INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 18, 2015)– Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration has told CBS4 that it has decided that the signature sheet from a discarded and nullified 2014 electric car lease agreement will serve as the city’s contractual commitment to a $32 million, seven-year vehicle rental deal.
“Our purpose in releasing the packet of documents last week was to alleviate the confusion caused by having prior versions of the contract in circulation,” wrote Ballard Spokeswoman Jen Pittman in a statement to CBS4 News. “The Master Fleet Agreement provided, which is dated February, 2014 and contains signatures of all parties, should serve as the final version of the agreement.”
A CBS4 News investigation has revealed that there are approximately six versions of two contracts with at least three signature sheets that commit the city to turn ten percent of its municipal fleet into electric or electric hybrid cars provided by a California start-up company called Vision Fleet.
The Ballard administration’s statement comes after the Corporation Counsel provided CBS4 News with a packet of information that contains further contradictory versions of a deal that bypassed City County Council and Public Works Board scrutiny and approval.
“Oh, I think its very disturbing,” said at-large councilor Zach Adamson, a democrat who chairs the council’s Public Works Committee where such a contract would have been vetted and submitted for approval. “I think it lends itself that there has been some tampering to deliberately mislead not only the council but the press as well. I think its definitely something the council is going to look into and hopefully nail down some remedies as to how the Mayor’s administration and the Department of Public Works has continually gone around the city’s legislative body.”
In 2013 Mayor Ballard, a former U.S. Marine, announced that in order to break the grip foreign oil had on Indianapolis’ municipal fleet, he would commit to launching the Freedom Fleet, bringing hundreds of alternative fuel cars to the city’s streets.
In February, 2014, DPW Director Lori Miser signed and dated a no-bid lease agreement with Vision Fleet, a company founded by members of a failed Anderson-based alternative fuel company.
At the time of the lease signing, Vision Fleet was not yet registered by the Indiana Secretary of State to do business in Indiana.
In March of 2014, Jerry Stewart, President of AFSCME Local 3131 which represents mechanics and technicians who work on the municipal fleet at the city garage, was asked by the DPW to review the contract.
Stewart assumed the unsigned version of the agreement he reviewed was a draft.
When Stewart made his concerns about training, downsizing of the gasoline-powered fleet, potential layoffs and lack of City County Council approval known to DPW Chief of Staff Jeremiah Shirk and city attorneys, he was told that the deal was already signed and that council approval was not needed.
“Absolutely that was brought up in one of the meetings,” he said. “My administrator and I, we had directly approached this, and we even had a copy of the ordinance, and at that point I would say that it was just basically ignored.”
Sources told CBS4 News that a month after Stewart and the union raised their concerns, an internal city email was distributed inviting employees and department representatives to an April 21 public announcement hosted by Ballard and Vision Fleet to unveil the project.
Four days before the scheduled announcement, though, the plug on the press briefing was pulled and the lease agreement was sent back to Vision Fleet to be reworked as rental agreement.
Stewart told CBS4 News that a lease agreement, by municipal ordinance, would require work done on leased electric cars be completed by city employees.
A rental or Master Fleet Agreement would allow Vision Fleet, or a local car dealership, to do the maintenance and repair work on the fleet.
By rewriting the lease agreement as a rental and services agreement, the city would avoid costly retraining of its technicians and could position itself to reduce its workforce as more than 500 gasoline powered vehicles would be phased out of the fleet.
CBS4 obtained a June 13, 2014, Master Fleet Agreement signed by Vision Fleet CEO Michael Brylawski and Chairman Reuben Munger, but by the time that contract surfaced in a heavily redacted version sent to the City County Council last December, the date on the cover sheet was changed to February 18, 2014, and the signatures of Vision Fleet leaders, Miser, the city’s controller and assistant corporation counsel were altered or left undated.
Furthermore, nowhere within the new Master Fleet Agreement is any reference to the previously signed and enacted lease agreement or its revocation in favor of the new contract.
Last Friday, Corporation Counsel Andy Seiwert, who supervised the city’s lease negotiations and rental renegotiations with Vision Fleet, told CBS4, “It was backdated so that the parties and everyone would understand there was only contract ever and there wouldn’t be any confusion over, ‘Well, for this period of time we had this contract, for this period of time we had this contract.’ We wanted to backdate it so all the parties knew and the contract would be uploaded to the city’s contract web portal, there would be only one contract, the contract everybody knew we had.”
Seiwert said despite the lack of revocation of the original and discredited lease agreement, the city has only one contract with Vision Fleet.
“In retrospect the prior contract from February should have been formerly voided,” he said. “Everybody knew that’s what was going on. We superseded the first contract with the Master Lease Agreement.”
A representative from the mayor’s office then handed CBS4 News a packet of information containing the discarded lease agreement, the operative Master Fleet Agreement, a memo to city county councilors and a 2010 contract that served as a boilerplate document for the Vision Fleet deal.
Upon examination of that packet, CBS4 News discovered that the signature page for the Master Fleet Agreement, which had been through at least two different permutations and had been previously provided to city county councilors in their heavily redacted version, had been pulled and replaced by the lease agreement signature sheet, with a missing page number to avoid detection as being out of sequence with the alternative version.
In essence, the city has a $32 million, seven-year rental agreement for 425 electric vehicles it does not have a public infrastructure to support that are being assigned to police officers who don’t want them based on a signature sheet from a lease agreement that Mayor Ballard’s top lawyer admits is null and void.
“It was voided by the execution of the second contract. It superseded the first one,” said Seiwert. “It was voided by the second contract that was signed in May to reflect what was actually happening.”
All contract signature sheets obtained by CBS4, even those discarded or resurrected, purport to show the deal was signed February 18, 2014.
Councilman Adamson is prepared to chair a meeting of the council’s Public Works Committee Thursday afternoon where he may call for a briefing from council staff on the Vision Fleet contracts and to determine if the Ballard administration circumvented city ordinances, state statutes and government procurement rules in signing the various deals.
“We are getting an update on the Blue Indy electric cars on Thursday as well,” said Adamson, referring to a stalled attempt to jump start a private alternative fuel car service with city support on Indianapolis streets. “I think that would be a good segue to start that conversation with the Department of Public Works on why we seem to have different versions of these signature pages and why these documents are being interchanged with each other and that may be the first step to full on investigations and hearings on this full agreement.”
Council sources told CBS4 News they may consider issuing subpoenas or extending whistleblower protection to convince city employees to testify about their knowledge of the Vision Fleet deal and the Administration’s avoidance of council and Public Works Board oversight.
Sources said councilors might also consider requesting an investigation by the State Board of Accounts.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry has some of the documents CBS4 Indy has. The FBI is also aware of our investigation and findings.
Vision Fleet has already told councilors it will order no more Chevy Volts, Ford Fusions or Nissan Leafs for deployment for the time being.
Mayor Ballard’s office did not respond to a request for further clarification of its statement that the signature sheet of the nullified lease agreement would now suffice to commit the city to the Vision Fleet Master Fleet Agreement.