Thursday, February 05, 2015

Westfield City Attorney Threatens To Sue Harpe For Damages And Attorney's Fees For Filing Open Door Lawsuit To Block Approval Of Indoor Soccer Arena

The depths of depravity that people will sink in covering up government corruption knows no limits. An attorney hired by the City of Westfield to advise it on the construction of a $25 million indoor soccer arena, which Mayor Andy Cook and the city council approved in clear violation of state law, is threatening to sue Jeff Harpe, a Westfield resident and political opponent of Mayor Cook in this year's municipal election for daring to take the Mayor and the council to task for their misdeeds.

The City's attorney, Brian Zaiger, got schooled by the state's Public Access Counselor after he continuously advised the city council it had no obligation to provide public notice when committees of the council met to conduct business, including the finance committee which signed off on the one-sided, 25-year, $53 million build, operate and transfer agreement the City illegally entered into with Holladay Properties. After Harpe filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the agreement based on the violation of the state's open door law, the city council decided it would try a do-over and conduct new hearings before approving the same flawed agreement. Now Zaiger is threatening to sue Harpe for attorney's fees and damages he claims the city sustained because of the lawsuit Harpe filed to enforce the law Zaiger ignored. From the Indianapolis Star's Chris Sikich:
. . .  But City Attorney Brian Zaiger said this week the city is seeking damages against Harpe in a filing to dismiss the lawsuit. He said the city will ask for attorney fees and, potentially, for costs associated with delaying the project. 
Zaiger did not have a total figure, but he said the city would waive any damages if the lawsuit is dropped immediately. Westfield would then cancel the public hearing and vote, he said, and move forward with construction of the arena based on the previously approved funding plan. 
“I want the lawsuit to go away,” Zaiger said, “and I want the ordinance that was adopted to be effective.”
So here we have a high-paid attorney at the law firm of Krieg DeVault, the same law firm where Deborah Daniels, sister of Mitch Daniels, acts as its managing partner, who not only advises his client that it's okay to conduct meetings in violation of the state's open door law according to the state's Public Access Counselor, but he also advised the city it could enter into the public-private partnership agreement with Holladay Properties directly without conducting an RFP process. Holladay Properties is represented by Ice Miller, which is the same firm that advised the City of Lawrence it was okay to hand control of the city's water utility to political cronies of former Mayor Tom Schneider without first conducting a competitive bidding process. Actually, Ice Miller claimed it was acting as a mere scrivener and not as the city's attorney if I'm being precise when it drafted the illegal agreement. A court later threw out that agreement as being entered into illegally after Schneider's successor challenged it in court. Zaiger now has the audacity to threaten to spend more public dollars fighting Harpe using public tax dollars if he doesn't drop his meritorious lawsuit altogether. That takes a lot of chutzpah, eh?

Harpe's attorney says he is not going to drop his lawsuit until the council carries through with its pledge to redo the public hearing and vote on the controversial project and if, and only if, Zaiger stops threatening to sue his client for attorney's fees and damages. Harpe's attorneys says he might also file new lawsuits over the manner in which it negotiated leases with Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria and Indiana Sports Properties. For reasons unclear to this writer, Harpe's attorney refuses to acknowledge the city's biggest goof, which was the manner in which it secretly negotiated the deal with Holladay Properties instead of conducting the RFP process mandated by state law. One of the key out-of-state partners Mayor Cook originally discussed managing the indoor soccer facility walked away from the deal only weeks before he made his public announcement because Mayor Cook was allowing Holladay Properties to artificially inflate the costs of the project by as much as 25% through exorbitant development fees that could have been avoided altogether under the out-of-state company's proposal. Let's see Mayor Cook turn over those public records.


Hernan Dough said...

It looks like the people are due some penalty kicks...

LamLawIndy said...

My advice to Mayor Cook: admit the error, re-do the bidding process & contract selection & get this mess off the news & blogs. It's only 3 months b4 the primary!

Anonymous said...

LamLawIndy is correct -- the number one rule in pr and politics is to admit you made a mistake and promise you won't do it again. I think the Attorney who is suing the individual who brought the lawsuit should be fired (as should Krieg Devault) and there should be some consequence for these egregious violations of law. Can the City of Westfield sue Kreig Devault for legal misconduct? Either way, the city needs to come clean by starting over and following the law or it will never get out from under this stinking mess.

Sir Hailstone said...

I thought Indiana had pretty strong laws against SLAPP suits which this is a textbook case.