CARMEL, Ind. -- The "Carouselgate" controversy has some Carmel residents spinning again.
Many residents are already opposed to the city spending $5 million of a $75 million bond on buying and setting up an antique carousel.
Now that same group is worried the deal was effectively sold behind closed doors, before public discussion started.
“There’s now been a couple articles out of Toronto, that say that it is a done deal,” said Tim Hannon, the creator of the petition aimed at stopping public funding for the carousel. “They’re saying, ‘Ride your carousel for the last time!’”
Both the Toronto Star and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation have articles about the sale of the carousel to Carmel and how it will help fund needed repairs to Centreville Amusement Park after a flood severely damaged other attractions and closed the park.
In them, both the media relations and marketing coordinator for the park, Shawnda Walker, and the president of the parent company that owns the park, Beasley Enterprises, are quoted.
Before phone calls from the city to amusement park officials and the reporter of the CBC article, the story quoted Walker saying Mayor Jim Brainard is a “carousel fanatic” and that after more than two decades on the job “they came along and said we want to buy it as a gift, kind of as his going out.”
A PARTIAL RETRACTION AND THE PURCHASE AGREEMENT
CBS4 called Walker to try to sort through the confusion.
“We were talking about a few different things, I absolutely got something confused and I have issued, this morning, a statement to CBC, retracting all that,” said Walker.
The retraction was specifically for the quote concerning Brainard’s retirement and passion for carousels.
As for the sale itself, Walker called back to clarify the sale is only a purchase agreement with conditions, but declined to elaborate further.
“It’s hard to say whether the quotes are inaccurate,” said Walker. “What we’ve been saying, our plan is to sell it to Carmel for the $3 million.”
She says "they've been in discussions with Carmel for quite a while" and that the agreement was made “in good faith” that Carmel would purchase the carousel.
Although Walker wouldn’t spell out the conditions, a spokesperson for the city, Dan McFeely, did give CBS4 a copy of a purchase agreement, to show the sale is far from the foregone conclusion the articles indicate.
The second item of the agreement states the sale isn’t effective until the Carmel council agrees to provide the $2.69 million. It also states the city will “act in good faith to make the appropriation before October 31, 2017.”
The mayor signed the deal on July 21, two days after the Toronto Star article was published.
While the Toronto Star article never indicated why the carousel is being purchased, it does include a timeline, stating, “The carousel will stay at Centreville Park until November 2017, and will open for Carmel residents in the spring of 2018 or 2019.”
The purchase agreement, which would be void without Carmel council approval for funding, spells out that the city would need to take possession of the carousel in late November, early October.
The amusement park will be closed by then and Walker says they’re not planning on the carousel being there for next season.
Clerk-Treasurer Christine Pauley didn’t have a copy of the purchase agreement as of Tuesday night.
She spoke to the president of Beasley Enterprises and says she was told that once the matter of a deposit for the carousel was settled, the amusement park plans to sign their side of the purchase agreement. She says she was told that should happen tomorrow and she’ll be sent a copy of the agreement then.
Pauley also states that even with approval, receiving money after the bond goes through would take months. That throws into question whether the agreement as it stands could even be executed to fulfill the requirement for the city to take possession of the carousel by the late October or early November timeline stated in the contract.
Both McFeely and Community Relations and Economic Development Director Nancy Heck, say that sellers are typically reasonable and anticipated the park would be flexible if council does approve including the carousel in the bond.
They were unaware of any discussions about a deposit.
They were firm in stating that the purchase agreement allowed the mayor to have all the necessary details for the council members considering the funding.
Whether he could’ve presented those details without making a conditional offer that effectively took the carousel off the market since July, isn’t clear.
THE LIKELY FATE OF THE CAROUSEL SALE
Many of the petitioners still feel uneasy about the confusion and level of miscommunication involved in the purchase of the carousel. In Twitter exchanges with councilors over the articles and subsequent clarifications, some petitioners still wondered if behind the scenes, this sale was potentially a case of the cart coming before the horse until public sentiment stalled the plan.
“The concerning thing is, is that kind of the way that business is done in Carmel?” asked Hannon. “That the deal is done before it’s formally approved? I think that’s an open question.”
Even before this latest issue, numerous petitioners against the carousel have expressed similar sentiments. Many stated they wonder how many questions about the role of publicly funding this attraction would’ve been asked if residents hadn’t spoken up.
Last week, most councilors seemed to indicate they’re now siding with Hannon and the rest of the opposition and won’t give city money for the carousel. Even those who were formerly in favor of doing so, cited widespread remonstrance for their waning support.
Hannon says he and others feel opposing this carousel and proposed $10 to 15 million in subsidies for an Autograph hotel has made them more watchful of what their city government is doing and how it spends money.
“I think the carousel, it’s a gift horse for citizens to start asking better questions, to learn more about how decisions are being made and I think if we can keep the light shining on city hall, that’s better for everyone,” said Hannon.
As of the last council committee meeting, the councilors plan to have one more discussion about which projects should be included in the final version of the $76 million bond.
It’s expected their final vote on the whole bond will take place at their September 18 meeting.