Council votes not to hear Indianapolis justice center proposal

Proposed Criminal Justice Center
The City-County Council has voted not to hear a new proposal for the city's new Criminal Justice Center at Monday's meeting.

The council voted 16-13 against hearing the proposal.

Jen Pittman, a spokesperson for Mayor Greg Ballard, issued the following statement after the vote:

"For two years, Council leadership led the Justice Center stakeholders to believe they were interested in moving forward with a project that would improve the quality, safety and efficiency of our criminal justice agencies.  Twice, they expressed their commitment to developers.  Unfortunately, when these councilors saw political advantage in reversing course, they did so at great cost to taxpayers.  During the last six months, we have heard a lot of criticism from Council leadership, but nothing in the way of ideas.  Their intentional lack of engagement and unwillingness to think beyond their next political move carries a price tag. The cost of putting together a project of this scope is something this group of has known all along, and it is something for which they need to be held accountable now."

Supporters of the plan, insisting it's "do or die" for the justice center, intended to force a vote on the nearly $1.8 billion project at the City-County Council meeting. Efforts to get the project on the agenda have failed the last two meetings, but developers have since made revisions hoping to gain more support.

Joe Aiello with Meridiam, one of the partner groups, said, "The stated concerns of the city Council and the community are absolutely 100 percent addressed." 

Aiello said by scaling back the project - reducing the number of jail beds and court rooms - they've cut the cost by $17.5 million and addressed other issues raised by opponents.

"This is the proposal and we're really hoping the council addresses it tonight and approves it," he said.

"We appreciate the work WMB did trying to respond, but it's too little, too late," Linda Elkins with IndyCAN said.

IndyCAN is a faith-based group pushing criminal justice reforms and more alternatives to jail. 

Elkins said of the revised plan, "It addresses the size of the facility but it does not address the real basic problem which is over-criminalization and misuse of the justice center."

IndyCAN is urging councilors to vote no, but minority leader Michael McQuillen warned, "If not tonight, it's my understanding that some of the contracts in place will begin to fall off and it would be hard to put them back together." 

McQuillen wants the project called up for a vote. 

"I would say the majority of the [Republican] caucus is on board and ready to move forward - this shouldn't be a partisan issue - we need to move forward and do the right thing for public safety," he said. 

Democrat Frank Miscari said scaled back or not, it doesn't have enough support - especially with the sheriff and courts coming out against it.

"It's not going to pass, hopefully with the next mayor that gets in we'll come up with some sort of plan for that," said Miscari.

Aiello says with interest rates rising, the longer the delay, the higher the cost, no matter who builds it.

"And the cost of steel and concrete will continue to rise as well, so re-bidding will likely mean a higher cost to the taxpayer if this doesn't get passed by the council," he added.

Some counselors have expressed concern that the changes made to the project are big enough that it should be re-bid. Aiello and the mayor's office argue otherwise. Counselors will decide whether it should come up for a vote early in the meeting.