Former City Councilman voices concerns over alley project during Monday meeting

One local man is attempting to raise suspicions about the Warsaw Alley Activation project.

The project raised $56,000 from crowdfunding and $50,000 of that was matched by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, for a total amount of $106,000 to be spent on development for the alley off of Buffalo Street in downtown Warsaw.

In order to be eligible for the IHCDA funds match, all donations had to go through the city’s Patronicity project website, which offered an option for donors to remain anonymous.

Former City Councilman Kyle Babcock is questioning the anonymous donations, which Mayor Joe Thallemer addressed head-on at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

“There’s been some suggestions of impropriety,” he explained. “The city has successfully participated in a state-funded grant project, followed the rules set down to manage restricted donations. We’ve followed the public access laws of Indiana both after discussion with the Public Access Counselor and review of wishes of the General Assembly.”

The Mayor cited the public records law, which he says has an extensive list of exemptions from disclosure, which anonymous donations for this project would fall under.

“The city has taken the position that to release those names after they were promised anonymity would do the following: It would breach the terms of the gift and potentially discourage future giving, it would violate their privacy by publicizing the names of those donors and subjecting them to future unwanted solicitation by others seeking donations for other projects,” the Mayor said.

Though Thallemer says the city aims to protect anonymity of donors, if specific concerns are raised, they would release the names.

“We take allegations of impropriety very seriously and would follow the public access laws that would require disclosures in such a case,” Mayor Thallemer told the City Council meeting attendees. “I would ask those who’ve accused the city of impropriety to give specific examples, if there are specific concerns we will act swiftly to disclose those names.”

Despite not providing specific examples per the Mayor’s request, Babcock says he will be looking into the anonymous donations further.

“My concern all along is about anonymous donors, people that could be vendors of the city, anybody can go, anybody that wants something– I’m not saying anything’s wrong,  I’m not saying anything’s illegal, but it just gives a perception that someone can give anonymously, and I personally don’t think that’s right,” Babock said to the City Council. “The city awards contracts, and in my eyes I don’t like the concept of anonymous donors when bids come through.”

Babcock argued with Warsaw City Attorney Mike Valentine over the 16 anonymous donations, but Valentine says they are allowed under Indiana law.

“If there’s an issue with that, I would suggest that they need to go to the Legislature, rather than printing things that might not be accurate,” Valentine said while looking directly into the camera Babcock was using to record the City Council meeting.

Babcock currently runs a website about Warsaw and is using the confrontation at Monday night’s meeting as content for the site.