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June 25, 2014

State to look into city commission

TERRE HAUTE — The Indiana State Board of Accounts unexpectedly announced Tuesday night it has initiated what it called an “examination” of the Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission.

The announcement followed a private meeting Tuesday among State Examiner Paul Joyce, who is a member of the three-person State Board of Accounts, and several top city officials.

According to an SBA news release emailed to the Tribune-Star shortly after 7 p.m., the purpose of the meeting was to “initiate an examination of the Redevelopment Commission.”

It further stated: “The matters discussed during the conference [Tuesday’s meeting] related to record keeping and disbursements of the Redevelopment Commission, including but not limited to, bond covenants, loans, cash balances, operational expenses, bank accounts and fiscal officer responsibilities as a result of a new law passed in 2014, [Senate Enrolled Act] 118.”

Mayor Duke Bennett, reached late Tuesday, said his administration has been working with the SBA “from the very beginning. We look forward to them reviewing any and all matters related to this.”

Also reached late Tuesday, Cliff Lambert, executive director of the Terre Haute Redevelopment Department, said “the Redevelopment Commission and department staff are pleased that State Examiner Paul Joyce has initiated a special audit of the Redevelopment Commission regular and [tax increment finance] TIF monies.”

In May, Lambert publicly questioned the Bennett administration’s transferring of millions of dollars from TIF bank accounts. He filed a formal complaint about the transfers in early June with the SBA, which audits all local governments in Indiana.

The meeting on Tuesday included Bennett, Lambert, City Controller Leslie Ellis, two redevelopment commissioners and four members of the City Council, according to the release.

Amy Auler, president of the City Council, said she was invited to the meeting by Joyce on Monday and asked to include three other members of the nine-person council. Four members is the maximum that can meet together without constituting a quorum, which would have made the meeting open to the public unless it qualified as an executive session. Auler said she invited Bob All, the council’s lone Republican; John Mullican, the council vice president; and George Azar, an at-large member.

There are five voting members of the Redevelopment Commission, so two was also the maximum number allowable without constituting a quorum of that body and a public meeting.

Auler stated all those present in the meeting signed a confidentiality agreement, meaning she could not offer further comment. Mullican, reached late Tuesday, also declined comment in light of the confidentiality agreement.

Joyce, according to the news release, “opened the meeting by informing the participants that, based on the State Board of Accounts’ laws and policies, any discussions related to this examination are to remain confidential until the audit report is publicly released.

“No further comments will be made until the examination has been concluded and a report has been issued,” the news release stated.

When the examination is complete, a report will be released to the public stating the SBA’s findings and any recommendations, the release stated. “At this time no decisions have been made with respect to any issues that have been raised by the Redevelopment Commission.”

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

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