Broad Ripple HS Choir becomes a family as it finishes the school’s last year. They practice daily and head to Carnegie Hall in 2018.
A north-side City-County Council member has accepted a job as the leader of a pro-growth neighborhood group in Broad Ripple, raising concerns among some residents that business interests will have greater influence over public policy.
Colleen Fanning is set to become executive director of the Broad Ripple Village Association, a group that occasionally takes positions on proposals that come before the council. But attorneys representing the city and council say they see no disqualifying conflicts related to Fanning’s job.
Fanning, a Republican first-term council member, will be tasked with increasing membership and advocating on behalf of the village association’s agenda, which includes support of the Red Line bus rapid transit project, improved public safety and new development in Broad Ripple. The association generates revenue through memberships, including more than 100 businesses and about 180 individuals.
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Fanning is scheduled to start her new job in April.
“I expect it to dovetail nicely with my duties as city councilor,” Fanning said. “Making community work a full-time position will allow me to have the greatest impact possible for my time in both Broad Ripple and the surrounding areas of District 2.”
The position has attracted criticism from some of Fanning’s constituents, particularly those who are opposed to the Red Line transit project, which is set to begin soon.
Fanning last year voted in favor of a 0.25 percent income tax hike to generate revenue for bus system improvements, including bus rapid transit lines such as the Red Line. Fanning’s district supported the tax in a 2016 referendum.
“A lot of the decisions the City-County Council makes are based on recommendations from neighborhood associations,” said Erin Tuttle, a community activist who lives near the Red Line route.
There is precedent for sitting council members taking on similar roles. Most recently, Jackie Nytes, the CEO of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, worked as executive director of the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corp. while serving on the council.
The Broad Ripple Village Association does not receive money from the city or act as a lobbyist on behalf of clients.
Fred Biesecker, the general counsel for the City-County Council, said that although he isn’t intimately familiar with the association’s work, he does not think it will prevent Fanning from conducting council business. Council rules stipulate that a conflict arises if a member can benefit financially from the result of a vote or if a personal relationship or business interest clouds objectivity.
“I don’t see how there would be an actual conflict of interest under the council rules,” Biesecker said. “And although there could possibly be a future situation where the voluntary abstention/appearance of a conflict part of the rule might come into play, that possibility should not preclude her from holding the position of executive director of the BRVA.”
Andy Mallon, the city’s corporation counsel, said “nothing jumps out to me as a problem.”
“She may need to recuse herself on a case-by-case basis as councilors often do,” he added.
Fanning said she reviewed her two-year voting history and did not find an instance in which she would have had to recuse herself if she had held the Broad Ripple Village Association position.
“BRVA is very representative of District 2, which is also representative of my ideology,” Fannning said. “There is nothing about BRVA’s mission that would conflict with my goals or views or perspectives on the council.”
Fanning added she does not expect to spend much time in her new job dealing with controversial issues.
“I view it as my job to keep track of the neighborhoods and how they feel on various topics,” she said.
Joshua John, the village association president, said the group’s priorities in the coming months include working on a riverwalk project to connect parks to Broad Ripple Village and the Monon Trail.
“Broad Ripple is part of her district,” John said, “so what better person to have than someone who is already advocating on behalf of her community?”
Call IndyStar reporter James Briggs at (317) 444-6307. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesEBriggs.
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