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July 9, 2014

City Council to take up city finances tonight

Special meetings push back sunshine meeting

TERRE HAUTE — The Terre Haute City Council will have a chance in a special meeting tonight to delve deeply into the city’s financial health. However, council members are being asked to avoid raising the most controversial subject of recent weeks: The city’s use of Redevelopment Commission tax increment finance (TIF) money.

Cliff Lambert, executive director of the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment, filed a formal complaint in June with the Indiana State Board of Accounts (SBOA) about the city’s use of TIF money, which has traditionally been controlled by the Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission, a five-member appointed body. Lambert said he believes the city is using the money contrary to Indiana law, something Mayor Duke Bennett and City Controller Leslie Ellis strongly deny.

On June 24, after a private meeting with city officials in City Hall, the SBOA, which audits Indiana local governments, announced in a news release it was conducting a special “examination” of the Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission. In that release, however, the SBOA stated “any discussions related to this examination are to remain confidential until the audit report is publicly released.”

City officials attending the June 24 meeting, including Bennett, Lambert, Ellis and four members of the City Council, signed confidentiality agreements, pledging not to discuss matters raised during the meeting.

Ahead of tonight’s meeting, which has been in the works since June 12, Council President Amy Auler, said she sought guidance from Paul Joyce, a member of the Indiana State Board of Accounts, as to what may be discussed concerning Redevelopment Commission money. He referred her to the June 24 SBOA news release, she said.

“It’s the same stance,” Auler said.

The public is welcome at tonight’s special meeting, set for 5:45 p.m. in City Hall, but only members of the council may ask questions, Auler said. That’s because the goal of the meeting is to clear up council questions and also because meeting time is limited, she said.

The meeting was proposed by Councilman John Mullican, D-6th, at the council’s June 12 regular meeting. Members also asked Bennett to attend along with Lambert, Ellis and Earl Elliott, financial consultant to the City Council.

The meeting is scheduled to wrap up no later than 6:55 p.m., when another special meeting introducing a change to the city’s wastewater disposal regulations is to begin. The first item of business today, starting at 5 p.m., is a council hearing on tax abatements granted to Bemis, Lenex Steel and Schwan. The council’s July sunshine meeting will start at 7 p.m., one hour later than usual.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@trib

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