After initiating three investigations in the last two years, the Carmel City Council is taking a look at codifying the process for conducting them.
The council’s finance committee met March 18 to review an ordinance outlining council’s investigatory powers. The committee unanimously voted to send it back to the full council for a vote with amendments. The council’s next meeting is set for April 19.
Recent investigations include former Clerk-Treasurer Christine Pauley’s firing of one of her employees in 2019, a review in 2020 of what led to Hotel Carmichael cost being 46 percent higher than original estimates and an ongoing investigation of the city’s handling of a harassment allegation against former City Attorney Doug Haney. The results of the Hotel Carmichael investigation have not yet been released.
City council president Sue Finkam said city and state laws are vague enough that it has raised questions about the council’s authority during the investigations.
“Even though we’re granted the authority, the ‘how’ wasn’t really defined,” Finkam said. “In a couple of these areas the outside counsel that was working with us on the hotel and the employee matter said, ‘There’s nothing listed in your city code or state code.’ So you can say it’s so broad we have the authority, but you can also say it’s so broad we don’t have the authority.”
According to the proposed ordinance, the council may investigate departments, officers and employees of the city or any charges against them and the affairs of a person with whom the city has entered or is about to enter into a contract. The committee amended the ordinance to include elected officials and members of boards and commissions as eligible for investigation.
The proposed ordinance states that the council may compel witnesses and the production of evidence by subpoena, and that if there is no compliance they can take the matter to court.
The committee amended the ordinance to state that an investigation may only be launched by a vote of the full city council rather than the council president or the full council. It also added a provision to require a report on the investigation be finalized within 60 days of the investigation’s conclusion.
“When the investigation is over there should be a reasonable amount of time established to file a report so it doesn’t just drag on,” said councilor Jeff Worrell, who is president of the finance committee.
Jon Oberlander, assistant corporation counsel for the City of Carmel, said the final report may or may not be accessible to the public, depending on its contents.
The finance committee’s next meeting is set for April 1 when it is expected to discuss a proposed $25 million tax increment financing bond to fund various land acquisitions for redevelopment and other projects around town.