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March 13, 2014

Mayor Bennett drops veto threat over financial consultant

TERRE HAUTE — Mayor Duke Bennett has dropped a threat to use his veto power in the matter of the Terre Haute City Council seeking to hire its own financial consultant.

The change, announced after Thursday night’s City Council meeting, came after talks in the past week between the mayor and councilmen John Mullican and Neil Garrison, both of whom favor hiring a consultant to directly serve the City Council, something done for the first time last year.

Garrison and Mullican favor using a financial consultant to provide an independent source of city budget information to city lawmakers, who are charged with approving the city’s budget each year.

After months of discussion, the council last year hired Sackrider & Co., a Terre Haute CPA firm, for the job. To make that possible, they voted to move $20,000 from the City Controller’s budget into the City Council’s budget, something Bennett said he strongly opposed allowing to happen again this year.

This year, however, Mullican and Garrison are talking about needing less, about $10,000, from the executive branch portion of the city’s budget for the consultant position. An additional $5,000 could be available within the council’s own budget in a line item identified as money for “legal services,” officials said.

Speaking after the council meeting in City Hall, Bennett said $10,000 could be made available for a consultant from the city’s human resources line item because of a vacant job position. However, he added, that money will not be available to the council again next year and he would prefer the council use its own money for the consultant.

Because the money would no longer be coming from the Controller’s Department and because it is only half of what was originally proposed, Bennett said Thursday evening he was no longer considering using his veto.

However, he added, he still opposes hiring a consultant for the council.

“I still don’t think they need it,” Bennett said. “We already have two financial consultants plus the State Board of Accounts.” The city administration employs the Indianapolis consulting firm of H.J. Umbaugh and Associates and the firm Public Sector Group, operated by consultant Scott Walker. However, Mullican and Garrison have said they prefer having available a source of financial information not working directly for the city administration.

At Thursday night’s regular council meeting, Mullican praised the mayor for working toward a compromise to help move the matter forward, something echoed by Garrison and Councilman Todd Nation.

“This is how it’s supposed to work,” Mullican said. The matter will likely come back before the council next month.

n Also Thursday, the council chose to put off a vote on a proposed ordinance designed to cut down on graffiti in the city. In its original form, the ordinance would fine a property owner $25 for not cleaning up graffiti within 30 days of being contacted by city officials.

Council members indicated they had several questions about the ordinance. They proposed a committee meeting of council members to discuss the matter in more detail. No date was set for the proposed meeting.

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

@tribstar.com

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