Sunday, November 30, 2008

Carmel Mayor Brainard Lies to Voters About Cost of Keystone Avenue Project

I have several friends who live in Carmel. I have for years teased them about their big spending Republican Mayor and warned them that the day would come when the piper would have to be paid for Carmel's big spending ways. I figured that date would be 10-15 years down the road. It appears it has arrived earlier than that.

The Indianapolis Star today reported the Carmel Mayor James Brainard and the Carmel City Council (all members are Republican) knew in February 2007 that the Keystone Avenue project would cost much more than the $90 million price tag touted by Mayor Brainard during 2007 re-election campaign.

Quoted from the article:

A study in February 2007 put the total cost of the six-roundabout Keystone traffic improvement project at $138.6 million if the rebuilding took place over an 11-year period, according to calculations by project manager Jeremy Kashman.

However, running the project on a three-year timetable shaved inflation costs, Kashman said, and put the estimate at $112 million.

Brainard took that number and, figuring he could earn interest on the money and cut costs, publicly committed to finish Keystone with the $90 million the state gave Carmel to take over the road. He declined to bring the higher estimates to the attention of his constituents, who re-elected him by a wide margin two months later.

I'm not sure about the reporter indicating he was reelected "two months later" after the February 2007 report was issued. Apparently the reporter was referring to his May Republican Primary which, given the Republican dominance in Carmel, is tantamount to winning the general election.

Although Brainard tries to spin his way out of his misrepresentation, let's be honest. He blatantly lied to his constituents and should be held accountable. Likewise, the City Council members who knew the numbers were faulty should likewise be held accountable for acquiescence in Brainard's efforts to mislead Carmelites.

As a Republican I hate to say it, but this is what you get when you have complete one party (in this case, Republican) dominance of an area. The two-party watchdog system is not present to ensure that the interests of the public are being defended.

Republicans need to clean up their act in Carmel. Brainard has had Republican opposition before and has been able to squelch it. That Republican opposition needs to rise again and bring back the principles of good government to Indy's fast growing neighbor to the north.

As a side note, a good government measure would be for more documents like the Carmel Keystone Avenue study to be placed on line for everyone to see. Mayor Brainard's misrepresentations would have been discovered much earlier with such a policy. Taxpayers should not have to depend on newspapers making open records requests to expose to public scrutiny documents that are by nature public documents and everyone is entitled to view.

Finally, I can't end this without giving kudos to the Indianapolis Star and reporter Heather Gillers for the investigative work on this story. The Star has often been criticized, I believe rightly, for not investigating news tips and falling into the trap of simply reporting what others are saying or doing. In this case though, the Indianapolis Star and Gillers acquitted themselves quite well and showed the importance of a free media to keep the politicians honest.


Anonymous said...

Second to last paragraph. Mayor Brainard, not Ballard.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Thanks, Paddy. I made the correction.

Anonymous said...

What the STAR doesn't disclose is that the "investigation" they conducted consisted of going to a public meeting five weeks before their front page story broke and listen to the mayor admit a mistake. They didn't investigate--they attended a public meeting and then lied about it to sensationalize the story and being told about the preliminary estimate by the mayor himself. Paul, you should know better than to trust the STAR in a story about a Republican.

More importantly, no governmental body releases estimates--especially preliminary pre-engineering estimates like these; in fact, Brainard never had to release this report because it is classified as "deliberative material" under the public records law. Why?
Because if estimates are released, the bidders know the estimate in advance and the bids tend to cluster around the estimates and the taxpayers generally end up paying more. Everyone in the public road construction business keeps those estimates close to the vest and most probably discount them 15-20% percent just like Brainard and his engineers did because the consutltants are generally 15-20% high.

I remember being at the news conference when Brainard announced this project with the Governor--the STAR reporter asked if this project could be built for 90 million--I specifically remember him hedging, saying they didn't have hard bids but he thought he could. I remember at the time that was smart but it is apparently that statement that the STAR now calls a "promise" to build the road for that amount.
Paul, did you even bother to call Brainard and get his side of it before writing your defamatory blog?

I am just a highway engineer, not a lawyer, but it is clear to me the STAR is the party at fault--they lied about where they got the information--I saw it openly and voluntarily presented at a public meeting by the mayor himself. If I were Brainard, I would probably sue you and the STAR for defamation. He did nothing wrong in this matter besides try to protect taxpayers with far more openness than you ever see from most politicans.

So, you and the STAR are crucifying Brainard for being more open than most and admitting a mistake?
To me, Brainard's admitting a miscalculation is refreshing.

LIE is a strong word--knowing Brainard's normal record of competency I suspect that he truly believed he could deliver the project for the state's payment and probably would have had the commodities market, especially those commodities associated with road building--petroleuma and steel--not gone crazy over the last few months.

Brainard's only mistake, in my opinion, was being too open--he should never have released the preliminary engineering estimate to anyone, ever--INDOT doesn't even let their consultants working on a project see the internal INDOT construction estimates. There is a reason these things are not defined as "public records."