Dobell & Beyond: Three sides to a story
Editor's Note: The following includes the main story followed by a Letter to the Editor from the Greendale City Council and a Q & A with Christopher Libbert. Click HERE to view Dobell House invoices and click HERE to view Dobell House list of expenses.
Greendale Mayor Doug Hedrick is not the only elected official with ties to a grant or loan from the City of Lawrenceburg’s riverboat casino revenues.
Hedrick along with city attorney Richard Butler, however, are the latest on the media hot seat.
The men were approached by longtime friend Tim Denning in 2009-10 about turning a property they owned, the Dobell House at 305 Ridge Ave., into a restaurant.
Denning pursued a grant to renovate the historic Ridge Avenue property, which had been severely dilapidated when Hedrick and Butler purchased it.
Hedrick and Butler had put some money into the building prior to the grant, as well as made sure the grass was cut and property maintained. They were unsure of their plans for house, other than knowing they wanted to preserve it and that they wouldn’t have enough capital to fully renovate it themselves, said Hedrick.
Now, the appropriateness of that Lawrenceburg grant, $400,000, is being questioned again. Previously, it was mentioned in a story by The Indianapolis Star on state representatives and senators with ties to grant and loan monies from the City of Lawrenceburg.
In a television report, a Greendale business owner, Chris Libbert, complained about the grant when the city would not help him relocate after it bought the building his business was in at a sheriff’s sale.
Register Publications ran stories about the city purchasing the Ridge Avenue building, adjacent to the city utilities office at 510 Ridge Ave., in October 2014 as well as in November 2014 when Libbert appeared at a city council meeting complaining about the purchase. For Libbert’s response to questions about his involvement and other issues see the separate question and answer story.
Getting the grant
Denning began pursuing the grant, and was told the grant had to go through the Greendale Redevelopment Commission. The Greendale Redevelopment commission reviewed the grant application and plans, and approved it for application to Lawrenceburg, he said.
Lawrenceburg’s 10-County Regional Economic Development Grant Program review committee approved the grant in 2010, and following an interlocal agreement being signed, the money was handed over to the Greendale Redevelopment Commission.
The GRC reviewed all claims for the $400,000 grant, paying most of them between 2010 and 2012. During those two years, there was a major delay over parking. Greendale Board of Zoning Appeals member Eric Schnebelt, also a city councilman at the time, initially raised the issue.
Butler recused himself from handling any of the BZA issues because he was a part owner in the building. Aurora attorney Jeff Stratman was brought in to handle it, said Butler.
Eventually, an agreement for a parking in a lot owned by Robinson Trucking adjacent to the Dobell House was struck, said Butler.
GRC meeting minutes show in September 2010 there was discussion on the parking issue as well as purchases for the restaurant, seating capacity of the restaurant, architectural plans, and making sure it met building codes.
The parking contract with Robinson, according to GRC meeting minutes, was presented to the commission in June 2011, allowing final plans and work to progress.
... In the details
Work proceeded on the Dobell House, with many local contractors and supply companies used, according to GRC records.
GRC meeting minutes between 2010 and 2012 repeatedly bring up the grant, with commission members questioning progress, and reviewing claims for the Dobell House and other GRC administered grant projects.
Invoices paid by the GRC in 2010 include $15,893 to J. Construction for exterior brick work, and to Denning and Hedrick for purchasing gutters and downspouts. Hedrick’s name appears twice on reimbursement for purchases in the three-page spreadsheet recording disbursements of grant monies.
See the spreadsheet online as well as some payment invoices. Due to the large amount of invoices not all can be posted on Register Publications’ website.
In August 2011, after receiving final plans for the Dobell House renovations, the city was in the process of reviewing the plans, according to GRC minutes.
The minutes also note claims for grant monies used to remodel Lawrenceburg Chevrolet were not approved because no one was at the meeting to update the GRC on the project’s status.
In September 2011, the sprinkler system plans were submitted for review to the state, and review of the plans continued. Meanwhile, a representative gave an update on the Lawrenceburg Chevrolet remodel, and claims were approved.
Also in 2011, the name changed from 305 Ridge Ave. LLC to Dobell House Corporation. A corporation has different tax reporting requirements than a limited liability corporation.
A spreadsheet of expenditures, shows the lion’s share occurring in 2012, after the parking issue was resolved an after the city approved the plans. The spreadsheet for the Dobell House is online as well.
Between January and March 2012, Quality Fire Protection is issued three checks to install a sprinkler system. The total paid to QFP is $19,875 for the sprinkler system.
The spreadsheet besides noting expenditures to businesses for supplies or companies, also has listings for laborers to do work.
Dillard Electric received payment for $40,000 for heating, ventilating and air conditioning. Dillard also was paid $8,750, for more HVAC related work.
Hedrick’s name appears twice for reimbursement for items he paid for out of his own pocket. “I told him not to do that,” said Butler.
Meanwhile, Hedrick, Denning and Butler spent “at least $158,000” of their own money, said Butler.
Open & close
When the restaurant finally opened in 2013, it had strikes against it. And they got worse.
Denning, a Marine veteran who had food service experience from years of work at Pierre Foods, had two heart attacks, and a “nasty divorce,” he said.
“It hurts to have a failed business. … There are people trying to make it out that the mayor and attorney are crooks, but they don’t have all the facts. I was the one running the business,” said Denning, reiterating the plan to put a restaurant in the Dobell House was his idea and he approached Butler and Hedrick.
Then the winter of 2013-14 helped seal the restaurant’s fate. Snow and cold hurt other businesses, but a new one had little chance, said Butler.
“Restaurants fail. Look at Mahoghanies in Cincinnati’s Banks development, look at the Applewood in Aurora,” said Butler.
If Hedrick had it all to do over again “I wouldn’t do it. Not after this,” he said.
Hedrick invested in real estate, and still owns several properties in Greendale. “If I sell one soon, I’d open that place back up the next day,” said Hedrick.
Butler said he and Hedrick are dedicated to preserving historic properties, and both men live in them.
Butler is on the board of Indiana Landmarks, and Hedrick saved the home of Lawrenceburg’s founder Samuel Vance making sure it went to the Dearborn County Historical Society many years ago.
Meanwhile, the City of Lawrenceburg holds a tax lien on the Dobell House.
The bottom line, said Butler, is should he and Hedrick be treated differently than other building/business owners eligible to apply for a business grant?
He, Hedrick and Denning should be and were treated like other businesses, including having to meet the same requirements, and subsequent delay in the project, for parking and required reviews and permits, added Butler.
“We didn’t directly benefit, but the City of Greendale did and Dearborn County did by having a building with higher assessed value, meaning higher tax revenues for it,” said Butler.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Why Greendale bought the building
An open letter to the people of Greendale:
Of late, there has been a lot of misinformation about the City of Greendale’s recent purchase of the old United Dairy Farmers building on Ridge Avenue.
The dialogue has been so repugnant that we, the city council, thought it our duty to speak up and let the people we’re elected to serve know why the city purchased the building – we take full responsibility for doing so – and the facts and circumstances surrounding our decision.
It’s important that the people of our community know the facts so they might form their own opinions, whatever they may be, based upon facts rather than upon misinformation.
The City of Greendale purchased the old UDF building to solve two City problems that are a big concern: (1) a Clerk-treasurer’s office and a Mayor’s office, neither of which comply with the American with Disabilities Act; and (2) the City needs more space for the Clerk-Treasurer and for secure records storage.
If you’ve ever been to the clerk-treasurer’s office or to the Mayor’s office – they’re in the same room upstairs above the Greendale Police Department – you understand why neither office complies with the ADA and why the city needs more space for its Clerk-treasurer and for secure records storage.
We, the city council, decided to buy the building, not the Mayor. The idea was first presented to city council at its regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 8, 2014, by Councilman Vince Karsteter.
Councilman Karsteter learned from a notice in the local newspaper that the old UDF building would be sold by the Sheriff. The building was in foreclosure because the owner didn’t pay the mortgage.
Judge James D. Humphrey ordered the Sheriff to sell the building at public auction. The auction was scheduled for Oct. 23, 2014.
All six city council members present at the meeting voted to try to purchase the building at the upcoming Sheriff’s sale.
Mayor Doug Hedrick is prohibited by law from voting except in the case of a tie and did not vote.The City compared the costs of acquiring, sprucing up, and reconfiguring the old UDF building to suit the City’s needs to other options, including constructing a new building on land the City already owned, and determined the old UDF building to be the City’sWhen all is said and done, it will cost us approximately half or less of what building new would cost us. It would also allow Greendale and our residents to recognize some efficiency from having all of our government offices and services together. Lastly, it would improve the appearance of the area. The old UDF building is a perfect solution.
Nevertheless, FOX19 “reported” that the City purchased the old UDF building in retaliation because the wife of Chris Libbert, the operator of a store in the building, ran for Mayor four years ago in 2011.
FOX19 didn’t ask the City why it purchased the building. FOX 19 didn’t speak to Councilman Karsteter who conceived of the idea that the building might be a good solution to the City’s problems. FOX19 didn’t speak to any member of city council that voted to buy the building.
We made a conscious decision in this situation to put good government before politics – to do government the right way – to base our decision on sound principals rather than on politics. That’s what we always try to do. Unfortunately, that sometimes makes some people unhappy but it’s what propels our community forward for the benefit of us all. We know that’s what makes Greendale great, that’s what you expect of us, and that’s what you deserve.
Although some of us discussed among ourselves, with the Mayor, and with the City Attorney that if the City buys the old UDF building Mr. Libbert will protest, we all knew our duty was to do what was best for all the people we were elected to serve. So, we did our duty. We decided the best we could do for all the people was to solve the City’s problems as efficiently and economically as possible rather than to play politics, i.e., take the path of least resistance, turn our back on the perfect solution to the City’s ADA and space problems, and avoid Mr. Libbert’s protest.
We also tried to be fair to Mr. Libbert. Although Judge Humphrey’s order directed the Sheriff to set anyone occupying the building out after the Sheriff’s sale, the City didn’t ask the Sheriff to set Mr. Libbert out. The City gave Mr. Libbert all the time he asked for to operate and to close his store. Although the City has owned the building since October 23, 2014, and Mr. Libbert is still occupying the space, Mr. Libbert hasn’t paid the City any rent.
This continued occupancy is at considerable peril to the City too. Mr. Libbert doesn’t have any premises liability insurance for his store. Al Abdon, a Greendale city councilman and the Executive Director of the Greendale Redevelopment Commission, worked with Mr. Libbert to help relocate his business, including finding an alternative space for his store. In the end, Mr. Libbert couldn’t afford an alternative space. Lastly, we’ve also given Mr. Libbert every opportunity he’s requested to speak to us and we’ve listened.
With respect to the dialogue, we don’t believe Mr. Libbert is being forthright; particularly to the extent Mr. Libbert blames the City for what is happening to him and his store instead of blaming the foreclosure. We don’t believe Mr. Libbert’s problem is who bought the old UDF building at the foreclosure sale. Rather, we believe Mr. Libbert’s problem is that the building was in foreclosure. The City, of course, had nothing to do with the building being in foreclosure but there are facts that suggest Mr. Libbert may have.
The City was informed by Pete Lonney, a receiver appointed by Judge Humphrey to manage the old UDF building while the foreclosure lawsuit was pending, that Mr. Libbert hasn’t paid rent for more than five years. Mr. Lonney also reported that he demanded Mr. Libbert start paying rent but that Mr. Libbert refused to pay. Rather than spending more money on legal fees to evict Mr. Libbert, the bank decided to just proceed with the foreclosure and let whoever acquires the property deal with Mr. Libbert.
Whether Mr. Libbert can, under these circumstances, reasonably disclaim responsibility for the building being in foreclosure – the real source of what is happening to him and his store – is up to you to decide. Many landlords, however, would be unable to pay their mortgage if their tenant didn’t pay rent for more than five years.
Whether Mr. Libbert can reasonably claim the City or anyone else owed him anything more than the City has already done for him under these circumstances – what he seems to be saying – is up to you to decide as well.
We’re confident, however, that we were more than fair with Mr. Libbert and suspect we were much more generous than anybody else who might have purchased the old UDF building from the foreclosure sale would have been.
As it turns out, the City got a good deal on the old UDF building.
The building appraised for $178,000. The City paid $130,000 for the building. Mr. Libbert was present at the court ordered Sheriff’s sale and bid to buy the building too but was unsuccessful. Mr. Libbert bid $1,000 to buy the building.
Although we haven’t determined exactly how the City is going to use the building, we will use the building to solve the City’s ADA and space problems as intended.
All options are still on the table though.
For example, the City could put the Clerk-treasurer and/or the Mayor’s offices in the building or the City could put those offices in the city council chambers now in the utility building and move the city council chambers into the old UDF building. We just haven’t decided yet.
We are working hard to keep the costs of sprucing up and reconfiguring the building to suit the City’s needs as low as possible. Hrezo Engineering on Ridge Avenue in Greendale has graciously offered to donate its services to design the work.
We take our duty to you seriously. We work hard to do government right and to avoid the politics. We also work hard to treat everyone fairly.
Despite all the misinformation and the repugnant dialogue, we’ll continue to work with Mr. Libbert as we would any other citizen.
We may have differences, but those differences – whatever they are – are never a reason to not do what is right.
Greendale City Council
Q&A with Christopher Libbert
Editor’s note: Register Publications invited Christopher Libbert to answer some questions that arose from a television report about the Dobell House, as well as others that arose from a letter to the editor submitted by Greendale City Council, and from minutes and a tape of Greendale city meetings. The following are the questions emailed to Libbert and his answers.
1. In the television report you said you felt the city buying the building housing your store was retaliation for your wife running for mayor. Why would the city retaliate three years later?
1. The biggest indicator of retaliation that I can discuss is the secretive nature in which this real estate transaction was conducted. I was never contacted by city council when this was being proposed to city council. At the point I found out what their plans were I addressed city council and asked one simple question “why was I not included in this discussion and have a chance to speak on my own behalf concerning this issue.” I asked repeatedly until the city attorney Mr. Butler said “they are not speaking to you because I advised them not to.” What else needs to be said? Why else would you conduct yourself in such a deceptive manner? I would certainly never deal with a business in my town this way. The only thing that makes sense is they had an axe to grind and zero respect for me as a citizen and business owner in the community. The absence of any provocation on my part warranting this type of treatment can lead to just one conclusion that this was retaliation for past political opposition. Since we have a redevelopment commission and an economic development commission and an executive director of economic development that has a compensation package that exceeds $100,000 per year. I would assume I could get some help to at least relocate my business. Guess what Greendale has to help business? The short answer is they will help you fill out grant applications for Lawrenceburg, but since that ship has sailed away they have nothing in place to help business.
According to the city attorney Greendale doesn’t do grants because grants are illegal.
It appears to me they are illegal unless you’re a city official and you use a proxy to get the grant money for your property.
Perhaps more perplexing than anything is that no details have emerged on the real estate transaction to purchase the property my store was in. It’s hard to imagine a savvy real estate investor deciding to invest money in that property in the condition it is unless they knew prior to buying the property they were going to get an immediate turn around and sizable payout that well exceeded the true value and or investment into the property.
2. Why did you question the Dobell House grant when it has been discussed in the media before, as have ties by other current and former local legislators to grants and/or loans by the City of Lawrenceburg?
2. We have never got satisfactory answers or action on this matter. I want answers as to why the Mayor and city attorney; who have a business relationship that is defined by the fact that they jointly own property together, are benefiting in their joint ventures with tax payer money. The bottom line is a property they jointly own has risen in value from approx $174,000 to $500,000 with grant money.
My opinion is they used Mr. Denning as a proxy to acquire the grant money for the property because he is not an elected official and he had past success in acquiring grant money. Mr Hedrick and Mr Butler would be a beneficiary of the grant regardless of the success or failure on Mr Denning’s part. As much as city Council and the Mayor want to believe I spawned this television investigation, I did not. I was contacted by the reporter and he asked if I would speak to him and I said yes and I did in fact voice my opinion which I feel can be substantiated by the facts.
3. At the Nov. 12 city council meeting your wife states the store has liability insurance, according to the meeting tape and minutes, but at a special council meeting Nov. 24 you stated you could not get liability insurance. Did you have insurance at the time, and if so through what agency? According to a source of mine if insurance has lapsed getting reinsured is expensive and/or very difficult, but if there were a current policy in place it would remain so until you stopped paying it. Had your insurance lapsed?
3. I canceled the insurance policy and was unable to be re-insured due to the short period of time the policy would run for approximately 40 days, which would have only allowed me to continue to operate until the close of the year. The final outcome of the city kicking me out of the building eventually was not contingent on me producing insurance. Having the insurance they wanted would have just extended the time by approximately 40 days.
4. According to the tape from the Nov. 12 meeting, you stated Fifth-Third had offered you the note on the foreclosed building your store was in, why didn’t you buy it then?
4. Fifth Third bank did offer me the note …..for $40,000. However the note had over $100,000 in liens created by the previous owner using the building as collateral to procure other loans. You can’t get financing for a note with liens like that on it. Foreclosure needed to take place to clear the liens. In September 2012, I had a market value analysis done that put the as is value of the building at $57,723.56 . The city remarkably was able to get the property appraised at around $178,000 and since they purchased the note prior to the sheriffs sale for $130,000 and were able to defend the note up to the amount of $178,000. I think anyone would have to be crazy to pay that amount for that building in its state of disrepair.
5. Greendale city council had a letter to the editor written by city attorney Richard Butler. In the letter it states you had not paid rent to the former building owner nor to the receiver appointed in the foreclosure lawsuit. Did you pay rent? If you did not, why not? If you did can Register Publications see and or obtain copies of your receipts.
5. The original owner of the building was Tony Gupta. I bought the store from Mr Gupta and had a lease agreement with him. There were major repairs to the building that needed fixed during the course of the lease and I continued to call Mr. Gupta to have the repairs made.
Within a couple of months I was contacted by Mr. Gupta’s attorney who informed me that Mr. Gupta was filing bankruptcy and would not be making repairs and instructed me to stop sending rent payments to him or contacting him in any way. I then contacted the note holder Fifth Third bank and they informed me that they could not speak to me on this matter while the bankruptcy was pending.
Over the course of the next 4 years I made approximately $15,000 of repairs to the building that I did not own and knew that I might not own in the future pending the outcome of the foreclosure process.
The court appointed receiver and I had the same discussion about repairs. I told him that I was willing to pay a rent when the appropriate repairs to the building were made. No repairs were made and I paid no rent as a consequence and continued to make the minimal repairs myself.
6. You have filed to run for Mayor of Greendale, why?
6.) Yes I have filed my candidacy for Mayor of Greendale. The reasons are numerous but I will try my best to highlight the most important ones. Lack of transparency and integrity are probably two of most important issues that plague our city government. For example the city finally has a website you can go to and find out who your elected officials are and it even has a link to minutes from the city council meetings, but that link is and has been conveniently dead since the website has been up. In my opinion this is not a mistake or lack of ability to put the minutes there.
They figure the less anyone knows the better and if you really want the minutes you will go request them at the clerks office just so they know who is asking to see them. How do I know this?
I have been through it. When I went to the clerks office to request speaking time at a city council meeting and to get copies of the previous meeting minutes the city attorney was notified and instructed city council and the Mayor not to speak to me in the meeting. We used to have an anti- nepotism ordinance in the city. They decided they would violate the ordinance more than once and then when questions were raised they just removed the ordinance in a manner inconsistent with the instructions for removing the ordinance. The ordinance read as follows:
No person may be considered for hiring or hired who is related to any serving elected official of the city, or the spouse of any city official as a child, grandchild, brother, sister, parent, aunt, uncle, nephew, or niece. However this prohibition shall not apply to a student applicant for summer part-time work. This prohibition shall not be amended except upon delivery of written notice to all current employees and unanimous vote of all members of Council at three separate consecutive regular public meetings.
The city attorney did not follow the ordinance but advised them just to take a single vote to repeal without any of the proper notification. They voted and removed it after they violated it. These conditions were put in the ordinance to protect the city employees from nepotism and were completely disregarded. These are just two examples of how your city government has been operating over the last 3 years but there are many more issues.
There is also a level of conflict of interest in Greendale that rises above anything I have ever seen in local government. I have already established that the business relationship between the Mayor and city attorney is a clear conflict of interest especially in the case of the Dobell House.
By definition conflict of interest is: A term used to describe the situation in which a public official or fiduciary who, contrary to the obligation and absolute duty to act for the benefit of the public or a designated individual, exploits the relationship for personal benefit, typically pecuniary. The problem is there is no one to stop it here, and until the people stop it at the ballot box it will continue.
We desperately just need to clean this mess up and most people don’t want to place themselves or their livelihood or that of a family member in jeopardy to stand up to this.
Whether by accident or design I am the one who will clean up this mess should it be the will of the people and return respectability to the office of the Mayor. I’m educated, I’m committed, I’m not afraid, and I have earned the leadership traits that a select few will ever know in the United States Marine Corps. This simply comes down to who will do the right thing.
7. If you have any other comments you would like to make, please feel free to include them
Additional comments: I answered these questions not because I had to, but because I have nothing to hide from you. I was not a public official when I operated that store and I did not use one penny of public money. That makes it no one’s business but mine. This is all just a smokescreen to try to put the focus on something else other than the real problem.
I know where my reputation stands with the people of Greendale. I saw them face to face, day in, and day out, in my store and served them well. What I would really like to know is why does the city attorney have to speak for Council? Why can’t my elected officials form their own words and write a letter to the editor?
I want to hear straight from the minds of my elected officials not the city attorney. If you are an elected official and you believe the actions you have taken are the right and proper things to do then stop hiding behind a lawyer and speak for yourself, and defend your own actions through your own words.
If the public wants to see who is the acting Mayor of Greendale then just go to a city council meeting and pretend you don’t see any names or positions on the name plates and just watch how it works and who runs the show. Form your own opinion of things. Don’t take my word for it go and see for yourself, but not everyone can go at once since there is only room for about 20 people and maybe 4 or 5 of parking spots.
Christopher J. Libbert