments of $2.2 million compared to the estimated $3 million in rent payments it would be required to make if it stayed at its current location, a savings of more than $800,000 over the 10-year period. The airport site met all of the requirements White said were necessary for the siting of an emergency operations center, plus it had the added benefit of providing covered space for storing emergency vehicles. The rent also included all utilities and trash removal. White planned to spend about $1.875 million to build out the space to meet the regional operations centers' requirements, all of which would have been covered by a $2.3 million federal grant the City of Indianapolis was eligible to receive. Additionally, he received buy-in at the location from several of the surrounding counties to make it truly a regional operations center. White estimated that a regional operations center could have been completed and ready for move-in as soon as July, 2011 but no later than September, 2011, allowing plenty of time for getting the emergency operations center up-and-running prior to the Super Bowl in February, 2012.
Straub had professional differences with White after he became Public Safety Director and fired him. White had been contacted by Alex Carroll, who pitched his site to him. He toured the building and found it unsuitable due to its poor condition and the length of time he believed would be needed to prepare the site. As it turned out, the regional operations center didn't open up at the Eastgate site until January, 2012, shortly before the Super Bowl and the building was still not suited for occupancy at that time. None of the neighboring counties which planned to participate at the airport site agreed to partner with Straub's chosen site at Eastgate. Straub later testified to the Administration & Finance Committee that he had rejected White's proposed airport site because it was located within a flight path. White scoffed at that explanation, noting that the Eastgate Consumer Mall location is also located within a flight path. The lease that Kite had signed contained the standard lease terms that government leases traditionally include. White said at the time that he didn't want to lock the City into more than a 10-year lease because it was presumed that a new justice center would be built and that the regional operations center would be relocated permanently at that new facility.
If you watch the video above, you will witness the rude treatment White received from the Republican members of the committee, who thought his testimony was purposeless. Councilor Marilyn Pfisterer tried to insist that the lease agreement that had already been signed by Kite had not been formally approved, and she suggested without substantiation that the airport authority didn't want the operations center located there. Incidentally, the regional operations center has been temporarily relocated to the airport site while repairs continue to be made to the building to make it safe for occupancy. A forced evacuation of the building was ordered by Straub's successor, Troy Riggs, last September, after he determined that the building was unsafe for occupancy. The City continues to pay $57,000 a month rent for the ROC space even though it is not currently able to occupy it. Councilor Pfisterer is obviously not a whiz at math. She also claimed that the lease White had presented was at least as costly as the 25-year, $20 million lease Straub signed with Alex Carroll for the Eastgate space.
Councilor Ben Hunter, who thinks he knows more about emergency services planning than White, insisted that Straub's assessment of the airport site being unsuited for a regional operations center because of its location near the airport was a correct assessment based on "best practices." Hunter admitted that he had toured the proposed airport site with White, along with a much larger group, at the time White had promoted the site. So yes, he knew that there was a much better and less costly option when he hopped on Alex Carroll's bandwagon in pushing the Eastgate site located within his council district. Councilor Hunter was rewarded with generous campaign contributions by Carroll for pushing the ill-fated ROC location. By all rights, Hunter should be a witness at these proceedings, not a member of the investigating committee. I would like to ask him if he knew whether Marvin Slomowitz of White Plains, New York became an investor in Alex Carroll's real estate before or after Frank Straub arrived from White Plains, New York and began an almost immediate push to locate the ROC at the Eastgate property, even at the expense of getting White out of his way by firing him. That change in plans allowed Carroll's trash heap to be instantly converted into a golden cash cow for his benefit at the expense of Indianapolis taxpayers, who Hunter believes are paying too little in taxes and are responsible for the lack of funding to pay for basic city services like public safety. I would also like to ask Hunter who paid for his trip down to Naples, Florida with Ryan Vaughn to attend the Susan Brooks annual fundraiser for the high rollers with whom she and David like to keep company. Isn't David representing Alex Carroll? Hmmm.
UPDATE: In this short video clip below, witness Councilor Ben Hunter announcing to committee members the existence of a criminal investigation that he says he learned of independently. Later, it was reported that the Indiana State Police is the law enforcement agency investigating the ROC lease. Hunter used the existence of that investigation as an excuse for questioning the continuing need for the committee to investigate the lease.
WISH-TV got confirmation from ISP that it had started an investigation in January at the request of the Marion County Prosecutor's Office, which is awaiting the results of the investigation. They've been investigating the case for the past three months, but the building's landlord, Alex Carroll, says he has not been contacted by investigators. Sounds like a thorough investigation. They plan to wrap up their investigation within 45 to 60 days. Hunter clammed up when WISH-TV contacted him for additional comment on his knowledge of the investigation other than to say he was sure there was no criminal wrongdoing--at least that's what David and Ryan told him the official line is, and I'm sure they're confident of the outcome of the ISP investigation in advance.
While the scope of the investigation is not clear, Capt. Dave Bursten, spokesman for ISP, confirmed to I-Team 8 that the Indiana State Police Criminal Investigation Division began looking into the matter in early January 2014. The acknowledgement of a police investigation marks the latest twist in the tale of the controversial building.
“It is anticipated the investigation will conclude within the next 45 to 60 days. Once concluded, the investigation will be submitted to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for review and action as that office deems appropriate,” Bursten said in an email to I-Team 8.
Peg McLeish, spokeswoman for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, said Curry’s office requested the investigation, but declined to provide specifics. The same was true for Samantha DeWester, the city’s attorney, who acknowledged the investigation was ongoing but declined to say what the city had provided or who was questioned, if anyone.
A spokeswoman for the building’s owner, Alex Carroll, said neither Carroll nor his attorney had been contacted by investigators.
News of the ISP investigation first surfaced publicly Monday night when it was mentioned by Councillor Ben Hunter toward the end of the ROC council committee meeting.
“I am independently aware of it and I am again shocked that it has not come out to this committee… Why are we duplicating work that has gone on? And if committee members are aware of it, I would like for committee members to be more transparent,” Hunter said during the meeting.
Councillor Joe Simpson, who chairs the ROC committee, said: “Why would they share something with us when it’s criminal? We are not here for a criminal matter.”
Councillor Hunter declined to discuss the matter on camera, stating over the phone that he didn’t want to speculate on the nature of the investigation. He later added: “I’m confident there’s no criminal wrongdoing.”Hey, Capt. Bursten, I'm still waiting for ISP to include Pixie Grismore's unsolved murder on your cold case list that you told me a couple of years ago was going to occur in short order. Isn't her case just one in a long string of cases your agency has deep-sixed for corrupt political motives?