Councilman calls for injunction to halt ‘illegal’ electric car deal

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 12, 2015)-- City-County Councilman Frank Mascari, a Democrat from Beech Grove, told CBS4 News that he is calling for a court injunction to pull the plug on the City's $32 million, 7-year agreement to lease hundreds of electric and hybrid cars.

"The problem is, as you showed me, there are three different leases, two actually, one showing it as a lease and one showing it as a rental agreement," said Mascari after CBS4 News discovered multiple agreements between the City and its vendor, Indy-Vision Funding. "This whole fiasco should be stopped immediately."

Mascari and other councilors said that it appears the administration of Mayor Greg Ballard circumvented City ordinances to turn 10 percent of its fleet into alternative fuel vehicles by leasing the cars under a services contract.

"It had to go through purchasing. Simple as that," Mascari said. "It didn't go through purchasing. What they did was totally illegal and that's why we want to file an injunction to stop this as soon as we can."

Mascari claims the Department of Public Works (DPW) did an run around not only the council but the Public Works Board and the Public Safety Board in contracting with a start-up company with no other clients last year to lease more than 400 cars for the City's municipal fleet, most of them to be assigned to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD).

"There's nothing wrong with the car," said Mascari, himself the owner of a Chevrolet Volt that runs 40 miles on a single charge. "But again, it's not a police car. There's no place to put lights, no siren, no radio, no extra equipment at all."

A CBS4 investigation has determined there are at least four versions of the agreement between DPW and Vision Fleet, the vendor, and none of them underwent external scrutiny or approval.

The first version is dated February 18, 2014, and is titled, "Lease Agreement," and councilors claim it would have required approval of the Public Works Board and the full council, as well as input from the Public Safety Board since it contracted to replace hundreds of IMPD gasoline-powered sedans with electric hybrid cars such as the Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the Ford Fusion.

But that first version was altered after its creation.

"The only thing I can see is they realized they made a mistake," said Mascari, "And they changed the dates."

The February "Lease Agreement" was rewritten and resurrected four months later as a "Master Fleet Agreement," dated June 13, 2014, with the notation, "Execution Version," printed on the title page.

Throughout the rewritten agreement, the word "lease" was changed to "rental."

Also changed was the effective date of the agreement and the date it was signed.

When the "Master Fleet Agreement" finally reached a city county council committee last month, whole sections, including the table of contents, were blacked out for "competitive proprietary" reasons.

The new agreement now carried a February 18, 2014 date on its title page and below were the signatures of Indy-Vision Funding CEO Michael Brylawski and Chairman Reuben Munger. The original "06/13/14" signing date notation was whited out and "2/18/14" was handwritten in its place.

"You (saw) where it was actually whited out just to cover themselves," said Mascari, "But it was still totally done illegally. It should've gone through purchasing but it didn't."

DPW Director Lori Miser signed the agreement on behalf of the City but did not affix a date to her signature.

On April 29, at a meeting of the council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, Republican councilman Aaron Freeman likened the heavily redacted Vision Fleet agreement to the "CIA report on the killing of Osama Bin Laden." DPW Chief of Staff Jeremiah Shirk said those redactions were done at the insistence of Vision Fleet to protect competitive trade secrets.

Within 24 hours, Vision Fleet provided a full non-redacted copy of the agreement to councilors.

For the first time, councilors learned the full financial scope of the bargain the Ballard administration signed without council input or approval.

"It's an absolute tragedy for Indianapolis to incur this," said Mascari. "It's $32 million for cars we can't use as police cars."

Shirk told councilors that top IMPD brass, including Public Safety Director Troy Riggs, signed off on the deal.

Riggs told the Public Safety Board last week, "We weren't in control of the bid process. We didn't know about it until after it was signed."

Vision Fleet has scrambled in the last couple weeks to address the criticisms and questions of council members as well as media inquiries.

"Vision Fleet has always wanted this process to be open and transparent," Brylawsky said in a statement, "When the City approached Vision Fleet last year about making a few modifications to the contract...we checked with our legal team to ensure the changes were not material."

"In our industry...terms such as 'lease' and 'rental' are frequently utilized for marketing purposes."

Mascari said in the parlance of city government contracts, a "lease" is a contract that requires council approval while a "rental" is an administrative service agreement that circumvents the council review process.

"Something's fishy. Something stinks and hopefully we'll get to the bottom of this."

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