The president of the Carmel City Council says an investigation into a nearly $200 million bailout of the city redevelopment commission has turned up evidence that the mayor is deceiving the public and funneling taxpayer dollars through a private group.
Carmel City Council President Rick
Sharp spoke to the media in front of the Palladium on Monday because he said a settlement provided to the former Palladium CEO is a prime example of why the Carmel Redevelopment Commission and Mayor James Brainard can't be trusted.
"It is the cover-up of the action that I find most disturbing," Sharp said.
Steven Libman resigned as CEO of the Palladium in 2011. After he left, Fox59 uncovered Carmel's mayor and city attorney hired private investigators to look into Libman's spending and accusations about his personal life while he was on the job.
In January, Mayor Brainard and city attorney Douglas Haney signed a $100,000 settlement with Libman, but Sharp said the council was promised that it did not involve public money.
Recently, he said, the council learned that there was a $100,000 check issued to Libman by an organization called the Carmel City Center Community Development Commission (4CDC) which he said receives most of it's money from public sources.
"No matter how you spin it, the 4CDC money is taxpayer money," Sharp said.
Mayor Brainard was at the City Council meeting Monday night but declined an interview, saying he was bound to confidentiality in settlement.
Brainard did release a statement saying, "I am limited in my ability to comment on this issue by the terms of a settlement agreement that Councilman Sharp knows exists. The city entered into a settlement agreement with Mr. Libman to avoid the cost, expense and uncertainty of litigation, such as the risk of an adverse judgement against the city.
"All settlement agreements represent compromises from both sides, and part of this compromise was to agree to mutual confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions. So while I would very much like to discuss the circumstances under which we resolved this matter - and I am sure the same goes for Mr. Libman and his attorney - I simply cannot comment about the issue any further, except to make you aware that a settlement agreement does exist and that I and the City are bound by it.
"It would seem, however, that the campaign for mayor has started early. I do want to emphasize that the settlement was made on the advice of experienced and competent outside legal counsel."
In response, Sharp said he was disappointed to see the mayor respond to real criticism with a political comment about campaigns. Sharp said Brainard's comment does nothing to explain why the council was kept in the dark about money exchanging hands, and makes him more skeptical of the bailout than ever.
"When you're trying to deal with a body, an entity, an administration that has proven that they will actively cover-up things, it's kind of tough for me to pull the trigger on a potential $200 million debt issue until I feel like I can clearly feel like I have gotten to the bottom of it all," Sharp said.
The council delayed action on the bailout Monday, but in the meantime, Sharp offered some advice to the Redevelopment Commission and the 4CDC.
"I personally think it's time to clean house in these two organizations as I have told the mayor in private," Sharp said.
In addition to refusing to comment about the settlement, Mayor Brainard also said he wasn't willing to comment about the proposed redevelopment commission bailout or the status of either organization's board.
Former Carmel City Councilman John Accetturo has called on U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett to investigate if any federal laws have been broken.