(La Porte, IN) - Repairs to the Franklin Street drawbridge in Michigan City are still being held up despite a measure designed to protect the La Porte County Auditor from any liability if he were to pay the $1.5 million bill. Auditor Tim Stabosz refuses to pay the bill, strongly believing a no-bid contract awarded for the project is against state law.
Last night, the county council passed a measure protecting Stabosz if he pays the bill, and the Indiana State Board of Accounts later rules the no-bid contract violated state law. The county council would take the heat from any legal violation under the measure adopted last night.
Stabosz, during a heated exchange, questioned whether the council could legally pass such protections for him, which led to Common Council President Randy Novak asking the sheriff to remove Stabosz from the meeting. However, the sheriff, not wanting to get involved in the dispute, refused to escort Stabosz out of the meeting, which then went into a brief recess.
Currently, Stabosz is being sued by La Porte County Attorney Shaw Friedman for defamation of character for alleging many times over the past several months that Friedman runs the county government. According to the lawsuit, Stabosz has “maliciously made and published a number of false statements defaming (Friedman) by, among other things, implying that Plaintiff has engaged in criminal acts and professional misconduct." The lawsuit remains undecided in the courts.
In a prepared statement, Friedman said he stands by his decision the repairs can legally occur under a no-bid contract under conditions he feels the bridge meets under state guidelines. He said the bridge would cost millions of additional dollars to fix and would delay the repairs exponentially if the project went out for competitive bidding and blamed Stabosz for playing what he alleged are political games.
Last night, Stabosz, not trusting the legal advice of Friedman, also asked for a $5,000 allowance to seek an outside legal opinion on whether he can be protected if he pays the bill and the state later finds the no-bid contract in violation of state law. The council refused his request for the money. Stabosz says he won't pay the bill unless an outside attorney says he can do so. As a result, the project remains on hold.
Presently, the county is exploring other options that would be pleasing enough to Stabosz for him to pay the $1.5 million tab so the bridgework can move forward.