Council backs off move to subpoena mayor

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LaVetta Sparks-Wade

Crusader Staff Report

Two weeks ago, Councilwoman Lavetta Sparks-Wade (D-6th) led the Gary Common Council to vote unanimously to subpoena Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and other city officials as part of an investigation into the hefty money transfer from the Fire Department’s Emergency Management Fund, formally known as Fund 224.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson

It was an unusual move that would have brought two political rivals face to face at City Hall. It would also have brought the mayor’s chief of staff, Dayna Bennett, city controller Angelia Hayes and Fire Chief Paul Bradley into the investigation. The mayor last week, sent electronic copies of all related documents to all of the Common Council members.

But on Tuesday, October 2, Sparks-Wade was all by herself as the rest of the Gary Council voted to withdraw its demand to subpoena the mayor and other officials to obtain documents that would shed light on a $8.1 million transfer from a special fund for Emergency Medical Expenses.

The move came after Common Council attorney Rinzer Williams advised the Council that they did not have the authority to enforce subpoenas. Rinzer said they would need an outside judge to enforce their request so that it will have any binding authority.

The Council minus Sparks-Wade then voted to rescind the request.

Sparks-Wade said in one news report that she believes she made the correct decision in subpoenaing the mayor and city officials. She said that she would do it again if given another opportunity. She led the effort to subpoena the mayor after growing dissatisfied with an independent study from a firm which Freeman-Wilson commissioned to investigate the emergency fund transfer.

That firm, the Merrillville-based Whitaker & Associates accounting firm, found that the fund was some $8.1 million short of its audited amount. The fund was intended for ambulances and other equipment used by paramedics, but the study found that some 55 percent of the shortfall wound up being spent to cover payroll expenses in recent years.

After reviewing the account and transactions of over $8 million in deposits beginning January 1, 2015 and ending March 31, 2018, it was determined that $131,850.49 from the fund has not been found. A review of the city’s 224 Fund revealed that 2 percent of the account funds are still unaccounted for.

Sparks-Wade and Freeman-Wilson at Tuesday’s meeting debated over whether the mayor received a pay raise several years ago.

Sparks-Wade believes she is right and said she has seen city documents showing the mayor’s compensation went from $129,922 in 2013 to $142,095 in 2014.

Freeman-Wilson said the “raise” was merely the mayor’s salary being restored to previous levels. Freeman-Wilson says her salary as mayor is similar to that of former mayor Rudy Clay, who served from 2006 to 2012.

“At no time have I altered my salary,” she said.

Freeman-Wilson said in one news report that Sparks-Wade was referring to an attempt several years ago to issue furloughs that would have reduced compensation to city officials, but the Indiana State Board of Accounts would have been ruled an improper move.

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