WL Redevelopment Commission Cries Foul On State Street Secrecy, But Likely Too Late

Jan 20, 2016

Redevelopment Commission Chairman Larry Oates says taxpayers won't know what they're getting for their money until it's too late. But he also says he waited six months to bring the issue to a vote.
Credit City of West Lafayette

As the winning bid for West Lafayette’s State Street overhaul is set to be announced, the city’s Redevelopment Commission is expressing its displeasure with the process.

In a largely symbolic 3-2 vote Wednesday, the Commission decried what it sees as a lack of transparency in the so-called “build-operate-transfer” process.

City Attorney Eric Burns tried to assuage the concerns of Board Chair Larry Oates, but Oates pounded on his desk and insisted on trying to slow down the Joint Board overseeing the project.

Oates’ motion sought to revoke the Redevelopment Commission’s funding authority – even as Commission attorney Tom Brooks informed the chairman the panel has no such power.

Still, Oates says his point was made.

“The motion had all the meaning it needed to have, and that was to put out in front and center that we need to have more open information flow with regard to this project and until we get that open information flow there’s going to be real questions brought about by some of the boards that made this project happen,” he says.

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis – who admitted to the crowd that confidentiality agreements signed by some of his top lieutenants mean even he is in the dark – says lawmakers need to learn from the secrecy of the West Lafayette process and expect more openness of all parties in future projects.

“I think our legislative officials probably are in a position to analytically explore other options that might hold the private sector to a little bit more transparency,” Dennis says.

Even though the project is nominally funded by two public entities, the city and Purdue University, the university funnels its money through the Purdue Research Foundation, which operates as a private corporation and isn’t subject to open records and open meeting laws like government is.