Council Dems: ROC investigation may delay Justice Center vote

(WISH Photo/Julian Grace)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A group of City-County Councillors say they’ll push to delay funding for Indianapolis’ proposed new Criminal Justice Center until they get answers on the controversial long term lease for the law enforcement Regional Operations Center, housed in the former Eastgate Mall.

The comments follow the release last week of a series of internal city emails showing former Public Safety Director Frank Straub opposed the Eastgate site, primarily due to cost.

“It is a funding issue,” Straub wrote in an email to Councillor Ben Hunter in early 2011. “There is no way (this) can move forward under the current fiscal arrangement, as it would result in a significant shortfall (million dollar plus).”

The city of Indianapolis created the operations center, known as the ROC, to be a place where public safety agencies could work together during big events. But, after safety concerns forced the city to close the building last year, the Democratically controlled council created the committee to investigate the deal. It was ordered “to examine why the Department of Public Safety entered into an allegedly unfavorable long-term lease and other agreements related to the ROC.”

The city will spend $18 million to lease the site for the next 25 years.

In a news conference Tuesday, Democrats on the ROC committee said it’s critical to understand what led to the deal before approving any new contracts.

“Beyond politics, it would behoove all of us to learn how we got into this, to learn the processes that ensure we don’t repeat these actions, and then to move forward with a clean set of guidelines and understanding of how we consider long term contracts,” said Councillor Vop Osili (D-15th District).

ROC Committee Chairman Councillor Joe Simpson (D-9th District) said Tuesday the committee is still pushing for the release of documents and information from multiple people close to the deal.

“But, the committee does not intend to issue witness subpoenas to compel testimony, at least initially. Whether to appear will be each individuals’s voluntary choice, and future meetings will be scheduled accordingly, if necessary,” he said.

Simpson also said the committee does not intend to subpoena Straub to return to Indianapolis, but may travel to Spokane, Washington, where he now works as that city’s police chief.

A spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard would not address the ROC investigation Tuesday, but defended the administration’s push for a March 31 approval for the new Justice Center contract.

Council Democrats called that timeline Tuesday “unrealistic.”

“Every City-County contract has the same goal: to provide better service at the best possible price for taxpayers. We look forward to continued cooperation with the Council to provide information concerning all City-County contracts and will continue our regular meetings with councillors to ensure they are fully informed about this contract and all contracts going forward,” said Mayor’s spokesman Marc Lotter.

“The need for a new, efficient Marion County justice complex has been studied and agreed upon for decades. This administration has met with councilors from both parties to review all aspects of the agreement, and we will continue to do so in the coming months. Thousands of pages of documents, including the contract agreement between the City-County and the preferred bidder, are available for review by all councilors and the public online,” he continued.

A five-month investigation by the Indiana State Police that concluded in June found no laws were broken by signing the lease. The ROC Investigating Committee is scheduled to meet again on Jan. 7.

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