Westfield council president says INDOT breached contract first with Ind. 32 project

CIW COM 0312 Mike Johns

At the May 10 Westfield City Council meeting, Council President Mike Johns read a statement about his concerns regarding the Ind. 32 interlocal agreement between the City of Westfield and the Indiana Dept. of Transportation, originally approved in October 2018.

The ordinance was not voted on, and Johns said there is not a set date to vote on the ordinance. Johns then said he thought INDOT had already breached the contract when it changed its funding plan for the project.

“Introducing this ordinance should not be seen as a threat. But in my opinion, we do not actually have an agreement,” Johns said. “I believe the agreement approved by the previous city council in October 2018 was in fact breached by INDOT in November 2020 when they arbitrarily removed the federal participation and federal funding from the agreement.

“I believe, at the very least, the agreement needs to be amended to take these changes into consideration.”

Westfield Communications Director Vicki Duncan Gardner said in November 2020 that INDOT changed its plan on how to fund its portion of the project but still pledged to fund 50 percent of it. Instead of using federal tax dollars to fund its portion, INDOT used state tax dollars. INDOT receives federal and state tax dollars each year and can choose which type of funding it uses for projects.

Although INDOT and the city presented on the project during a May 4 forum at Grand Park Events Center, Johns said he wasn’t satisfied with the forum. At the May 10 council meeting, he asked for INDOT representatives to be present at the May 24 council meeting, but Public Works Director Jeremy Lollar said INDOT officials would be unavailable at that date.

“(INDOT) requested if you have specific questions to submit them in writing to INDOT either through the State Road 32 website or their email and they will answer them in writing by the Friday prior to the May 24 meeting, and those questions will be entered into public record,” Lollar said.

Council members Jake Gilbert and Scott Willis both said INDOT already provided sufficient information.

“I certainly have always been in support of this project, but I absolutely welcomed the questions, especially about the costs, in the wake of the (State Road) 37 overrun,” Gilbert said. “I thought that was good governance by the council to ask certain questions. I felt INDOT has absolutely stepped up to the plate. I do perceive this ordinance to be a threat and urge my councilors to vote it down if it appears at our next meeting.”

Willis said he spent nearly two hours at the May 4 meeting visiting each INDOT booth and asking questions.

“I don’t know what else we need in terms of information other than when the bids finally come in and we have a decision to make on that final number,” Willis said. “I think the amount of emails I’ve got and calls I’ve had the last several weeks, it’s silly. I think from a purely relationship standpoint, it’s bad business. It’s bad with our neighbors in Noblesville, bad with the county, who we oftentimes need to go to for support on projects, and it threatens our relationship with INDOT and has an impact on our (Metropolitan Planning Organization) process for federal funding. We do not need this reputation attached to us.

“The manner we are going about this, it feels wrong to me. I hope we get this resolved quickly and not dangle this over taxpayers’ heads.”

Johns said he asked an attorney to examine the agreement and that he still had several questions for the mayor’s administration and INDOT about the project.

“I do not think it’s a wise move to go ahead and approve something or continue down the road with a moving target,” Johns said.

The next council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 24. For more, visit westfield.in.gov.