Mayor Ballard cites ‘sloppy legal work’ in $32 million electric car deal

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 20, 2015)-- After several weeks of contradictory and incomplete contract submissions and apologies from the city's Corporation Counsel, Mayor Greg Ballard defended his Freedom Fleet electric car program while acknowledging the faulty legal work that led to misinformation and eroded City County Council confidence.

"No, I don't think it was internal confusion," the mayor told CBS4 Indy. "You've got to understand, in contract law, if the parties are not in dispute, the parties to the contract are fine with each other, so that's not the problem. The problem is this is just sloppy legal work on a couple peoples' part. That's what it is."

The "sloppy legal work" Ballard referred to included inconsistencies in contract language and submissions to city county councilors and reporters, backdated, undated and unnumbered signature pages and at least three different signature pages attached to various versions of the $32 million seven-year lease/rental/fleet services deal that promises to deliver 425 electric and electric-hybrid cars to Indianapolis' municipal fleet by the end of this year.

An admitted example of the "sloppy legal work" described by his boss would be Corporation Counsel Andy Seiwert's acknowlegement that his staff should have revoked an original Lease Agreement which was replaced by a backdated Master Fleet Agreement in the spring of 2014.

The substandard work produced by Seiwert's office was on a deal that will commit Indianapolis taxpayers to rent but never own a substantial part of the city fleet until well into the next decade at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

When asked if the stumbles by the Corporation Counsel rocked his confidence in the Ballard Administration's ability to competently negotiate a major deal such as this, Republican City County Councilman Jack Sandlin answered, "That question assumes my faith level to begin with."

While his opinion on the competency of his lawyers may be shaken, the Mayor's faith in his his commitment to Vision Fleet remains undeterred.

"The problem usually in contract law is when the parties are disputing each other," said Ballard. "The parties are not disputing each other. So we got to get that right up front, so if there's no dispute there, and the city is saving money doing this, those are the main things I am worried about."

Vision Fleet, a California-based start-up company that claimed Indianapolis as its first partner, is prepared to release a report this week on the initial year of its partnership with the city.

CBS4 Indy has obtained a copy of that study.

The 2015 Annual Report, titled "Indianapolis Freedom Fleet", claims, "Indianapolis is the first U.S. municipality to use a performance contract to upgrade the efficiency of its vehicle fleet."

Vision Fleet chose the nation's 12th largest city for its pilot program.

The city has contracted with Vision Fleet to deploy 425 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles which are expected to remove 536 gasoline-powered cars from Indianapolis streets.

The City is expected to save $7.4 million over the life of the contract, according to the report, and reduce petroleum use by 1.7 million gallons.

139 vehicles, almost all of them Chevy Volts, were deployed by the end of April and 41 standard police cars were redeployed for typical pursuit duties.

"As of this month, it also became the largest deployment of electrified passenger vehicles in any government fleet in the United States," reads the report.

Several Metro police officers have complained the Volt is ill-suited for their assignments and Vision Fleet has called off their deployment to IMPD until roomier and more secure Ford Fusions are mixed into the fleet.

Vision Fleet CEO Michael Brylawski writes, "Vision Fleet is working with...the City's Police department to create better solutions for securing drivers' service weapons."

Mayor Ballard told CBS4 Indy that he met with division heads earlier this week and determined they will be able to assign Volts to their staffs.

In the first year of the deal, Freedom Fleet vehicles drove 571,000 miles, 47% of which were "electric miles."

While a vast majority of the vehicles are recharged at home, the City has pledged to establish 150 charging stations for its fleet throughout Marion County.

Vision Fleet expects to assign 286 more cars by the end of the year.

The company claims its financing model provides, "the City with immediate financial savings," yet at the end of the lease, Indianapolis will not own the vehicles and will be forced to undergo another massive fleet replacement instead of a gradual rotation as has been the practice.

Ballard will point to Vision Fleet report as proof of the benefits taxpayers can receive over the life of the deal even if he did avoid scrutiny by and approval of the Public Works Board and the City County Council in negotiating and closing the bargain.

"The fleet management has always been under the purview of the Administration," he said. "When we brought in those hybrids back in 2008, nobody questioned that. When we changed truck vendors and did that, nobody questions that. It's always been within our purview."

Councilors like Zach Adamson complain secrecy and opaqueness have been hallmarks of the tenure of a mayor who made "transparency" a mantra.

"This council has brought up numerous occasions where we have felt that this administration has violated either city ordinance or state laws," he said.

Adamson will chair a meeting of the council's Public Works Committee Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Room 260 of the City County Building.

Councilors will hear an update on their staff's own Vision Fleet investigation as well as a report on Blue Indy, an electric car ride-sharing service that is having difficulty gaining traction and driver acceptance without city financial and logistical support.

Indianapolis' next mayor will inherit the Vision Fleet deal, assuming that councilors cannot find a successful legal challenge to the contract consumated without their knowledge and support.

Hours after Ballard acknowledged the faulty work of the city's legal team, Democrat Joe Hogsett outlined his "Disclose Indy" plan to insure integrity in his potential administration.

The 8-point program includes a ban on perks and memberships extended to city officials, better sourcing of out-of-state and foreign trips, a two-term limit for mayors, the rejection of speaking fees, a thorough audit of city spending, toughened rules against ex-employees working for private sector firms that do business with the city, creation of a digital portal to disclose information on government oversight, reporting of lobbyist gifts and increased competiton among bidders for city business.

City County Councilors complained that the Ballard Administration handpicked Vision Fleet, an untried beginner, to launch the Freedom Fleet project.

Hogsett drew a line between the practices of the current administration versus his own potential City Hall.

"What I've tried to lay out today is precisely how I would like to operate in government if the people of Indianapolis want me to lead the city for the next four years," he said. "To the extent that that is different than the way that this administration has led it, my response would be, 'So be it.'

"I do think the people of Indianapolis deserve the most open, most honest and the most transparent government because only in doing that will the decisions have the most credibility."

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.