Apartment approval put on hold; division among NP council continues

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New Palestine Council President Bill Niemier

NEW PALESTINE — Developers hoping to build a $63 million, high-end apartment complex will have to wait a little longer to see if council officials approve an ordinance giving them $5 million in bonds for the project proposed in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) area.

The New Palestine Town Council held a second vote on the ordinance Wednesday, authorizing the bonds. The vote, however, ended 2-1 and could not be counted as passed or failed since only three of four council members participating in the meeting voted on the measure.

Council President Bill Niemier and council member Chris Lytle voted in favor while Vice President Clint Bledsoe voted against it. Council member Brandee Bastin abstained, saying her job with Hancock Regional Hospital was a conflict even though town officials say the land for the project, once owned by HRH, has already been sold to the developer.

Council member Angie Fahrnow was absent for the council meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. She exited town hall during the 6 p.m. executive council meeting earlier in the evening.

The ordinance is expected to be put back on the agenda for the Dec. 7 meeting, officials said.

The issue continues to divide the council, which has been split on offering the $5 million bond. Things have become continuous throughout the approval process, with Fahrnow questioning Niemier’s motive behind the vote and suggesting his standing as a real estate attorney would benefit from the project.

The division widened Wednesday night when Niemier announced at the meeting that it was brought to his attention that a council member, identified after the meeting as Fahrnow, had crossed a line by abusing her power as a council member.

Niemier said the council member called a New Palestine Police officer to do a favor for her while the officer was working, taking the town employee away from his responsibilities, outside of the town limits.

Niemier went on to say at the public meeting that the council member then approached the officer after he had done the favor for her and offered the free use of a vacation home after telling the officer she knew he would not accept cash.

“I think it’s unethical and possibly illegal and it was definitely an abuse of power as being a member of the town council,” Niemier said. “The council member requested a member of our police department to go to the scene of their daughter’s car accident … The location was outside of town limits.”

Niemier went on to say the officer was also requested by Fahrnow to drive her daughter home after the accident, and the officer complied.

The officer, later identified at Chief Bob Ehle, said the request by Fahrnow did happen. The two-car accident, with no injuries, took place in late August around 7:30 a.m. near U.S. 40 and CR 500W, a couple of miles outside the town limits, Ehle said.

“It was the county’s crash,” Ehle said. “I got a call from both Angie and her husband Doug … They just asked if I could run up and give her a ride home because they couldn’t get there.”

Ehle noted that had any council member called he probably would have done the same thing. While he did not know Fahrnow’s daughter, who is 27, Ehle said that, as a police officer who is a public servant, he feels it is his duty to help people if asked.

“I didn’t think much of it at the time,” Ehle said. “Most people don’t call us for things like this.”

Ehle said that he later saw Fahrnow at a council meeting in September, and she offered the use of the family vacation as a thank you.

“She said ‘Doug wanted to get you something, money or something, but I told him you would not take money for that,’ and then she said ‘If you and (Ehle’s wife) ever want to go to the vacation house, just give me a call,’” Ehle said.

Ehle noted he told Fahrnow he appreciated the offer, but said “no thank you,” and that the “thanks” was enough.

The Daily Reporter reached out to Fahrnow with several questions immediately after the meeting. She replied Thursday morning via a text stating, “My offer to stay at the Spencer house was also extended to Bill (Niemier) and Jim (Robinson, town manager), so if you’re going to write about Bob in your article, you better include all the information.”

Both Niemier and Robinson said that Fahrnow did extend an offer for them to visit her vacation house in 2021 shortly after she acquired the property.

“Angie offered her lake residence to Chief Ehle in lieu of cash for the pick up of her daughter from the scene of an accident,” Robinson said. “There’s a big difference.”

Friday morning Fahrnow sent the Daily Reporter an email and said, “I would like to thank the chief for volunteering to assist and the sheriff’s office for being on the scene so quickly. As a mother, my focus was solely on making sure my daughter was safe after her horrific accident. As for Mr. Niemier, his comments were baseless, defamatory and too petty to warrant a response.”

Niemier said it should be up to the law officials or the prosecutor to determine if the issue is a misuse of power, theft, ghost employment or bribery of a public employee and noted he may file a report with county law enforcement.

“She should have called a friend or a family member or what about a cab or a Uber,” Niemier said. “You don’t call a police officer who is on duty to do a favor for you … You should not get to use town people and town equipment for your personal benefit because you’re a council member.”