NEW PALESTINE — New paperwork on the $63 million apartment complex project is too complex for some of the New Palestine Town Council members, they say. The documentation, which lowers a bond for the project from $5 to $3.9 million and changes some aspects of the work, has yet to be voted on by the council for final approval after being resubmitted.
During the most recent council meeting, three council members, Clint Bledsoe, Angie Fahrnow and Brandee Bastin, voted in favor (3-0) of hiring an outside attorney to look over the plan from Becovic Management Group before the council votes on the measure.
Bledsoe and Fahrnow are both on record against the project, saying they disliked the $5 million bond, which has contributed to holding up the project for months. Bill Niemier and Chris Lytle have voted in favor of the $5 million bond but were not present at the recent meeting in mid-March to offer their view on a new attorney.
Bastin had abstained from any previous vote on the project, saying there was a conflict of interest due to her employer, Hancock Regional Health, having owned the land Becovic plans to build on. However, she surprised everyone at the meeting with a “yes” vote to seek an outside lawyer.
Her “yes” on the idea of an outside attorney was the first time she engaged in the voting process surrounding the controversial project which has divided the council for months.
“What I was hearing was Clint saying there is new paperwork presented and things had been changed with the same people involved and there was confusion the last time, so I thought maybe it would be a good idea to get a second set of legal eyes to look at this,” Bastin said. “I paraphrase it as I wanted to make sure all the T’s are crossed, the I’s are dotted and that this matches here, this matches here and this matches here.”
“I didn’t think she would vote on it, but she did,” Bledsoe said.
The idea of bringing in a new lawyer was Bledsoe’s. Bledsoe noted he had texted Fahrnow prior to the meeting that day and told her they needed to have a fresh set of eyes, an independent attorney, look over the new documents.
“I want somebody independently to look at this and give us a synopses of what this is,” Bledsoe said, referring to the new terms of the deal. “They sent all the new information out and it’s a lot and there is a lot of things I have questions about.”
The request and decision to bring in an outside attorney comes after the town’s own council, and his law firm, have represented the town on the bond paperwork and issues surrounding the project.
Niemier wishes he had been able to attend the meeting, he said, because he would have suggested adding another law firm at this point was a very bad idea.
“The documents were prepared by the town’s bond council,” Niemier said. “Brian Bosma is one of the best attorneys in the state when it comes to bond projects and we’re lucky to have him representing us in this transaction, so in my opinion, this is a waste of tax payer money.”
Niemier noted the council should ask Bosma to come in and answer questions if there are concerns since Bosma knows the documents inside and out. Niemier also said they should have reached out to the developer because it is their project and are the ones who know what has changed from the original plans.
“Or Clint could have just asked Angie Fahrnow, who was sitting right there because it’s my understanding Fahrnow is the one who has negotiated these new details, without anyone else from the town or the council, directly with the developer,” Niemier said.
Fahrnow is the person Bledsoe assigned with hiring a new attorney to look at the newer Becovic documents.
“Angie and her husband know a lot more attorneys than I do, so I figured to just let her handle that,” Bledsoe said.
Bastin noted their regular town attorney was not present at the meeting when they decided to bring in another attorney and, had he been present, perhaps he could have helped them make a different decision. The New Palestine Council decided last year to have their town attorney attend only one meeting a month rather than both monthly meetings.
“That needs to change,” Bastin said. “We need counsel at every meeting and this is an example of why.”