By Anna Skinner
On May 11, The Associated Press published a story stating that legal consultant to the City of Fishers, Jennifer Messer, has a salary is $20,000 a month for legal consultancy, working remotely from the Washington, D.C.-area. Messer, wife of Congressman Luke Messer (R-IN6), has provided counsel services for the City of Fishers since 2010.
“The AP did a political report on Jennifer Messer, who has represented the City of Fishers since 2010, years before her husband was elected to congress. Jennifer only practices law in the state of Indiana and provides highly specialized legal counsel for the City’s economic development agreements,” stated Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness. “Just since 2015, she has authored or negotiated 35 major economic development agreements, not to include the dozens of agreements that never came to fruition. Jennifer Messer provides detailed statements toward her billable hours each month. Her retainer, spread across the number of deliverables she provides the City of Fishers, equates a billable hour on par with average outside counsel rates.”
IKEA and TopGolf are two of the economic development agreements included in Messer’s services to the city.
According to the job contract for Messer, which is available for public viewing at fishers.in.us, Messer’s counseling services were renewed for Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of this year, with a salary of $20,000 a month, or $240,000 a year.
“The Retainer will cover (a) consultations between City personnel and Jennifer Messer via telephone calls, emails, texts and during on-site visits; (b) analyzing and drafting legal agreements, including those related to economic development and project agreements; (c) negotiating with economic development prospects and their legal counsel; (d) drafting resolutions and ordinances; (e) providing real estate services; (f) representing the City of Fishers Redevelopment Commission and attending meetings, upon request. In summary, the Retainer is intended to cover all services offered by Messer Law to the City, except for bond counsel services, litigation covered by the City’s insurance policies, complex litigation and services related or provided to the Fishers City Court,” the contract stated. “Although the City will pay only the Retainer, consistent with past practice, Messer Law will continue to submit monthly invoices for services so that the City may track the services performed on its behalf.”
The contract also states: “Jennifer Messer is uniquely prepared to navigate the City’s legal matters. Jennifer understands the issues. Jennifer knows the history. Jennifer has demonstrated record of helping the City meet the community’s every-changing needs in a cost-effective manner.”
However, Common Cause Indiana Policy Director Julia Vaughn is not so sure about the reasons behind Messer’s salary. Common Cause Indiana is a citizen watchdog group.
“Taxpayers in Fishers and attorneys who work for local government across the state will quite fairly assume this is an example of political connections paying off; in this case paying off in the form of a job with very generous compensation and little direct oversight,” Vaughn stated in an email to Current. “As the saying goes, nice work if you can get it. But with trust in government and our elected officials at historic lows, it’s troubling that Rep. (Luke) Messer and the Mayor of Fishers are brushing aside criticism of this deal and calling it a political attack. This arrangement just doesn’t pass the smell test and their failure to be fully transparent only fuels the fire. If it’s a political attack, it’s self-inflicted.”
The City of Fishers released Messer’s invoices, which showed she worked an average of 114 hours a month with an average rate of $176.38 an hour since January 2015. The city is working through the services Messer invoiced for and will release those after redacting attorney-client privilege from the reports. The most hours she worked in one month was approximately 133, which equates to 33 hours a week.
Messer has not returned Current in Fishers’ requests for contact. This story will be updated.