Back to business with the Carmel City Council

It’s been almost a month since the highly publicized election between Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and challenger Rick Sharp. Brainard won a sixth term with more than 60 percent of the vote and all but one of his endorsed candidates won office.
The last two meetings of the Carmel City Council were canceled. One because it was the day before the election and the last one was canceled because there wasn’t enough business to put on the agenda.
But next week on Monday June 1 will be the first City Council meeting since the election. Yes,  it’s time to finally get back to work.
It will be interesting to see what the tone of the next council meetings will be like. There won’t be an election looming over everyone’s heads which means that every quote and every decision won’t be scrutinized by voters and opposing campaigns.
At the same time, I keep wondering how the council members will vote on issues now that many of them lost their elections. We’ll see Rick Sharp, Luci Snyder and Eric Seidensticker leave office in January, all of whom were fiscal hawks who often butted heads with the mayor over his spending philosophy.
Mayor Brainard will have a huge majority to pass his agenda. Some critics of Brainard are already calling this a “rubber stamp council.” But they don’t take office until the end of the year. We have half a year left since in Carmel the primary is essentially the general election. That’s a long time to be “lame duck.”
“Lame duck” is a term used for outgoing elected officials who are finishing up their term in office. They either lost an election, decided to not run or are term-limited and we already know who is going to take their place. As a result, lame duck officials tend to have less political power because there’s not as much benefit for other elected officials to cooperate with them. There are no favors to be traded.
At the same time, lame duck officials are in the peculiar position of not facing the consequences for their actions, which means they can essentially vote their conscious without worrying about being voted out of office. This comes into effect more with the U.S. legislature or presidency with actions such as appointments and executive orders. Pardons are also a popular action by lame ducks. In some cases, the incoming elected officials can undo the last-minute work done by the lame ducks, but it can be difficult. It could be very hard to remove a judge from the bench. Even repealing legislation can be tough.
The first lame duck president ever – John Adams, our second president and first one-termer – had the infamous Midnight Judges Act in 1801 where he created more federal judge seats and then filled the courts with his people before the new party took control.
But what power does a lame duck city council have? If the outgoing council votes against a tax increment financing deal, it can be reintroduced later when the new council takes office. So they wouldn’t be able to “kill” legislation, but rather delay it.
There are different philosophies on how to vote if you are a lame duck. Do you continue to vote your conscious or do you vote the way the incoming elected officials would vote since that is who the voters selected? Most of the people I talk to said they will continue to do the job they were elected to four years ago and that they still have a responsibility to those voters four years ago.
Brainard suggested that it might be easier for him to pursue an aggressive agenda because he suspects some of the opposition to his projects was motivated by election season. Now that the campaigning is over he thinks calmer heads will prevail and most of his critics will be easier to work with since they don’t have to show themselves as a contrast to Brainard.
Some might ask the question: Does this mean nothing will get done for half a year? I don’t necessarily think that’s true. Brainard has said he doesn’t plan on waiting for the new council to take office to get started on many ideas he’s had on the backburner during the election. He said we should expect a very aggressive first 100 days.
On top of that, there are construction projects that have to proceed because of tenant agreements and so there can’t be delays to wait for a new council.
The Midtown Project is chief among them. A package for tax increment financing for a parking garage should be introduced soon to council. Justin Moffett of Old Town Design Group notes that he has major tenants such as Merchants Bank are already planning their move-in dates so construction has to stay on schedule.
The newly announced transformation of the former Party Time Rental site into a mixed-use development with apartments, restaurants and office space also means a construction project that can’t wait for approval. Officials say want to have it all passed by the end of the year so construction can begin next year.
There might be a few bills here and there that people decide to wait to introduce, but the truth is I think we’ll get back to business as usual.

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