Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Utilities expert blocked from assisting council on Henke ordinance

The city of Elkhart paid an expert on utilities $15,000 to discuss sewer issues, but prevented him from working further with Republicans.
Posted on Aug. 23, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 23, 2013 at 3:04 p.m.

ELKHART — Not only did Mayor Dick Moore prohibit Republicans from using the city’s legal counsel to prepare a sewer ordinance — he also blocked them from talking to an expert on the issue from Indianapolis who had been paid by the city.

Republicans, scurrying to prepare an sewer ordinance based on a 15 percent surcharge that Moore opposed, were turned away from having city attorney Vlado Vranjes review the work prior to council action on Aug. 8.

The ordinance was approved by council in a 5-4 vote despite warnings from Moore and Vranjes, who described it as “illegal, invalid and unenforceable.”

Republican councilman David Henke complained that Vranjes should have worked with council on the matter, but Moore and Vranjes argued that the city attorney can’t work with council when the administration and council have differing goals on a single issue.

Rebuffed by that move, Republican council member Mary Olson sought the assistance of Nicholas Kile, an Indianapolis attorney who is considered an expert on utility and annexation issues in Indiana.

Kile appeared before the council on June 25, at the request of Moore, to provide council insights as they prepared to consider Moore’s sewer proposal, which would reduce compact fees in half, but would continue to rely on assessed property values to calculate the charges.

The city paid Kile about $15,000 for his appearance and other related work for the administration, according to Moore.

Olson contacted Kile just days before the Aug. 8 vote, asking for assistance on Henke’s ordinance. Kile then reached out to the Moore administration.

Vranjes replied with an email on Aug. 7, telling Kile his services were not needed.

Vranjes said they believed his presentation on June 25 was “thorough and complete in addressing the legal requirements for establishing a pre-annexation fee and sewer rates and charges.”

Kile spoke to council for more than 90 minutes, answering a variety of questions concerning the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and annexation.

Copies of the presentation were made available to council and a recorded version was made available to two council members who were absent from the meeting, including Olson, Moore said.

“I have rendered an opinion on the illegality of (Henke’s ordinance). This opinion is consistent with your presentation to the City Council. As a result, it is not necessary for you to weigh in on this matter.”

Moore said Kile had been hired to provide his administration with his 35 percent proposal and to make an appearance before council to answer questions.

“He was hired by the city’s corporate counsel who can only represent the City Administration when there is a difference between the administration and the common Council,” Moore explained in an email to The Truth.

He added, “There was also the need to cut off the expense and each phone call to Mr. Kile came with a cost factor. They could have all asked any questions of Mr. Kile they wanted to that night even after the meeting.”

Henke said the move to block Kile’s assistance underscores Moore’s desire to hamstring Republican efforts to come up with an alternative plan to Moore’s proposal, which was later defeated by council.

“The city blocks any cooperative spirit,” Henke said. “What a sad commentary for us all.”

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