INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration accused the Marion County auditor Tuesday of “playing political games” and called a lawsuit filed against the administration and BlueIndy, the city’s electric car sharing program, a “stunt.”
“The Auditor’s lawsuit is nothing more than a stunt orchestrated to create headlines. Taxpayers deserve better, and so do the union workers whose jobs the Auditor is threatening. Processing payments to vendors, ensuring payroll accuracy, and withholding the correct amount from employees’ paychecks are all legitimate, important functions of the Auditor’s office, and all have suffered while the Auditor has focused instead on playing political games,” Ballard’s spokeswoman Jen Pittman said in a statement Tuesday.
In response to the statement, Voorhies said: “The judge will determine the validity of the case. I stand by the case.”
On Monday, I-Team 8 broke the story of how Marion County Auditor Julie Voorhies filed a lawsuit against BlueIndy and Ballard’s administration, claiming the administration illegally and improperly gave $6 million to BlueIndy, the city’s electric car sharing program.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Marion Circuit Court, claims the city on or about September 4, 2015, directly wire transferred $6 million to Regions Bank to be placed in the BlueIndy escrow, without benefit of a warrant from the auditor.
In the lawsuit, Voorhies alleges that the partnership between BlueIndy and the city was forged without a public bidding process, and that the wire transfer was done illegally without City-County Council approval or the consent of her office. Ballard’s administration has said in the past that the wire transfer did not need council approval and that the auditor was aware of the transaction.
“No request for (parking meter) funds was made by the Department of Public Works for the electric-vehicle project, and therefore a specific appropriation for the use of the parking meter fund, or any other fund, was not approved by the council,” the lawsuit states.
“The electric vehicle sharing project as created by the City-BlueIndy agreements was not open to public bid… the agreement with amendments and the March 31, 2015 Amended Agreement, are void…” the lawsuit states.
Voorhies wants a judge to issue an order and have the $6 million returned to the city. She’s also seeking a temporary injunction – asking a judge to “prohibit any further construction by BlueIndy or the city on city-owned property and city-owned rights of way in connection to the electric-vehicle project…”
In an emailed response to I-Team 8’s questions, Voorhies said she could not comment on “evidentiary information as this is in litigation.”
Herve Muller, the president of BlueIndy, said in an email that he did not have a comment at this point.
An email sent to Mayor Ballard’s spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
In response to questions raised last month, Ballard spokeswoman Jen Pittman said at the time:
The transfer was done without the knowledge of the council, because the council plays no role in the process of transferring funds. The money was appropriated to DPW by the council during the previous budget cycle, and the payment to BlueIndy was authorized by the DPW Board, which includes council appointees. It seems as if the Auditor’s office may be taking its cue from a handful of councilors who announced their intention to find a way to block BlueIndy funding, simply because they don’t like the program. Regardless of their like or dislike of Indy’s new car share service, the Auditor’s office did have knowledge of the funds transfer.
Voorhies and Bart Brown, the chief financial officer for the council, both contend Mayor Ballard’s administration did not have the authority to request the wire transfer. Brown is not a party in the lawsuit.
They claim only there was no appropriation from the council and that Voorhies is the only person who can sign off on the wire transfer.
The Department of Public Works board did approve the $6 million at its meeting late last month, but Brown has said the board’s vote was invalid because the city’s contract with BlueIndy is invalid.
According to Brown, the contract was not competitively bid. Ballard’s office admitted this during that same board hearing last month, publicly stating that it was bid through Indianapolis Power and Light, which has invested $3.7 million in the car-sharing program.
According to testimony during that meeting, the $6 million is intended to help BlueIndy make infrastructure improvements that will help guide the installation of more charging sites for its electric cars.
The city’s contract with BlueIndy, reviewed by I-Team 8, provides BlueIndy with exclusive rights to run the city’s electric car-sharing service. The company is also under a deadline to build 50 charging sites by the end of the year or face paying a $1 million fine to IPL.
The city inked a 15-year deal with BlueIndy that includes a requirement that BlueIndy will receive $6 million into an escrow account on or about Sep. 1, 2015. The contract also includes profit-sharing for both the city and IPL. However, Blueindy President Muller said that the company isn’t expecting to break even until at least year three.